You don’t have to travel very far to hear snide remarks about Fitchburg. It’s a sprawling suburb. Unchecked growth. An enclave for white folks and their McMansions.
Of course, there’s an element of truth in all of these barbs, and I frequently indulge my doubts that this appendage of Madison is a manifestation of our most noble civilizing instincts.
But I confess to getting rather fond of Fitchburg, and occasionally entertain notions that its sprawling, disjointed character is normal. The city might be evolving toward something that resembles, well, a city.
My main reservations about Fitchburg have more to do with doubts that 21st century American culture is really creating a better world for the next generation. For better or worse, Fitchburg is a product of the times. It’s unrealistic to expect us to evolve into an enclave against virulent consumerism or to stanch the flow of SUVs.
All things considered, Fitchburg does about as well as can be expected, and maybe better than many other burbs.
While passers-by think that we allow development on every vacant field, the city struggles mightily – and at great length – to impose order and logic on the process. Yes, our roads are becoming more congested, but much of that is beyond our control.
One of the largest impediments to Fitchburg’s nascent sense of identity is the lack of separate school district, another factor beyond our control.
The current scheme of parceling the city among three school districts might have made sense at one time but it makes no sense – absolutely none – today. The actions of the school districts make sense for the respective bureaucracies (no bureaucracy would ever consider actually getting smaller) but the arrangement continues to fracture and divide Fitchburg.
The school districts can quantify how much it would cost to create a separate district for Fitchburg – and it would be expensive – but there’s no way to quantify the cost in diminished sense of community.
We have become a larger version of the Allied Drive area, where children of disadvantaged residents, who are most in need of a community anchored by a local school – are transported in every direction in the interest of achieving racial and economic balance. Such an arrangement is eminently logical for everyone except the hapless residents of Fitchburg.
Residents of the new upscale developments of Fitchburg now find themselves in a similar position. Their children will now probably be bused hither and yon forever. The arrangements will make sense when viewed through the prism of the district – but not from the perspective of the residents and their children.
Perhaps the most egregious example of how self-interest of a bureaucracy trumps the interest of Fitchburg residents occurred a few years ago when the Madison and Oregon school districts traded jurisdictions over portions of Fitchburg. Madison got Swan Creek and Oregon got an enclave in Hatchery Hill.
Madison’s schools are overcrowded. It would be eminently sensible to cede some of its jurisdiction to avoid problems instead of cobbling together a system.
We can probably expect more of the same of this type of logic as Fitchburg grows. All three districts will continue to assert that there aren’t enough students to warrant schools in Fitchburg. We are more likely to be visited by the Tooth Fairy before voters in these districts view matters from Fitchburg’s perspective.
Students derive absolutely no benefit from riding a bus. A community derives enormous benefits from accessible schools.
It’s time for Fitchburg residents to consider alternatives to the current system. They aren’t likely to have their demands met this time around but they should lay the groundwork for the decades ahead.
If we don’t articulate an alternative, rest assured that no one else will. It won’t be easy, but it’s time to start.
A number of years ago, Bill Linton offered the Madison School District Fitchburg land at no cost for a school. Unfortunately, the District turned this offer down. That land become home to Eagle School.