Competitive race highlights MMSD school board primary

Competitive race highlights MMSD school board primary
Cris Carusi, Ali Muldrow, Kate Toews

The Madison Metropolitan School District School Board is featuring a competitive race for seat 6, which is being vacated by departing incumbent Michael Flores.

Three candidates, all women, are running for the open seat in the primary election on Tuesday.

The three candidates are Cris Carusi, Ali Muldrow and Kate Toews. All three said the current political climate at the state and federal levels played at least a partial role in their decisions to seek elected office. (Click each candidate’s name to visit her campaign website.)

“It was part of the motivation, but I had been thinking about this for a couple of years,” Carusi said. “Since before 2011, we’ve been seeing threats to public education at the state level and increasingly we’re going to see it at the federal level.”

“I do think that we’ve arrived at a really specific moment in time in terms of the discussion on education,” Muldrow said. “This is a very important time for us to be loud and proud of who we are.”

“I saw the writing on the wall after the election,” Toews said.

All three candidates are parents.

Carusi works at UW-Madison in its Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. She said her top issue is creating “just and equitable schools for all children.”

“I believe that every child has the right to achieve their full potential in our schools, and I think we can all agree on that, but in order to get there we need to do more than talk about it,” Carusi said.
“We need meaningful and thoughtful action.”

To that end, Carusi said she wants to reduce class sizes, foster a well-rounded curriculum, including support for fine arts and social sciences classes. She also wants to advocate for staff, supporting better compensation and working conditions.

Carusi said things that concern her include changes in curriculum and an emphasis on standardized testing. She said she’s worried about what she sees as a push to privatize public schools.

“I believe that there are people in power who want to gut public education,” Carusi said “Some of this is obvious, like vouchers and private charter schools. But some of this is more subtle: reforms that treat children as test scores instead of as people with immense potential or approaches to curriculum and instruction that take the joy out of teaching and learning.”

Carusi cited her experience as a parent of two children in the district and her attendance at school board meetings for the past decade, digging through the budget as what sets her apart from the other two candidates.

“I think I’m ready to hit the ground running,” she said.

Ali Muldrow is the racial justice youth organizer/youth programming director at GSAFE, which is a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth advocacy organization that works in schools. She said her top issue is addressing racial disparities within the district.

“I’ve listened to us talk about the achievement gap for years now, and the opportunity gap, and I think what we have to focus on is not how to get better, but really how to be at the forefront of inclusion,” Muldrow said.

Muldrow said she believes the district needs to rethink how it handles policing in schools.

“We spend a lot of money in this community on policing students, on arresting students, and disproportionately students of color, and that money and that investment does not produce the best outcomes for those children,” she said.

Muldrow has two children and said she recently pulled her 7-year-old out of the district and moved her to a Montessori school due to health issues. She said she wants to incorporate Montessori and other learning techniques into the curriculum.

“The hardest thing about doing that was knowing that there was some other mom whose kid was crying before school, or pulling out their hair, or biting their hands, and she didn’t get to make that decision. She didn’t have the same opportunities that I did,” Muldrow said. “That’s why I became really passionate about making sure that we are embracing the best practices of every model of education.”

Muldrow cited her experience as a parent and her status as the only person of color in the race as what makes her the best candidate to vote for.

Kate Toews has a background in business and education, including as a professional mediator. She said one of her biggest concerns is teacher morale, particularly after the passage of Act 10.

“It’s really hard to do good work if you show up to work every day and don’t feel empowered,” Toews said.

Toews said she wants to fight the educational reforms that have been spearheaded by Republicans at the state and federal level.

“(Gov. Scott Walker’s) budget basically handcuffs Madison and he’s really trying to bully us into devaluing our educators even more than we already have,” Toews said. “My goal is really to protect our schools, to support our educators and to help our schools fight back and our community fight back against the efforts from (Education Secretary Betsy) DeVos and Walker and others to really undermine our ability to educate our kids.”

Toews said her experience as a mediator, in addition to her business and education experience, sets her apart in the race. She said she hopes she can use that experience to forge consensus.

“It’s my job to listen to people who have differences of opinion,” Toews said. “I think Madison could be one of the best places in the country for educators to work and I want to make that happen.”

In addition to the Seat 6 race, there’s another competitive race in the Madison Metropolitan School District primary. Two candidates, Matt Andrzejewski and Nicki Vander Meulen, are challenging Seat 7 incumbent Ed Hughes. (Click each candidate’s name to visit his or her campaign website.)

After voters make their top two choices for each seat Tuesday, they’ll select the board member of their choice in the general election on Apr. 4.