Madison School Board “Kowtows to Complainers”

Susan Lampert Smith:

So kids, what did we learn from the Madison School Board’s decision Monday to reverse itself and not consolidate the half-empty Marquette and Lapham elementary schools?
We learned that no doesn’t really mean no.
We learned that, oops, maybe there is money after all.
And most importantly, we learned that whoever yells the loudest gets it.
The most telling moment at Monday’s board meeting was when the rowdy crowd of Marquette supporters was admonished to “respect the board” after hissing at Lawrie Kobza, who said she was “saddened” by arguments that the schools must stay open to appease residents with “political clout.”
“Respect us,” one man hollered back.
Respect you?
Honey, with the exception of Kobza and Arlene Silveira, who held their ground, the board rolled over for you like a puppy. Tony Soprano doesn’t get this kind of respect.

A Yin to that Yang – Capital Times:

Kindergartner Corey Jacob showed up at this week’s Madison School Board meeting with a homemade “Keep Schools Open” sign.
And he got a terrific lesson.
The board, which had voted to close Marquette Elementary School on the city’s near east side, reversed its wrongheaded decision in the face of overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers and kids like Corey.
The lesson Corey learned is perhaps the most important one that can be taught in public life: No decision is set in stone. When an official body makes the wrong decision, people can and should organize to oppose that decision. And when that happens, the members of the targeted body are duty-bound to reconsider their mistaken move.

More from Bessie Cherry:

er column was ludicrous. Comparing a school board who actually listened to its constituents’ warranted concerns to a parent who gives in to a whiny child?! Lapham Elementary, where my daughter attends kindergarten, is hardly “half empty.” In fact, the students there eat lunch in 18 minute shifts, and the school board’s own projections predict that it will become overcrowded within the next five years.
Smith failed to mention that the velocity behind the vocal backlash against the original decision to consolidate was fueled by the fact that two of the board members won their seats by proclaiming before their election that they would never vote in favor of consolidation. Instead of accusing the board of “rolling over like a puppy” and proving that “whoever yells the loudest gets it”, she should be applauding those parents for exemplifying democracy in action for their children. They organized, yes, the old-fashioned way (a way I much prefer to the prevailing point-and-click passivity of “activism” today), and involved their children by having them sign petitions, hand out flyers– they even staged an elementary school walkout.

9 thoughts on “Madison School Board “Kowtows to Complainers””

  1. I like Susan Lampert Smith’s style in this article–it’s kick-ass funny–but I don’t think she quite gets the point of why it makes no sense to keep unnecessary space open just to satisfy a few adults. It makes no sense because half-empty schools with the adminstrative and maintenance overhead threaten programs like strings, TAG reduced class sizes, etc., for all children in the district who need these programs to learn, to be challenged, etc.
    I’ll grant that the strings program has an active constituency, and that many of the most active are middle class. But what I hear the middle class strings advocates saying is this: “Save strings for the poorer kids.” Middle class kids will get strings privately if you gut the program. Who you’re really hurting by cutting strings are the kids who could have excelled in music, but who couldn’t afford private lessons.
    The part of music programming that Smith ignores is this: elementary strings funnels kids into cost efficient middle and high school strings classes (higher student-teacher ratios). These upper level music courses save money. The cost of the elementary strings programs are more the re-couped at upper levels. It’s budgetary foolishness to cut elementary strings, and it has little to do with kow-towing to whiners.

  2. Grade 5 strings is taking some hard verbal hits this spring – not all the information is accurate nor fair. This is not a course that caters only to middle class kids. FYI – 45% of the kids who enrolled this past year in elementary strings are minority, 35-40% are low income children. If we want minority and low-income children to participate in orchestra and band in middle and high school, and not have “elitist” high school bands and orchestras, elementary school is where you need to start instrumental training.
    Elementary strings has been cut in the past couple of years and in larger percentages than other areas. The elementary strings program was cut 50% (eliminated Grade 4) last year. Two years ago a $50 participation fee was added. Next year instrumental rental fees will double.
    The district does not look at the entire cost of orchestra and band for Grades 5-12, because in the middle and high school levels, the classes are indeed much larger than regular classes, which makes these courses more cost-effective. Looking only at the cost of Grade 5 strings is inaccurate and simplistic. I couldn’t agree with Donald more.

  3. Donald:
    Strings programs may be cost-efficient, but they “compete” against other programs — both currently existing and those that arguably ought to be offered (and are not) — in the current budget climate of school financing. I’m not entirely convinced that a cost-efficiency argument is the best one for preserving strings programs at the elementary levels.
    Wouldn’t a better way to approach budgeting be this: what’s the world after high school demanding of our graduates? What skills (courses, curriculum types, co- and extra-curricular activities) do we want our high school students to learn and experience? What foundations do we need to lay in grades pre-K-8 to make sure our high schoolers are ready to tackle those skills?
    I note with interest that UW-Madison, along with a few other selective UW campuses (and even moderately selective private colleges) require two years of successful high school foreign language instruction for admittance. I know of businesses in the Madison area, to say nothing of other parts of the U.S., that simply won’t hire anyone who doesn’t have dual-language skills. Thomas Friedman has written extensively about the poor secondary language base of most American K-12 students.
    Yet foreign language is not taught in most school districts until the middle school years. Music education (a subject of study not required for admission to UW-Madison, or many other colleges) begins in kindergarten, augmented by programs like strings that begin in the elementary years.
    Sure, it’d be nice to teach foreign language instruction and vocal music and strings, all at an early age of a student’s academic career. But given a choice during a hard budget year, and forced to not have one of those, which would you keep?

  4. State law requires music and art curriculum beginning in K. There are no similar requirements for foreign language, so maybe Supt.s and their School Boards don’t push, because there is not state law.
    As long as the Madison School Board does its budgeting process the way it does, the questions you raise, Phil, won’t get addressed. If the School Board continues to focus on $7 million in cuts, and not on the entire budget, everyone else’s focus is there as well. If tough choices have to be made, where are the discussions about $2+ million for extracurricular activities (valuable, yes, but who pays)? What is the cost of empty space? How many teachers and options/choices are eliminated because of this? How effective is the district’s curriculum for the student body? How does what Madison offer compare to the surrounding communities and has/is this influencing parents’ choices about where they are living?
    I agree with your more strategic observation, though. Where will our children go after they graduate, what skills are needed and what sequential curricula help our kids get there. The foundation for many of those skills need to be developed early on to be able to succeed in high school – for many areas including arts, sports, academics. I don’t agree with your treatment of fine arts akin to a nice extra to have – too simplistic.
    UW Madison gives full scholarships for students who excel in music even if they do not major in music as do other schools. You don’t get there by starting in high school. The UW Madison undergraduate admission identifies other academics and fine arts – 2 high school credits minimum and says most incoming undergraduates have 4 credits.

  5. Susan L Smith’s article–front page, above the fold, no less–was a perfect example of the very thing she complained about: ill-informed, whiny, button pushing, attention-seeking,,,,”advocate.” Clearly, despite the thousand or more hours hundreds of us put in, we were not politically affluent enough to get our message across to many in the Madison community. CLOSING THOSE SCHOOLS MAKES NO SENSE!! They are not ‘half empty,’ not by a long shot. Whatever claims the district has made about capacity or projections for each of those schools have been off for a long time. The findings of the East Task force were essentially ignored, and the only thing that changed for those schools from last year is that our numbers went up.
    Staking claim to a “tough decision” may win political points, but does not mean that the “tough” decision isn’t also the wrong choice, with both factual and reasoned errors. It is pretty disrespectful of the board’s majority how Smith illustrates them.
    What was perhaps most stunning, however, was Smith’s assault on any parents of any of our neighborhood kids with special education needs. It’s appalling that Smith would not only deride any school community for advocay, but make it sound as though “we” are perfectly willing to sacrifice special ed services.
    Our school community deserves an apology for her overall lack of fact and tact. And, State Journal, if you’re going to print something like that, save it for the letters page.

  6. Laura, I liked the column and wasn’t offended by it, as you were. Our entire community is affected by these decisions. We are not in the Marquette/Lapham attendance area, so I can understand our different reactions to the article. My reaction to the article was that Susan Lampert Smith was being critical of the School Board, not the people that have campaigned for their issues. I’ve posted before that I really don’t know how to feel about this issue, anymore. It seems that too often we don’t have all of the facts or accurate facts. I can appreciate your comment about projections and capacity. If seen the projections be really off, before. You are right, the column did belong more on the Editorial Page.

  7. Frankly, it seemed like a typical Rainwater move–reassign principals and not assign one at all to Marquette, then push the BOE with false choices, rushing the new members to decide hastily before the ink was dry on the ballots.
    I admire Maya and Beth for changing their votes. Lucy and others presented compelling data, asked hard questions that more than sufficiently warranted a second look and ultimately a new decision.
    Susan Lambert Smith didn’t like the outcome. Period. I’m delighted the board had the courage to reconsider and to gather more information than the foregone-conclusion-driven-data the administration presented.

  8. Smith’s column was off base in so many ways, but it made me wonder where she lives, pays her taxes, votes for her own school board members. I bet it’s not MMSD. Does anyone know where SL Smith lives?

  9. Susan Smith’s position expressed in her article was wrong on an essential point — her concern with the process rather than the result.
    Yes, it could be Smith believed the first decision was the correct one, then used the reconsideration as an excuse to label the Board as kowtowing. Or, she really didn’t care which way the consolidation decision went, as long as the decision was final. It could also be she merely needed to fill some print space, and chose to make the argument she did because, frankly, opinion pieces such as this don’t take much mental effort.
    The Board saved face in saying that new information became available which caused some to change their votes — understandable and reasonable argument. But, the new information some Board members acquired might have been the doggedness of Marquette/Lapham neighborhoods, and the recognition that the original decision would militate against the success of future referenda. Perhaps the reversal was wise in that context.

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