Education Committee Will Continue to Exist

New blood on the city of Madison’s Education Committee saved it from disbanding last night, Wednesday, February 13th at their regularly scheduled meeting. The Education Committee is one of two City of Madison Committees which addressed issues of education.

The Education Committee is uniquely comprised of members of the City of Madison, the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, and Dane County. Members of the committee include Deputy Mayor for Government Relations, Nick Zavos; Neighborhood Resource Coordinator Tariq Saqqaf, City Alders Matthew J. Phair and Shiva Bidar Sielaff, MMSD’s Executive Director of Family and Youth Engagement Nichelle Nichols, Community Development Specialist Mary O’Donnell, Dane County Board Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner and MMSD School Board Member and Nicki Vander Meulen.

In the past twelve months, the committee was scheduled to meet twelve times, once per month. Since December of 2017, the committee cancelled their meetings five times.

According to their 2012 mission statement, the Education Committee was created to be “a formal channel of communication and policy recommendations regarding issues of shared concern” of education.” However, the exact purpose of the committee and its oversight was called into question by the committee members as far back as the fall of 2017. Minutes from the November 8th, 2017 meeting indicate that members discussed how to “define the roles of the Education Committee.” The members discussed MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham’s directive to focus on Madison Out of School Time (MOST) and Community Schools. The members also identified additional areas to focus including transportation, housing insecurity and students with special needs.

However, at last night’s meeting, members of the committee weighed the value of their role as a primarily communicative body. Because of their unique representation, “a big piece is being here” Wegleitner said. Wegleitner is the newest member of the committee, and she was concerned early in the meeting that dissolution of the committee would be a lost opportunity for the city. Later, Saqqaf asked rhetorically, “who is looking to this committee to do something?”

A November 30th, 2017 letter from MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin addressed to the Education Committee stated the Education Committee should “provide joint accountability for progress” in three areas; MOST, Community Schools and Early Childhood and Early Childhood Zones.

But minutes from the December 12, 2018 Education Committee meeting indicate that members of the committee continued to discuss the value of its duties and expressed concern “regarding the Education Committee’s role on items that may fall under the purview of specific entities such as MMSD.” They set a vote to determine “how to move forward with the Education Committee.”

Responding to a remark from Vander Muleun that the MMSD School Board wants the Education Committee to remain in tact, Saqqaf acknowledged that disbanding is “optically unpopular.” The members agreed the Education Committee still has work to do.

Upcoming city elections also influenced this decision as it is likely there may be even more turnover among the city government who reinvigorate the commission’s mission.

Additionally, Wegleitner said rumors of the committee’s potential dissolution was “triggering some discussion” among public officials, implying their hope the committee would stay together.

After they voted to remain intact, much of the meeting was spent creating survey questions designed, as Saqqaf put it to “re-discover out purpose and generate some buy-in.” These survey questions will be distributed to other public bodies, including the Madison School District, the Madison School Board, County Supervisors, and Alders. The members also agreed to meet on a quarterly basis, rather than a monthly basis, unless there is a more urgent purpose to address.