On June 7, teachers, students, parents, and community representatives took the Madison Board of Education to task for its recent decision to eliminate the full-time district-level position of Fine Arts Coordinator. The same night, parents of children attending YMCA and After School, Inc. after-school programs at Midvale-Lincoln and Allis schools questioned the district?s unilateral imposition of a plan to replace those programs next year with ?Safe Haven?, a program operated by the district?s Madison School-Community Recreation department (MSCR). Later in the evening the Board voted 5-2 to spend more than $173,000 on a computerized time clock system for MSCR staff (YES: Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys, Juan Lopez, Shwaw Vang; NO: Johnny Winston Jr. and I).
On the surface the parent, staff, and community criticisms appear to have little relation to the decision to computerize time clocks for community program staff. But there is a common thread in terms of the district?s budget?something called ?Community Service? funds, or, ?Fund 80.?
When the majority of the Board voted to cut the Fine Arts Coordinator, they ended the district?s long-standing commitment to have a qualified expert on staff to coordinate fine arts teaching across the district and to integrate district education with community arts programs. Instead, board members agreed to the superintendent?s suggestion to replace the former full-time coordinator position with a half-time ?development? staff person. The new half-time position will be funded by ?Community Service? dollars rather than the operating budget.
Safe Haven, the MSCR after-school program that will replace the YMCA and After School, Inc. programs, will receive a substantial percentage of its funding from the ?Community Service? funds and from the operating budget.
Finally, the $173,209 to expand the Kronos, Inc. Timekeeping system to MSCR hourly employees, as well as an additional $74,817 to upgrade a computerized system for reserving classrooms, will also be financed by ?Community Service? funds.
In a time of deep cuts to school programs and school staff, creating a new community development job, expanding after-school programs at schools already served by private programs, and spending a quarter of a million dollars on software for non-school purposes seem hard to explain.
What is the magic of ?Community Service? dollars? They are residential property tax dollars that are not subject to the much discussed ?revenue limits?. They are taxes that the Board can increase without a spending cap and without having to obtain public consent through a referendum. When the Board shifts a cost from the operating budget to ?Community Service? funds, the action frees up dollars in the operating budget for other uses. However, spending ?Community Service? dollars also increases the pressure on taxpayers.
In my view, spending of ?Community Service? funds should be carefully prioritized. When the Board cuts a position that directly serves children in the schools, such as the Fine Arts Coordinator, should it add back a position that only serves the broader community? Should the Board displace after-school programs that families value with district programs that require substantial tax support? Do we need computerized time clocks for MSCR staff? Each of these decisions increases local property taxes and likely makes a future referendum harder to sell to voters.
What?s your advice? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or all Madison Board members at email@example.com.