Never let it be said that watching the school board isn’t an educational experience. Although I’m not sure there was a lot to be learned from the tediously combative board meeting the other night.
Still, reading the Sun’s account of all the hung votes (this a result of Gov. Ron DeSantis removing board member Diyonne McGraw for living outside the district she was elected to represent), I did pick up one, perhaps unintended but still helpful historical reference:
“This is not a time for people to sit and ride the fence, they must choose a side and end this because it’s our kids’ livelihood.”
This from Chanae Jackson, urging some show of unity on the part of the deeply divided board…for the sake of the children.
Naturally, all this talk about fence-sitting reminded me of the Golden Age of Mugwumps.
The original mugwumps were Republicans who backed Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884 because they couldn’t abide their own party’s nominee, James G. Blain.
Hence Merrian-Webster’s definition of mugwumpery: “A bird who sits with its mug on one side of the fence and its wump on the other.”
Historical context aside, it occurs to me that we could really use a little mugwumpery right now on the school board.
What we’ve got now are two members (Gunnar Paulson and Rob Hyatt) who are themselves career teachers and ardent defenders of…let’s just call it the Educational-Industrial Establishment.
And then we’ve got two members (Tina Certain and Leanetta McNealy) who want to bust up the EIA and create an Educational New Deal to level longstanding racial and economic barriers to student success.
McGraw was the third member of the board’s New Deal majority. But now she’s gone and it’s up to Gov. DeSantis to pick her replacement. Given the board’s current EIE-New Deal schism, the governor’s appointee has the potential to instantly become the most influential, and therefore consequential, member of the school board.
Which actually poses something of a dilemma for DeSantis.
He is unlikely to appoint someone from the Education Establishment because Republicans have come to disdain “indoctrinating” professional educators in general and teacher union advocates in particular.
But siding with the New Dealers – the black women who want to shake up the status quo – also poses risks for a governor who regularly crusades against critical race theory (i.e. talking about race) as a threat to all that Americans hold holy.
If DeSantis appoints an ideologue – someone who disdains both sides – nothing gets done. Instead of endless 2-2 votes we could end up with a lot of 3-2 rejections.
But what if DeSantis looks for a mugwump in the 19th century Republican tradition to fill the gap?
Someone who can take an honest look at what the New Dealers want to achieve, and an equal interest in what the Establishment wants to preserve.
And then tries to find the common ground between these two seemingly intractable sides.
Don’t like the mugwump imagery? How about this? What the school board needs right now is a Great Compromiser in the Henry Clay tradition.
Maybe no such creature exists in our era of political polarization. But if the governor makes an effort to find an honest broker who will evaluate both sides and look for the fair middle ground….who knows? Something constructive may yet happen that would benefit our children.
Listen, come the next election, the voters will have the opportunity to pick a new board majority. But that’s more than a year away, and we can’t afford to squander that much time.
Governor, there’s got to be a mugwump out there. Lacking such a person this board seems doomed to spend the remainder of this year, and most of next, stuck in paralysis mode at best and chaos mode at worse.
Our kids don’t deserve that from the adults on the school board.