Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why I’m running for the school board

Yesterday I filed to become a candidate for the school board vacancy created by the resignation of Tuyet Baruah. The filing included over a hundred petition signatures, and although it wasn’t required, I made sure that I included at least four signatures from each of the twenty elementary school attendance zones in the district.

The vacancy that I am running to fill occurred only a week ago; it’s going to take me a couple of weeks to get a campaign fully in gear. In the meantime, for those of you who don’t already know me:

My name is Chris Liebig, and I have lived in Iowa City for nineteen years. This year, my wife Carolyn and I will have one child at Hoover Elementary, one at Southeast Junior High, and one at City High. I have been writing regularly here about local and national education policy for almost six years. In my day job, I teach legal analysis, writing, and research to first-year law students at the University of Iowa. (The opinions I express here are, of course, my own.) In addition to my law degree, I have an M.F.A. in creative writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Why I’m running:

  • Our district needs to be more responsive to what the community wants. Too often district policies—for example, the new school day schedule, or the dismayingly short elementary school lunch periods, or the continual talk of school closures—seem to descend from on high, without any regard to community input.

  • I want to keep all of our schools open. Closing schools when enrollment is expanding makes no sense and is needlessly divisive and expensive.

  • We should pay special attention to the needs of disadvantaged students and their families. In my view, those families are the best judges of what those needs are. We should seek out their advice and bring it to bear on district policy.

  • We need the voters to pass a bond to complete the renovations and new facilities in the district’s long-term plan. Passing a bond requires not cheerleading or groupthink but transparency, candor, inclusiveness, and critical thinking. Asking the voters to approve a bond that pits some neighborhoods against others, for example, would put the entire plan at risk.

  • Teachers and school staff have invaluable knowledge about what is happening in our schools and what might need to change. They should not feel inhibited for any reason from speaking publicly about the district’s policies and practices. I’d like to develop an employee free speech policy to ensure that school staff will feel free—and encouraged—to contribute publicly to the discussions about our schools.

  • We need sound, capable management from our administrators, but on policy issues the board should lead, not follow, the administration. The board is the only democratically accountable element in what would otherwise be an insulated and self-reinforcing system. It needs to speak up for the community and push back against proposals that don’t have the support of the public.

Having blogged here for so long, I’m a pretty open book. If you browse through old posts, you’ll get a sense of where I’m coming from. But I’m not interested in running for the board so I can impose all my idiosyncratic preferences on the district regardless of whether anyone wants them. Our best hope is a school system that reflects the ambitions and values of this community. I believe in the great potential of community-based, democratically accountable public schools.


Megan Samuelson said...

Yes! You have at least two votes from west of the river...

Anonymous said...

A heartfelt thanks to you, Chris, for your decision. The district needs someone like you on the board more than ever to help put the "community" back in Iowa City Community School District!

Anonymous said...

Bout time dude. I would offer to wash your feet with my hair but it's probably not long enough and, besides, unlike the current board members, with the exception of Tuyet...who has been the only one with integrity AND courage, you realize you are not holier than those you would serve.

Chris said...

Thanks -- just a few thousand more votes to go!

Anonymous said...

Two more votes for you from West of the river, we need someone that will champion all of our neighborhood schools.

iclocal said...

I will be voting for you and Phil in the upcoming election. I really hope you two get elected!

Mike Schluckebier said...

Chris, hi. Was thinking you could devote a post to your current relationship to the Save Hoover group. I see in your candidate response (and read both blogs enough to know) you were one of the main organizers in 2013. Are you separating yourself from that group for this election?

Chris said...

Mike -- Thanks for asking. I turned the treasurer position of Save Hoover over to someone else before I filed my candidacy petition, just because it was more than I could handle. (The whole goal of Iowa's campaign finance disclosure system is to make these things public and look-up-able: you can see the change here.)

I intend to remain active with the Save Hoover group, though, since it is a cause I fully support. As I understand it, that means that if the Save Hoover Committee spends any money to promote my candidacy, I will have to report that on my own disclosure reports as an in-kind contribution. Those reports will also, of course, be available on the state campaign disclosure website.

FedUpMom said...

Congrats, Chris! Best of luck!