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January 13, 2006

Swan Creek Residents Organize to Stay at Leopold

Kurt Gutknecht, writing in the Fitchburg Star:

Residents of Swan Creek have launched a spirited campaign against plans to bus students from the area to Midvale/Lincoln elementary schools.

A few days after Christmas, 185 households signed a letter [500K PDF] opposing the plan, which a task force had proposed to address overcrowding at several schools in the western part of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Students from Swan Creek now attend Leopold Elementary School.
The letter was presented at the Jan. 5 meeting of the task force. Another task force is preparing plans for the east side of the district where under enrollment is a greater concern.

According to the letter, said the plan being considered meant the “subdivision is used selfishly by the Madison school district” to “plug holes in a plan that has very little merit” and contradicts an agreement the district made when it exchanged land with the Oregon School District. During the negotiations prior to the land swap, the Madison district said children from Swan Creek would attend Leopold.

The letter cited behavioral and safety issues associated with long bus rides, the negative effects on parent involvement and neighborhood cohesion, and criticized the attempt to use children from the subdivision to achieve balanced income at the schools.

Prasanna Raman, a member of the task force who presented the letter, said busing students from Swan Creek could be a case of reverse discrimination.

UPDATE: Midvale parent Jerry Eykholt sent this letter [pdf] to the Task Force and Swan Creek residents.

Arlene Silveria, a member of the task force who’s running for a seat on the school board, said she was concerned that removing “new” neighborhoods such as Swan Creek from Leopold would endanger the future of the school, whose enrollment might consist of higher than optimum proportion of low-income students.

The task force has generally endorsed transferring students from new subdivisions in Fitchburg instead of those from established neighborhoods.

The task force has been meeting for more than four months to develop three plans for consideration by the board. The recommendations aren’t binding, however, and some members of the task force questioned how much effort they should expend on the proposals.

Members have largely agreed to three plans: one based on a new addition at Leopold, one based on a new school on the far west side and another that included both building projects. At the Jan. 5 meeting, the task force failed to agree on a plan that addressed options if no new space was provided.

Members discussed submitting four plans, or adding the no-construction option to each of the three plans. The task force agreed to meet again Jan. 11 to discuss the plans, which must be presented to the board before the end of the month.

Pending additional changes, the three plans associated with new building involve a change in schools for some Fitchburg residents. One would send students from Swan Creek to Midvale-Lincoln, although these students would stay at Leopold if one more classroom were incorporated in the Leopold addition. Fifty-six students in the High Ridge Trail area would go to Thoreau instead of Chavez.

Another plan would send all students south of Lacy Road to Chavez, but the 50-minute bus ride was longer than the 45-minute maximum recommended by the task force.

The most contentious deliberations involved a plan that would not involve any new construction. The initial proposal, which was slightly modified at the Jan. 5 meeting, would move more than 400 students and affect 13 schools.

Several members questioned whether they should even consider such a plan because the task force had previously decided that a satisfactory solution must include new classrooms.

Since the no-building plan involved a period of only three years, some members said it was inconsistent with the task force’s mandate to formulate long-range plans.

Others said some opposition to a 2004 referendum, which would also have authorized an addition to Leopold, was due to the failure of the board too present an alternative plan.

Some observers, who did not want to be identified, questioned whether race had a role in the opposition of residents of the largely white and affluent Swan Creek subdivision to Midvale/Lincoln. However, Swan Creek residents are asking to remain at Leopold, which is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse schools in the district.

The board is unlikely to endorse any arrangements that appear to show preferential treatment lest it be flooded with similar requests. The failure of Fitchburg to approve last year’s Leopold referendum may also weigh in the board’s decisions, although it’s not a factor that’s likely to be discussed openly.

Task force members occasionally had trouble remembering the numerous boundary changes and other aspects of the plans. Some were concerned that representatives of the school board assisting task force didn’t accurately implement their decisions. There were also complaints that some of the options considered by the task force were inconsistent with guidelines they had previously endorsed.

The lengthy deliberations have taken their toll on members of the task force. “I’ve actually lost my marbles on it,” said Annette Miller. “I really don’t want to have any more meetings,” especially since there’s no guarantee the board will endorse any of the task of the group’s recommendations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at January 13, 2006 11:11 AM
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