Memo to the Media on Open Enrollment: When We (The Madison School Board) Unanimously Reject a Proposal, That Means We Don’t Support It

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The Board discussed the issue. Individual members expressed concern about the 3% cap, suggesting that this wasn’t the way for us to deal with the open enrollment issue. I was one of those who spoke against the proposal. The Board voted unanimously to support the other two proposed changes to WASB policy, but not the 3% cap. This amounted to a unanimous rejection of the 3% limit. (A video of the Board meeting can be found here. The WASB discussion begins about 48 minutes in.)
From the Board’s perspective, the endorsement of the proposal regarding financial stability wasn’t seen as one that had much bearing on our district. But we’d like support from other districts on our push for a fiscally neutral exchange of state dollars, and so we were willing to support proposals important to other districts, like this one, as a way of building a coalition for fresh consideration of open enrollment issues by the WASB.
The “financial stability” proposal certainly wasn’t intended by us as a dagger to the heart of the open enrollment policy; I don’t suppose that it was ever the intent of the legislators who supported the open enrollment statute that the policy could render school districts financially unstable.
The State Journal never reported that the Board rejected the 3% cap proposal. It ran letters to the editor on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that all seemed premised on the assumption that we had in fact supported such a cap. The Wednesday letter said in part, “[T]he Madison School District’s answer to its shortcomings is to build a Berlin wall, preventing students from leaving.” From the Thursday letter, “Unfortunately, instead of looking inward to address the problems and issues causing flight from Madison schools, the School Board would rather maintain the status quo and use the coercive force of government to prevent its customers from fleeing for what they think is a better value.” From Friday’s letter: “So the way you stem the tide of students wanting to leave the Madison School District is to change the rules so that not so many can leave? That makes perfect Madison School Board logic.” (The State Journal also ran a letter to the editor on Friday that was more supportive of the district.)

Much more on outbound open enrollment and the Madison School Board here.
I’m glad Ed continues to write online. I continue to have reservations about the “financial stability” angle since it can be interpreted (assuming it becomes law…. what are the odds?) any way the Board deems necessary. Further, I agree with Ed that there are certainly more pressing matters at hand.

  • Mother-at-large

    There are indeed more pressing issues at hand in MMSD right now: and at least partly because of the Board’s vote AGAINST supporting the 3% cap.
    However, it strikes me as disingenuous of Ed to insist that it is all a problem with the local media. The first that 90% or more of the MMSD population heard of the proposal to cap open enrollment at 3%, was in that Monday piece which laid out the changes being proposed. The Board voted on it already that very evening. Not many of us have enough time on our hands to drop anything else we might have scheduled for that night, and make it to a school board meeting on the evening that a big issue is first brought to our attention.
    The letter writers who were published later that week in the paper, may have sent their letters by snail mail. They may have written and sent them by email, but not gotten to it until Tuesday or Wednesday because they wanted to take care in how they wrote. At any rate, when you hear about something that is a big issue for you in the evening paper (which the WSJ ends up being for most of us), we want to be heard in our opinions and responses. Clearly, writers had not had a chance to attend the meeting, or hear that a vote had been taken already, by late Monday or even by Tuesday, for the most part. People who take the time to write the paper, get really irritated when they feel their comments are suppressed or ignored.
    I understand your frustration, Ed: I really do. But I also can relate to the writers and their frustration in not hearing about this even being CONSIDERED until the night of the meeting. We have NO way of getting school board members our views ahead of time, if we are not made aware of the issues and/or potential votes ahead of time. Very few people in this city have the time to surf blogs daily, or write or call board members to find out the details of everything that citizens MIGHT have a comment on before the next meeting. So, sorry, but I appreciate the paper publishing the letters as they received them, which was as soon after people heard of the vote as they could send them in.
    As for Rickert focusing on the attempts to limit open enrollment a week later? Yes, it would behoove him to be clearer about topics and votes already considered, and which parts of a controversial issue are still in play. But, he is also human, has deadlines to meet, and may have thought he made it clearer (or been edited to the point where clarifying statements were not as clear).
    Thank you for your service on the board, Ed. And also for your attempts to make your views and your votes clearer to us. After all, clarity and openness were alleged goals of several of the people seated on the school board, when they were elected.
    It takes time to get the word out in a district with over 25,000 students! So still, the decision that matters to me most in all this, was the decision not make these proposals known publicly, until the evening that decisions were to be made, with little to no opportunity for public input.