by David Safier
Pamela Powers Hannley wrote a post discussing TUSD School Board candidates, focusing on Kristel Foster. It covered lots of ground, but I want to look at one issue in the post -- the question asked of Foster and others by Mark Stegeman: Would you have voted to dismantle MAS rather than let the District take a $15 million hit? [Note: I wasn't there, so I'm counting on Pamela's recounting of the discussion to be accurate, and I'm reasonably certain it is.] Foster answered, she would have voted to dismantle the program rather than taking the $15 million cut. Cam Juarez and Betts Puttnam-Hildalgo said they would have voted no.
As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, "If the questions don't make sense, neither will the answers." And though Stegeman's question sounds simple and straightforward, the fact is, his question didn't make sense, and it led to answers which were inaccurate because they were incomplete. Stegeman asked a clever gotcha question which caught the others flatfooted. It's not the question that should have been asked. The real question is: If these candidates had been on the Board during the MAS controversy in the place of Stegeman and Cuevas, how would they have acted?
Stegeman's seemingly clear, simple question has a hidden, false premise. What he really asked was, "If you were appointed to the Board on the day of the MAS vote, how would you have voted?" With Stegeman's question, the candidates had to imagine they had no part in the earlier decisions. It's as if someone else had driven a car to the edge of the cliff, then asked, "If you were given the wheel at that moment, would you have continued over the cliff or veered the car to the right, which would have flipped it over as it careened down the embankment?" For the hypothetical driver, the answer should have been, "I would have known the cliff was up ahead and would have done everything in my power not to drive toward it." For the candidates, the answer should have been, "I would have understood how forces were lining up against the MAS program and would have done everything I could to fight against the effort to dismantle it."
If the Board had been more MAS-friendly -- especially if the Board had a majority of members in favor of MAS -- events leading up to the vote would have been different. Instead of having Stegeman paying lip service to preserving the MAS program while he wanted to change or dismantle it, Foster and/or Juarez, I imagine, would have been more active in supporting and attempting to save the program. It's impossible to say if the results would have been different, but both of the candidates would have fought for a more positive result. It would have meant different discussions at Board meetings and different issues being brought up for a vote. It would have meant the Board taking a different stance toward Huppenthal and Pedicone. It would have meant developing a different working relationship with the MAS administrators, teachers and students. The Board meetings might not have reached the level of rancor we saw as the MAS battles raged.
And if it came to a vote on dismantling the program or taking a $15 million cut, the wording of the statement they voted on might have been different, leaving a larger window for the return of the program.
The candidates' answers to the question of how they would have acted if they were on the Board during the MAS controversy would have been hypotheticals, of course. There's no way of telling how things would have played out if people like Foster and Juarez were on the Board instead of Stegeman and Cuevas. (And there's no telling how different the outcome might have been if long-time Board member Judy Burns hadn't died unexpectedly, which had a profound effect on the outcome.) But the answers would have been no less hypothetical and a lot more thought provoking and revealing than asking the candidates what they would have done if they were parachuted into the Board meeting on the day of the vote.