The Madison Metropolitan and Monona Grove school districts are applying for a waiver from the state to continue an agreement that allows up to five MGSD students to attend Nuestro Mundo Charter School beginning with each kindergarten class.
The state Department of Public Instruction informed the districts in December 2019 that the agreement, which has allowed the MGSD students to bypass the open enrollment and MMSD lottery processes since the school moved to Monona in 2012, does not comply with statutes.
“A preference cannot be given to a set number of Monona Grove School District (MGSD) resident students based on their residency,” the Dec. 18, 2019, letter from DPI school administration consultant Cassi Benedict states. “MGSD students are subject to the same admission requirements and random selection process of all students interested in attending Nuestro Mundo Charter School.”
DPI had previously approved the agreement in 2012 and 2018, according to a memo to the Madison School Board from district interim general counsel Sherry Terrell-Webb.
The Monona school district pays the Madison district the open enrollment rate for its students who attend Nuestro Mundo, though they do not have to pay for the first two students at each grade level.
The Monona Grove School Board approved the waiver application at its Feb. 12 meeting, as first reported by the Herald-Independent, and the MMSD board is expected to consider approving the same application at its Feb. 24 meeting.
The agreement is part of the intergovernmental agreement between the districts that allows the MMSD charter school to run out of what was previously Maywood Elementary School, part of the Monona school district, at 902 Nichols Road. The five-year lease, approved in 2018, also requires MMSD to pay MGSD $177,485.04 each year.
Asked whether they would want to reopen negotiations on the lease if the waiver failed or DPI’s response was delayed, MGSD director of communications and community relations Katy Byrnes Kaiser wrote in an email the district was “focused on working with MMSD and Nuestro Mundo leadership to get DPI what they need in order to act on the request for waiver.”
“Regardless of the outcome, we intend to act in good faith based on our existing relationship with MMSD and Nuestro Mundo, but can't speculate further,” she wrote.
The district uses a lottery process to fill seats in each kindergarten class at the dual-language immersion charter school when it receives more applications than open seats, which it has in recent years. The MGSD students get to bypass that lottery process as well as the open enrollment process required by the state to attend a school district other than the one the student lives in.
The waiver request seeks to allow the districts to receive an exemption from lottery preference provisions and open enrollment requirements for up to five MGSD students for the 2020-21 school year and a four-year waiver of open enrollment requirements to allow the other MGSD students already enrolled at Nuestro Mundo to continue attending without having to apply for open enrollment.
DPI spokesperson Chris Bucher wrote in an email that “DPI has not received a waiver request for this purpose before.”
The memo to the Madison School Board states that during a Jan. 21 conference call with DPI and the districts, it was "agreed that because of the tight timeline involved in the NMCS lottery and admission process, DPI would conduct an expedited review of the waiver request."
MMSD officials have proposed building a new school on Madison’s south side through funding from a fall capital referendum. That building would either house Nuestro Mundo or a new location for Frank Allis Elementary School, allowing the charter school to move into the building currently used by Allis. If that building comes to fruition, the district would save on the annual lease costs.
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