Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Whom Do They Represent?

Whom Do They Represent?

The St. Louis Board of Education now has five African-American members - a solid majority of a now seven-member board. This is a very good thing.

However, none reside north of Delmar Boulevard, the traditional definition of "North" Saint Louis. And none reside east of Grand Boulevard, where much of the African-American population has moved and where lots of immigrants live as well.

This is not surprising; after all, school board members are not paid, so they volunteer their time. It's a large time commitment, so it's something that middle-class professionals can more easily do. Also not surprisingly, several of these board members are high-level executives in non-profit organizations, which suggests they would know something about working with board members themselves.

Thus it is at least heartening to realize that all five African-American school board members represent a pretty substantial African-American middle-class presence in the City of St. Louis - albeit concentrated in the central corridor.

More specifically, four board members reside in the greater Central West End / Skinker-DeBaliviere area, either on private streets or on Lindell. Another resides in the historic Tiffany neighborhood on a dead-end street.

Both white board members live in St. Louis Hills.

While geography isn't everything, the combination of geography and profession strongly suggests that the current school board members' day-to-day experiences are quite different from the everyday lives of most SLPS parents.


Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

This is a very, very good way of putting something I've been feeling and thinking but unable to quite explain for some time now.

When we used to live in Forest Park Southeast and thus frequently passed through the neighboring CWE area (well, they had the BJC complex as a sort of fortification against us, but we were sort of neighboring neighborhoods), on occasion we'd drive past some fancy CWE house and Michael would point to it and tell me that some elected official (often a school board member) lived there. Compared to our modest apartment on a fairly unstable block.... Um, yeah, wow.

Sometimes when I daydream about the School Board when I'm at work, I wonder if any of them knows what it's like to stock sodas for $7.50 an hour. I don't think they should have to know what it's like to make that little amount of money (no one should have to) but still, my daily experience bears a much stronger resemblance to the daily life of the average SLPS parent than does the daily experience of the School Board members.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...


I would be very interested to know
a) How many of the School Board members who have kids send them to the SLPS? Out of those, which SLPS schools specifically do they attend?
b) How many of the School Board members have attended the SLPS themselves?

Anonymous said...

Because you choose to live in the central corridor or fight to have your kids in a better school, you can't represent other City families?

A tide lifts all boats. Whether their kids attend or attended a regular public school, magnet, deseg or private, at least these parents chose to raise their children in the City.

Michael Allen said...

Anonymous skirts Joe's larger point: Perhaps people living dramatically different lives than the people they represent don't provide the best representation when they are the only representatives those people have. Plurality is strength -- let's have board members from all over the city and from all backgrounds. St. Louis Hills and Jeff Vanderlou are both authentic city neighborhoods, but neither one alone could stand for the larger city itself.

Anonymous said...

It's a little ironic that someone working at a low wage for an employer that won't accept EBT from its patrons would be criticizing the elitism of others. Of course, this new business uniquely serves Downtown while the big guys in town have long left Cass Avenue.

So don't criticize those serving in ways others haven't, just because they are affluent. It's likely the board members' affluence that affords them the opportunity to volunteer their time. And I am for one grateful that they are willing to donate their time to help improve our schools.

Anonymous said...

"It's a little ironic that someone working at a low wage for an employer that won't accept EBT from its patrons would be criticizing the elitism of others."

I don't understand the logic of this statement. Perhaps with a $100/hour rate I would, but to me it seems that anyone working for a low wage has absolutely no power over the policy of the big-bucks owners of her place of employment. Should she quit her job and go on welfare just to be ideologically pure?

You are obviously wealthy and more than a little elitist yourself. Your talk of affluence is sickening -- you imply that poor people should NOT be elected to public office. You completely ignore the fact that their affluence insulates them from the reality of an education system that serves VERY POOR people, and encourages them to advance public policies that are based on corporate models of efficiency and profitability.

As for Vince Schoemehl, he did not donate his time -- he used his position to reap huge rewards for Grand Center (Waring School) that prop up his sinecure there. And Archibald, Jackson and Clinkscale all benefit from a system that excludes the input of poor African-Americans. That's how they can make the money they make and live where they live.

Anonymous said...

"a system that excludes the input of poor African-Americans"

Were any constituents excluded from voting in the school board election? Do these constituents realize that they too can choose to run for school board?

This thread seems to think one must be like the majority of families with children in order to represent the interests of such families.

Clearly, the bigger issue is that a majority of voters don't have children, let alone any enrolled in the SLPS system. But our school board is not only trying to improve the schools for current children but also improve a system to attract middle-income families.

Anonymous said...

In a system dominated by money, voting and running for office are rather meager input.

Were the playing field level, these tools would be sufficient for anyone to participate in government.

But at the present moment, money talks.

Having money is a better political strategy than having ideas, as our 28 Aldermen so ably demonstrate.

Anonymous said...

And yet similar interests want an elected civilian review board, when complaining about an elected school board.

It may often be for sale, but democracy works. Money might buy influence, but truly passionate grassroots efforts can still make a difference.

Besides, given the digital divide, what sense does it make to complain in this forum? Take it to the porches, barber shops, and churches, or don't bother complaining.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I don't see how my job has anything to do with this discussion. Yes, my employers really need to accept EBT, but it's not as if I have the freedom to sit there and compare the ethical and political policies of companies before choosing any job in the world that I want. My partner and I both had bad job luck at the same time (so goes the nonprofit sector) and found ourselves suddenly living on less than $400 a month, so I went out and got the first half decent job that I could, so we wouldn't starve. Like thousands of other St. Louisans (and SLPS parents, and former SLPS students like myself), I don't have a degree and I don't have a ton of paid job experience, so I don't have a lot of choice in where I can get a job. I don't see how that makes my criticism of the Board of Ed any less valid.

And I wasn't pointing fingers at any particular Board member's practices, but rather I was saying that I think it's interesting that so many members of the Board (even ones with whom I generally agree) have certain things in common--even simple statistics should let us know that that means they're not a representative sample.

"Were any constituents excluded from voting in the school board election?"
Wait, weren't you just telling me that my opinion of the Board doesn't matter specifically because of the low wage job I've had to take? That made me feel excluded.

In the future, if anyone is going to post attacks on me based on personal details of my life (whether or not I've mentioned them in my own blog), I would appreciate if you post under your real name, rather than being cowardly and creepy and posting as a no-name. Anonymously posting informed opinions on city politics is one thing; anonymously posting "informed" opinions on individual people is quite another.

Joe said...

Whoa, whoa - what happened here?

I was just pointing out something I thought was interesting - that even though we have better representation of African-Americans on the school board, the school board membership may not accurately reflect the largely low-income population of the school district.

And I did indicate this is not surprising, given it's an unpaid position.

It is totally uncalled for to attack somebody based on their employer, unless they are a paid representative of their employer. Claire is not that.

Right now, I literally can't afford to be judgmental about what employment another person accepts! In the current economic climate, I'm just grateful to have any job (or in my case, three or four part-time jobs put together).

While a living-wage job with health insurance would be great, most folks just have to struggle to make ends meet. I suppose by working for the system I am perpetuating the system; but I still have to eat! I do voluntarily belong to a labor union (CWA).

By the way, I believe Ron Jackson is the only board member with a child in SLPS - at Metro. Veronica O'Brien's children go to Clayton. The rest, I believe, have adult children (not sure about Flint Fowler though).

And I'm fully aware that blogging is something that's not necessarily available to the majority of low-income folks. However, it does at least represent another way to get your ideas across, at a relatively low cost. I could, and indeed I occasionally do, post on this blog from the public library. Most of the time, I post from a semi-public location like a university computer lab.

Anyway, I also wish people would not make so many anonymous comments; but that's their prerogative, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, all those commenting on this blog don't have any children. And that's not meant as an attack, for self included even. So, it's rather ironic that anyone not yet raising school-age children could criticize the board members' lack of SLPS-enrolled children, when not yet having faced that serious decision themselves as a parent.

And while most commenting here do live in areas with neighbors of simple means, all of us work around more affluent folks (not just Claire; sorry for singling her out earlier, albeit intentionally vague), whether we work downtown or elsewhere. As such, much of our day-to-day experiences still don't match that of most SLPS parents.

My point then (now without "attacking" someone as an example)-- is that most of us neither have children nor work around SLPS parents on a regular basis. So, who are we to criticize the make-up of a school board that greatly reflects us, plus our City's greater composition?

My other point is that the majority of voters don't have SLPS-enrolled children themselves. As such, a board resembling the majority of voters shouldn't surprise us.

Joe said...

Well, I know both Claire and I have direct experience with SLPS from the 1980s and 1990s - as students!

While I don't claim to know everything, I do know people who have direct experience with SLPS today, albeit mostly as classroom teachers.

I really disagree, though, that "our City's greater composition" is reflected by the school board membership.

According to the 2000 Census, 80% of children enrolled in K-12 schools living in the City of St. Louis, are enrolled in public schools.

That's 54,000 kids. After dropping the 12,000 or so in deseg, that leaves 42,000 or so - about the enrollment of SLPS in 2000. Only 20% (or 13,000) were enrolled in private schools. So, most kids in the City of St. Louis ARE students in SLPS.

However, a large percentage of people who actually vote are, for better or for worse, senior citizens. Of course THEY don't have children in the SLPS! They might have grandchildren, but given that the district is 80% African-American and the actual voting population in the City is something like 60% white, most voters probably don't have grandkids in SLPS. And that's a shame.

Anyway, I'm glad to see two parents of children in SLPS - Peter Downs and Donna Jones - running for school board in April. I don't know whether either one has any chance in getting elected, but I wish both of them good luck.