Friday, April 27, 2012

John Kowalko shoots from the hip . . . and gets it wrong

You can visit Transparent Christina to view a copy of the letter that John Kowalko has dispatched to the National PTA, complaining about the Delaware PTA's school board candidate survey, and accusing DE PTA President Yvonne Johnson of attempting to interfere in the Red Clay School Board election.

In this letter, Mr. Kowalko portrays himself as the defender of the apolitical status of school board elections in Delaware, and is shocked to discover that the Delaware PTA has a position of education-related issues.

In reality, the letter is a thin tissue of political self-interest on Mr. Kowalko's part, cynically filled with half-truths, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations.

He should be embarrassed to have written it, but I suspect that in the politically charged Delaware Education civil war that's way too much to ask for.

So we'll have to do it for him.

Mr. Kowalko's words are in black; my comments are in red.

Said survey . . .

I personally find intrusive, polarizing, and a thinly veiled attempt to influence the independence of local school board candidates and elections.
As we shall see, intrusion, polarization, and influence have long been a part of Delaware school board elections, despite Inspector Clouseau's sudden epiphany.
The State PTA seems to have taken the same political view of education in Delaware as Rodel, and the questionnaire, though seemingling innocent by itself, has taken the Rodel political bias.
In case Mr. Kowalko never noticed--as I documented here last week--the Delaware PTA has been in open partnerhsip with Rodel regarding education reform in Delaware for years.  Mr. Kowalko may have a different position on what should be done in Delaware schools, but the position that the DE PTA has taken is the same one that Governor Markell supports strongly (and indicated by today's selection of the Vision 2015 leader, Mark Murphy, to become the new Secretary of Education).  Just because the views of the Governor, of Vision 2015, and of the Delaware PTA do not comport with Mr. Kowalko's does not make them in any way illegimate.
I find question 3, the union question, very biased, especially in light of the fact that one of the candidates in the Red Clay School District is a member of a teacher's union, and is running against a Rodel (and the PTA President's) candidate.
There is almost too much packed into this one sentence to tackle.  Let's try it seriatem, Mr, Kowalko, and see if you can follow along: 
1.  Question 3 asks, "How do you view the teacher's union (DSEA) role in relation to school boards?"  Let's compare that to the question that the local DSEA affiliate (RCEA) asked both candidates when it interviewed them:  "How can RCEA (Red Clay Education Association) and RCPA (Red Clay Para-professional Association) help you as a board member?"  Uh, Mr. Kowalko, the questions are essentially the same--what do candidates think of the role of unions.  Why would one question about the role of the teacher's union--asked by the teacher's union itself to one of its own members--be legitimate, while virtually the same question asked by the PTA is "very biased"? 
2.  Indeed, Mr. Kenny Rivera, who is both an outstanding teacher and well-spoken young man, is running.  And Ms. Joanne Johansen, who has been in Red Clay as a student and then a parent for over forty years, is also running.  Is Ms. Johansen "a Rodel candidate," Mr. Kowalko?  Depends on your definition.  Voices 4 Delaware Education published a flyer on her behalf, just as DSEA will publish a flyer on Mr. Rivera's behalf.  [Incidentally, neither flyer has in any way attacked the other candidate.]  If that makes her "a Rodel candidate," then that makes him "a DSEA candidate," doesn't it?  Ms. Johansen has received (and reported) campaign contributions from people who support education reform; Mr. Rivera has received (and reported) campaign contributions from people who are members of RCEA/DSEA.  Same question to you, Mr. Kowalko?  If you are implying that Ms. Johansen will be a Rodel puppet because their PAC and their supporters have contributed to her campaign, is not the same true of Mr. Rivera and DSEA? 
This information will be used against the teacher candidate, not as 'just another bit of information.'
Fascinating assertion, that somebody will use those who support a campaign as cause to attack the campaign.  Only problem, Mr. Kowalko, is that it has been primarily (though by no means entirely, I'm sorry to say) pro-DSEA spokes-people who have been playing that card.  While saying, in effect, You can't tar us with a union connection, that's dirty politics, you also turn around and effectively admit, And besides, you're in bed with Rodel, and it's my civic duty to point that out again and again--rather than to talk about any of the issues in the campaign.  Mr. Kowalko (pot) meet Mr. Kowalko (kettle).
Consideration of the financial backer and the well-known views of the current PTA State President make it necessary to see this questionnaire for what it is--an easy avenue for a well-funded special interest group  to get its preferences out to a much larger, targeted audience, as these questions are geared for a specific audience, and this has never been a Delaware PTA role.
"A well-funded special interest group"?  Can't believe you actually have the stones to go there, Mr. Kowalko, considering that DSEA is the primary "special interest group" that has poured more than a million dollars into Delaware school board and legislative elections over the past five years, through a series of interlocking PACs specifically designed to be difficult to trace.  Oh, and by the way, let's note that in every election some of that DSEA PAC money has always come your way as well, Mr. Kowalko--which, by your logic, makes you the DSEA legislator.  There's nothing wrong with that, unless and until you try to portray yourself as you did in this letter as a disinterested, morally outraged party.
While special interest groups have always attempted to bolster boards and elected offices with officials representing their interests, the PTA should not be party to this sort of manipulation.
But DSEA is the kind of "special interest group" that's got your imprimatur of approval to play in this arena, right, Mr. Kowalko?  It's acceptable for teachers to organize and attempt to influence school board elections, but not for parents?  Yet I am glad that you were (for once in this letter) honest enough to admit that what DSEA does in school board elections IS "manipulation."  Thank you for that, sir.
Candidates realize what is happening to them, but they also realize that not completing the survey will have a negative effect on their candidacy.
Really?  That's also the case with DSEA and its affiliates.  How do we know?  We know because DSEA senior officials have bragged about it.  We also know that they have been incredibly effective in their manipulations.  In Red Clay, for example, seven of the last eight candidates endorsed and financially supported by DSEA have won election.  Seven of eight--not quite 100%.  I can see why you are concerned; if Ms. Johansen won despite your character assassination, that would mean that the Red Clay School Board would have only a 5-2 majority of DSEA endorsed candidates.  Obviously, that's not good enough.
A particular concern is that one of the candidates is a parent from the Wilmington Charter School [sic], which by the way has never had a PTA, who was encouraged to run by the current State PTA President, who has no hesitation about vocally backing candidates.
First, Mr. Kowalko, I know you are not a big fan of charters, but you could at least get the name of the school right.  As for not having a PTA, this is the kind of intentionally deceptive half-truth that permeates this letter.  Some schools in Delaware have PTAs, some have PTOs, and some have Parent Associations.  Charter School of Wilmington has a Parent Association; Ms. Johansen is currently an officer there, as she was an officer in the Brandywine Springs Parent-Teacher Organization for nine years.  Did Yvonne Johnson (I know you've got this Voldemort "she who must not be named" thing going on, but I'm tired of it) encourage Ms. Johansen to run?  Absolutely; so did numerous other parents in the district.  I'll bet there were even (the shock of it! the horror!) teachers who encouraged Mr. Rivera to run.
I believe there is a real conflict of interest in the manner in which she does so.
Delaware is full of conflicts of interest, Mr. Kowalko.  You should know, because in this particular case your own continued acceptance of DSEA PAC contributions to your campaigns renders you--ah--not the least biased person in the room to be pointing fingers.
 What I find most offensive about this letter, Mr. Kowalko, is that it is not an attempt to hold out for truth, justice, and the American way, but really a bare-knuckles attack on the candidacy of a fine woman you have never bothered to meet or investigate--Joanne Johansen.

Unlike you, I make no secret of my allegiances, I have supported Ms. Johansen from day one--publicly.

The strong, capable woman you deride as "a Rodel candidate" went to Forest Oak and Stanton before graduating from John Dickinson High School in 1981.  Her children went to Brandywine Springs School, where she worked day in and day out as a parent volunteer and PTO officer for nearly a decade, after which she followed them to CSW and volunteered again.  Her two nieces are--respectively--an AI High graduate and a current special needs student at Dickinson.  Ms. Johansen has personally helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Red Clay schools via the Paw Pack Auction, has sat on district-wide committees, and has been a civic leader for many years.

But to you, Mr. Kowalko, this dedicated woman is simply "a Rodel candidate."

You should be ashamed of that characterization, and you should publicly apologize for it.

I can tell you that no one from Rodel or Voices 4 Delaware has ever spoken with Ms. Johansen, or participated in any campaign meetings, or coordinated campaign activities.  Oddly enough, I am sure exactly the same is true for Mr. Rivera, because it would have been illegal for either of them to do so.

What's disturbingly ironic about this campaign is that the candidates themselves--both Ms. Johansen and Mr. Rivera--have shown considerably more class than you or any other smear-merchant on either side of the fence.

They've stuck to the issues, and--oddly enough despite all your divisive rhetoric--what you never inquired about nor discovered is that they aren't that far apart.  Both believe in more investment in Early Childhood Education.  Both see Red Clay addressing the needs of the PZ schools as a priority.  Both have reservations about the long-term future of Race to the Top.  Both support school choice.

I happen to believe that because Ms. Johansen brings the experience of living in the district and long-term service to our schools, and because she brings a parent's passion about choice and charter to the table, that she is the better candidate.  Even Mr. Rivera's campaign manager says of her,

"If elected, I have no doubt she will serve excellently on the Board."

And with respect to Mr. Rivera, in the same spirit, I completely agree.

The residents of Red Clay are fortunate this year to have an election in which it will be difficult for them to lose.

They just need opportunistic politicians and hyperbolic bloggers to get the hell out of their way, let them meet the candidates, and make up their own minds.


Ed Diagnostician said...

Just because the views of the Governor, of Vision 2015, and of the Delaware PTA do not comport with Mr. Kowalko's does not make them in any way illegimate.

Correct, it validates neither and it invalidates neither.

Dana Garrett said...

I don't see where you have shown that "the letter is a thin tissue of political self-interest on Mr. Kowalko's part, cynically filled with half-truths, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations." Can you be specific?

Steven H. Newton said...

1. Political self-interest: Mr. Kowalko positions himself as the champion of independent school board elections while taking the exact position of one of his most consistent campaign contributors--various DSEA PACs.

2. Half-truths: finding a particular question to be biased when used by DE PTA, but having no trouble with the same question when used by the teacher's union.

3.Inaccuracies: characterizing Ms. Johansen as "a Rodel candidate" without knowing anything about her past contributions, her positions, or having any evidence that her intent to serve on the School Board is to be a Rodel puppet; mischaracterizing her service on parent-teacher organizations; accusing the DE PTA of somehow coverting supporting the Vision 2015 agenda, when their support has been overt and transparent for years.

4. Misrepresentation: again, characterizing himself as a champion of school board independence while ignoring the fact that the union that has consistently support him was (a) the first organization to monetize school board elections; (b) dumping over a million bucks into state politics to influence those election; (c) one of his own campaign contributors. Furthermore, to suggest that DE PTA is a "special interest" group without acknowledging that DSEA is one also is misrepresentation.


I realize you are a John Kowalko fan, but this letter is simply grossly erroneous, obviously politically rather than morally generated, and full of unsubstantiated assertions.

For example, where is the evidence that anyone in Joanne Johansen's campaign has ever used Kenny Rivera's union membership against him (unless merely mentioning it is to be presumed an attack), and where is the evidence that any of the literature produced by Voices 4 Delaware Education in Red Clay has made any such attacks?

Mr. Kowalko asserts that such attacks will be made; his is the burden of proof and he doesn't meet it.

Dana Garrett said...

"Biased" questions reflect interests, and it is perfectly appropriate for some organizations to have interests (e.g. unions) because of their constituencies that is inappropriate for other organizations to have because of the neutrality they should maintain resulting from their non-partisan public character (e.g. PTA's).