Bad player, shady business deals
Welcome to new (Unsafe, Emotionally Challenging) School where “Gun Safety Will Be Practiced at all times around the children.” Jim Dieter insists on putting a school into this building because ‘it pays!’ He explains that he made some bad choices in other business deals with this building and he needs to make his money back.
While we want the best possible education for our children, parents and grandparents have a long list of factors to weigh in finalizing those decisions.
Questions regarding physical and emotional safety should be on the checklist. Increasingly, Milwaukee Kindergartens and K4-12 schools are circumventing the rules to open under challenging–even dangerous–circumstances. On May 15, another instance of this will occur if our elected officials do not hear to the contrary.
In late July 2011, Randall (Randy) Melchert, Anna Horneck and Matt Boutilier (File# 31075) were DENIED by the City of Milwaukee Board of Zoning and Appeals (BOZA) a request to put a Christian school into a heavy industrial area above an air gun target practice business in a building owned by James (Jim) Dieter. Melchert has close ties to VCY Administration; Boutlier and Horneck have ties to Churches whose congregations meet outside of Milwaukee proper—as far away as Hartland, WI.
In the actual videotaping of the public hearing, Melchert was questioned regarding the safety and welfare of the children—ages 2 to 18+—who would occupy this school for the better part of a school day.
Specifically, the questions related to the heavy flow of tracker trailer units to surrounding manufacturers and produce warehouses. A more telling question asked about the only entrance to the school’s space (to the left of the car in the photo) that empties directly onto the sidewalk/street for 120+ school children and 48 daycare children ages two to four years of age.
Melchert made every effort to explain away BOZA’s direct questions. What could not be captured here is the emotional distress that these children would have been subject to with men in full-gear paramilitary camouflage and gas mask running throughout the building in actual target practice.
The school shares the building with Airsoft Jungle Club. The guns and gear in the video and website closely resembles what we’ve seen in the pictures of the war on Al-Qaida and Afghanistan.
The Club requires everyone to fully acknowledge that “anyone stepping on the PROPERTY” should be protected with eye and body protection. Their videos show the Club making target practice use of the full range of the building.
So why the discussion about a BOZA denial? Dieter/Melchert are going back into the City Council for a permanent variance that would allow them to put children into this building.
This time they won’t waste their story with the BOZA folks because they will talk directly to a panel of aldermen with the request to change the overall code of the building from heavy industrial to mixed use.
Nothing has changed with the makeup of the community—it is still a very active industrial area. What changed is the name of the school from Whole Village Institute to Academy of Excellence. Because it is a corner lot, Melchert uses the address for the front door where Dieter lists the side entrance. And no one is to be the wiser.
So how can we fix this? From where I stand, it is highly inappropriate to work to circumvent the legal processes—especially for a form of business that will be unmonitored for the most part as these schools have little to no reporting requirements that are released to the public. That concern takes a back seat to the fact that this will put children in harm’s way just to make a dollar.
Remember, nothing has changed in this business district to move it from heavy industrial zoning. School buses and parents’ cars will all compete for parking and driving space in an industrial area that has no way of defending itself from children darting between parked cars. In fact, to the contrary, this zoning change has the capacity to take property out of play as it relates to bringing real, family supporting jobs in large numbers into our communities.
But each of us has a voice that counts. Write or call the alderman. The most recent appointments to the Zoning, Neighborhood & Development Committee are Ald. Bauman ([email protected]), Ald. Bohl, Chair ([email protected]), Ald. Murphy ([email protected]), Ald. Wade ([email protected]) and Ald. Witkowski ([email protected]). The main number is 414-286-2221. This is scheduled as Item#5 on the Agenda at the 9 a.m. (City Hall, Room 301B) before the Zoning, Neighborhood and Development Committee.
Lastly, I strongly encourage you to remain informed and engaged. Women Committed to an Informed Community has held several forums throughout the city to get us up to speed on the Charter/Choice Program and how it best fits into each family’s decisions. The Committee invites you to come to a Community Forum, Thursday, May 17, 6 p.m., Solomon United Methodist Church, 3295 N. Martin Luther King Drive.
Harriet Callier is the Senior Field Agent for ARACOPA Coalition for Social Justice. She is Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee for the Milwaukee Branch NAACP and an active member of the Education Forum with the Wisconsin State Conference of the NAACP. She is an active member of the Community Justice Committee of First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.