10 commandments for MPS school board members

It’s been quite a week. Four new Milwaukee school board members were seated this Wednesday, at a meeting where we also elected our officers. Now, we’re haggling over committee assignments. In the meantime, fights keep breaking out around schools, reporters have been calling about the flex cuffs issue, and the whole school district is ramping up for the board’s budget deliberations, which start next week.

So, I hope you can forgive the fact that my Sunday school lesson planning started to blend in with my efforts to graciously welcome four new board members to what is a tough and strange job. Here are some tips for my colleagues:

I. You shall have no other gods before me. Often, you’ve got to put the district’s interests before much of the rest of your life. Public service is really demanding. The job it reminds me of most is parenting: You must almost always be available. You’re in charge of life-altering responsibilities. People are always asking you for money. No one will give any credit for your work until you’re dead.

II. You shall not worship idols. Don’t let the power go to your head. Everything we do should be for the children. (Why, yes, in fact, I do hear that chorus of angels singing in the background.)

III. You shall not take my name in vain. The public school district is essential to the well-being of the city and the state. Honor the hard work of the district’s employees and children by not trashing the schools or letting unfair criticism go unaddressed.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The First Commandment not withstanding, you do need to cut yourself some slack. Take it easy on yourself. You’re human, after all.

V. Honor your father and your mother. We can’t serve the children well if we don’t respect their parents. Parents need to be offered a gracious and frequently repeated welcome to be part of the life of our schools.

VI. You shall not murder. Our community’s failure to meet children’s needs is killing them. School district leaders have to see ourselves as part of the broader community and reach out to other agencies to save these kids.

VII. You shall not commit adultery. If you work for MPS, don’t be a spokesperson for another school system, like voucher schools, at the same time. Do the corporate board members for Coke shill for Pepsi?

VIII. You shall not steal. Don’t misuse the public’s money or use your position of power for undue personal gain. Simple enough.

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Actually, Robert’s Rules of Order backs Moses up on this one: Don’t misrepresent your fellow board members’ words or deeds, and don’t publicly impute motives to your colleagues’ actions.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions. So, Fox Point schools have it pretty easy, but we still need to do the best by the kids that we can with the resources we’ve got. MPS board members have to be responsible with the public’s money while also advocating for a more just way to fund public schools.


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