Is the Chamber calling the shots?

Although Jim Page, CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce (WACOC), claims that the local business advocacy  group has no ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there is a similar approach to the election of school board members. The U.S. Chamber has been involved in a major drive to get the business community more involved in attracting and supporting school-board candidates.

A brochure distributed by the WACOC states its priority: “The Chamber will recruit seasoned business leaders to seek elected office on local boards of education, beginning in 2013, to significantly improve the policy-making, financial management and operations of local public school districts.”

The WACOC has not endorsed any local candidates but individuals associated with the Chamber have contributed to the Educate Tuscaloosa PAC, including its Governmental Affairs Committee Vice Chairman Jordan Plaster. School Board candidates Norman Crow and Renwick Jones even serve on the WACOC’s 2013 Board of Directors.

Big contributions that are coming in from PACs or individuals with direct or indirect ties to the Chamber of Commerce have affected elections throughout the nation. In Omaha, for example, voters elected five of the six candidates who were supported by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

Brian Rosenthal of the Seattle Times wrote: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using problems in Seattle’s public-school system as evidence that businesses across the country need to get more involved in school-board elections, but officials here say the national group got its facts wrong.

“The three-page ‘case study’ of Seattle Public Schools, released last week, is among the harshest of 13 such reports conducted by the chamber and the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, both conservative business groups.

“School Board Vice President Kay Smith-Blum called the report ‘incredibly inaccurate.’ ‘I think they made a lot of unfounded assumptions and statements,’ Smith-Blum said, adding ‘there’s a tremendous amount of synergy’ on the board. ‘I think the U.S. Chamber of Commerce should come out and visit Seattle Public Schools and get the real story,’ she said.”

WIFR News in Illinois reported: “The Rockford Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ROCPAC) announced its endorsement of four Rockford Public School board candidates who are running in contested races. ROCPAC was formed by the Rockford Chamber of Commerce in 2011 and has worked to identify races of importance to the business community. ‘I believe the Rockford Chamber of Commerce has a demonstrated a track record in addressing public education issues in the past few years,’ said Einar Forsman, Rockford Chamber CEO. ‘That track record gives us credibility for ROCPAC to weigh in on candidate endorsement for the schools that match-up with their priorities.’”

Local School Board candidates challenging the incumbents have called for “change.”  But they haven’t been too clear about what that means.

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