Needed: New Opportunities and Directions for the School District

On May 24th, the Madison School Board participated in the democratic process by involving local citizens in its budgetary process by putting forth a referendum. Regardless of how you voted, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the issues, weigh in on the debate and cast your ballot the way you saw fit.
I am not surprised at the outcome of the referenda votes. While I voted, Yes, Yes, Yes, and encouraged others to do the same, I can understand why someone voted No, No, No or any other combination. I am sympathetic to community concerns regarding higher property taxes and the uneasiness that leaves in the community’s sense of economic security. While I am disappointed in the outcome of the referenda for the district’s operating budget and building a new school at Leopold elementary, I do believe that these defeats allow for exploring creative opportunities to capitalize on in the future.

To capitalize such opportunities I believe that the board should revisit and change some of its policies, like those regarding business partnerships for instance. While I am not advocating advertising during the school day or privatizing schools, the fiscal reality that the district is in necessitates that viable options for funding educational activities be considered. I believe strongly that the district could bring in additional revenue that could be used to operate extracurricular activities that are most at-risk for future budget reductions.
The enrollment concerns at Leopold elementary school need further exploration as well. Many may question the proposal to build a new school while there are several schools currently under enrolled. However, these schools are located on opposite sides of town, which do not lend themselves easily to transferring young children long distances to disperse uneven enrollments. The vote not to build a new school on the current Leopold site only delays inevitable decisions that will eventually also have to be made for Madison’s far west and far east sides given the growth of housing developments. Most immediately, we will have to reconsider closing schools on Madison’s north side and the isthmus. The school board will have to make these difficult decisions as growth dictates and perhaps even sooner as the financial challenges warrant. We also will have to reconsider boundary change options.
To assist with these financial challenges, the district should also look to models of successful private and public partnerships such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the City of Madison. These successful partnerships have resulted in the first-rate athletic arena and newly approved public pool facilitated by Senator Herb Kohl and the Goodman brothers, respectively. In looking for partnerships, we should revisit Promega’s offer for the acquisition of free land they were prepared to give the school district for a middle school in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Rather than choosing the politically correct “person of color” after which to name a new school, why not look for an individual in the community who would like to make a sizable contribution to the district with naming rights? Politically correct is one thing, economically correct is another.
The Board should inform and consult the community in finding solutions to the difficult and complex fiscal crisis of the school district. The solution is not to pursue a “do over” by going to referendum again in November. This situation needs much further study; exploration and the development of more options. Not to do this in my humble opinion, would be a mistake.
As a Board member, my role is to represent the concerns of the people and to ensure that the Madison school district is accountable to them and to the students who rely on us to make good, sound policy to facilitate their successful education. The results of the referendum underscore the need for creating alternatives and seizing opportunities to solve long-standing, complex issues.

6 thoughts on “Needed: New Opportunities and Directions for the School District”

  1. Mr. Winston,
    As a Madison taxpayer, parent of a young child, and supporter of public education, I appreciate your comments.
    I must say that I’m feeling a bit ‘betrayed’ by the Board, given their language and actions during the last several months. I felt a level of diviseness within the Board, and throughout the community, not realized since the debate of the Midvale-Lincoln pairing.
    Board leadership spent a lot of time threatening voters, appearing closed to real consideration of alternatives, and actively stifling dissent within its ranks.
    I heard a lot of labeling of citizens who might vote against any or all of the referenda as ‘anti-public education’, or as wanting to avoid further taxation. After voting to support the schools time and time again over the last 15 years, I found this attitude and approach particularly offensive.
    Finally, Mayor Dave’s 11th hour politicking did nothing to make me feel more supportive of the Board, or the MMSD’s position.
    Your suggestions to open up funding sources to external forces is certainly an interesting one. I do feel, however, that basic analysis and adjustments to the current pairings, district boundaries and building resources could make a major difference.
    The Board has now angered and alienated City residents and taxpayers who are typically supportive of public education, and are willing to finance it.
    Please Mr. Winston, first things first. Before we start opening MMSD funding to the in the business community’s highest bidder, and reopen Pandora’s Box regarding siting a school in Fitchburg, maybe the Board could work with the community on a few issues, such as:
    Use of the Hoyt School, an existing near west-side elementary school currently used to house the MSCR program
    Relocation of MSCR from Hoyt to an administrative location closer to Franklin Field, home of the new city pool
    Reconfiguration of the Midvale-Lincoln pairing (eight miles apart), to a pairing between Lincoln and Leopold (two miles apart from one another)
    Re-evaluation of the role and fiscal responsiblities of non-Madison municipalities on the MMSD, and more closely match their level of cost-sharing with their level of demand and use (Fitchburg, in particular, comes to mind)
    Impact of the Ridgewood complex redevelopment on the minority and poverty-level populations in the Leopold district (Will these residents even remain in the Leopold district, because the complex will likely be condemned before it is redeveloped? Will these same residents be able to afford to live there after redevelopment? Will the Leopold district become white and middle-to-upper-middle class as a result?)
    I feel the MMSD and the City need to stand up to the City of Fitchburg regarding their participation in the MMSD, and determine how much of the school and service infrastructure cost will continue to be placed on Madison’s broad and (until now) generous shoulders.
    It should be blatantly clear by now that Fitchburg housing sprawl, and its related demands on the MMSD, will continue until developable land is no longer available.
    Our city will continue to bear the burden of the physical facility operation and maintenance, and the cost of the key infrastructure to support it. These costs will not go away, and it is time that the municipalities that so freely use these facilities and resources pay their fair share.

  2. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts on this site, Mr. Winston.
    Re: a second school at Leopold:
    I would appreciate a frank discussion of what the impact of building at Leopold means for the continued existence of Isthmus schools. In other words, the community should see in one plan where new schools are proposed to open and which schools the board would vote to close.
    One reason I was uncomfortable with the Leopold referendum question is a concern that building there would drive a whole host of other decisions. I would prefer to see the alternatives and consider the consequences ahead of time because while I’m sympathetic to Leopold children having to ride buses for another year, there may be other children who now walk who will be riding buses when their neighborhood schools closed. I’d like to see those numbers and the redistribution plans. And it looks like now we have the opportunity for just that conversation.

  3. I do want to know why the district can’t renovate Dudgeon School? It’s in the west district as Leopold and the cost would be less than 2.5 million. Also, why house MSCR at Hoyt when that’s in the West District where the kids are? why not put that program and the others there at an eastside school that has declining enrollment or needs to be closed?
    Why when the west elementary schools are overcrowded do you try to shift them into the Memorial district when it is on the verge of being overcrowded? Why not shift the kids in the west district to eastside schools that have declining enrollment? ridgewood apartments on Park Street is not that far from the isthmus and those schools with declining enrollments.
    I look forward to your response. Sandy Meuer

  4. Ms. Meuer:
    I will get you more definitive answers such as pricing and things later but I just wanted to give my perspective. However, I’m willing to look at all perspectives and options.
    First, regarding Dudgeon School. The district doesn’t own it. The reason that it was sold in the first place I’m sure is the cost to maintain an old structure. Again, I will get you more definite costs and background history. I realize that this might seem like a viable option but when it comes to the long term challenges of the district, this building is in the wrong place. Also, when you re-open a school or building, it needs to be brought up to code. Fire, technology, space etc. would all have to be considered. I’m sure that 2.5 million dollars is a very low figure regarding what it would take the school to develop it.
    Regarding Hoyt. Yes, it was considered as well however, it is still in the wrong location. I was just in the building on Tuesday night. Then you have to consider, where would you put MSCR? I realize that MSCR is the “step child” of the district, it still needs a space. Again, Hoyt is not school ready and you would have to put money into it that you might not get a long term investment out of.
    Regarding Leopold and Ridgewood Apartments. Ridgewood is right across the street from Leopold on Post Road with the cross street of Fish Hatchery Road. Leopold is 50-70 students over capacity. And Ridgewood is at 50% capacity right now. It is not going to be condemned. There is too much money for Gorman or who ever takes over Ridgewood. It will be developed and of course more families will be there. But that’s not just the only issue. More areas are scheduled for development in the area. Those students will need a school too.
    While it is easy to say, “change the boundaries” it doesn’t solve the problem it just makes the problem worse. Now you have to move everyone in an attendance area. The classroom space available is on the opposite side of town (Northside and East). Now this might be an enjoyable trip in your personal car during rush hour morning traffic, but how would it be with 70 five to 10 year olds?
    We really don’t have alot of options for this area without disruption of other areas but I guess we’ll start looking.
    I’ll get you more definitive information soon.

  5. Dear Johnny,
    Thank you for taking the time to blog and for your understanding that it is going to take more than recycling the questions and more threats to get a yes vote. Your willingness to say, “now what can we do?” rather than “screw you if you don’t agree with me,” is the position that we need to see right now. We need to listen to each other’s arguments, give them the respect to weigh the merits of each proposal, and find ways to get beyond kicking each other in the shins.
    As I type this, I am listening to the Castaneda/Keys/Silveira diatribe, and I fear for the consequences. An adversarial posture is not going to help the district to move forward, and to the extent that you can be a good influence, I encourage you to advocate for the critical importance of dialogue at this time.
    All the best,

  6. To K Fish:
    I wanted to respond to your post or anyone who has similar concerns.
    Regarding the Board. Yes, you’re right. There is a divisive element to the Madison school board these days from people on the board and within the community. Why is that? The reason is because each year of budget cuts brings more reductions in service. Any group whether it is advocates of Sports, Arts, Special Education, or just a “regular child”, we are all starting to feel the effects of the budget cuts. I have found this year (which was my first year) that boundary changes are some of the hardest things to do. Who wants to change? No one or not too many families want to move out of their school. This was very evident on Allied Drive when families told the Long Range Planning Committee and the School Board members in three languages (English, Spanish and Hmong) to leave us alone.
    Related to the Board itself. The School Board is made up of 7 elected officials. You can’t hide on the school board. When was the last time you really heard an uprising on the City Council or Dane County Board of Supervisors? Not too much. They are elected to represent areas of the city. School Board members are elected to represent all the facets of the district. This includes the students, parents, teachers, taxpayers, administration, community groups, racial and ethnic persons, etc. Some of these constituencies diametrically oppose one another. Again, you have 7 elected people who have friends and allegiances that don’t necessarily mesh. We just aren’t going to all agree. And of course, we are human too. The magic number is four to set a direction for the district and I believe that is a very difficult thing to do when you are talking about someone’s child. There is no policy, procedure, law or anything that I (or 6 other members) can say that’s going to make you say, “You’re right, you know what is in the best interest of MY child.” YOU know what’s in the best interest of your child but I am elected to look at the best interests of ALL children given our budgetary constraints what I feel is the capacity of the school district to provide a quality of education. The school board is in a no win situation and that’s why you don’t see a bunch of people running for a school board seat. Only crazy people because I run in burning buildings for a living (Ha, Ha, Ha – I’m a fire fighter for the City of Madison, too).
    This school district is called the Madison Metropolitan School District because it encompasses other areas such as the Town of Madison, Blooming Grove, Maple Bluff, Shorewood and Fitchburg. These areas pay school taxes as well based on the value of their homes so some of these areas might be paying more school taxes. They’re not getting off “free loading” from City of Madison taxpayers. It is interesting that Fitchburg residents and the Leopold community residents didn’t support the building of a new school. That is very surprising. I believe that the Leopold school issue was lost in the conversation because of the “anti-tax raising sentiment.” I believe that more discussion, investigation and education are going to have to happen. This can happen now that the referenda issue is behind us. This community is going to have to build new schools; there is no doubt about that. And the board will have to close some schools as well.
    Related to sprawl – I guess I’m part of the problem too. I have a 18 month old. My family lives in the Sprecher Road neighborhood. The district has 2 pieces of land out here to build an elementary and middle school. Don Simon has a huge development out here. In the next 5 years it will be at capacity. The two schools close by Elvehjem and Kennedy will be at capacity so that will precipitate building. It is the same in the Chavez area as well as far west in Hawks Landing. Estimates state that the district will increase by 6,000 students in the next 20 years. That’s the way it is. Enrollment increases and decreases. The time to get a handle on it is now, not 5 years from now when construction costs are higher than it will be now and you have to make massive shifts in boundaries that won’t solve the problem.
    The Lincoln/Midvale pair is about racial balance, not geography. However, I am interested in looking at the district as a whole to find other pairings that would
    Using Hoyt school doesn’t solve the problem of Leopold, either. It is a small school (capacity of 250) that is not school ready. The district would have to put a lot of money into it to get it functional. That subject has been discussed. Displacing MSCR doesn’t help the district as well. It is a part of the district. The new City pool has nothing to do with the School District. That will be run by the City of Madison. I wouldn’t support going to referenda about building a new building for MSCR (or Doyle either). One of the issues that faces the district is that we have to stop paying rent. The district pays close to $200K for Brearly Street Alternatives. I would like to use that money for the operating budget but that means closing a school and moving them there.
    Okay, this post is too long but I hope you see the idea. Much work has been done and will have to continue to educate our community about district growth related to the City. I believe there’s an article in WSJ today. Have a good Memorial Day weekend to everyone who reads this post.

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