Public’s Right To Know: Madison School District Land Purchases

Two weeks ago, I emailed this Open Records request to Madison School District Attorney Clarence Sherrod:

Good Afternoon, Clarence:
I hope this note finds you well.
I am writing to make an open records request under sec. 19.35 of the Wisconsin Statutes. I would like copies of any agreements signed this year by the Madison Metropolitan School District or its representatives to purchase land for a school site. I believe the issue of purchasing land for a school site was discussed by the Madison Board of Education on 10/10/2005.
I believe that these sort of land/facilities discussions should be public knowledge, particularly in light of the East / West task force activity.
Thank you very much and best wishes.

I received a response today from Bob Nadler, the District’s Custodian of Records. Essentially, this response means that the public has no right to know about the District’s purchase of land for a new school site until after the Board agrees to purchase. Read Bob’s letter here. I will post the document he referenced upon receipt.

6 thoughts on “Public’s Right To Know: Madison School District Land Purchases”

  1. It seems very odd that the Board of Education would create the task forces for advice on facilities and then proceed with purchasing property. How can the task forces possibly make reasonable decisions when they don’t have all of the information about the MMSD’s facilities plans? When the task forces complete their work, it would seem that their recommendations will have to be redone (or just tossed out) based on the new land purchases which they couldn’t figure into their recommendations.

  2. Jim and Ed,
    Explain to me what the bigger issue is:
    That the district is looking at land?
    That you don’t know where it is?

  3. That’s a silly question, Marisue, and it’s rude to Jim and me.
    The West side task force and the voting public need to know about the MMSD’s plans for purchasing land and building new schools. The task force will make better decisions if it knows, and the public might be more willing to support another referendum if they feel they have all the information. Any feeling that the MMSD withholds information undercuts voter confidence.

  4. Hi Marisue:
    The big issue here is how the School Board makes decisions. Do they make decisions in the light of day, or behind closed doors? With regard to the purchase of land, the School Board is apparently seeking to shut out any discussion on this issue until the Board’s decision to purchase land is a done deal.
    I think the public deserves better than this. People have the right to provide input before decisions are made.
    People may have different opinions on things, but at least they should have the chance to know their voices were heard. Without this ability for public input, the public becomes cynical, untrusting, and unwilling to vote for referendums. I think that is the biggest issue here.

  5. Ed,
    In writing sometimes tone is misinterpreted. Perhaps it’s that I used the word “you” and I never meant to single you out as individuals. I think you are placing emphasis on a word, where it was not intended. The tonality is missing. I respect the post but didn’t really understand the question/issue at hand. Now in re-reading, I should have said that the “public” doesn’t know. My humbled apologies that I will try harder to choose my words.
    I don’t think it’s a silly question…some citizens have issue with the general purchase and some that I’ve shared conversation with would like to know about the location more than the purchase.
    Thanks Jim for the clarification
    On an earlier post this summer, I pointed out where the city planners have indicated schools sites (Madison’s Smart Growth Plan). Although I agree I would like to know more, I also understand just like in negotiating business deals, management doesn’t tell stock holders and employees every detail. Land is never a bad investment (well, actually I can think of some good marsh land) but the price can increase if there is value for more than one person interested. So I can understand for now, the reasoning to enable a good deal for purchase price.
    I took offense to once again, another insinuation that the task force is not receiving good information. This too could make some to think our future proposals are poor and not thoughtful; setting up for failure. There are some pretty tough questions being asked. You should really come to a meeting. The next one is November 10th (location TBD)-see meeting minutes from October 20th.
    As indicated in the first newsletter on the Long Range Planning website, the West/Memorial Task Force asked some good questions of the district and of the city planners’ office.
    Link to information on the task forces:

  6. Sorry, Marisue. I kinda’ “flamed out.”
    I think that the task forces will do the very best that they possibly can with the information provided by the MMSD administation and within the restrictions imposed. Unfortunately, the information could be more complete and the options could be more open.

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