Charter schools, union contracts and school safety figure to be major discussion points among the largest slate of Madison School Board candidates since 2007.

Two board members, Maya Cole and Beth Moss, are retiring, and all three seats up for election on April 2 are contested, meaning voters in Madison, Maple Bluff, Shorewood Hills, parts of Fitchburg and a handful of towns will shape the School Board that will oversee a new superintendent. The current seven-member board plans to make a hiring decision as early as February.

The new board also will face continued budget restraints and the further development of a plan to improve minority and low-income student achievement.

School Board president James Howard, the lone incumbent seeking re-election, faces a challenge from Greg Packnett, a legislative aide active with the local Democratic Party. The seats are officially nonpartisan.

Two candidates, low-income housing provider Dean Loumos and recently retired Madison police lieutenant Wayne Strong, are vying for Moss' seat.

The race for Cole's seat will include a primary on Feb. 19, the first one for a Madison School Board seat in six years. The candidates are Sarah Manski, a Green Party political activist who runs a website that encourages buying local; Ananda Mirilli, social justice coordinator for the YWCA who has a student at Nuestro Mundo Community School; and T.J. Mertz, an Edgewood College history instructor and local education blogger whose children attend West High and Randall Elementary schools.

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