Outsourcing Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 School District Governance (while spending more, for less)

Scott Girard:

An outside agency could soon be reviewing and updating the Madison Metropolitan School District’s policies.

Neola, based in Ohio with consultants based in Wisconsin, has more than 1,000 client districts around the country, including 269 in Wisconsin, where it has worked since 1989. In Dane County, those districts include DeForest, Stoughton, McFarland and Monona Grove.

MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds said the district’s legal services department needs the help, and confirmed it’s a partnership the district is “strongly considering.”

The department has four staff members, according to the district’s website: a secretary, Title IX investigator/Affirmative Action officer, general legal counsel and associate general legal counsel.

“We have such a small legal counsel that we need support on the policy piece,” LeMonds said. “Primarily the service that they’ll be providing is not writing the policy but working with us to update policy. There’s a lot of them, some are several years old and just need to be updated.”

But School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen, who is one of two board members on the board’s policy work team, is concerned that working with Neola will leave the district with boilerplate policies that aren’t applicable to local concerns.

“This is one of the most important things the board does,” Vander Meulen said.

Neola has more than 400 policy templates that “cover the vast array of issues facing K-12 school districts,” according to its website, though it “does not recommend the use or incorporation of district-specific materials.” While the company will provide legal assistance for claims that the policies do not “accurately reflect what is required by state and federal law,” the district is liable for risks related to included district-specific materials.

Vander Meulen is also concerned about the timing of the discussions, given new superintendent Matthew Gutierrez starts on June 1. She said any negotiations now make it seem like the administration “wants to limit his power.”

“Do we want him to be able to effect change in the district or do we want to force policy on him?” she said.

No matter the cost, Vander Meulen said it would be “incredibly problematic” to give up policy writing duties, one of the board’s “core functions.”

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts.