A group of Wisconsin citizens led by retired state representative Don Pridemore has created WINNER, Inc. missioned with finding and identifying a qualified candidate for State Superintendent of Schools. The State Superintendent is the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. This supposedly non-partisan position is one of the most powerful in the state.
Many Wisconsinites believe the current DPI has overreached its bounds by imposing Common Core Standards upon local districts and undermining state laws regarding local control of schools. These citizens have been looking for a solution to an overreaching DPI.
WINNER, Inc. President Don Pridemore explains that the Governor and legislative bodies should have little control over educational policies adopted by districts in a local-control state. The power is in the hands of the public. Pridemore explains, “The legislature moves slowly and usually waits for strong grassroots support to do anything.” One important step the grassroots need to take is to elect a State Superintendent who respects state statutes governing local control of schools, a leader who will require that local districts involve citizens in decision making.
Representative Pridemore explained, “If we want true local control, we have to fight to keep it.” Pridemore is trying to discourage those who are demanding that state government take more power. When citizens insist that the governor and legislative bodies dictate educational policy like repealing Common Core, those citizens are surrendering their rights to the state government. He asks them to fight for and to support strengthening the state statutes governing local control of schools. One step in accomplishing this goal is to find a DPI candidate who will commit to following local-control laws.
Pridemore does recommend that the legislature use its power to write the job description for the DPI to define insubordination as any attempt to make it financially difficult for schools to select alternative policies to those recommended by the DPI. This change would make it easier for the legislature to impeach a partisan DPI. Currently, the only remedies for incompetence or manipulation of the office are impeachment, recall, auditing the DPI, and electing a new State Superintendent of Schools. All of these remedies are time consuming, costly, and often very contentious. Being able to identify a breach of contract would make impeachment easier.
Demanding an audit of the DPI will, according to Pridemore, expose the DPI’s manipulation of funding to harass local districts. The findings in the audit would be made public, thereby heightening citizen awareness and encouraging the electorate to become more involved in the election of the DPI and in actions taken by local school boards.
Pridemore explained, “Regardless of what is written on paper, government is only as good as the people we elect. Due diligence is required. If we get lazy, they take control.” Therefore, while the legislature may adjust the job description to tighten control of the DPI, those new requirements can be ignored and manipulated, too. It takes the efforts of the electorate to stop these efforts to take freedoms and rights away from the people. We must be vigilant whether we live in a local-control state or in a state with powerful state control of the educational process.
Pridemore’s group intends to educate the public regarding the power the state DPI has when shaping educational policy and to encourage citizens to get out and vote in the off year election held to select the State Superintendent. If the public elects a leader who respects state statutes governing local control of schools, the public will have an easier time exercising local control of their school districts.