By Bill Guy
It's school board election time in Peaceful County, and because former school board member Wylie Weezer absconded with district funds and is now in jail instead of in office, the citizens of Ourtown must choose between three candidates vying to replace him.
Says candidate Kelly Liberty, "Yes, I realize that I don't have a very good record of having voted in the past several school board elections in our district, but I promise you that I am now fully engaged and I truly do want your vote for my candidacy,"
Trying to cope with a different problem — having sent her children to a private school before she moved to Ourtown — candidate Chris Freedom says, "I am a complete supporter of the public school system in Ourtown. It is true that I previously sent my children to a private school in another community, but that was then. This is now, and I hope you will vote for me."
Sound unrealistic? Maybe. Maybe not. One thing's for sure — those were the mock campaign spiels in a simulated school board election that formed the core component of CTA's Region 4 Political Academy, held March 15-17 in Newport Beach. The conference was built around the mock school election, with three conference participants "running" for office, while the remainder of the 100 or so attendees were divided among the three "candidates" to help them mount and present their campaigns.
"Three out of the four CTA regional political academies featured school board election simulations this year," said CTA Regional Political Organizer Amy Hunter, who planned and coordinated the conference with co-RPO Paul Scott.
"The primary goal of the conference was to provide CTA members with tools, information and skills training to help them participate more meaningfully in actual political action activities in their local school districts and communities."
"I wanted to learn how better to get involved in upcoming issues and campaigns that I see on the horizon in my district," said Michelle Swift, high school English teacher and member of the Lake Elsinore Teachers Association, who "ran" as candidate Jamie Justice.
The other two candidates in the mock election were Menifee Teachers Association member Wendy Holmes (playing Kelly Liberty) and Murrieta Teachers Association member Annette Gross (Chris Freedom).
"I recently volunteered to be a member of my local association's political action committee," said adapted physical education teacher Holmes, one of a four-member team at the conference from the San Bernardino County Teachers Association, who also participated in a pre-conference PAC training. "We really need to get more involved in school board elections in our district, so that's why we are forming a local PAC and why we came to this conference."
Gross, who teaches remedial reading, said her purpose in coming to the conference was to learn how she might better transfer the communication skills she already has to use in political activities in her local and district.
According to Hunter, every chapter in Region 4 was invited to send participants to the conference, and many sent teams of members, a distinct advantage when they return to put their newly learned political skills to work at home.
Highlighting his reasons for participating in the academy, Grossmont Education Association social sciences teacher Pete Bentley said, "It's important for teachers in California to get involved in making sure that schools are what our students need them to be. In order to do that effectively, we need to help the public understand that our concerns are also their concerns. And that means we all need to become more politically active."
When votes were tabulated, mock candidate Kelly Liberty (Wendy Holmes) came out on top by a single vote. But all the political academy participants returned to their local association feeling like winners, possessing new skills and networking contacts for future political action efforts.