Shiva Bidar at Council

Alder Shiva Bidar is the longest-serving member on the city of Madison Education Committee. The committee is seeking to clarify its goals and direction, beginning at its next meeting on Wednesday.

A committee that connects the Madison Metropolitan School District with the city and county it resides in is looking for new direction.

The city of Madison’s Education Committee, which considered dissolving earlier this year, meets Wednesday night to discuss its goals and structure, and review a survey sent to local officials.

District 5 Ald. Shiva Bidar, who has served on the committee since 2009, said the survey results were “not surprising.”

“There has just always been this range of possibilities of what we want to be,” Bidar said. “It’s a great committee because it’s the one place where we all come together.”

The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center.

Committee members tabled a vote to dissolve in February, deciding instead to explore changes to meeting frequency. The group has had to cancel about 50% of its meetings since 2016 for a lack of quorum.

The survey, sent to current and former elected officials and staff, indicated there are reasons to keep it around.

“It has the potential to add value to the community,” wrote one respondent. “To connect parents, staff and students with policymakers would be invaluable. There is so much overlap of need that the committee could address.”

Of the 21 officials who responded, 14 said that the committee adds value to the entity it represents.

“On the County Board, there are few places we can directly work with the schools,” wrote another respondent. “With the number of restorative justice programs and youth initiatives that the county sponsors, it would be good to have a place where the city, county and School Board can work collaboratively.”

Others wrote that the committee has “not yielded what it could” or that the “several years of frustration and inaction” meant “the time and effort would be better utilized elsewhere.” Another wrote repeatedly to “dissolve this committee.”

Respondents indicated a variety of roles the committee should play, with information sharing and proactive policymaking each receiving 13 votes. Reviewing the body of current collaborative initiatives received 12 votes and 11 thought it should provide budget recommendations.

Bidar is one of three committee members with more than a year of experience there. Nichelle Nichols has served as the superintendent’s representative on the committee since May 2016 and County Board Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, Dist. 2, joined in mid-2018.

Every other member joined sometime this year, with School Board President Gloria Reyes the most recent addition on Sept. 5.

Bidar said it would be a challenge to become a decision-making body, given that any initiatives would require approval by three different legislative bodies, but there’s still value in the committee.

“Once we have clarity and agreement around what we want to be, it’s sharing the information with the rest of our colleagues,” she said. The committee provides a connection for elected officials who don’t regularly have an opportunity to interact, she added.

If nothing else, Bidar said the group understands why its work is important.

“The one thing that you would see is that all of us are very focused and understand the importance of our schools as an integral part of our community,” she said. “The focus is how do we support youth and families.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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