Which East Side Schools Examined for Closing?

According to the minutes of the November 10 meeting of the East task force:

Task Force members requested information on savings from [closing] specific schools.

Unfortunately, the minutes do not mention the “specific” schools. Can a member of the task force or someone who attended provide the names of those schools?
I also wonder whether the meetings are getting a bit contentious.

The minutes say:

Rita Applebaum began this section of the agenda by reviewing the ground rules that were established at the Task Force’s initial meeting. She spoke about the need to respect both the members of the Task Force and their ideas and suggestions. Rita acknowledged the complexity of the task before the members, the challenges and the stress, that Task Force members may disagree with suggestions made by other members. However, she emphasized the importance of treating each other respectfully and asked for the cooperation of all Task Force members to create an environment of trust and respect as the group works toward addressing the charge given to it by the Board of Education.

It also sounds like the administration is trying to keep the task force from considering a full range of options. According to the minutes:

Rita Applebaum reviewed the charge to the Task Force with a focus on addressing the issues within the East Attendance Area. She also reviewed the steps within Board of Education document, “Elementary Schools with Declining Enrollment” that specifies beginning with steps to address excess space within the cluster or attendance area prior to going beyond the attendance area. (original emphasis)

20 thoughts on “Which East Side Schools Examined for Closing?”

  1. I haven’t had a benefit of observing the Task Force’s discussions or reading all the documents they have reviewed, so I am probably missing some important information. I am, however, struck by how focused the process is on closure. In reading the minutes, closing an east side elementary would only yield approximately $400,000 in savings, as these are all smaller elementary schools.
    Bearing in mind that the east area elementaries have the highest poverty rates of any of the zones (about 53% on average), why close any? Is there a benefit in keeping schools in their neighborhoods and having smaller school communities (even if they are below max physical plant capacity), that might offset the $400,000 in recurring annual savings over a student’s public school career?

  2. Things aren’t so contentious at the East Task Force in regards to school closings. Why, you might ask? Because EVERY school is a potential closure target. A task force member requested scenarios for each school to close so that no one school felt targeted. That said, Tim raises a very good point: there is no real fiscal gain for the MMSD to close a school. $400k is a drop in the bucket. Maybe even mist in the bucket. Why make the higher poverty schools close when smaller learning communities are exactly what the doctor ordered? The flip side is that certain people were very public last spring, demanding that an east side school close as payback for the failed Leopold referendum. So what will the east task force do? Come to Sherman Middle School tomorrow night at 6:30pm and find out.

  3. $400,000 saved is $400,000 that could go to programs that would educate those kids. At some point you have to address the demographic reality, or face an erosion of public support for education. There are more poor kids on the west and south sides being jammed into inadequate space, if we’re dragging out the poor kids argument. Either these kids have to be bussed across town (not a good solution), or new schools have to be built where the kids live. Given flat or slightly declining enrollment, voters won’t approve more money for new schools unless the district deals with demographic realities.

  4. Ah..better yet, why don’t we all just move to the west side and close all the east side schools..after all, the west side is pretty much Madison, right? $400K won’t buy you much of anything…5 social workers including benefits maybe…a year of elementary strings at the current rate….certainly not worth tearing apart the heart of more fragile neighborhoods. We’ve already lost our music programs and our advanced math programs…so go ahead, play the “voter” card.

  5. In keeping with my advice to take nothing from the MMSD at face value, I won’t take the figure of $400,000 as valid until I see some documentation. I’ve heard the number thrown out more than once, but for all we know the savings could be $100,000 or $900,000 give or take a few hundred thousand either way.
    I’m not aware of any MMSD numbers on budgets by school. The Milwaukee school district publishes budgets for each school, but has anyone ever seen any for MMSD schools? If some have been distributed to the task forces, would someone please post them or send them to me to post?

  6. Ed: at the last East task force meeting, Kurt provided some numbers for school closings. They came via Roger Price and were: $400k for a 300 child elementary school, $800k for a 500 child school (assistant principals and other factors make that number higher). However, when asked to break these costs down to include transportation (you have to offset the savings of closing by the cost of bussing kids who used to walk to their neighborhood school), mothballing costs (you can’t just close the building, it must stay heated in the winter, maintenance costs, etc.), and a few other costs, Kurt didn’t “bring all the data Price gave him.”
    The Task Force requested that he bring all the data tonight. Last year, when a cost savings analysis was done on closing Emerson, the NET savings wasn’t $350,000 as we were told; rather, it was a scant $150,000. So you are correct Ed, what the public is told isn’t what is necessarily accurate unless you ask the questions that are relevant!

  7. I put dollar amounts saved in terms of teachers, especially new teachers. For a savings of $150,000 this would be 3 new teachers, $400,000 would be 8 new teachers, and $800,000 would be 16 new teachers. If we talk about EAs, the number would be larger because their starting salary and benefits are less than a new teacher’s starting salary.
    When compared to $321 million, $400,000 is “small,” but that number is not necessarily small in terms of the number of teachers that could be in the classroom teaching children or providing services that support children’s learning if that amount of money was “saved.”

  8. We can guess and guess and guess, but the MMSD administrators should provide some back up figures for whatever number they use.

  9. Per Roger Price at tonight’s East Task Force meeting: Mothball a school saves $531,394; sale of a school saves $537,040. When asked about the total MMSD budget, he gave $329 million. He also said not every building is able to be sold due to demand issues etc.
    This only becomes relevant if a member of the East Task Force who voted YES to removing the school closing options from consideration makes a motion to reconsider the vote, as the task force voted 12-5 to remove all options that include closing a school.
    There are now 6 options on the table for the east task force:
    1. Move students from the west area to a east area schools.
    2. Move a portion of the LaFollette attendance area into the East attendance area.
    3. Move MSCR from Hoyt to East attendance area schools.
    4. Relocate the Alternative programs into an East attendance area school.
    5. Reunite all Packers townhouse students from Lindbergh to Mendota.
    6. Consider any and all pairing of schools in the attendance area (non-traditional combinations included).
    In my opinion, #6 will get some thoughtful consideration at the next meeting. Non-traditional pairs might include a K-1 building paired with a 2-5 building (which could make room for the Brearly Street programs alongside a K-1 program)or a Kindergarten center for the near East side paired with a group of 1-5 schools and Brearly fitting in alongside the kindergarteners. Heck, there are endless possibilities to utilize space efficiently and keep neighborhood schools alive and vibrant.
    Rita stated that the West/Memorial task force has removed the idea of sending kids to East area schools from their list of options; however, I have been told that this is NOT accurate, by someone who was at the West/Memorial meeting…anyone from that area care to clarify this?
    Rita said they should have these options on the website by the weekend. Community forums are at Black Hawk 11/28 6:30pm and O’Keefe 12/1 6:30pm.

  10. Curious, the budget the School Board approved on October 24th was $321 million. Wonder what the change in revenue/expenditure is in one month? FYI in May 2005, the balanced budget was $319 million. I’ll have to check my papers from October, but I wonder what the increased budget is due to – grants, and if so, for what.
    Was there a suggestion to close Sherman as a middle school?

  11. No option to close Sherman is left. There was one, initially, that put Brearly in the Sherman space. However, it would have left the Sherman space 40% un-occupied (the task force is charged with filling space, not creating empty space), AND it would have created a Black Hawk with well over 70% free and reduced, plus it would have displaced an entire elementary school (Gompers) into already overcrowded schools (Lakeview and Lindbergh).
    Parallel to that is the fact that even though there is some unhappiness within Sherman, there are also a ton of parents who are VERY HAPPY with Sherman. This was made clear last night. “Just because you read it in Isthmus don’t mean that it’s so.”

  12. David,
    You wrote the best “minutes” that I’ve read on any meeting of either task force.
    It’s exceptionally good to learn that school closings have been rejected.

  13. I almost forgot, I don’t mean to imply that everything is peachy keen at Sherman or at middle schools in general, only that not every family is having a poor experience at Sherman.
    And an interesting aside at last night’s meeting, which I’m a bit reticent to state publicly but as I’ve been roundly castigated at task force meetings already, what do I have to lose: It was VERY obvious that both Rita Applebaum and Loren Rathert were not happy that school closings were removed from the options list. Rita did a better job of hiding it; Loren should never play high stakes poker. I’m not going to accuse the administration of having an agenda on the school closing issue, but I do believe there has been some political pressure to take the band-aid route. I also think that, given the Leopold parents’ cries last spring for an East/North school closing in retribution for their failed referendum, administrators and politicians took note. Add in Doug Pearson’s surprise visit- he talked about upcoming renovation projects funded by last spring’s maintenance referendum that were scheduled at east side schools, and how if we closed them, said projects wouldn’t have to be undertaken. The task force asked him very few questions and best as I can tell, his spiel had no effect. You know they will spend the money elsewhere as we, the voters, authorized them to do. It was a nice attempt to “dangle a carrot”.
    I did think that Carol Carstensen’s appearance was a great move. She made the task force members feel more in touch with reality and the fact that she thanked everyone for taking the time to participate (3 hour meetings aren’t easy for citizen volunteers) meant a lot to everyone I spoke with. She also told folks, up front, that she was the board member who wanted an east side school closing to be a mandated part of the task force charge- she was out-voted by other BoE members. To me, that type of honesty takes guts and no one in that room held it against Carol. We’ve certainly seen other BoE members cut and run from their stated positions and both East and West/Memorial area issues in the past.
    If anything, this process has really brought East attendance area folks together on the issues. There is a new sense of comradarie amongst a pretty diverse group of schools. Is there this level of drama on the West/Memorial task force?

  14. I’m willing to venture a guess that the administration will put a school closing option in front of the board if that’s what the superintendent wants, and I believe he’s very clearly championed a closing in the past.
    He needs the votes of only four board members to close a school, and he is a master at finding them. Carol could be one vote unless she completely disavowed her stated interest in closing a school. Johnny Winston says that closing a school would be in the best interest of the district if my memory serves me correctly. Soooooo, looks like a closing option would have two votes; only two more to go. Where do the other five board members land on the issue?
    Definitely, don’t tally the results until the game ends, and this game is only in the opening minutes. Or . . . start a new game with the next election by voting for school board candidates who pledge not to close schools.

  15. The West/Memorial Task Force took off the table a particular neighborhood from the west side moving East. An odd vote…….but the district misinterpreted that motion to mean we would not move any students East, which was not correct. There was a new motion on 11/22 to say we would consider moving East some students,however the busing and affect on middle school, and high school attendance bogs down this option and it is not moving forward. The W/M task force has had two long meetings this week with little real movement. Everyone states a referendum will not pass, and shuffling 1000 kids for a temporary fix is very unattractive. There is territorial struggles, and unbelievable procedure babbling. It really needs a smaller group to get things done.

  16. What about a smaller task force or perhaps a combined task force at some point that is a workable size of folks from the larger task forces?

  17. My point on the $400,000 (or whatever net figure is generally accepted) is not that efficiency is a bad thing or that that the money saved couldn’t be re-allocated productively. What I am asking myself is this: are the face savings offset by the resulting structure being less effective over students’ K-12 careers?
    My personal belief is that smaller schools are better learning communities for at-risk learners, all else being equal. The child is more well known in the school and will often have a greater sense of belonging. Families are more engaged if the school is at a convenient distance and if they feel less anonymous in a smaller school community. In the long run, this is supportive of student achievement. It would do little good to save money upfront in elementary operating costs only to spend it on expensive interventions in the later stages of a student’s K-12 career.
    This is not so much a question of a 275 vs. a 350 student school, but of some of the large school options that were floated last year. And I acknowledge that there are many educators I respect who view this question differently.
    I’m not against closing schools per se, but not strictly on the basis of optimizing physical plant utilization to reduce upfront operating costs. I’m encouraged to read that other options for filling un-utilized space are on the table.

  18. Greetings,
    Great discussion re: East task force. I am concerned, as a LaF area parent that LaF is being thrown in the mix as an option to move kids from to fill the East Schools. Where is the LaF representation? LaF was left out of the mix, by continues to be tossed in as a possibility–kind of like closing schools. What about the East attendance area kids moved from Hawthorne last spring to Schenk? Was there not enough room within the East Attendance area for its own kids? Was this even looked at? Just wondering. Also, I am not trying to pit East vs. LaF. There is lots for explore. Thanks

  19. Karen: I’ll attempt to answer some your questions re: LaFollette area and the current East area quandry. First, some background…Last spring, the parents at Hawthorne essentially told the MMSD that they would agree to ANYTHING that would ease overcrowding at Hawthorne. So, the MMSD moved a bunch of kids from Hawthorne (which feeds East High) to Schenck (which feeds LaFollette). Of course, other schools in the East High attendance area were under-enrolled, and Hawthorne kids could have gone to Emerson to boost enrollment there, and many folks think the move to Schenck was quite bad planning, but it was the closest elementary school to that specific neighborhood of kids….then, this fall, Schenck was suddenly overcrowded (go figure). So, when the East Task Force began to look at the whole picture, it became evident that the LaFollette area was projected to be overcrowded 5 years down the road, mostly due to new developments and some in-fill developments, plus a lot of far east side and southeast side growth.
    One way to help the future overcrowding of the LaFollette area and the current and future under-enrollment in the East High area is to change boundaries between the two; another way is to change how future neighborhoods feed into the two attendance areas. The Sprecher neighborhood (east of the interstate and north of cottage grove rd.) is one option of flexibility as it hasn’t been built yet. Also, there is a development on Milwaukee st. (the old farm) that will produce a lot of kids in the future.
    It was made clear at tonight’s community forum at Black Hawk Middle that if any options regarding the LaFollette area go forward, the LaFollette area would need to be consulted. I think everyone agrees on that:)

  20. David,
    Thanks for the update re: LaF area/East area future. My children attend Kennedy. During the Spring of last year, when a plan was needed to help with Hawthorne, JFK, LVM and Allis were thrown in the mix as schools that could move kids. Our area, which is considered “Sprecher”, was to have 73 kids moved from JFK to LVM to make room for future developments. While this had no impact upon Hawthorne, it looked like the district was trying to fill LVM which continues to have lots of space. Of interest, in 2002, district and city planning numbers indicated that Kennedy would be in the high 300’s and LVM would be in the high 500’s by this year. It has worked out to be the exact opposite. That was even with the knowledge of Door Creek being built (which is almost built out) and the planning for Grandview Commons. I have asked for clarification about what the task force considers Sprecher so our school can get ready to plan (information, live kid numbers etc).
    Our PTA has looked ahead at issues facing our community and growth is one of them. We have a person ready to represent our school and also work collaboratively with others. Many of my neighbors feel that if Kennedy bursts at the seams, a new school in Door Creek will be built. I gently remind them of the fiscal realities and the need to fill all seats before this would be considered. Thanks for the update and I will get the word out to our parent community regarding the next forum.

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