Two candidates for a contested seat on the Madison School Board weighed in on early childhood education, police officers in schools, addressing behavioral problems and other topics at a forum Tuesday evening.
Incumbent Anna Moffit is being challenged by Madison Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes for Seat 1 in the April 3 election.
Moffit, a former elementary school teacher, has made advocating for children with disabilities a key issue since joining the School Board in 2015. Reyes said safety in schools is her top priority, which would be informed by her 12 years as a Madison police officer.
Reyes, an East High School graduate, has a son who also graduated from East and a daughter currently in the school district. Moffit has three children enrolled the school district, including a son with autism.
Moffit works as a parent peer specialist for Wisconsin Family Ties, a nonprofit helping children with mental health needs. Reyes’ role in the city government involves her in public safety, civil rights and community services.
Mary Burke, who is running unopposed for a third term in Seat 2 on the School Board, also participated in the forum at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham St.
Responding to a question about strengthening early childhood education, Reyes stressed the importance of the school district creating partnerships with governmental bodies or nonprofit organizations to expand and increase options.
Moffit agreed with the importance of making partnerships in the field of pre-K education, suggesting it could help the district to establish a pilot program of full-day, 4-K programs in targeted neighborhoods to help parents who aren’t able to participate in half-day programs due to their work schedules.
Officers in schools
The candidates also touched on Educational Resource Officers (EROs), Madison police officers who are assigned to the district’s four main high schools.
Moffit is on the School Board’s ad hoc committee examining EROs. She said she respects the work the officers do, but that some of what they do, such as social work-type interactions with students, should be done by other professionals.
“Are these the folks that are most qualified to be doing some of the work that they are doing?” Moffit asked.
Moffit said she’ll support the recommendations the committee is scheduled to make in May.
Reyes agreed that the roles of EROs should be changed, but said they should remain in schools to ensure safety.
“We are not ready to take officers out of schools,” Reyes said. “I think that we could look to phasing them out at some point.”
Both Moffit and Reyes said addressing underlying problems, such as poverty, is critical to improving the district’s Behavior Education Plan, which is meant to correct negative behavior in a supportive manner rather than through traditional consequences such as expulsion or suspension.
“I truly believe that punishing kids is not the answer,” Moffit said “If it worked, we wouldn’t have a problem.”
“I am a woman of color who lived through the challenges of poverty, who had behavior issues, and those are the very students we’re struggling with today,” Reyes said.
Madison School Board members are elected districtwide and the terms last for three years.