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Editor’s Note: This letter to the editor was submitted by Eddie Willing.
On Tuesday night, May 19, the State Budget Committee in Madison approved an amendment to their current education package that will change the makeup of the Racine Unified School District Board of Education.
Currently, all nine seats are at-large. The proposed changes, passed 12-4 would require RUSD seats to be numbered and assigned geographic limits. Such a change would provide neighboring villages with more representation on the board, but the drawing of those lines are left in the hands of RUSD. It remains to be seen how these changes would establish local representation.
State Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) drafted the language with State Rep. Thomas Weatherston (R-Caledonia), and it now goes to the legislature for approval. I support this move. As a taxpayer, parent and village board member, I see the value this brings to neighboring communities who deserve representation to go with their taxation. Caledonia provides nearly $19 million a year to RUSD but has no say on the board.
“The idea is to give more of a voice to other communities,” said Scott Kelly, Sen. Wangaaard’s chief of staff. Good!
Of course, officials acknowledged that this move was partly in response to the movement looking to break away from RUSD. This comes in the wake of a packed-room village board meeting on Monday where residents demanded answers for delaying a feasibility study regarding an independent district in Caledonia. Voters approved a referendum April 7th, which asked, “should Caledonia pursue the creation of an independent school district.” Sturtevant voters approved a question using the same language. Village officials have yet to take action specifically on “independent” solutions.
While this is a positive sign that our concerns are being heard and having an effect in Madison, they do not discourage our efforts. I have joined with thousands of residents asking for our own district, because it will provide a sense of community, improved economic climate and establish local accountability. It is the most common issue among new homebuyers, young families and new businesses. The proposed changes to RUSD do very little to assuage these concerns.
I wholeheartedly support any reform that can improve the condition of our schools. I fully support any improvement to Racine schools, and recognize that their success is paramount to the success of Caledonia. However, just as we became a village in 2005, we desire a sense of community in every aspect. Having our own neighborhood schools is a part of that equation.
A new school district would take years to become reality, so in the meantime these proposals are welcome – a reform that allows thousands of families in the system more of a say in how their schools and tax dollars are being utilized. But it does not take any wind out of the sails of residents looking to chart their own course in Caledonia. This proposal is a life raft to that reality, not a solution.
In order to accomplish separation, it currently requires the approval of RUSD, which it has repeatedly denied. So, residents have requested a change to state law that would place the final say with local voters, rather than the board they are seeking removal from. This latest proposal is an olive branch of sorts, but not the change we are ultimately seeking. Although, it proves how quickly state law can be changed when needed. We trust that our leaders in Madison can do the same with our requests.
For now, those leaders have placed the burden back on our villages, asking us to study the feasibility of a split before they authorize changes. While it is awkward being asked to prove the feasibility of a decision in order to have the right to make one, it is what it is.
My goal is freedom, local accountability and parental choice. I want Caledonia to be so successful, it becomes a destination district for engaged families. And a strong community.
Pass the reform bill, and give our village a democratic, proportionate voice on the RUSD board. But follow this by giving our village the right to decide whether an independent school district is ultimately best for our residents. It is the right thing, and this is the right time.
Caledonia resident and village board member