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MPS Board Could Shift —Or Maybe Not

Drama surrounded campaigns and allegations of illegal contributions from ASA

Apr. 8, 2009
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Who knew that a school board election could be so full of drama?

Voters are still casting ballots as we go to press, so we don’t know the results of the April 7 election, which includes four of nine seats on the Milwaukee Public Schools board of directors.

The results could shift control of the board from pro-public education to one that is more open to influence from the conservatives in the suburban business community.

And, regardless of the election results, the supporters of three candidates—and the candidates themselves—could face legal problems if the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office decides to act on a complaint filed by Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

According to Citizen Action, the controversial “reform” group Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA) has been “illegally providing contributions” to the campaigns of ReDonna Rodgers, Annie Woodward and David Voeltner. Those contributions included candidate orientation sessions, issue papers, continuing education, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and advocacy, Citizen Action argued.

Since the complaint was filed, internal e-mails from ASA were made public and added fuel to the fire by indicating that ASA’s involvement in the campaigns went even deeper than Citizen Action realized. E-mails indicate that ASA members created campaign literature for Rodgers, facilitated a meeting between the candidates and the Realtors’ political action committee, helped the candidates develop strategy and messaging, and solicited contributions for its preferred candidates.

State laws in this area are complicated, but they regulate the ways in which candidates and outside interest groups can be connected. ASA’s activities may fall outside of what is legal.

The District Attorney’s office has not indicated if it will act on the allegations. Depending on the District Attorney’s actions, it may come to pass that Bruce Thompson, the MPS board member who launched and assisted ASA, may face charges stemming from his desire to recruit candidates that could help him on the board.

If ASA’s candidates are elected, they’ll most likely support Thompson for board president. The next board has major decisions to make, including selecting a new superintendent, spending stimulus funds and fixing the multiple funding flaws created by the voucher program.

Thompson and ASA have allies in the business community, such as the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC), the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors, and conservative business folks like Michael Grebe of the Bradley Foundation. An ASA majority on the board could give these groups more influence over these decisions.

The Daily Dose blog on the Shepherd’s Web site, ExpressMilwaukee.com, has been following the saga in detail and will continue to report on the case.


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