Madison Elected SevenWomen to the School Board: Great! Let’s get to work!

Madison West High School (Madison, WI)

Social media can be a great opportunity for robust communication, recognition, reconnection and celebration. It can also be a great distraction. Over the last several days, it has been a typical mixture of both when it comes to commentary about the outcomes of Madison’s recent school board race.

After Tuesday’s spring elections, Madison voters selected three women to serve as new members of the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Board of Education. I was one of the unlucky guys who didn’t make the cut, but I’m not sweatin’ the outcome. Voters made their choice. We now have seven talented and dedicated women serving on our school board who are going to need our community’s active input, feedback and support. Furthermore, the fact that I received 32,000 votes from nearly half of all voters is a very strong statement about the type of leadership and innovation Madison would like to see from our school board going forward. We cannot let our city forget this.

That said, we must move beyond the alienating identity politics and divisive gender arguments that are playing out on Facebook regarding the outcomes of this school board race, and get on with the real work of addressing the current needs and aspirations of our children, our schools and the future of our city. Our School Board has serious issues to confront and decisions to make over the next 12 months. I am deeply concerned about how little attention our community pays to these issues. You should be, too.

In the coming weeks and months, the Madison School Board will decide what happens with the contract that places armed School Resource Officers in our city’s four comprehensive public high schools. They will revisit our school district’s Behavior Education Plan, Advanced Learning Plan and strategies to deliver on the district’s emphasis on Black Excellence. Likewise, teacher recruitment and retention strategies, and MMSD’s efforts to produce positive educational outcomes for all children, will be high on their list of priorities.

One of the most important issues of 2019–20 will be MMSD’s forthcoming school referendum where the School Board will ask voters to fund new capital improvements (for facilities) and increase the district’s annual operating budget. Without additional resources and cash flow provided by local tax payers, MMSD will not be able to effectively meet its obligation to provide a great educate to our children; provide adequate compensation increases, professional training and support to district employees; and repair or replace some of our city’s oldest and most deteriorating school facilities.

Below is a letter that I wrote to members of the Madison School Board this evening. Please read it. This is one of the issues we should be educating ourselves about and discussing on social media, and hopefully, preparing ourselves to support as well.

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April 6, 2019

Good Evening School Board Members (and future Board members),

I have attached an editorial [click here] from April 4, 1998 written by former Madison Schools Superintendent Cheryl Wilhoyte in the Wisconsin State Journal where she discusses MMSD’s facility needs.

I just want to give you notice that I will be lobbying the community for a more robust facilities plan than the one you are currently discussing. The current plan being discussed doesn’t go far enough. Madison has been delaying its real facilities needs for decades. It is time to stop doing this. We must invite our community to address the larger needs of our public schools and not play it small. New families moving to Madison will more likely choose our suburban neighbors for their children’s education if we do not step up our plans — particularly families who can afford to purchase homes.

On Tuesday, Sun Prairie voters approved its referendum to build one high school for $164 million, which will give it two comprehensive high schools in 2022. A Reminder: In 2007, Sun Prairie voters approved a $96 million referendum to construct its current high school, which opened in 2010.

Also on Tuesday, voters in the DeForest Area School District passed a $125 million referendum that will include the building of a new Intermediate School and significant renovations to its current High School.

In 2018, Middleton voters approved a $143 million referendum that included $140 million in facilities renovations, upgrades and the construction of a new $34 million elementary school. You can learn more about their plans by clicking here and clicking here.

In 2017, Verona voters approved one of the largest referendums in Wisconsin History, a $181 million referendum of which $163 million was dedicated to building its new high school and renovating other facilities. You can view the current construction and plans for the high school by clicking here.

In 2016, McFarland voters approved a $65 million referendum that included renovations and additions to several schools.

In 2014, voters in the Waunakee Community School District passed a $47 million referendum and used the funds to build a new intermediate school and renovate other schools.

MMSD’s has been renovating schools and upgrading mechanicals and facilities. In the last 25 years, we’ve built Olson Elementary and Chavez Elementary Schools. However, we haven’t done enough to address our oldest school facilities. For example:

Madison East High School was built in 1922 (97 years old). My grandfather’s brother Theodore “Ted” Pierce was the only Black student in the graduating class of 1924. He talked about how “terrible” the school looked before he died at age 91 in 1999.

Madison West High School was built in 1930 (89 years old). My grandfathers’ two sisters Edwina and Alyece graduated from there. It still looks almost the exact same. There definitely haven’t been any major changes since I graduated from there in 1989, with the exception of the geo-thermal that was installed, the old Regent Street gym that was slightly upgraded and the front stairwell/entry way that Ed Holmes and his staff had to raise private money to get done.

[Edited] Madison La Follette High School was built in 1963 (56 years old) and Madison Memorial in 1966 (53 years old). Both of these schools look old and tired. You’ll find bathrooms that don’t work (sinks, toilets and lighting). The shades in the classrooms at La Follette High School are terribly tattered and the computers and furniture in the library look like they were there in the 1980s and 90s. Several of the gyms at each school look like OLD GYMS. Some parts of these schools smell old too, and at a few schools, some areas aren’t used anymore. Then there are our elementary and middle schools. They have a lot of needs, too.

[Edited] While we prepare to talk about what’s too much for our children in Madison, our suburban neighbors are building for the future and are making strong statements about the value they place on the education for their kids.

[Edited] What are we going to do in Madison? What level of commitment are we prepared to make to our children now and for the future?

We need to go further than your current plans are taking us. If not, our suburban neighbors and their children will gain ground while we fall behind.

Let me know how I can help us go further to address our real capital and operational needs.


Kaleem Caire

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Over the coming days and weeks, let’s refocus on our attention on the issues, challenges and opportunities that matter most to the education of our children, and the effectiveness of our schools.