Updates and Random Scraps

Here’s a miscellany on a grab-bag of topics:

  • My last blog entry described why I thought the expansion of TID 32 to include the Edgewater project was a bad deal for the school district, and for taxpayers generally.  Other School Board members felt the same way, though perhaps for different reasons, and we voted unanimously to direct Lucy Mathiak, our representative to the Joint Review Board, to vote against the proposal.  Lucy did, but she, and we, ended up as the cheese standing alone as the other members of the Board voted to expand the TID and send those millions of dollars of tax revenues on to the Edgewater developer.  Let’s hope the project is a success and we all get tons of enjoyment out of that new public plaza we’re all paying so much for.
  • My first few blog posts back in June discussed maintenance in the District, and the shortcomings in the District’s accounting for past maintenance spending. (See here, here and here.) Active Citizens for Education has now brought forth a proposal for maintenance that calls for the formation of an outside advisory counsel including architects, engineers, and facility and financial experts to help with the development of a multi-year maintenance plan building off the review of the District’s facilities needs recently completed by the Durrant Engineering.  The proposal also calls for development of a better software accounting system and database and much more transparency with respect to projects and expenses.  These forward-looking aspects of the proposal make a lot of sense to me, and if the ACE folks are able to identify qualified professionals who are willing to help us in this way, that would be great.  We can use the help.  I’m not so keen on the parts of the ACE proposal that seem to recommend going back and trying to reconstruct the maintenance spending that was incurred in the past.  I don’t think that’s a very productive use of scarce resources.  But I expect that the appropriate Board committee will review the ACE proposal and make use of such insight as it provides in figuring out how to move forward on maintenance.
  • By the way, Don Severson, the principal (and, for all I know, only) person behind ACE, still hasn’t responded to the email that I sent him several weeks ago and that I mentioned in my post about the media misrepresentations of the Board’s position on Open Enrollment, inviting him to correct me if I was wrong in accusing him of deliberately misrepresenting the Board’s actions when he appeared on Vicki McKenna’s radio show several weeks ago.
  • And speaking of Open Enrollment, I had written that current law places a 10% cap on the number of students from any district who could open enroll in schools in other districts.  A recent decision of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has proved me wrong.  The court held that there is in fact no cap on open enrollment leavers.  I could try to explain the source of my confusion, but that would be more trouble than it’s worth.  It’s enough to know that every single student in a school district could open enroll elsewhere, and that would not run afoul of the open enrollment framework that the legislature has established.  Not that we have anything against Open Enrollment.
  • A little over a week ago, I spent much of Saturday morning at the Food for Thought Festival so I could hear Chef Ann Cooper talk about more nutritious food offerings in our schools. Last year, Beth Collins, Cooper’s partner in a business called Lunch Lessons, came to Madison for a review of our food preparation facilities as the first part of a possible feasibility analysis of Madison making a commitment to serving far more nutritious school meals.  (More here.)  Collins’ study reported that our food facilities are quite efficient and well-run, but served, you know, pretty crappy food.  After her talk, I had a chance to ask Cooper what would be the next step for the District.  She said we had to decide the direction we wanted to go.  If we are willing to make a commitment to overhauling our food approach, as the school districts in Berkeley and Boulder have done, then she and her organization could help us accomplish that.  It’s an intriguing thought, though I have my doubts whether we’re ready for it.  It would be expensive initially and would take commitment and resources.  As a District, we seem currently to have initiatives stacked up from here to Beloit and it would be a challenge to justify taking on another one, particularly one that wasn’t identified as a priority in our strategic plan.  My sense is that this is probably going to have to percolate for a while longer.
  • A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual awards ceremony for Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR).  I have attended this for the last several years, and the event always reminds me of the huge debt we owe to the hundreds of volunteers as well as the committed staff that help our recreation programs and after-school activities run as smoothly as they do.  We imposed quite significant budget cuts on MSCR in our last budget exercise and it was also helpful for me to talk to staff members and get a pretty candid assessment of the practical impact on programs that those cuts have had.
  • It is reported today that a group of parents have filed a complaint with the Department of Public Instruction, charging that the District has failed to provide adequate services for talented and gifted students at West High.  My colleague Marj Passman was quoted  in a Cap Times article today about the complaint and she nailed it: “These are parents who have been trying to stick with Madison public schools. If this is what they need to do to wake up the district, more power to them.  They’re fighting for their kids just the way the parents of special education students fight for theirs, and we need to respect that. And we need to do something about their concerns so they will stay in our schools. We need them.”  My views?  What Marj said.
  • I was also hoping to write a few words about the idea for a charter school that the Kaleem Caire and Urban League are working on, which I like a lot so far. But that’s a big enough topic to deserve more space, time and thought, so it will have to wait for another day.
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