A last-minute, desperate attempt to protect the status quo in Orono

The status quo is getting nervous in the Orono school board race. Several former school board members sent a two-page letter this weekend to every house in the district warning citizens of the impending doom for students if a slate of parent-endorsed candidates should win on Tuesday. It’s a desperate last-minute attempt to discredit these candidates using the worst possible method of communicating a political message – a long letter inside an envelope. Less than 5% of voters will even open the letter.

Together, the former board members boast continuous service on the school board for 24 of the last 27 years. Congratulations, you’re part of the problem. Why would voters look to you for solutions?

They assert “politics has no role to play on the Orono School Board.” If that were true, why would school boards stand for election every few years? What they really mean is, what we do is righteous and good for students, what our opponents do is divisive politics.

The letter is full of the same tired arguments defending the status quo in education across Minnesota this year.

The parent candidates are part of some big national and state movement that is interested in “cookie-cutter issues” like “critical race theory, transparency and test scores.” Of course, they claim that critical race theory is not influencing instruction in Orono schools, repeating the liberal mantra that critical race theory is not being taught here, but it’s awesome (see Orono’s Character Counts! program).

Next, they criticize parent-backed candidates for using test scores to judge the academic performance of the district. According to the letter, Orono schools use “many hundreds of data points to evaluate performance.” Some of them undoubtedly include average height of students and yards per carry for the football team. Unfortunately, colleges and employers are still stuck on academic achievement.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, math scores in the Orono School District have fallen 7 points since 2018.

Reading scores have fallen 4.3 points since 2018.

Science scores have fallen 10.8 points since 2018.

How dare these parents demand better student performance from their district?

Next these sage school board members attempt to discredit claims made by the public about the loss of transparency in district operations. As evidence, they assure voters all laws are being followed and you can watch the school board meetings on YouTube every month. This ignores the real issue of parent and taxpayer feedback. At their October 2021 meeting, the current school board ended the public forum part of board agendas and replaced it with “private listening sessions” with the superintendent and 1-2 school board members. Not giving taxpayers and parents a chance to provide feedback in public is the lack of transparency these parent-backed candidates are fighting against.  

Four has-been school board members are shocked anyone would dare challenge them and instead recommend voters support the candidates hand-picked by the teachers’ union. They repeat the message we’re hearing from the education cartel across the state. Trust teachers, they know best. Trust the superintendent, he has a doctorate degree in education. Trust the school board association, they have the expertise.

But don’t trust parents.