Handcuffed, isolated, and gagged

The task forces looking at eastside and westside enrollment and facilities operate under a set of “givens” that restrict the options they might consider, isolate them from publilc discussion, and control what items they can discuss at meetings.


The MMSD Web site lists the ground rules:


+ Options will avoid major program changes such as Year Round Education or the creation of Magnet Schools; options may include school pairings, closings, restructuring programs, etc.
+ The Task Force will create up to three options. The options are advisory to the Long Range Planning Committee and Board of Education. The options need to be viable for a five year period.
+ Major construction of a school building requires successful passage of a referendum and a three-year timeline.
+ As a Task Force of the Board of Education, only items listed on the agenda will be discussed.
+ Public appearances are not part of the Task Force meetings. Public appearances may be made during meetings of the Board’s Long Range Planning Committee. Dates for the Long Range Planning Committee meetings are Oct. 24, Nov. 14, Dec. 19, and Jan. 30, with a final special meeting on Feb. 6.

The danger in these grounds rules is that the public will react to the task force recommendations in the same way as it reacted to the recommendations on Leopold. The reaction may well be something along these lines: The task forces were not allowed to look at all the possible alternatives so that voters still won’t get to consider what might be the best and most effective options for teaching children. In the end, the continued limits on options could mean the rejection of any referendum needed to implement task force recommendations.

28 thoughts on “Handcuffed, isolated, and gagged”

  1. 1. All task force members can submit any item of their choosing to be included on the agendas.
    2. Public appearances would be a nightmare in these settings. I guarantee you that none of the citizens on the task forces would serve if subjected to public appearances. We can still make public appearances at any LRPC meeting.
    3. I’ll agree that the LRPC is “trying” to influence some of these proceedings, but I think that, at least on the East Task Force, that isn’t working (see #5 below).
    4. You are correct that the options created are advisory, but if the LRPC refuses to recommend one of the options these citizens create, I PROMISE you that heads will roll, both figuratively and literally. I realize that Bill Keys can’t commit political suicide now, but everyone else involved (even peripherally, such as potential Board candidates that might seek support from incumbents) will pay a terrible price in their own communities. Failure of LRPC and the BoE to adopt a citizen task force’s recommendations will lead to complete and utter revolution.
    5. I’ve attended every minute of the East Area task force meetings so far. I’ve yet to see any of you there! We have excellent citizens involved, they are asking HARD questions and not backing down when the answers aren’t to their liking….so let’s give this damn thing a chance before we rip it’s lungs out:)

  2. David,
    I appreciate and respect your comments.
    I’m certain that the task force members will do their very best to create viable options for academic excellence in our schools. In no way would I disparage their work.
    In my mind, however, the task forces cannot do what needs to be done with the “givens” imposed by the board and/or administration. Specifically, the task forces cannot put ALL of the options on the table and consider how they might affect facilities AND academic achievement. So when the task forces complete their work, I’ll still be asking how a magnet or charter school might affect facilities and achievement. See my post on the blog at http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2005/05/post_mortem_on.php where I commented that several people raised the question about the impact of charter and magnet schools.
    It’s just a mystery why the board and/or administration would ask dedicated citizens to do less than a complete job. An answer might be obvious — the board and administration don’t want any charter or magnet schools under any circumstances. Have other outcomes already been deteremined as acceptable or unacceptable? If so, the task forces should be told now, not when they finish their work.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with David. The West/Memorial task force has 28 representatives and there are 3 district personnel presenting data. We are certainly not handcuffed. To provide more opportunities for public forums, I sent the following (quoted) to our LRPC board members:
    “I am also writing to extend consideration of local school community forums. In discussing this means of communication, one of the representatives voiced a concern for one school having a forum while another representative may not have the means or ability to really help their community organize an event. With this concern in mind (as I find it quite reasonable to consider), I am recommending that forums be coordinated by the 3 LRPC board members, Mary and school Principals. I am hoping that 3-5 communities can be combined and offer one location and one date to allow community input and discussion. This alleviates the concern of representative’s abilities and allows communities to voice their feedback. By combining communities it also helps with timeline issues, public announcement, facilitates community understanding, and scheduling as I’m sure each would like at least one LRPC BOE member to attend.
    For your consideration…..”
    Lawrie has replied that she thought it was a very good idea and I know for fact that our BOE President and LRPC chairperson will be discussing it this week.
    The public is welcomed to all meetings. If you have immediate questions, pass a note to your representative. If you want to share an idea, discuss it with a representative.
    The West/Memorial task force brainstormed means of communicating with:
    Businesses/Workplace
    Religious Organizations
    Websites
    Preschools
    Realtors
    PTO newsletters
    Organizations / Clubs
    Many more….
    I consider myself and all representatives are our fellow facilitators. Each of us needs to take the initiative to communicate, ensure the process is complete and questions are answered.

  4. First of all, there has to be a definition of what the Long Range Planning Committee does. The district website states, “This committee focuses on demographic issues, long range facility planning, strategic planning and referendum issues.” It doesn’t refer to magnet or charter schools. I believe that the Task Force has specific “marching orders” and I trust that they will put forth a good effort to give the elected school board several recommendations to consider based on the definition of long range planning.
    With all due respect, I don’t plan on attending any of the meetings (although I’m told I should make an appearance). As you might know, I served on the LRPC last year and have seen the data (over and over again). This year, the Board made a decision to have citizens take on a more active role. I respect that and want to be supportive of this process. When I see the final recommendations, I want to have a “clean slate” and would like to make a decision based on the information I’m given.
    Just know, when the recommendations are given, that’s when the public input (and scrutiny) will begin. That’s why it will be very hard to state with any certainty that the elected board can or will accept the recommendations. Even for fear of heads rolling. 🙂
    One more thing, I would like the students in our district to be successful at whatever school they attend. During this time of budget constraints, I’m very leery of making “lighthouse schools” where the best teachers work and the best students attend. Magnet schools sound great but what happens to the other schools that surround it? I’ve very afraid that moral would suffer. Charter schools are a great concept but I’m not supportive of ones that aren’t under school board control (International Academy). This would be another entity to take tax dollars and state/federal aid from the MMSD.

  5. Yes, my “heads will roll” comment was a bit strong, but given the fact that both the administration and the Board failed to create any acceptable solutions last spring, and have now come to the citizens for ideas, I’d hope that the citizens’ ideas will be taken very seriously- even by fellow citizens. Nothing will be proposed by either task force that doesn’t pass the “smell test” (Mr. Keifer’s analyses in particular)….so yes, I do seriously think that those citizens that are involved at all levels of the MMSD will be VERY upset if the task force recommendations aren’t accepted. Personally, should the East task force recommend scenarios that I don’t agree with, I’ll still back them because this is our community in action. We are very fortunate that both the BoE and Administration trust citizens enough to allow this type of input….my experience is that most districts do NOT allow this level of citizen input.

  6. Ed:
    To my knowledge the International Academy has never spoken to the board (at least during my year and a half).
    But I guess my question is “why”? Isn’t what the Academy proposing (from your blog/channel 3000 website), the same thing as the school district is doing – “preparing students for higher education and competing in a global market”? Now if this means emersion/dual language opportunities that would be different and something to consider. However, I haven’t seen any type of proposal so I can’t make a commitment.

  7. I also wanted to address David Cohen’s comment regarding “heads will roll.” I actually think that is a valid statement (not act of course). A lot of work will be done by both of the Task Forces and it would be a shame if the board did not act on some of the recommendations.
    It is times like these (creations of Task Forces and Committees) that as an elected official, I serve the people. It is the people who live on each side of town that are affected by the overcrowding, issues related to poverty, demographics etc. It is the people on the Task Forces that should have a say in their schools. It doesn’t have to be just at the ballot box to elect people to represent them. But, it is the people who can roll up their sleeves and go to work, too.
    I want to respect their work, ideas and thoughts and hope others will as well.

  8. Thanks Johnny. Myself, along with many others, were very critical of the district last February when the initial plans to re-boundary were foisted upon us. We were critical because we were never asked to participate in the process! We created our own process for our own geographic part of Madison- and I must say, it was both eye-opening and painful. We learned a lot about how our neighbors felt, and we were pained by the intra-neighborhood blame game when we got every north and east side school to give us their “take” on what was happening. Our conclusion was that the MMSD HAD to administer this process, and we certainly made that conclusion clear to the administration and Board.
    So, I’m very happy that finally, the citizens, the folks who live and work in these neighborhoods city-wide, will have their own future (not fate) in their own hands. This is such an important building block to regain the trust between the Board/Administration and the parents! That’s why I really feel that when the task forces make recommendations, they shouldn’t be taken lightly…even though citizens/parents who are not involved in the task forces will inevitably criticize every aspect of the processes and conclusions. So no, I’m not sitting at home sharpening the blade on my guillotine;) Rather, I’m quite hopeful!

  9. Johnny & David,
    The effort and dedication of members of the task force is not in dispute.
    Here’s what I’m wondering. Before the board acts on West side overcrowding and East side underenrollment, how will the public know whether overcrowding on the West side and low enrollment at East side schools could be addressed by magnet schools, charter schools, or new programs?
    I look forward to an answer from one or both of you or anyone else.

  10. Marisue,
    Community forums are an excellent idea. I hope that the Long Range Planning Committee schedules them so that the board and task forces can get broad public input before the task forces finish their work.
    I’d like to send an e-mail of support for your idea to the members of the Committee but that would probably be a kiss of death to it.

  11. Ed: I’m not sure how charter or magnet schools would affect under and overcrowding. I don’t know much about how charter schools operate, but my understanding (and i don’t claim to understand anywhere near as much about charters and magnets as I do about special education) about magnets schools is that they “specialize” in an area (math/science, language arts, etc.). My gut instinct tells me that a magnet school on the northside would create a less diverse student body and foster more competition for transfers, while leaving the other schools even more poor (and jealous)…then again, I don’t know all the details involved in creating a magnet school. For instance, how would our high rates of mobility affect the operation of a magnet school?
    The idea of “new programs” has been bounced around amongst many of us. I think we are fast approaching the day when ELL programs are mandatory at every school in the city. But how would any new programs affect the over and under issues? One idea being batted around is removing the alternative programs from Brearly Street to the West Side. That would possibly solve some issues the MMSD has with rental space and relieve what some perceive as a weight on the East side (we already have the city-wide TEP program and Shabazz Alternative High School on the East side). I can’t say whether or not this perception is accurate, but folks who work WITH the district on alternative education issues claim that the one West side alternative program is funded and staffed better than the Brearly Street program. So this is an example of a programming change that might influence the over/under crowding scenario by making it easier to close one of our under-enrolled schools…but in the balance, it would need space in an already overcrowded West or Memorial attendance area!
    The bottom line to me is that unless MMSD is willing to move more resources to buildings ACROSS the entire district-and give up more downtown at Doyle-we are still working with less staff and resources, so any programming changes can’t be adequately supported. This gets back to the heart of the matter: in the current budget situation, where MMSD is gaining poorer kids and losing revenues to support them, how and where do we make changes?

  12. Ed: I like the idea of LRPC and BoE community forums, but not during the task force process. My reason for this: task force members represent the community. They were chosen by PTO leaders, Principals and Board members. The old adage of too many cooks spoil the soup is instructive here. The MMSD came up with some 9-12 separate options last year for the East area. None of them passed muster with the BoE and the public. The task forces will carve out up to 3 new options. Those options can then be debated by the BoE and public in community forums.
    Let’s face it: most Madisonians don’t give a rat’s rear end UNTIL it affects THEIR school. This fact makes me sad, because WE (and many others that do care) really have put in a lot of time and effort into floating new ideas.
    My guess is that Johnny and other BoE members hear from a lot of parents and taxpayers on these issues, but they don’t hear from more than 25-30% of the parents/taxpayers. Maybe even less…Part of the Task Forces’ job is to report back to their school communities, and each meeting devotes some measure of time to remind each member to do exactly that..so once again, this isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s miles ahead of where we were last February, and I am *grateful* that Bill Keys, Ruth, Lawrie, Johnny, Schwaw, Juan, Carol and Art/Mary G. crafted a way to hear our input this time around.

  13. David,
    You raise many good questions, which will not be addressed by the task forces because the administration (or board) says the task forces can’t even consider the questions, let alone answer them.
    For instance, you asked:
    “My gut instinct tells me that a magnet school on the northside would create a less diverse student body and foster more competition for transfers, while leaving the other schools even more poor (and jealous)…then again, I don’t know all the details involved in creating a magnet school. For instance, how would our high rates of mobility affect the operation of a magnet school?”
    And you asked:
    “But how would any new programs affect the over and under issues?”
    The task forces have been told that they cannot explore those options and give us answers, so how will the public get the answers? That’s what I’m asking you and Johnny, and your comments didn’t seem to address this issue.

  14. ok..now we’re talking:) I just checked out a few sites and they have reminded me about some facts I’d forgotten re: magnet schools. They certainly could help parts of town where we have de facto segregation and/or inequities in specialized instruction (strings, band, math, ELL etc.) Now, Ed, my question is this: Have you considered the reason(s) why the BoE/LRPC and administration specifically excluded creation of magnet schools by the task forces? And if you have, was there a specific statement by them giving said reason(s)?
    Recalling the whole Nuestro Mundo gestation, money was a HUGE issue (isn’t it always these days?). But they may have had other rationale, and I’d like to know what that was…Johnny, might you know? Also, Ed, any idea what the MMSD does with the kids whose parent(s)don’t want to invest the time to send them to a magnet school? Do we end up with a ethically diverse magnet school where all the kids WANT to be there, yet also end up with other schools full of kids whose parent(s) could care less about their education and, basically, is a less than desirable place to attend? What I’ve learned in my years observing education in Madison is that for every yin, there’s a yang, and sometimes the tradeoff isn’t what anyone expected. I think that right now, in re: the task forces, we have to have some set of rules and we’re stuck with them…kind of like the 3 point shot in basketball!

  15. Very interesting discussion. Let me provide a few additional facts/comments.
    First – the reason items cannot be added to the agenda is due to an opinion last winter by the Attorney General that everything that is discussed at a meeting must be listed on the agenda. As David, I think, pointed out task force participants can ask for certain topics be on a future agenda.
    Second – on abiding by the task forces’ recommendations – the closer the recommendations are to unanimous the greater weight they will have with the whole Board. I will certainly attempt to follow the recommendations and hope the process also gives them credibility in the broader community.
    Lastly: on magnet schools. Ed is right that they are often used in desegregation plans – but those are plans that are crafted as a result of a court finding of discrimination. In our case we could not, legally, establish ethnic or income criteria for attendance. This was one of the issues we faced in ensuring that Nuestro Mundo would serve a significant number of Spanish-speaking students. This is also the reason we placed it at Allis and indicated that children in that attendance area had the first chance to choose to attend. Keeping low-income children from mobile families at Nuestro Mundo remains a challenge.
    Also looking at the experience of Nuestro Mundo – 50% of the students come from other schools than Allis – 1 or 2 from each of about 20 schools at both grade levels. So this has very little impact on the space needs of the overcrowded schools. And the need to provide transportation tends to eliminate low-income families.
    Ed, you may remember the magnet school proposal for the westside that Cheryl Whilhoyte proposed about 10 years ago – and which stirred violent objections from a large number of parents and teachers. If you have suggestions of how instituting magnet schools would solve our enrollment problems I would certainly be interested in having such a proposal to look at.

  16. Carol,
    Thanks for following the discussion. I believe the blog is one of the best ways to exchange ideas and carry on a discussion.
    I’d rather not make a proposal on how a magnet or charter school or new programs would balance attendance at both east and west side schools for two reasons:
    1) I’d rather that the task forces do the investigation and make recommendations.
    2) As you well know, Art likes to tell me that I’m only one person, and with that my suggestions are dismissed. I’ve been down that road of humiliation before, and I’m never gonna’ go there again.
    On the other hand, if you’d like to appoint a task force to study the attendance impact of magnet, charter schools and new program offerings, I’d be happy to serve on it. Would you be willing to appoint such a task force?

  17. David,
    You keep asking great questions — exactly the type of questions that the task forces should explore.
    Why can’t we just turn the task forces loose to do a thorough and complete examination of ALL the options? With all due respect, please just answer that question instead of asking more questions.

  18. I don’t think a Magnet school will solve the issue of overcrowding. However, I remember one of my earlier meetings on the board and I asked the Superintendent and Administration had they considered creating “Magnet” middle schools where some schools would have different specialties (i.e. foreign language, technology, Arts etc.). Of course the answer was no but it probably would be something to consider in the future with the diminished resources.
    Speaking of which, one of the challenges about a “magnet school” would in fact be resources. Another would be where would you put it and what would be the demographics of the school? Given the prices of gas, would parents from one side of town send their children to the other side of town?
    Again, right now the challenge is the enrollment of our district and I’m glad the Task Forces are focusing their efforts on that.

  19. Johnny,
    As always, thank you for posting on the blog. Your contributions certainly provide depth and insight into the thinking of the board and administration.
    I respectfully urge you to keep an open mind to ALL of the options for enrollment, otherwise the task forces and the board will only think within the status quo.
    Once again, I’ll ask: could a magnet or charter school or new programming attract students to Emerson, Lapham, and Lowell, the east side schools targetted for closing? If those options might keep a central city neighborhood school open (I’ll grant you that they don’t solve west side overcrowding) wouldn’t exploring them be worthwhile?
    I stress that these options MIGHT help, but we’ll never know because the task forces can’t look at the options, the administration has not looked at the options, and you already have your mind made up, like most of the other board members, I suspect.
    Would you be open minded enough to support appointment of a citizen task force to look at magnet and charter schools and new programs that might help balance enrollment, keep neighborhood schools open, and improve academic performance?

  20. Ed:
    Since you have singled me out as a supporter of the status quo (in this process), I believe I need to tell you that you’re are not being forthright in your discussion(s). As a matter of fact, I can point to this and many recent discussions with members of the board, administration and this SIS community. In your original blog, you stated nothing about wanting the school district to look at Magnet/Charter schools to alleviate overcrowding or under enrolled schools. You have been upset about the process since the beginning. Academic performance is not a charge of the Long Range Planning Committee. Magnet/Charter schools should have been your main point and led off the conversation. Instead its embedded in your text. The LRPC is dealing with the charges that you originally wrote. You are confusing the issues. And quite frankly, I don’t know if you’re doing this because you believe this or just to “stir the pot” (or create conversation). If a Magnet/Charter School is what you really believe then you should spearhead a plan and not wait for board members to appoint you to a committee.
    I also take exception to naming schools (you might think are subject to be closed). This LRPC process has just begun and I have heard nothing to substantiate the claims of the schools you listed. I believe it is wrong to make these claims. This does nothing but spread rumors. I believe I’m going to end my participation in this comment pool, however, I encourage anyone who has questions or comments, please contact me at jwinstonjr@madison.k12.wi.us.

  21. Johnny,
    Thank you for your comments. I encourage you to continue to post on the blog. It’s a great forum for debating ideas and opinions.
    I apologize that I haven’t made my point well.
    I don’t care about charter schools or magnet schools or new programs per se. They’re only examples (case studies, if you will) of what the task forces are not allowed to consider and the board won’t entertain.
    I’ve consistently urged the board to consider any and ALL options. Most board members have consistently refused to consider all of the options or let the task forces consider all of the options. It’s a mystery why, because I think that the refusal will fatally undermine any effort to pass any kind of referendum in the spring, and it stiffles innovative thinking within the district.
    I want a process that creates solutions that can pass in a referendum. So far, the parameters imposed on the task forces are not likely to instill confidence in voters.
    Now, I’ll admit that I could be mistaken. Even within the “givens” imposed on the task forces, they might create some innovative solutions, and if they do, I’ll support them.
    With all due respect, I believe that the Long Range Planning Committee does deal with academic performance, because the facilities the MMSD provides (or doesn’t provide) can shape how well students learn, such as overcrowded buildings or state-of-the art facilities.
    I don’t know that I gave anything away by saying that one or more of the three east side schools — Emerson, Lapham, and Lowell — are still candidates for closure. Specifically, the task force definition of a low-enrollment school is a school with less than 67% of capacity. And I believe, (please correct me if I’m wrong) only those three schools in the MMSD meet that definition.
    By the way, I’d like the task forces to look at busing across the isthmus, too, but busing across the isthmus is taboo in the MMSD. Could busing kids from the near west side ease overcrowding while increasing enrollment on the east side? Unfortunately, we’ll never know about busing or many, many other possibilities outside the box of building schools, closing schools, or redrawing boundaries.
    One other point, I don’t know what you meant when you wrote, “The LRPC is dealing with the charges that you originally wrote.” I don’t recall writing anything in the charge to the task forces, other than making the suggestion that each task force include a person without children currently enrolled in the district. And I certainly didn’t write the “givens” handed to the task forces.
    Please keep posting. I’m only one person, as the Superintendent says, and others on the blog seem supportive of you, the board, and the task forces. Please don’t let my opinions drive you away.

  22. What I don’t like about this discussion is the obvious lack of respect for those who have and are volunteering their time and a lot of their energy to our community.
    We were not handcuffed and dragged into this. I do believe most of us volunteered willingly. We are not isolated, with many posts announcing the fact that the public is invited and ideas welcomed. And if anyone were to have attended any of the West/Memorial area meetings you would note many hard questions from those you have mentioned to those involving city planning…certainly not gagged.
    I think mention of Charter/Magnet is a bit ahead of it’s time. For right now, a facility (old, existing, reassigned, or new) has not been found nor discussed. The ‘type’ of learning experience is not a subject. As for year-round education…I believe that to be a responsibility of programming. As a citizen I would be more than willing to provide my feedback after a presentation is made about the economic impact to our city, state, schedule, timing, district/neighborhood affects and surveys completed and compiled. This is not a topic to be decided in 4 months and is a separate entity to our tasks at hand. The BOE has made a UNANIMOUS decision on defining the charges of the task forces for a reason.

  23. Marisue,
    I apologize to anyone on the task forces who may have taken any of my comments as showing disrepect. Each and every member will undoubtedly do the best they possibly can.
    My concern is not with the members, but with the process that prohibits them from looking and any and all options.
    A possible lack of coordination between the two task forces also concerns me.
    For instance, how can they assess and recommend changes that might affect the other side of town? That’s one of the points that I was trying to make with the discussion of charter or magnet schools, i.e., could a charter or magnet school on the near eastside attract students from the near west side, thereby easing overcrowding on the west side and increasing enrollment on the east side? Maybe a magnet or charter school would or maybe it wouldn’t balance attendance, I really have no idea, but it’s an example of an option that the task forces cannot consider. And if they could consider it, there seems to be no mechanism to allow them to coordinate their exploration of the issue.
    So in the end, I worry that the process is not likely to produce a set of options that can win majority support in a spring referendum if one is necessary.
    Now maybe I’m wrong, and maybe the task forces will produce such strong options that we’ll all jump on board to support them. Let’s hope so.

  24. At our first meeting, it was explained and encouraged that as time progresses and questions and options explored, the two task forces could meet and discuss together.
    I would encourage any citizen with concerns to attend a meeting. Interpretations vary but I have to say the district personnel have been cooperative with questions and with any suggestions made by the group.
    This is not an individualistic process. It’s a group effort. We first need to understand our own communities and neighborhoods and then explore other avenues.

  25. Marisue,
    I’m glad to hear that the task forces can meet jointly if they wish.
    I think that it would be a good idea if they did so that they can jointly explore some ideas that could affect both sides of town, such as:
    1. Magnet, charter schools, and programming located on the near east side. They might ease overcrowding on the west side and increase attendance at low enrollment schools on the east side if they could attract west side students.
    2. Busing from the near westside to the near eastside. As I may have said previously, busing across the isthmus has been strictly taboo in the MMSD. Maybe now would be an appropriate time to revisit the issue.
    3. The enrollment and financial impact of adding more and more territory (and kids) to the MMSD. The district can barely afford to educate the kids we have. Is it wise to annex more land on the edges of the city? The superintendent says it makes sense, but I’ve never seen any analysis or hard figures one way or the other.
    4. Locating district-wide programs where they might balance attendance.
    5. Development of an MMSD virtual school so that kids in crowded schools might be able to be in class without being in an overcrowded building.
    I hope that more people offer more ideas on how the two task forces can work together, since I suspect that together they might find some options that they wouldn’t find separately.

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