There are a few aspects of the referendum campaign that stand out. Here are five notable characteristics of the local campaign:
1. No organized opposition. There’s no organized opposition to the budget referendum. None at all. There is a district campaign on the referendum’s behalf and a tandem Whitewater YES effort among some residents, but nothing else.
Succeed or fail, no one who supports the referendum will be able to say that they faced an organized opposition. Michael Clish at WFAW suggested that most referendums have no organized opposition. He’s right about recent votes in Jefferson County, but not about our past.
Whitewater had more open controversy over school referendums years ago than she does today.
2. Something old, something new. The pro-referendum effort is a joint effort between district and pro-referendum residents.
Between the district and Whitewater YES, they are using a mix of old and new media to advance their cause: (1) a district website with a presentation and video, (2) a Facebook page for the pro-referendum group, (3) two postcards from the district, (4) door-hangers, (5) a letter writing campaign to local newspapers, (6) two radio appearances on WFAW (one by residents, one by district officials), (7) appearances at community meetings by district officials or activists, (8) favorable coverage in the Banner, (9) favorable coverage in the Register, and (10) an embedded video recording about the referendum on Whitewater Community Television’s website.
What’s the most important of all these? The postcards and door-hangers: they will reach the most people, including people not decided on (or opposed to) the referendum. That’s the audience that matters: those who are not supportive, but where some might be persuaded.
Other activities no doubt took more work and time, but no information about the referendum will reach more people than the information in the mailings and door hangers.
3. Content. Virtually all the information from the district is on the cost of the referendum. The district is leading with its budget manager (Nathan Yeager), and not its curriculum coordinator (Kelley Seichter), so to speak.
I praised the last referendum’s organizers, and it’s mostly the same group now.
Still, I would not have advised a presentation so heavy on financial information. I’ve typically advocated that one should Lead Substantively, Support Fiscally.
This is the opposite approach.
It’s a cautious approach, and almost a majoritarian one in its assumptions about the electorate.
When I write about the curriculum, I’m writing about means not ends, about classes and programs not mere results.
Honest to goodness, is there anyone who truly believes that a declining sample of standardized test-results means more educationally than what sharp students are studying, reading, and doing each day?
This community deserves better than to see a few hawk its high school as a rural version of a Japanese cram school or a giant Sylvan Learning Center.
I’ll be writing about Whitewater even a generation from now, and I dare say not once during those many years ahead will I think proper schooling means so little, or can be achieved so easily.
Others have made an opposite choice, to tout and keep touting (October on WFAW and in the Register) standardized scores on the sketchiest of educational bases.
These scores should have been more than a political talking-point or crass program of the landlords’ and realtors’ lobby.
4. Conservatives. In particular, there’s no open opposition to the referendum among city or town conservative leaders. Some are supporting it, others are quiet.
Mostly-conservative towns nearby have seen a similar dynamic. That suggests to me that there are some Walker voters who are not supporters of his administration’s educational policies. They like him and what he’s done, but not wholly, in every instance.
Even in these partisan times, that possibility suggests that voters are not so singular in their views, after all.
5. Risk of this budget-intensive campaign. On November 5th, the day after the election, a referendum win will answer a budgetary question for the district for the next four years. A loss will be particularly hard, however, because district leaders will go into the spring on an effort that has been mostly about finances and less on the curriculum.
Failure would be no easy spot: the district would face a crunch over money, and that crunch would involve fighting over the curriculum at the same time the district tried to balance its budget (what to keep, what to save, what classes or teachers matter most).
The two would be thrown together under conditions of greater stress and urgency in the spring than this November.
Working under a spring deadline is the worst time to talk a lot about the curriculum: academics, athletics, and art have substantive value that should be considered, initially, away from a ledger-driven timeline.
In that way, this hasn’t been a cautious effort at all, but a risk-taking one.
Previously in this series: Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 1: Overall Politics.
Tomorrow: Whitewater Educational Referendum Post 3: An Invitation to a Discussion.