The city of Madison is finally putting in a stoplight at the corner of Tree Lane and Gammon Road - but it's not footing the whole bill. The city is charging the Madison school district $58,000 for the light, which will help students cross the busy street to Memorial High School and Jefferson Middle School.
"Traffic engineering grudgingly agreed to put a light in, and the district is being assessed to pay for it," says Lucy Mathiak, a member of the Madison school board. She questions the propriety of such assessments, "especially when the financial consequences are so big for the district."
Mathiak says the school district had to pay for a roundabout and other infrastructure for the new Paul J. Olson Elementary School on the far west side, even though "It will be a long time before the school is even close to capacity." (Steve Hartley of the Madison school district says these costs would have been included in the purchase price.)
David Dryer, Madison's traffic engineer, says the city prefers to make improvements, like adding sewer lines and building roundabouts, before neighborhoods are full of people: "We're going to build the ultimate street, rather than come back in and retrofit things."
And Dryer says the city always asks property owners to pay for improvements on their street. The school district had to pay for part of the Gammon Road traffic signal, which costs $106,000 total, because about half the traffic there is generated by the school.
"If there's a high proportion of any regional traffic, the city will pick up a portion of the cost," says Dryer. "But if it's benefiting a private owner, they would have to pay."
The city's engineering department also assesses costs for things like rebuilding curbs or sidewalks. When the city rebuilt East Washington Avenue in front of East High School, the district had to pay. For the 2008-2009 budget, introduced this week, the district is setting aside $187,000 for such assessments.
On the east side, the city wants to charge the district nearly $1 million for road and sewer improvements on Sprecher Road, the planned site of a future elementary school. This has put the whammy on the district's plans to sell some of this land to the city for a fire station.
"We declined to approve the covenants that would have allowed the city to plat the land and proceed with the fire station," says Mathiak.
The city notes that the district could find a private contractor to make the required improvements on its land, rather than using city staff. Mayoral spokesman George Twigg says the city still hopes to work out a deal to buy the land, "especially if it can turn out to be a win-win partnership between the city and the school district."
Hell no, recruiters won't go
Local peace activists are disappointed with the Madison school board's recent changes to its policy regarding military recruiters in high schools.
"We were trying to restrict recruiters from having access to students who do not wish to be confronted by them," says Will Williams, a Vietnam vet and member of the Madison Area Peace Coalition.
The new policy bars recruiters from school cafeterias, but still allows them to be outside the cafeteria and in other common areas. School board members, says Williams, "tried to make like it was a victory for us, but really it wasn't."
Williams is also upset that the board won't change its policy allowing military advertising in gymnasiums. And he complains that recruiters are allowed to visit classrooms, dressed in full uniform, as guest speakers, without this being counted as a formal recruiting visit. Each military branch is allowed just three such visits per school per year.
"They don't come out of the goodness of their hearts," says Williams of the classroom guests. "They do it to attract people and sign them up." He says peace advocates will continue to pressure the board to change. "We'll be coming back stronger this time," he promises. "For the sake of the students, it has to be done."
County: Mistakes were made
Dane County's Department of Human Services has turned in its "corrective plan" to the state regarding the death last summer of six-week-old Anastasia Vang. The state Department of Health and Family Services has faulted the county for returning the infant to her abusive mother, despite visible bruising on the child.
In the plan, the county reveals that the social worker who sent Vang back home did not understand "that he should follow all state standards even though that is not expressly stated every time he discusses a case with his supervisor."
Lynn Green, head of Human Services, says the county has retrained all its staff about the standards. "We did it just to be safe," says Green, adding, "We found the vast majority of the staff absolutely knows this. For most, it was just a review."
The social worker also did not contact law enforcement about the baby's injuries, as the county's policy requires in cases of apparent physical abuse or neglect. "Many years ago," says Green, "we worked cooperatively with the law enforcement agencies in Dane County to set out an agreement as to when we would involve them."
Dane County's policy lists numerous conditions under which workers contact police, including if a child has severe bruising or lacerations and requires medical treatment, as Vang did.
Green earlier asserted that the social worker had followed all the rules. She now says he should have called police when he first saw the child, two weeks before her death: "We're admitting it's an action we should have taken and didn't."
In 2007, the county investigated reports of abuse of more than 1,700 children. That number is up 18% since 2000, with the increases being mostly steady.
Sharyl Kato, director of the Rainbow Project, a nonprofit that works with traumatized children, says the abuse has "a serious impact on children and their ability to perform in school, establish relationships and be able to trust."
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Several local nonprofits, including the Rainbow Project, are holding events to raise awareness of the issue.
"There are many things folks can do to advocate for children," says Kato, "and being informed is one important first step."
Among the events is a fund-raiser this Saturday on La Movida radio, WLMV 1480, to raise money to provide specialized treatment for Spanish-speaking children. And starting April 20, Safe Harbor, another nonprofit that works with abused children, will "plant" more than 4,000 pinwheels on the Zor Shrine property on the far west side. The pinwheels, which represent victims of abuse and neglect, will be visible from the Beltline.
In the past year, notes Kato, Dane County has seen numerous child fatalities resulting from abuse, including several children killed by daycare providers: "We have much work to do to protect children."
Ald. Mike Verveer has not decided to retire from the Madison Common Council, contrary to speculation advanced by Isthmus blogger Dave Blaska on TheDailyPage.com.
"I don't know where Dave got that from," says Verveer, who "chuckled" when he heard about Blaska's report. Verveer says he's made no decision; the election is next April. "I've got a lot of time to think about it and see how I feel."