Having interviewed the two challengers for school board earlier, I met Karen Brill the other day at Jidai Kaiten Sushi on Powerline. The funny thing about interviewing candidates is that they all tend to be likeable. Sometimes that makes it hard to pick who to vote for. In this case Brill made it easier.
Brill, Dave Mech, and John Hartman are running for District 3, which runs north from Clint Moore so most of West Boca can’t vote in the race.
She was elected to the school board in 2010 by defeating a long-time incumbent and a few others. She was endorsed in that race by the Palm Beach Post, and they endorsed her again today.
As their 2010 article mentions, Brill became motivated by challenges she faced from the school district in getting a proper and fair education for her autistic son. Because of that experience she describes herself as the go-to person on the board for parents with special needs kids.
Two things in particular impressed me about her. First, she’s very knowledgeable. Some people get elected to boards and just show up to collect the paycheck. Brill, by contrast, has spent the last four years learning a great deal about how things work in the school district. She doesn’t know everything, but she understands how the school district works far better than her opponents.
Second, she is a bundle of energy. The Post mentioned that as well. Our conversation ranged over many topics and anything that came up sparked a stream of ideas and answers from Brill.
She’s not perfect. I asked her some tough questions about “Common Core” and I didn’t love her answers. Her focus on special needs and her knowledge of the finer details of the issues seems to keep her from taking a “big picture” look at the district. For example, we talked about how the system should work better so that parents of kids with special needs wouldn’t need to go to a school board member for help. She got the point, but didn’t seem to know how to get there.
In a follow-up e-mail she said:
I believe we went off on a tangent on how to address the issue of parents of special needs students going to a school board member for assistance. There is an answer. The District needs to restore the Parent Services position (with federal funding from the IDEA) under the new ESE Director or they need to create an ombudsman position.”
And regarding seeing the big picture she said:
My special needs son is only 1/4 of my children. They range from gifted to advanced to average and then to challenged. One my primary concerns is the crush of standardized testing and what is doing to our students’ love for learning and teachers’ ability to teach.
I don’t find those responses persuasive, but I’m voting for her anyway. She has two opponents in the race. I interviewed Dave Mech in June. While I liked him, he just didn’t seem serious enough about the actually winning the election and serving on the school board. Brill, by contrast, is almost too serious about it.
More recently I interviewed John Hartman. There are some critical things I love about Hartman. He’s more of a big picture guy. He’s very concerned about Common Core and strongly opposed to it. If opposition to Common Core is your biggest issue with the schools, then Hartman is the one you should vote for and you should give him some money too. But it’s a little too much of a holy war. He reminds me of the Blues Brothers:
I don’t like Common Core, but it’s not enough. One school board member isn’t going to stop it, or whatever other name they place on it. Brill does see problems with Common Core, FCATs, etc. Her knowledge and energy will be more effective at managing how to deal with it. At the same time she’s ready to handle all the other issues our school board will confront. And she has the personality to get along with others and work through things.
Ideologically I line up more with Hartman. But you don’t win elections because of a higher power. You win them by planning ahead and figuring out how you’re going to reach the voters with your message. Those same methods help you get results when you do get elected. Brill is more ready to get things done. Like many first-time candidates Hartman did not understand how difficult it would be. And that makes you wonder how effective he would be if he won.
Practically speaking, Brill is going to win this election easily. I hope Hartman runs again, either for school board or another office. I’d love to help him in that next race.