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McFarland village, school district talk affordable housing, joint equity hire

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For the first time in two years, a joint committee of the McFarland village board and McFarland school board has come back together.

Committee members include Village President Carolyn Clow, Village Trustee Mike Flaherty, Village Administrator Matt Schuenke, Interim Superintendent Wayne Anderson, School Board Vice President Arlyn Halvorson, and School Board Member Bruce Fischer.

The committee met Aug. 24, for the first time since Aug. 12, 2019, to discuss how the two entities can work together on affordable housing and equity, among other things.

Both sides agreed that a lack of affordable housing in the village is an issue that affects the municipality and school district alike.

“We’re really low on affordable housing here and it’s something we truly need to look at,” Flaherty said. “It’d be nice to have housing that teachers, single teachers, could afford to live in in McFarland.”

“Part of the problem,” Flaherty went on to say, “is that [the school district] does such a great job, that everybody wants to live here, and we can only grow east since we’re locked north out and west. The housing stock is expensive, and that’s been our challenge in locating more affordable housing.”

According to Clow, the village last updated its comprehensive plan in 2017, and it didn’t include an emphasis on affordable housing.

Anderson said it’s not uncommon for the district to hear from potential families or teachers who want to join the district, but can’t find an affordable place to live in McFarland.

He suggested that both entities keep an eye out for available parcels of land that may be used for single family housing, while the district will work on “quantifying” the amount of families who want to move to join the school district, yet can’t afford the village’s cost of living.

Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the possibility of a joint hire for equity work between the village and the school district.

If the idea moves forward, both entities would hire the same individual to spearhead their equity work.

Anderson said the school district has already started on drafting a job description for the position, and has eyed the idea of bringing in local equity consultant Percy Brown to help with the search. Brown is currently contracted with the municipality to conduct an equity audit on the village.

“I know an individual the board has worked with a lot is… Percy Brown,” said Anderson. “Maybe at one of our future meetings we could have Percy come in and present what he thinks he could do… as we’re both creating our job descriptions.”

Yet, Clow said the village is “many steps behind” the school district in its equity work. She said the results of Brown’s equity audit may help them determine if a joint hire for equity is necessary.

The village is currently accepting applications for its Diversity Equity and Inclusion sub-committee. Applications will close Sept. 3, and can be accessed through the village’s website.

Despite a belief that the village is steps behind the school district in terms of its equity strides, Clow said she’s excited to get back to work with school board members after a long 24 months away.

“I’m very sad that… this committee hasn’t met in two years. These were two years of kind of extraordinary circumstances,” Clow said. “I think we’re barely scraping the surface of what our two entities could do in terms of working together, and I think our community expects a lot more than what we’re doing, and we should expect that of ourselves as well.”

Fischer, who was elected to the school board in April, agreed.

“To manage the things that we’re doing, we have to work together,” he said. “I just think it’s the future.”

Halvorson, who’s going on year 26 as a McFarland school board member, said he’s optimistic about what the revitalized committee will accomplish.

“We’re all in this room and we all care and… I think we all believe in McFarland,” he said.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m.

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