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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 73.0° F  Overcast
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Citizen Dave: Does being childless disqualify you from serving on the Madison school board?

Mary Burke
Mary Burke
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John Matthews, the very long-time president of the Madison teachers union said something about the Madison school board races that shouldn't go unnoticed in this Cap Times story.

Referring to Mary Burke, a candidate for an open seat on the board, Matthews is quoted as saying, "you want somebody who understands what it's like to be a parent and understands the needs of parents to be involved." Burke has no children.

There's little room to interpret that statement as anything but a claim that childless adults need not apply for positions on the school board as far as John Matthews is concerned. John did not go on to suggest that his members who teach children but don't have any themselves are unqualified to teach, but that would seem to be a logical conclusion.

John can't be serious. Single-person households now make up one out of four American households, and the percentage is almost half in large cities. While all of those single person homes are not made up of childless individuals, there's a good chance that the trend indicates that there are more of us who have made that choice to not have kids.

Yet all of those households pay property taxes directly or though their rent. And schools make up by far the largest portion of that bill. Are they still disqualified?

Just because you don't have kids, does that indicate you don't understand them or don't care about them? It sure doesn't in Mary Burke's case. She spear-headed the effort to build a new Boys & Girls Club in the Allied Drive neighborhood, an investment in kids that has sparked a renaissance in that community.

Matthews' assertion would also disqualify me from serving on the school board. Now, I wouldn't serve on the school board for all kinds of reasons, but it's not because I don't have any children of my own. I always felt that school board was the most thankless, toughest job in town. The worst I could do to you as mayor is not get your street plowed. The worst thing the school board can do is fail to educate your kids. It's a huge responsibility with virtually no pay and little prestige, and yet good people continue to do it.

So, I respect everybody who has served or who has stepped forward to serve on the Madison school board. And that applies to candidates I am endorsing, like Mary Burke and Nichelle Nichols, and their opponents. I'm grateful that people this talented would offer to step up to do such a difficult and necessary job.

Let's not narrow the field of talent with a constricted view of who is qualified to serve.

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