Famous phrase from comedian Ron White and how it applies to the movement for Caledonia to start its own school district.
With all the problems facing Racine Unified School District, the past week put an exclamation point to the Ron White one-liner, “You can’t fix stupid!” I have been an outspoken critic of Unified since 2001, first as the state educational liaison for Citizens for a Sound Economy, a national organization started by former Senate Majority Leader Dick Armey, as founder of Just Cause Wisconsin, as an RUSD Board of Education member, and as leader of the movement to start a new school district in Caledonia. All well and good, but the real reason I became involved is that I have been a parent of four children in Unified since 1991 and still have five years to go. In my twenty year history with Unified, the district has had many referendums pass and a few fail, four Superintendents, and five School Board Presidents. Suffice it to say that there has been many changes during those two decades, but one thing hasn’t changed; the results.
This past week we heard the current School Board President, William Van Atta, state that the board was going to once again hold listening sessions to see just how much the public is willing to contribute (above and beyond what they already contribute) to a successful building referendum. We’ve heard from Mr. Van Atta in a Racine Journal Times letter to the editor about how bad school choice will be for the district. What we didn’t hear are the board’s plan to address the woeful results from the latest WKCE test scores. The board is so focused on what is going on in Madison and pondering how much the public is willing to give, than on what is happening in the classrooms that they are responsible for. And there is one of the reasons that “you can’t fix stupid.” This board has remained for the most part, the same board since I left in 2008.
In that time frame, there has been little improvement in achievement, if any, and further disconnect with the wants and needs of the community. Unified remains one of the worst districts in the state with the only exception being the Milwaukee Public Schools. All of the high schools and middle schools did not meet adequate yearly progress in math, and this isn’t the first year that has happened. The graduation rate remains better than 15% below the state average, and not for lack of funding. So what is the board spending their collective efforts on? Buildings and Madison politics.
In the last two decades, the board has talked about student achievement, but has done little to assure that it is actually happening. Because of this, former Village President, Jonathan Delagrave, came to me with an idea of Caledonia starting its own school system. Current village board Trustee, Kathy Burton solicited signatures to get the board to do an independent study on the feasibility of Caledonia to sustain a school district. The results showed that not only could we sustain a district, but that it would have little impact on the taxpayers of Caledonia.
Smaller districts have proven to very successful. All of our surrounding districts with populations of 35,000 or less have been high achieving districts, and our hope is that Caledonia can one day be part of not only the success of our children, but of all children east of I-94 in Racine County. This is the goal of the nearly 4,000 that signed the petition the first go around. We need three times that amount to start the process. As a community, there is a real opportunity for Caledonia to “fix stupid” and be a part of improving education for our children.
In the meantime, I will remain a staunch critic of the district my children have been a part of for what will amount to 25 years. We all must be. And we need a board that can “fix stupid.”