Members of the city education committee decided Wednesday that the group, which has had to cancel about 50 percent of its meetings since 2016, should continue to exist — at least for now.
The committee was set to vote on whether to dissolve the committee at its monthly meeting but decided to table the vote and instead explore structural changes, such as meeting quarterly, that could possibly help the group still exist.
Members discussed questions that they could bring back to the various groups represented, from what role the committee should play to what projects and topics the committee should undertake.
Ald. Matt Phair, District 20, who chairs the group, noted that it has struggled with the fact that many topics it considers are often being addressed by other committees.
The committee, which has representatives from the Madison School Board, Madison Metropolitan School District, City Council and mayor’s office, has struggled to meet quorums and make substantive progress over the years. Half of its monthly meetings since 2016 have been cancelled, often due to quorum issues.
The Education Committee — formed in 2012 out of the now-defunct Board of Education-Common Council Liaison Committee — is supposed to serve “as a formal channel of communication and policy recommendations regarding issues of shared concern between the city of Madison, the Madison Metropolitan School District and Dane County," according to the group’s mission statement.
The committee has seven members, including two representatives from the School Board. It’s the only public body that has representatives from Madison, Dane County, MMSD and the School Board.
“This is the only committee where we have county, city, School Board all in one group,” School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen said. “I think we may have to move to quarterly. I can see that. That would make sense to me. I would be fine with other decisions, but to just dissolve it I think would be short-sighted.”
The School Board passed language at its Feb. 4 meeting that requested a chance to provide input to the city education committee before voting to dissolve.
Phair noted that since the committee is set up through city ordinance, the decision would ultimately go through the City Council.
“I brought this (topic of dissolving) up somewhat out of frustration that we have not been able to get much done,” said Phair, who is not running for re-election this spring. “My feeling personally is that it’s somewhat structurally related.”
Phair and Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, who both have served on the committee since it began, explained that high turnover and a lack of clear plans for the group have stifled progress. The Education Committee has had no sponsored legislation since it began.
“We’ve seen this struggle of really trying to find a raison d'etre. We haven’t found it,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “I would say part of it has been because we (Phair and Bidar-Sielaff) have stayed the same, but we’ve had different people representing the other entities, so by the time we find our rhythm and ways of communicating and clarity of work, there’s a change.”
Despite past challenges, Dane County Board member Heidi Wegleitner said she’s hopeful going back to the city, county and school district to examine what role the committee should play will help guide its decision-making.
“I oppose dissolving this right now because I think it’s an opportunity,” Wegleitner said. “I think there are things that need to be fixed or better understood. And thinking about the best time to do that might be after the spring elections.”
The committee is also planning to explore questions of whether all members on the committee should be voting members.
The Education Committee plans to meet again on May 8, which is after the spring elections and will likely bring on several new members to decide whether and how to move forward.