Sanfelippo Spins More Pretzel Logic!

Yesterday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Crossroads section (editorial section) featured an opinion piece by State Representative Ron Sanfelippo…the former County Supervisor who was the point man in Madison for the neutering of the Milwaukee County Board…but I digress!

But rather than local government, this time the representative is shooting at changing the Wisconsin Constitution…and his direct target is the state superintendent of Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Currently the superintendent is an elected position but Rep. Sanfelippo feels that Wisconsin education would be better served by a gubernatorial appointee. He has a lot of reasons excuses for wanting this change…but they are flimsy at best and down right ridiculous in a number of cases. Let’s take a peek:

First, the sub heading of the article is “Remove the politics from the equation”. Baloney! Anytime that you take the ballot out of my hand and place the decision in the hands of the governor…you are introducing more politics, not less. And the good representative is a little touchy on this subject considering that this is exactly his direct intention.

Since I began circulating a resolution asking voters to decide whether the superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction should be changed to an appointed position, I’ve heard numerous allegations that are way off base.

Chief among them is the claim that my proposal is nothing more than a Republican power grab. However, to accept that as truth, you’d have to ignore history.

Maybe I have more faith in the Democratic Party than its own members, but I think it’s ridiculous to believe that a Democrat will never again hold the office of governor. In fact, over the last 50-plus years, five of the 10 governors have been Democrats.

This resolution will provide for a fair and balanced approach because both Republicans and Democrats will have the opportunity to select the superintendent. Besides, it really shouldn’t matter which party makes the appointment. All that matters is we pick the best possible candidate and see steady improvement in our public school system.

Considering their track record since the GOP came to control both houses in the legislature…the abysmal Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)…the attack on the Government Accountability Board…the attack on John Doe investigations…the attempts to sneak through a repeal of the open records law…etc…etc…etc…this is in fact a Republican power grab and an attempt to silence one of two elected officials critical of the Walker administration.

And just because a Democratic governor will appoint a superintendent sometime in the future doesn’t mean I trust them to not appoint a crony to the position. Really!

As for picking the best possible candidate for the position…let’s just consider Cathy Stepp at the Department of Natural Resources. Enough said.

If electing a state superintendent is meant to produce greater accountability and student achievement, then why don’t we also elect local superintendents instead of having them appointed by their local school boards?

Just because they are both titled superintendent doesn’t mean that their roles are the same…the leader in state education is quite different than a local superintendent…and so far…Rep. Sanfelippo hasn’t recommended changing this (yet)…school boards are an elected group of local individuals who are fairly grass roots and hands on compared to our bought and paid for governor.

And I see no reason to reduce the DPI superintendent to a simple administrative function…DPI should set policy and lead in education…not follow the directives coming out of the governor’s office, whether Republican or Democrat:

Not only would my resolution make the selection of the state superintendent post consistent with local superintendent positions, it also would mirror the process of how administrators of other similar government agencies are chosen in the majority of states.

That would help create more accountability and cohesion between DPI and the Legislature. Because right now, it feels as if every time we’ve proposed meaningful changes to improve education in Wisconsin, DPI has pushed back by using the constitution as a crutch and the fact that its superintendent is a separately elected position.

That disconnect and lack of cooperation certainly isn’t helping improve an education agency that many could argue is failing our state and our future workforce.

Well, it does take two to tango and the GOP’s continued disinterest in cooperating with anyone in state government who isn’t aligned with their pogrom is universal. It isn’t a recalcitrant DPI that’s the problem here.

And I don’t know why Rep. Sanfelippo insists that DPI is at fault for an employable skills gap in Wisconsin.

If DPI didn’t always act as if it was on an island all by itself, we could have greater collaboration with state entities such as the Department of Workforce Development to tackle such issues as the noticeable skills gap problem in Wisconsin. Currently, the state has about 86,000 job openings that aren’t being filled.

I would think the continuing budget cuts to public education has a lot more to do with skills gaps in Wisconsin than anything coming out of the DPI…or as the representative suggests…not coming out of the DPI. And apparently he missed the letter from 35 Wisconsin principals complaining about the lack of state financial support for their public school districts (35 Small Town and Village Principals Come Out Against Education Cuts). You can’t lay those issues on the doorstep of the DPI.

I also believe some students are not getting the education they deserve because DPI’s one-size-fits-all approach is holding back local school districts and teachers by forcing them to constantly jump through hoops to comply with excessive regulatory burdens. If teachers and school administrators were able to focus all of their attention on their students, I’m confident the state’s graduation rate would stop declining and our inadequate reading scores would improve.

Many of those rules and regs…particularly around testing have come out of the legislature as well…and yes…when teachers can concentrate on teaching…results can be expected to improve…so spend the money. And, btw, demonizing teachers so that they quit the profession…or worse yet…our young people don’t even consider going into teaching…that is all the result of the brain trust on the right side of the aisle under the dome.

Another goal of my resolution is to take the politics out of selecting a DPI superintendent. Because the superintendent race occurs during spring elections, voter turnout is extremely low, which allows special interest groups to have more influence over who fills the position.

…given that voter turnout has been as low as 13.74% in recent years. By making the superintendent an appointed position, it will bring education discussions into the governor’s race and finally give the topic the attention it so desperately needs.

My heart be still…a Republican worried about voter turnout! What an absurd solution to a real problem. Because few voters turn out in spring elections, we should make this an appointed position? Really? Why don’t we do away with spring elections and roll everything into fall races? Particularly the odd year elections…move them to fall even years (side benefit: local governments will spend less on polling places and poll workers).

A few newspaper editorials have indicated the vast majority of Wisconsinites have no idea who heads DPI.

That won’t change if a governor appoints the superintendent. I bet we would get the same results if we polled Wisconsin voters for the heads of the other appointed department chiefs.

But here’s the real reason the GOP wants to gut the DPI: $$

We also need to decentralize authority in Madison by shrinking part of DPI’s $166.5 million annual operating budget. Those savings then could be sent directly to local classrooms in the form of per-pupil aid.

Right now the legislature has little control over the DPI budget…the department is run by an elected Constitutional official…not a partisan appointee…this money is outside the governor’s purview. That money would never see the inside of a classroom and wouldn’t actually benefit a single student or educator…it would just disappear.

By the way, Rep. Sanfelippo didn’t help educate anyone with his piece either…you didn’t see the name of the State Superintendent anywhere in his screed. Does he even know who that is?

The current State Superintendent of Public Instruction is DR.Tony Evers…and to learn more about Dr. Evers or the DPI, click here!

P.S. My apologies to Steely Dan.


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