Madison School Board Election: 4/3/2007
Seat 3 Candidates Beth Moss video [endorsed by Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI)] Rick Thomas video
Seat 4 Candidates Tom Brew Johnny Winston, Jr.
Seat 5 Candidates Maya Cole video [endorsed by Robarts, Mathiak and Kobza] Marj Passman video [endorsed by Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI)]
Key Issues: Much more on the election here
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November 09, 2005

Westside Land Purchase - was public if you were interested

“Please don’t vote against this land purchase simply to make a point of ‘the process’. That would be a great disservice to our district families.” That’s how I started my public appearance on Monday night.

Yes, I was notified of the final purchase vote by scanning the regular posts of SIS and for this I am thankful. I was able to reschedule appointments and make it my priority to drive downtown to the Doyle building to provide feedback and input.

Public Knowledge?
For 4 years my family has lived within a block of the new site. For 5 years our community (280 homes in one neighborhood and another 50 in another) has been told a new school may be built on nearby land. FIVE years ago, our community developers, real-estate agents and city planners shared a vision for future services to our Madison taxpayers and MMSD families. Our neighborhood association has been keeping homeowners abreast of all developments and updates.

This past summer, the Madison Smart Growth plan was shared. City officials extended invitations to our taxpayers to look at the map and express concerns and provide feedback. This location was noted, it was big, it was bold and it was labeled with a blue dot.

This same plan was share at the second meeting of the West / Memorial Attendance Area Task Forces. The blue dot, I note, was still there. The city official stated that although planning and purchases for schools sites is a MMSD Board of Education decision, the city planners work with the board to help research and recommend ideas for long range planning options.

Before the ’05-’06 school year began, WISCTV scooped and aired a story on the future Memorial attendance elementary site. Their cameras took them to the exact location and the story was complete from the perspective of future need for the district.

Since school began, sessions have been held, albeit, in closed session but publicly announced and not with the secrecy some might have us believe.

The land?
Well, let it be known that Wisconsin law does not dictate developers set-aside land for public school.

Homes have been built within a few feet of the site without difficulty and without unforeseen burden to the landowner. Soil tests have been completed, which show no signs of problems but as our builder told us, we can’t promise anything until we start diggin’ and ya have to own the land in order to do that part of the process.

Estimated market value?
Having owned a Midland (now Veridian) home, in 1993, we purchased a lot for an estimated figure of $40,000. A personal rough guess would measure about 4-5 lots on an acre of land. So, twelve-year-old market value of 8.25 (the size of the school site) acres would be $1.3 – $1.7M.

In 2001, it is public record that nearby land sold for $80K-$120K for a half-acre lot. That would mean four-year-old market value would be $1.3M-$2.0M. Yep, you’ll note market value didn’t increase much between 1993 and 2001; probably because property taxes are so high that developers have to sell at a deal to ensure the community plan matures.

So today, there are still lots available in our neighborhood and it’s no secret that you could probably call Veridian Homes to ask for a price on a new lot. From my estimate, the developer should be congratulated for providing the district with land that could have profited them immensely.

In the Memorial Attendance Area, two elementary schools are already overcrowded. Three elementary schools are at 90% capacity, and two others are at 93-98% capacity. Ten-year projections estimate 5 out of 7 elementary schools will be over capacity. The average for the Memorial area: 108% in 2011.

City Planners for Madison, estimate 13,000 new housing units in this west side location.

MMSD estimates 5,000-5,200 students.

There are currently 106 students in the immediate area of this school site. Another 70-80 elementary age families have chosen educational alternatives, some, because we have been tossed around like a big bouncing blue ball. While our neighborhood homes were being built the BOE bounced us from Chavez, to Huegel, to Stephens and then finally, where we happily attend: Crestwood.

Currently, MMSD is losing students and families because of overcrowding and high-income disparity. Reflection on this point is critical, in understanding the state funding formula. Our student population is stagnant at 25,000, funding increases for districts that display growth.

Public schools work well when the team comes together with a rainbow of colors, diversity of backgrounds and with families of different incomes working together to provide educational experiences for all our children.

With great admiration for trying to get more public input simply to build public trust, I agree to disagree with those who voted against the purchase of this property. What did I say at my public appearance that made you want to wait? What insider information could you possibly be looking for other than those in opposition to the general purchase? How does this decision reflect upon the civic, philanthropic gift from the developer? If the BOE wants the W/M Task Force to consider this site as a possible option, then why not purchase it so we can look it over in our research? For me, the ‘no’ votes reflect conflicts in decision making, when land is annexed by unanimous outcomes, but providing the ability for future services is nixed.

If you were me or a family in our community, knowing what you know above, and given the split vote: How much “trust” would you have in the process and in the BOE?

With all due respect to our board and those that agree to disagree with my recommendation, if final decisions were being presented due to ‘the process’…then by all means, attack the process. As head of the Legislative Committee, start making recommendations for change. Start changing the process instead of sitting around and bitching about it. When all negotiations are finished, then GIVE public notice within a timeframe, then HOLD public forums within a timeframe and then COMPLETE the decision within a timeframe that allows final discussion and not one that the timeframe for vote will impose a rush to meet the deadline of the contract.

Posted by Marisue Horton at November 9, 2005 06:16 AM
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FYI - the Chair of the Legislative Committee does not have the authority to develop a process on this topic. That responsibility lies with the Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee. Also, Board members cannot talk about topics at a public meeting if they are not on the agenda. Chairs of Committees set their agendas and the President of the School Board oversees these agendas and develops the agenda for the board.

Since emails between board members are not posted, we don't know if board members asked for this information to be made public. I thought that Ms. Kobza and Ms. Robarts had tried to do this earlier in the school year on this topic, but I'm not sure.

Mr. Murphy, City of Madison Planning, displayed and described maps that detailed planned development including projected population growth and the potential sites for two new schools at the September 27th West Area Long Range Planning Task Force meeting. One site over another might have made a difference to task force members, but they were not able to have that discussion and to make any comments publicly or to provide any comments they might have to the board because the information was kept confidential.

If the contract was signed in late September with the only next step being Board approval, keeping the specific site private does not make sense to me. If negotiations were underway, then I could see keeping the issue private until negotiations are finalized. I also thought that if a board meeting is to be a private meeting or a decision is made to keep material confidential reference needs to be made to the exception in the law that allows the meeting or material to be kept confidential.

Jim Zellmer did ask via public records for information about the site of a land purchase, but was denied. He asked for this information AFTER Roger Price signed the contract on behalf of the school district.

Further, I don't think Lawrie's comments earlier in the week on SIS complained about process but was more about the information she felt she needed from the public to make a good decision as a Board member. I believe on TV she indicated that had she had the time to discuss the issue with those who might give her the advice/information from the public she wanted and felt she needed, she would have voted yes. However, if an issue is confidential, School Board members cannot speak specifically about the issue with anyone in a public meeting or in a one on one meeting.

The vote to table the discussion on the land purchase decision for one week failed because of a tie vote. for a one week delay - Carstensen, Kobza, Robarts. Against - Keys, Lopez, Winston. The 4th vote to make the purchase decision on Monday was Carstensen.

Had the information been made public, or a vote held on November 14th after a) being shared with the task forces and b) giving board members the opportunity to have public discussions with individuals (groups) on this topic, I believe the vote to purchase would have been unanimous.

Lastly, even though I may not always agree with Board members' decisions, I support Board members who won't make decisions simply because "they have to do it now or it's too late," but because they have the information they believe they need to make good decisions on behalf of the public and children who attend our schools.

I have been in board or committee meeting after meeting downtown where board members get information on Thursday that needs a decision the following Monday, or else..... That's okay in some instances, but not all and not for those with long range issues. My humble opinion is that information should be made public and that confidential information is the exception, a board meeting held for discussion and a decision at a following meeting, which provides time for meaningful public input. There seems to have been more than ample time to do that with this land purchase.

Posted by: Barb at November 9, 2005 09:37 AM

fyi - Here's the responsibility of the Legislative Committee from the MMSD website - "This committee focuses on government issues including local, state and federal issues effecting education."

The MMSD legal staff advised that the Board operated within their legal rights, but still begs the question - what was the reason for keeping the information confidential. What exemption for confidentiality under public records required this? Personally, unless absolutely necessary, and as a general rule, I believe all materials from a public org. shoud be available to the public and not marked confidential unless necessary - personnel, active negotiations, expulsions, etc.

One on one comment was follow up to Lawrie's post - if she wanted to contact someone specific in the community with questions re the contract to buy land, she could not discuss the content of any discussions in an executive session board meeting.

We'll be briefed at our PTO meeting tonight at Hamilton on the westside task force meetings. I'll follow up with questions to our rep. The discussions taking place are important to me and others in my westside area of town, and I appreciate and value the work of task force members. Not only are there the overcrowding issues at elementary schools, but there are school population issues for the west side areas middle and high schools. I think it's great that the broader school community is finally involved, hopefully in a productive manner that will move discussions/decisions forward - finally, I know to you. I look forward to getting a status report tonight.

I take it task force members were not sent notice of the land purchase decision last Monday night? Given your interest, I'm glad you got the information before Monday night's meeting.

Posted by: Barb at November 9, 2005 04:39 PM
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