District Councilors, District School Committee Members

Yesterday’s T&G had an extremely interesting Nick K. column about the possibility of district school committee members (up on the docket again tomorrow).

It’s a good synthesis of what Dave Goldberg has been saying for quite a while (and the belief system to which he has converted me); that is, it’s unclear whether one of the original intents of the ‘new’ charter (bringing about a more diverse group of candidates) has been achieved.

I won’t rehash the column, but there is a larger point that’s worth making.

According to Daily Worcesteria, the Mayor’s motivation is that “adding four seats to the School Committee and mingling district with at-large representation will boost voter interest, up turnout and encourage new candidates to run.” [quote is from the article and not from the Mayor]

Has adding five district council seats boosted voter interest?  Ask the handful (literally) of folks who attended the D3 Council debate.

Has voter turnout increased over the past 20 years?

Have new candidates been successfully able to unseat incumbents?  (Because that was one of the points of the charter change for City Council, and that is certainly one of the motivations behind this change as well.)

As Jeremy asks, will “adding four more politicians to city government improve advocacy for specific schools or areas”?

Indeed, one might wonder about the motivations of a legislative body that asks for a major reorganization of another legislative body while at the same time rejecting proposals to look into reassessing the city charter, limiting the number of terms a member can serve on a subcommittee, and increasing citizen participation in meetings.

I remain skeptical about the efficacy of district councilors, the introduction of which has done little to improve voter participation or diversity in the ranks of elected officials.

While it’s a Worcester tradition to apply models that are proven to not work (or, in this case, to not achieve their goals), I’d prefer it if we took a step back and asked ourselves what the intention of this question is.

Is it to improve voter turnout?  If district council seats couldn’t do that, why do we think district seats on a much-less-followed race will make that happen?

Is it to increase representation from underserved groups?  If so, we need to ask ourselves also whether that’s possible when the school district doesn’t get funding broken down by individual schools.  It’s also important to keep in mind that a significant portion of children in the public schools have parents who might not be able to vote.

I also worry about the implication that someone needs to look like me (gender-wise or color-wise) or live next door to me in order to adequately represent me.  Just because someone is a woman does not mean she’ll represent my interests better than a man.  That doesn’t mean increased diversity among elected officials isn’t something to be encouraged, but it tends to lead to nonsensical arguments along the lines of “if women ran the world there would be no wars.”

By all means, let’s have a discussion about representation on the School Committee.  But assuming that district representation will solve problems that may or may not exist starts that discussion off on the wrong foot.

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One thought on “District Councilors, District School Committee Members

  1. Joe says:

    The biggest problem (for me) with this proposal is that the way the electoral districts are divided has nothing to do with the way that the school system is divided (on a large level, into Quadrants – North, South, Burncoat and Doherty). Even on an Elementary school level (and there are many small elementary schools, not just the larger ones) most, if not all, span electoral district lines. And that’s not counting the fact that (based on capacity restrictions) students can attend any school in the entire city.

    Just whose interests would a “district” school committee member represent?

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