Hmm. This is interesting. To varying degrees, both Madison school board candidates express unease with the school district's failure to report a suspected sex offender to state authorities.
On the other hand, both support the Madison school board's recent decision on school boundaries, and both Passman and Hughes praise a committee's recent report on school names.
Here's what we asked the two candidates this week.
The Daily Page: Do you agree with how the Madison school district administration and the teachers union handled the Anthony Hirsch case?
Hirsh resigned as a special education aide at La Follette High School in 2006 (he was hired in 1998) after a female student complained that he touched her leg in a sexually suggestive way. Hirsch denied it happened.
The separation agreement signed by the district and the union said that in return for Hirsch resigning the district would offer a "neutral reference" to potential employers, and that the district would not notify the State Department of Instruction that it suspected Hirsch had engaged in immoral conduct.
Hirsch was subsequently hired by the Waunakee School District and is now facing felony charges of possessing child pornography and of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old La Follette Student. He has yet to enter a plea.
I am not a lawyer and do not know why this was considered an acceptable termination of employment. However, what I do know is that this method seems to be the standard operating procedure for dealing with cases that could require long litigation and high costs. It seems the easiest way out for all parties.
This approach to eliminating a questionable employee is unfortunately used by school systems throughout the country and not just in Madison. The prevalence of this approach, however, does not excuse it.
It was only a matter of time before some child somewhere would suffer as a result. Student safety and student education, rather than expediency, must be the determining factor when ending the employment of any district staff member, and the names of such people must be sent to DPI.
My understanding, in this particular case, is that the district felt that there was insufficient evidence to successfully charge Mr. Hirsch. Furthermore, his new district never contacted us even though the terseness of his employment file here should have alerted them to a possible problem.
Still, Superintendent Rainwater has stated that mistakes were made and that this policy is at an end. I believe him.
The recent decision by the School Board to finance employee finger printing will also help ensure the safety of our children.
I don't any more about the Anthony Hirsch case than what I read in the newspaper. I understand that Hirsch has been charged with felonies, but I also recognize that he is entitled to the presumption of innocence. I don't have the background to comment on the specifics of the case.
The press reports do raise the question of whether it can ever be appropriate for the school district to agree as part of a settlement agreement with a teacher that the district will not report suspicions about the teacher to the Department of Public Instruction. I have serious concerns about this practice.
Wisconsin law requires a school administrator to report to DPI the name of any person employed by the district and licensed by DPI if the person resigns and the administrator "has a reasonable suspicion that the resignation relates to the person having engaged in immoral conduct."
For these purposes, immoral conduct means behavior that is contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil. Upon receiving such a report, DPI must determine whether to initiate revocation proceedings.
One would think that if the district has sufficient concerns about a teacher's behavior to enter into negotiations with Madison Teachers Inc. about his or her removal, and the negotiations lead to the teacher's resignation, then the district would have a reasonable suspicion that the resignation related to the person having engaged in immoral conduct.
If so, the duty to report is clear. The district cannot bargain away its legal obligation to report under these circumstances, because that obligation runs to the state in the form of DPI and not to the teacher.
School boundary changes are among the most contentious decisions that school board members face. Often they involve matters of neighborhood identity, family precedent at a school, busing, a school's socio-economic mix, and race. Construction of a new elementary school in the Memorial High School attendance area has touched off a major row over readjusting attendance areas.
What is your general philosophy about school boundary changes and do you support the school board's decision on resetting the Westside boundaries?
I support the school board's decision resetting westside boundaries. The new school makes boundary changes inevitable, and the board ended up with a reasonable result.
I understand how boundary changes can be hard for affected families and how changing schools can be disruptive for students.
When the need for boundary changes arises, the goals should include minimizing disruption and the frustration of reasonable expectations about attendance areas, even though some degree of both is inevitable. Other considerations should include minimizing busing and taking into account current and projected occupancy levels at affected schools.
Proposed boundary changes should also seek to maintain racial and socio-economic balance in the schools. This is based on more than inclination. My understanding is that, on balance, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to do better in elementary schools that have a mix of incomes. Students who are not economically disadvantaged tend to do just about as well if the level of poverty in their schools goes up somewhat.
Given this, it makes sense to try to change the income mix somewhat in higher poverty schools when the opportunity arises. I understand that this reasoning may not be so comforting for families told that their kids have to change from their old schools to help bring down the poverty level at their new schools.
Fortunately, demographics are not destiny. We have some terrific schools with relatively high poverty levels and, with the support of active and engaged parents, we can have more.
I'd like to see the boundary change process start with a broad set of possibilities and gradually narrow the options down through the transparent and consistent application of well-identified decision-making criteria. Any result will disappoint some, but the goal should be to have the consistency of the process underscore the logic of the result.
The School Board has a well-defined policy for determining boundary changes and their recent decision followed this policy. Consequently, I agree with their decision. Having said that, however, I believe that the communication component in this entire process needs improvement.
The original plans presented by the administration were thought by the Long Range Planning Committee to be wanting. Additional plans were developed and, in that process, neighborhoods did not get appropriate information in a timely manner.
Since the administration and board had known for some time that boundary changes were necessary, there should have been more warning given to the public and perhaps some input should have been allowed in the form of recommended changes developed by the affected areas. If the parents had felt that they were part of the decision-making process, this might not have turned into such a contentious decision.
I have taught in schools with new children arriving from changed boundaries. These students were warmly welcomed, and the transition was made easy and uneventful. Children seem to adapt easier to change than we adults do. I hope that all families involved in changing schools will give the new schools a chance to educate their children.
As a board member, I will help the schools in any way that I can to ensure that these children continue to receive an excellent education.
Speaking of the new Westside school, who do you think it should be named for? The four finalists are Nobel Prize winner Howard Temin, Centro Hispano founder Ilda Thomas, educator and conservationist Paul Olson and disability activist Jeff Erlanger. Or do you think the board should have stuck with naming the school for Hmong hero Vang Pao? Or do you have your own favorite candidate?
The task force that presented the four final names to the board was an excellent example of how our district should partner with the citizens of Madison in the decision making process. It will be an honor for all children attending the new school to say that they go to Temin, Thomas, Olson or Erlanger Elementary School.
I realize many people still hoped for a Hmong name and this too would have been fine. However, the process is finished and we must accept the task force's decision.
The Board wisely decided that the namesake of the new school must be deceased, so it does not have to worry about a last minute push for Brett Favre Elementary. I think naming the school after any of the four finalists would be fine.
They, like many others, are worthy of the honor, but none of the four is entitled to it. I hope the community quickly accepts whatever name is selected and we can move on. The Citizens Naming Committee did an excellent job, by the way. Their unusually well-written report can be found here: http://www.mmsd.org/topics/newschool.