Madison School Board Votes to Keep Marquette School Open

Andy Hall:

Two weeks after voting to close Marquette Elementary, the Madison School Board bowed to public pressure Monday evening and decided to keep the school open.
The board’s 5-2 vote was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from about 50 parents, children and activists who campaigned to save the school at 1501 Jenifer St. on Madison’s Near East Side.

Susan Troller has more.

31 thoughts on “Madison School Board Votes to Keep Marquette School Open”

  1. The board members with courage are Silveira and Kobza. It’s not a tough budgetary decision to close/consolidate schools when you have steady or declining enrollment and a new school being constructed. What’s tough is to maintain budgetary credibility in the face of high emotion and adults concerned about property values, especially when you know you will face those voters at some point down the line. Thank you both for your integrity.

  2. I agree with Donald Pay. It would be horrible to lose your neighborhood school, but possibly it made the most sense financially for the overall District.
    This isn’t the first budget cut that some of the Board members have reversed their decisions on. It is too bad that certain members are so persuade by public pressure. The decision to eliminate the Assistant Principal at Sherman could prove to be very detrimental to Sherman. Of course, these cuts have to come from somewhere. Among the suggestions on the table is eliminating two of the High School Athletic Directors or having them work 50%. Anyone that is involved with athletics or has spent anytime around our high schools, should know what a disaster that proposal could be. I’m not suggesting that sports be given a higher priority than academics, but realize that our school teams are a vital part of our community. Often having to stay out of trouble and be academically eligible is the only thing that keeps some kids out of trouble and going to school. Academics aren’t given enough importance, either. One example of this is the cuts to the TAG program. It is argued that the teachers should just challenge their students, themselves. This would be ideal, but with all that the classroom teachers have to deal with, it doesn’t happen. Actually, oftentimes now, the classroom teacher is expected to give the students TAG materials. The TAG budget is too small to allow much time in the classrooms. I’ve been told that many teachers just say that they don’t have time and the kids are on their own. Of course, the TAG program is just one academic area that is suffering. Speaking of suffering, the credibility of some Board members is taking a downward slide. I hope they will do something to restore some of the integrity that they have lost.

  3. I absolutely agree and I sent a similar message to them. There should not be these kinds of “do-overs” in this process. The new board members need to grow a spine.

  4. First, if you want to take cheap shots, take them at people like me who have been on the board for more than a month and who objected to the fast=track process that was pushed through for this year’s budget.
    Second, we would not be building a new school without the support of the people who you are trashing for valuing neighborhood schools. It is precisely the isthmus’ appreciation of the importance of neighborhood schools that made it possible to pass the referendum that is paying for the new school.
    Some facts that should be acknowledged here:
    1) the assistant principal position at Sherman was in jeopardy because the enrollment has fallen below the threshold that would require an assistant principal. It was not cut to keep the pair open.
    2) the cuts to athletic directors were made with little public opposition, including from district booster clubs. They have no relationship to the decision to reconsider the paired schools.
    3) the pair is being kept while achieving the savings that the superintendent projected as part of the plan to close Marquette. Keeping the pair open adds nothing to the budget, and ELIMINATES the addiional annual expenditures for busing that were included in the proposal to close Marquette.
    4) Enrollments in the pair are growing, not declining. Such growth is part of the growth and decline cycles that have been common for these schools for the past twenty years.
    5) There is available room in the schools. That room is being used to save the $232,000 in annual expenditures for rental space for district alternative programs. That was part of the original plan to consolidate, and it is part of the plan to keep the pair open.
    6)As it came out last night, the board was working with flawed numbers and assumptions about the space that was/was not available at Marquette and Lapham. Had the plan gone through as formulated, we would have incurred more expense based on inaccurate analysis and understanding of the benefits of that plan.
    A question for the writers: you have a number of legitimate complaints about our schools. I’m not sure that I understand the connection that you are making between athletic directors, TAG, and other issues and the steps that were taken to preserve isthmus schools. Could you explain how saving the pair hurts any of the issues that you discuss?

  5. I’m not against preserving the isthmus schools. I’m deeply disturbed by the precendent this reversal has set and the apparent bowing to pressure of a small group of angry parents because this happened “in their backyard”. Are these same people as outraged about the “non-specific” threat supposed to happen today, May 16th, at Memorial HS. I kept my daughter home from school today – word is that someone is going to bring a gun to school and shoot someone. She’s afraid to go to school and I’m afraid to send her. Will the same parents rally around this issue to demand something be done to secure our high schools?

  6. I would like to commend our school board members, all of them, on the tough choices this vote presented. I am especially proud of Maya and Beth, both new and both rushed initially to a decision for which there were insufficient or flawed data.
    The savings, if there were any, simply did not justify closing Isthmus neighborhood schools, schools valued and supported by their community. Our schools do not flourish or fail in a vacuum. Number crunching often forgets to account for this vital piece.
    Moreover, this decision is smart from a larger perspective–the health of our city and county. So hats off to the school board, those who believed they were right the first time, and especially those who, after having a chance for deeper review and reflection, changed their vote.

  7. Thank you, Joan.
    Ann, I understand your alarm over threats at Memorial. However, it doesn’t seem fair to take that alarm out on people over completely unrelated issues. That said, many of the people who were advocating for the isthmus schools have been very active in raising issues and urging the district to address school safety at high school and middle school levels. Myself included.

  8. To further echo what Lucy Mathiak wrote, as the north and east sides are inextricably intertwined, we all truly appreciate the importance of neighborhood schools. Because our parts of Madison don’t have room for sprawl, we won’t need to build new neighborhood schools. But we absolutely supported building a new neighborhood school on the far west side because it was NEEDED. Therefore, we expect other parts of Madison to understand our NEED for our neighborhood schools as well.
    I find it interesting that Board members weren’t given accurate data by the administration during this process. Perhaps the administration was crafting a scenario to meet their own ends? It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.

  9. In balancing the budget, the Board should be focused on spending money in a way which has the greatest benefit for our children’s education. I personally do not believe that paying 2 principals, 2 secretaries, and maintaining 2 buildings for a paired school of approximately 460 students is a smart use of the District’s money or provides any significant educational benefit to the students – when we easily could serve the same students with 1 principal, 1 secretary, and one building located just over 1 mile from the other. The money that is being used to continue to fund these expenses is money that could be better used for other District expenses. Also, I certainly did not hear anything on Monday that would suggest the Board was given faulty capacity information from the administration. Lucy and I will just have to agree to disagree on this issue.

  10. I was feeling this way before I found out about the threat to Memorial. My frustration has been growing. In my personal experiences and conversations I’ve concluded that there are many pockets of self-interest agendas but no real effort to address bigger issues which impact the entire district – safety being just one. I find this disturbing.
    And, yes, how did the board get inaccurate and incomplete data? Please enlighten.

  11. The discrepancy in data is one of methodology. When Marquette space is counted without taking into account the flex space (available classrooms that fit in both and Marquette instructional space), it appears that Marquette is much smaller than Lapham.
    When the flex space is taken into account, Marquette is much larger than Lapham. I may just be slower on the uptake, but it was during the chart presentations and opportunities to question Mary G that I was able to elicit an answer to space that took into account ALL available instructional space at Marquette.

  12. I should say that adding to my frustration is that some of the board chose to listen to angry parents in this case yet ignores issues that are equally as important but that haven’t raised the ire of enough people to get noticed.

  13. I respectfully suggest that Lawrie is muddying the waters. The budget she supported would have also maintained two buildings, one for the alternatives, one as a k-5 elementary. Two secretaries would also have been needed. Again, one for the elementary school and one for the school housing the alternatives. It is true that an additional principal is needed to keep the pair as they are but parents were willing to have one principal for both schools. This wasn’t supported by the superintendent who found a way to provide another principal and avoid laying off the assistant principal at Sherman. A possible benefit of housing the alternatives within the pair is that there are now three principals (those at Lapham, Marquette and O’Keefe) in the two buildings to back up Steve Hartley, principal of the alternative schools.
    I take exception to Ann R’s characterization of us as “a small group of angry parents.” Supporters of the pair included business owners, developers, landlords, and home owners without kids as well as parents of kids in other schools in the East Attendance area. You can argue that these people were looking out for their own interests but don’t we all value a healthy local economy, robust real estate market and diverse population?

  14. I think the administrative staff would have been reduced. Currently, there is admin staff for Marquette, alternatives, Lapham. Had the merger gone through wouldn’t it have been admin staff for alternatives and Lapham – two schools rather than three?
    Does anyone know how many children in Lapham/Marquette come from other nearby schools – are transfers an issue?

  15. Lucy – I’m curious…..what is the real capacity for Marquette then? Plan G had Lapham’s capacity at 558 when reconfigured as a K-5. Are you saying Marquette is bigger than that? How is the “flex space” you are referring to counted in the current capacity calculations? Is it part of O’Keeffe’s capacity? Thanks. – Jill

  16. Since I’d hate to see any Madison neighborhood lose its school, I am pleased that the board found a way to keep the Marquette-Lapham pairing intact. And just to note, I would not have been “directly” affected by the consolidation, since I live in a different neighborhood (although I would argue that as Madison residents, we’re all in this together and school issues do affect the quality of life for the whole community).
    What troubles me is the process that led to the vote and then the subsequent reversal. Why did it take a vote in favor of consolidation for other viable alternatives to be raised? The process seems seriously flawed and leads the public to doubt the whole method by which a budget is approved. Is it an issue of timing? The way in which the administration presents its budget recommendations? Or the whole working relationship between the board and district admin?

  17. You’re right, Jill. The flex space adjoins both Marquette and O’Keefe. It is currently counted as O’Keefe space, although it can be used by either school (which I would think to be a plus as enrollments shift).
    I don’t have my notes from Monday night with me, so I cannot provide the numbers with confidence. I will either locate the numbers or ask Mary G to provide them and post them here.
    I want to emphasize that the discrepancy in numbers is about methodology rather than other issues.

  18. The savings from the consolidation would have been the salary cost for 1 elementary principal, 1 elementary secretary, and 1 custodian. The Alternative programs have their own staff (principal, secretary, and custodian) which would have been maintained.

  19. In response to Jane’s question about transfers, the official numbers from the 3rd Friday in September count show that Lapham had 31 students transfer out of their attendance area and 32 transfer in, for a net gain of 1 student. For Marquette, it was 17 outs and 53 ins, for a net gain of 36 students. I’m not sure why Marquette has so many more than Lapham…..maybe just a fluke or maybe because it was fairly well known on the eastside that Lapham parents were not particularly happy with the principal there (who has since been re-assigned to Lake View). As you would expect, the majority of the ins & outs for Lapham and Marquette are with Emerson and Lowell, the two schools in closest proximity to the L-M neighborhoods, with the rest sprinkled around the rest of the district, primarily other East or LaFollette attendance area schools.

  20. The bottom line is this, five of the seven board members ignored their fiduciary (and other) responsibility to appease a very small, but influential, minority of the population. The crisis in school funding requires all of us to make sacrifices – which, evidently, some are unwilling to do. The closing of Marquette would have combined schools to create a K-5. This is the same as almost all of the rest of the elementary schools MMSD. What remains is one neighborhood elementary school instead of two. Don’t kid yourselves, leaving the schools intact costs the district in other areas of the budget. The pie is finite, when you give to one you take from another.
    The way I see it, this decision is going to cost the district more money in that you lose support for an operating referendum. At this juncture, I won’t support a referendum due to what I think is the lack of a good faith effort.

  21. Jill –
    Here is the new information that you asked about. I had asked how Marquette and Lapham compare in terms of instructional space because Marquette didn’t appear on the chart that we were shown comparing elementary school space. When we look at the spaces that could go to either Marquette or O’Keefe, the picture of Lapham as the far larger school looks a bit different:
    Available instructional spaces:
    Lapham 30
    Marquette 22
    O’Keefe 40 (O’Keefe only needs 20 of those spaces this year)
    Without flex space:
    Lapham 30
    Marquette 22
    With flex space:
    Lapham 30
    Marquette 42

  22. Ann R–I hear your frustration, but budget decisions are all about priorities. Neighborhood schools have a much broader community impact than just those immediate families served, so protecting them is high on my personal list. Indeed, the community endorsed by referendum the construction of a new school in a new subdivision so arguably it’s a value shared by many others.
    What was at stake with the closure/consolidation was not a huge savings in the overall scheme of the budget. I’d suggest looking for much more significant savings from reducing our large number of administrative staff (and their higher salaries). This might lead you to a closer look at our 70+ million dolllar special ed budget. However, if you think the Marquette neighborhood was politically potent…

  23. I have been trying to rise above the divisive comments on this thread, but Ann R’s latest salvo compels a response. Ann R. states that the board ignored its fiduciary responsibility by deciding to keep open a highly performing and deeply beloved neighborhood elementary school, whose closing would have resulted in a crowded school, in order to save the school district less than $80,000. I fail to see how it is the duty of the school board to decimate the schools it is entrusted to preserve in exchange for paltry financial savings.
    And as for Ann R’s assertion that “some” people are unwilling to make sacrifices, kindly note that the Marquette/Lapham community was willing to sacrifice a principal and willing to house the district’s alternative high school programs in its elementary schools in order to keep its neighborhood schools open. The Marquette/Lapham community has also repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to pay more in property taxes to support building new schools on the far west side, from which our community can obtain no direct benefit. I’m curious: what sacrifices has Ann R.’s neighborhood offered to make to keep the district solvent?
    Wouldn’t it be great if we as a district could agree that we value neighborhood schools and are committed to keeping them open? Then, instead of attacking people who have the temerity to want the best for their community and their children, we could work together to pass needed funding referenda and, ultimately, to convince the legislature to lift the revenue caps that are strangling our schools.

  24. Lucy and Lawrie,
    Given the contention around the Lapham/Marquette consolidation, has discussion taken place regarding city- or district-wide policies for pairings and neighborhood schools?
    Personally, I am glad to see that Lapham and Marquette are preserved. But public policies are long overdue. The fiscal health of the district will continue to be at issue, and other areas of the district (and other demographics) must be considered in the decision-making process.
    I think we can agree that without a real strategy, this same controversy will continue around the district. It’s not only counter-productive, but it’s taking a toll on our community.
    Thanks for your diligence and hard work.

  25. While the decision-making process was certainly flawed, it does not mean that board members “ignored their fiduciary responsibility.” In fact, the new Lapham and Marquette arrangement reflects many financial efficiencies and the board made many difficult cuts across the budget.
    Lapham and Marquette space will be used in a flexible way to house alternative programs (extending their long tradition of housing district-wide programs–Early Childhood, TEP, OT/PT, etc.) This arrangement makes a lot more sense than the initial plan passed by the board, which filled Lapham to the point where it could not add a single classroom without putting 2 classes in a single space and left Marquette under-utilized.
    And while consolidation would have cut staff positions, it incurred other costs (some permanent like additional bus routes and some temporary like moving costs). I think the board made a good faith effort to balance the actual savings against the educational and community costs.
    Reversing a decision that amounted to about $200,000 in a hasty decision-making process is paltry stuff relative to the scope of cuts that have been made in the past and will be made in the future under the current finance formula. I hope public support for an operating referendum will reflect a calculation about the big picture needs and direction of the district rather than a reaction to individual budget cuts. A continuing discussion about facility use and programming needs will certainly be a part of that big picture.

  26. Sue Abplanalp visited Lapham School today to tell a kindergarten teacher that she would need to move out of the first-floor, corner room she’s used for years and years, so that the district can break through a wall to create a doorway directly to the outside. And the district will construct a new restroom within the room. The changes need to be made to accommodate Wee Start, a child care program moving to Lapham but not listed among the MMSD alternative programs on the MMSD’s Web site.
    Does anyone know what Wee Start is?
    This is probably only the first of many expenditures to remodel facilities for the alternative programs.
    When all the costs get totaled, moving the alternative programs may be more expensive than leaving them in rented space.
    Did the administration accurately and honestly tell the board and taxpayers about the costs of the moves? Of course, not.
    Hopefully, the board will now ask the appropriate questions on the costs of the moves.

  27. “Second, we would not be building a new school without the support of the people who you are trashing for valuing neighborhood schools. It is precisely the isthmus’ appreciation of the importance of neighborhood schools that made it possible to pass the referendum that is paying for the new school.”
    Hmmmm…the fall 2006 MMSD school referendum passed with 69 percent voting support. I’m sure Isthmus voters supported the construction of a school on the west side. Which wards in MMSD did not?
    Apparently none of them. Every single ward in the school district supported the referendum (well, save for a lone voter in the town of Burke). What, exactly, did Ishtmus voters do to get the referendum passed that voters near Leopold, or Lindbergh or Mendota, or Van Hise or Midvale, did not?
    The suggestion, of course, is that Isthmus schools shouldn’t be closed because Isthmus voters supported building a school that none of their children will attend. But that’s the case with any elementary school referendum in a large, multi-school district.
    But the implication that voter support for one thing should shield those same voters from tough governmental decisions is, I’d suggest, a somewhat slippery slope. It’s not that far removed from suggesting that voters who support the current mayor (regardless of who holds the office) should get their snowy streets plowed first, or their garbage picked up more often.
    I don’t know whether the decision on Marquette is a good one or not. I do think the implication that the decision should be rooted, in part, on previous voter behavior of the residents of that, or any, neighborhood is a troubling one.

  28. Phil, it is unfortunate that you choose to take my words out of context to suggest that the vote was reversed because of Isthmus political activism. That is not what I said, nor can it be inferred from the full context of my post. My point is simple: the level of anger and animosity toward the neighborhoods affected by the ‘consolidation’ is highly unfortunate and ill-informed given the traditionally strong support that these neighborhoods have given to school initiatives in all parts of Madison.
    I voted against consolidation two times, both because it was bad policy and and was counter-intuitive (for example, spending more on busing but calling it a savings).
    You are entitled to your opinion, but please don’t warp my comments to suit your arguments.

  29. It is obvious that all of us that post on this site care deeply for our school and our community. I find it sad that because some people supported the closing of Marquette they are labeled as not valuing neighborhood schools. I, quite frankly, am not sure what I think, anymore. There continually seems to be additional costs being reported (see Teacher Q’s earlier post) and reasoning to support/not support keeping both schools open. If you read Lucy Mathiak’s May 15th 9:04 post, she felt that cheap shots were being taken and questioned my meaning regarding TAG and Athletic Directors connections to keeping both schools open. My post wasn’t intended to mean that I thought Athletic Directors and Tag should be kept and Marquette be closed. I was commenting on the fact that the Board is losing it’s credibility (See today’s article by Susan Lampert Smith that was added to this site today) not that AD’s and TAG should be kept instead. Regarding her statement that there was very little public comment on the proposed Athletic Director cuts, I’ve found that many people didn’t know about this proposed cut. I’ve talked to several people, that are involved parents, that had no idea of this potential cut. The potential school closing/consolidations have been the main focus of the media. I am not in the minority when I say that the Athletic Directors cut would be extremely harmful. The consolidation issue has taken the place of the General Vang Pao issue, also. This is another example of some Board Members saying that they didn’t have all of the information available when making their decisions. I think to many parents and community members, this is inexcusable. We aren’t trying to take cheap shots. We are speaking up because we are fearful for the education of our children and our neighbors’ children. As others have said, I also appreciate the members of the Board for their willingness to serve and make such crucial decisions. These positions however, come with tremendous responsibility and the potential for public criticism.

  30. Lucy:
    I’m not entirely sure what you think has been taken out of context here. It’s your quote, not mine. No one has questioned your consistency in opposing the Marquette closure. There is a good argument out there — expressed any number of times — that the closing may not have been good public policy.
    But how is criticism aimed at the Marquette neighborhood “ill-informed” when legitimate questions are raised about backsliding by the board? The board makes a highly controversial decision, hears outrage from one of the most powerful political constituencies in Madison — the Isthmus left/progressive/Democrat base centered around the Marquette neighborhood — and reverses course. Shouldn’t that give one pause the next time a school closing is up for a vote in a neighborhood with less clout than Marquette? It would me, if I was the parent of a kid attending a school in a neighborhood that’s a lot poorer and less politically vocal than Marquette (meaning, just about every other neighborhood in Madison).
    And, the day after the decision, you weigh in on SIS to suggest that those who oppose or criticize such backsliding by the board should, you know, “remember” that if it wasn’t for the good folks in the Marquette neighborhood, Madison might not be building a new school on the west side.
    Um, is there really any question that the board’s decision was reversed because of Isthmus political activism? If one shouldn’t infer that, why (joined by others in the Marquette neighborhood, if what I read in the local papers is correct) even bring up the neighborhood’s support of the ’06 referendum?

  31. I’ve been resisting the urge to ask this question since the East Side was dubbed “politically affluent” because I didn’t want to fan the flames. Now that we are all a bit calmer (I hope) here goes nothing: If we do have political clout, why not capitalize on that rather than criticize us?

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