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Madison neighbors seek school district switch

By Dannika Lewis, dlewis@wisctv.com
Published On: May 26 2014 12:19:52 PM CDT
Updated On: May 26 2014 02:09:51 PM CDT

People living on the far southeast side say McFarland schools are closer and fit for their families. A group of her neighbors is going door-to-door with information about the district detachment process. Dannika Lewis reports.

MADISON, Wis. -

Erika Dean’s son Aiden went to daycare in McFarland. He grew up going to the grocery store in town. He has friends there. He plays on McFarland sports teams.

However, district lines snake right around Liberty Place where Dean lives, putting Aiden in Madison schools. When she applied for open enrollment, Aiden was put on the waiting list.

When she went through the same process for her daughter, Adelene, Dean was able to get her in. She attends 4K in Conrad Elvehjam Early Learning Center in McFarland, while her brother goes to first grade at Glendale Elementary in Madison.

Dean said she's happy with Madison schools, but after spending the school year with two drop offs, two pick ups, two daycares, and two different school calendars, it comes down to convenience.

"We want people to be able to do what's best for their family, so we want people to have the option to be able to stay in the Madison schools to be able to stay, but we want that option to be able to go to McFarland too," Dean explained.

Dean isn't the only one. A group of her neighbors is going door-to-door with information about the district detachment process.

"A lot of people felt the same way that we did, that why isn't this already part of the McFarland school district?" neighbor Mike Pfohl said.

Pfohl and others in support of switching to the McFarland district have to get at least half of Liberty Place’s 400 households to sign off on the idea to even pitch it to school boards.

Madison's school board hasn’t seen a petition like this since 2006.

The McFarland district has only seen three calls for redistricting similar to this in the last two decades. One was filed in February by the same group now lobbying for the change. The other was a few years ago, according to the superintendent. The Oregon school board rejected that request.

"It's a very rare process, especially on the scale that we're trying to do. So it's definitely an uphill battle. There's a reason not a lot of people try to do it," Pfohl said. "Not only is it a lot of work, but it's also difficult to succeed. But we're hoping because our case is so unique, because of the geography, because of the community, that we have a good shot of making this work and do what's right for our neighborhood."

Pfohl stressed the desire to leave the Madison district has nothing to do with the quality of education. He said geographically, it doesn't make sense for the neighborhood to be within the Madison district.

"It's not only about distance, but it's more about the ability to travel so the kids in our neighborhood can easily walk or bike to the McFarland school districts," Pfohl explained. "Whereas for Madison, we have to hop in a car and drive across the beltline, and that certainly makes travel a little more difficult."

On top of that, Pfohl said families have left Liberty Place because of the school situation. He said a number of them only moved a few blocks away to be within McFarland lines.

Neighbors have until February to petition until they submit their signatures and proposal to the school boards.

If the district lines did change, Pfohl said the neighborhood's school district taxes would be switched from Madison to McFarland, sending the money where people were sending their kids.

Dean knows the process is rare and does not usually favor neighbors, but she's hopeful this will be the answer to her "school split home."

"We know we have a long road ahead, a lot of work to do. But keeping our fingers crossed," Dean said.

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