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School board candidates who recently met with the newly formed Educational Improvement Political Action Committee (EIPAC) were startled to find incumbent school board member Jay Silberman present and participating in their interrogations. Most of the challengers came away feeling they had no chance of getting the PAC’s endorsement because of their criticism of the current board and Superintendent Franklin Smith.

And they were right.

“I walked out of there saying, what a setup!” one challenger recalled.

Silberman is a die-hard supporter of Smith and his school reforms. But he claims the PAC, bankrolled by investment businessman and education activist George Ferris, was formed to protect and promote that agenda—not to save Smith’s job by electing new, more supportive board members.

But in some circles the PAC was being referred to as the “Franklin Smith Fan Club.”

Silberman actively supported at-large school board candidate Tonya Vidal Kinlow and Ward 3 contender Howard Grimmett. And—surprise, surprise—both secured EIPAC’s seal of approval. But Silberman sees no conflict in his participation in the PAC’s evaluation of rivals to Kinlow and Grimmett.

“What would be the nature of the conflict?” he demands. “I encouraged the PAC to organize in the first place. I think the people who have been involved in education, and who understand the issues more deeply and who would be in a position to make some evaluation and recommendations, should do so.”

Even Silberman’s supporters were appalled that he saw nothing wrong with participating in the endorsement meetings.

“It just makes me question how independent something like this really ends up being,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who endorsed Grimmett’s opponent, Don Reeves. “If these are the good guys, I think we might be in trouble.”

Reeves thinks Silberman acted as a spy for the Grimmett campaign. “He was there taking notes, and I swear, the next time I saw Howard Grimmett, he was spewing out the same stuff I had said at the meeting,” Reeves said.

“Jay is one of those people who believes that rules of ethics apply to everyone but himself,” observes a city education leader. “He has a real blind spot when it comes to judging his own conduct.”

Three of the five candidates endorsed by the PAC, including Grimmett, lost in Tuesday’s elections, all but sinking Silberman’s rumored designs on the school board chairmanship.

The creation of a PAC to promote a school-reform agenda and recruit candidates had been talked about for years prior to this election. But judging from its initial performance, EIPAC may have to reform itself first, if it is to survive.


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