Panel OKs task force on West side overcrowding

Editorial note: Carol Carstensen contacted me to correct the sequence of events at the Long Range Planning Committee meeting on Monday, June 6. She initially suggested the formation of a task force, but couldn’t make the motion because she does not formally serve on the committee.
I apologize that I missed her suggestion. Many of the people who spoke earlier had begun to leave and two or three board members seemed to be talking at the same time.
I edited my original post to include Carol’s role in making the suggestion. Ed Blume

Leopold school supporters packed room 103 of the Doyle Building to speak at a meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on Monday evening, June 6.
Arlene Silveira led off with a bitter attack on Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, accusing them of causing the defeat of the referendum to build a second school on the Leopold school site.
Beth Zurbachen followed with an equally nasty attack.
Nearly two dozen more Leopold supporters continued the assault for almost two hours.
Ironically, Lawrie Kobza, at Carol Carstensen’s suggestion, kept their hopes alive. Carol offered the idea of forming a task force. Since she isn’t a formal member of the committee, she could not make a motion. Instead Lawrie made, Juan Lopez seconded, and the committee approved a motion to form a task force to explore attendance issues on the West side.
If Carol hadn’t made the suggestion and Lawrie had not made the motion, the committee would have adjourned with absolutely no movement on solving the overcrowding problem at Leopold, and probably no possibility of considering the issue until late in the summer.
Carol deserves praise for recognizing the need to restart an examination of the overcrowding on the West side.
Lawrie also deserves praise for not behaving vindictively against the Leopold supporters who blasted her. Instead she was more than willing to move toward an inclusive process that might just give the Leopold supporters and all West side children an option to overcrowding.

8 thoughts on “Panel OKs task force on West side overcrowding”

  1. Thanks for the reporting, Ed. And thanks for calling out those who think that “bitterly” attacking Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza is a productive way to solve where we educate the district’s school children.
    The bottom line is that a new school at Leopold isn’t getting built without another referendum, and my sense is that there are plenty of folks in the community who are tired of a handful bullying top-down results.
    Let’s see what an updated long-range plan for the entire district looks like. Then let’s have a spirited yet polite public debate on where we want to go from here. These decisions affect more than the Leopold families, after all.

  2. Hi Ed,
    Thanks for the info. I wasn’t at the LRP meeting, but have to say that I’m not surprised. It is unfortunate that the only response to disagreement – be it support for referendum questions or the proposed 8th hour strings program at Sherman – is to launch personal attacks against anyone who questions the administration line.
    Kudos indeed to Lawrie for rising above the childish shin-kicking to propose viable ways to move forward. This is the only way that the board is going to gain the credibility that it desperately needs within the community right now. Unfortunately, she is likely to remain a minority in her ability to take a professional approach to dispute resolution.

  3. Ed,
    You are correct that frustrations ran high last night. Many speakers also provided specific alternative approaches for LRP (Long Range Planning); myself and the Fitchburg Mayor included.
    My concern is for the Madison community to understand what is happening in our elementary schools today:
    § Many do not understand that although the enrollment for MMSD as a whole remains, statistically steady, elementary enrollment is on the rise. It has been since 2000.
    § Many do not understand SAGE and the increased achievement level it provides (you can simply compare one of our non-SAGE schools with many of our higher low income elementary 4th grade performance scores to get the picture).
    § Many do not understand that Fitchburg, Verona and other MMSD municipalities contribute highly through equally assessed property values, just as City of Madison residents.
    § Many do not understand the impact of purchasing a home after much research, only to have your child shifted to another because the buildings are not where the children are living. My wish is homeowners on Madison’s South and far West side can continue attending the school districts under which they purchased their home. Current and future boundary changes are imminent.
    § Many single, couples and families with children under age 4, do not understand the implications of not building new facility(ies).
    § Many Westside parents didn’t understand that although they would lose a low income population from one community, they would be able to help balance an existing community in the same Memorial attendance area.
    § Many within Madison do not understand where the current growth of low income, special needs and ESL populations actually reside.
    § Many do not understand that developers are not required by state law to set aside land for future public educational needs. Their interest is in the land.
    § Many do not understand that any other location is going to cost the taxpayers of this city more money simply, if for no other reason, the Leopold land was FREE. The school district owns it.
    § Many do not understand that the Ridgewood community, although in flux, is at 50%. Many have moved and REMAINED in the same elementary attendance area. The new plans, should Gorman be allowed to pursue them would maintain families and provide for many more while also improving the aesthetically of the surrounding area.
    § Many do not understand the expense of trailers. We need to look at Waunakee to understand the value and money lost in ‘trying to get by’.
    § Many do not understand that although a new location, further south or further west may increase attendance for future homeowners. It will not cause an immediate change of student population from one school to another. What I’m trying to say is, many new families do not understand the positives of attending our great Madison public schools. By building a new school in another location, we may be able to sway new homeowners to public attendance rather than other choices. If that can be proven, I’m willing to contribute more to a more expensive option…is the rest of the community? I don’t know. You see, the more students attending our public schools, the more state aid MMSD receives.
    § Many do not understand that 6 new annexations from Middleton/Cross Plains and Verona will occur. All of these, in addition to continued development in the Hawks communities and 2 other plats currently under construction and planning will increase future needs for the far west side. With this knowledge, I’m quite certain, that although our time is not immediate (within 2 years), MMSD will also need to consider another facility for elementary and middle school.
    Our school board has never stated that our attendance is increasing dramatically. They HAVE stated the LOCATION of these children has shifted and the TYPE of child and classroom dynamics has changed, causing difficult decision making for currently existing facilities and state/federal staffing mandates. My personal frustration with board members who opposed the Leopold referendum is that no other idea or solution was provided; only opposition. The Leopold referenda, is the greatest example of community forethought, research, input, study and solution…it failed and yet we still have people screaming that community input will help resolve our current problems.

  4. Dear Ed,
    It is time for the facts and an honest discussion on the long-term affects of the Leopold school referendum not passing in Madison.
    I have heard on the news, in internet posts and during “news” radio programs. That the district and school board ran with the first idea of building a new school on the Leopold site,
    Have not offered alternatives to the addition to Leopold. According to the Madison school district website there are many alternatives.
    All of the above are options that DO NOT include the Leopold expansion.
    It was not the ONLY plan, it was the plan that made the most sense and was the most cost-effective long-term plan. I EXPECT that the school board will try to put the best plan forward. Once again last night at the Long Range Planning committee, I did not hear solutions by Mrs. Robarts and Mrs. Kobza. Neither of whom supported the referendum. Mrs. Kobza’s motion to create a task force to look at west side attendance issues is a great idea. It was, if fact, such a good idea that a citizen advisory group was already created last year at the suggestion of, then chairperson of the long range planning committee, Ruth Robarts. It has also been one of the main goals of the long range planning committee for years. The committee and task force created the plans that were presented/discussed/revised by the public and are part of each of the modules.
    Building the second school at the Leopold site still makes the most sense. Currently there are 183 seats remaining in the west attendance area. The projected available seats in 2010 for the west attendance area will be short by 195 seats. Memorial attendance area will only have three seats available.
    To suggest that the overcrowding of the Leopold attendance area can be solved by redistricting the west side is shortsighted. While there is plenty of room on the east side of Madison, the west side is where the students are located. The district is currently in negotiations to purchase parcels of land for a far west side school, but even this will not meet the projected needs for many years. The Leopold addition met the current overcrowding and allowed time for a far west school to be built. This is part of a long-range plan. It is what the long range planning committee studied. They used experts, projections and community input to develop the plans that are currently on the MMSD website. They even had the foresight to adjust the Leopold addition plans so that the new structure could be easily modified to create a middle school as the enrolment changed over time. Stating that the school board is not offering alternatives nor thinking long term has to be two of the most deceptive comments used by those opposed to the referendum.
    Leopold students who are redistricted to west side schools will be displaced within five years according to the projections. So, now we are looking at bussing children from the far west side to the east side. Kindergartners will be waiting for busses at 6:45 to get to school by 7:45 to take them through downtown or beltline traffic. No parent would want that for their child, the Leopold community does not want this either.
    While Mrs. Kobza and Mrs. Robarts did take some heat by the Leopold crowd last night, they are both professionals who are able to take criticism for their actions. All of the board members at one time or another have had to justify their decisions to the public, it is what open government looks like. I agree with you Ed, they both responded well to the parents, teachers and community members who were frustrated that the plan that makes the most sense, was well planned, had community input, addressed the long and short term needs of the district and was the most cost effective. I hope they are as out-spoken about their solutions for the west side as their active opposition to the Leopold school addition.
    Very tough decisions will need to be made over the next year. It was amazing to see so many Leopold teachers and parents at the long range planning committee who will work with ALL the board members to make the difficult long range plans for all of the Madison Metropolitan School District. The Leopold community has for the worked tirelessly to assure the best for our children. We have out posted grade levels, carved out classrooms spaces in every corner of the school, doubled up classes; and, next year for the first time, we are adding two classrooms to the lunchroom. Even with all of this, our reading scores in the third grade are higher than the district average.
    The decision making process will be a difficult one for Leopold school and the district as a whole. We will continue to be at the table. We will continue to advocate for our children. Since the option that was the most cost effective, had 100’s of hours of work by community members and addressed the long and short term needs of the entire district was not passed by the community nor supported by the majority of board members, we will continue to assist in coming up with solutions for the future. It is what we have done for years. Before this blog, before CARE, before GET REAL, before Active Citizens for Education we were advocating and teaching our children. I am sure that all of the teachers and parents would prefer to spend their time planning lessons, going to soccer games instead of spending their time in board meetings and leafleting neighborhoods. But, we are a strong community who will continue to do the day to day things that do not make the newspaper, the 10 o’clock news and not even this weblog.

  5. Dear Ed,
    What I heard at Monday’s meeting was heartfelt exasperation at still having no solutions to the overcrowding at Leopold. I think it’s easy to sit back and participate in the “ankle-biting” as you have by calling people or their comments nasty, it’s harder to come up with the solutions
    as the Leopold community did only to be left with no relief from the overcrowding.
    Not only are you participating in the nastiness but you dismissed two hours of teachers’ and parents’ attempt to move the board with salient information to come up solutions. You misrepresented what they had to say as an “assault” on the board. It’s fascinating that you perceive the board members as victims and conversely the concerned parents whose children go to an overcrowded school as the bullies.
    I’m sorry Ed, but I want solutions not silence from those influential public officials and citizens who were against the referendum. I expected those board members to come to that meeting with solutions not with a motion to study the problem. They have had plenty of time to come up with solutions. Please put one or two solid ideas out there so the public can discuss their merits. Then maybe the public can vote for or against the referendum while knowing their alternatives.
    Thank you.

  6. I don’t know whether these qualify as “solid ideas,” as defined by the anonymous poster above. Nevertheless, here are some options the new task force could consider: building one or more new schools at one or more different sites other than Leopold, re-opening Hoyt, purchasing and reopening Dudgeon, opening one or more charter or magnet schools in the area, building a school within Fitchburg city limits, or any combination of the above, just to name a few possibilities.

  7. I am amazed at parents and staff at Leopold are reacting. Is anyone thinking about the children? My children recently “graduated” from Leopold. Yes, it is packed. Before sage, we had 30 kids in a kindergarten through 3rd grade rooms, now we only have 15. Currently there are 8 classrooms for kindergarten, now they want 16? Kids love to be in classes with their friends. With this many classrooms, teachers will have to spread out the children so every year they are in a different group of kids, or never in classrooms with their friends. What are we saying here – don’t make friends, you will not have common classes with them anyway. What appears to me is that people are not looking at what is best for the child, but what is best for them. When my kids were at Leopold, there were 4 and 5 classrooms for each grade. My kids were constantly upset not having classes with their friends, and teachers constantly pairing them up with “new” friends, those who they had common interests with. Yes, the board from years ago should be upset with themselves for not planning ahead when they traded land with Oregon years ago. Don’t get upset with the current board members who thought more about the situations nor the “new” member. They are saying, we need to look at everything.
    Funny that the principal at Leopold was supported my new teachers (those who she hired) and not any of the old staff when it came to Administrator of the year? She is your buddy will she can use you, then you are kicked in the teeth.

  8. Judy,
    I’m not a Leopold parent but I am concerned about MMSD and the overcrowding.
    My question for you then would be…would you like to get rid of SAGE? Do you think it is not working or do you think it is working? Do you think 30 children in a classroom will work today given our current statistics of special needs children, ESL and an average of 42% low income? If you could help the board with their final decision of cuts, how would they make it work without SAGE? I’m not arguing…simply, really wanting to learn and understand your perspective.
    I am a parent who actually requests that my kids not be in the same room with their friends. We make play dates on a regular basis with them. I would rather they experience different children each year and expand their social interations. But that’s my view…not everyone’s and I understand that children want to be comfortable with their friends in the classroom. I just wanted a different perspective posted as well.

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