Thoughts and Comments on MMSD School Fees Report

Last year, Bruce Kahn (parent) and I made a presentation to the School Board, meant as a supplement to the district administration’s report on school fees. We asked several questions and made several recommendations for School Board consideration, which we still feel need to be considered. Currently, fees are put in at the last minute in the budget process. No one “likes” fees, but discussion is needed before they are put into place.
Parents and the Community Need Complete Information & Big Picture
Why are there school fees today?
What are the costs of Extra-Curricular activities?
How do Extra-Curricular costs compare to instructional costs?
What happens when fees don�t cover costs?
What are some suggestions for your consideration?
Next Steps – Needed But Not Being Taken
Identify what is at risk.
Develop an equitable funding plan � operating funds, fees, fundraising, partnering/sponsorships, etc., where feasible and legal to do so.
What can the District afford to pay – what other funding sources/strategies are possible.
Form groups – task forces to move forward.
Begin meaningful discussions now. Parents, kids and the community can�t wait year after year for in depth discussions to begin.
hearings or surveys will not get the job done.
Download Thoughts and Comments on MMSD School Fees Report

No Child Left Behind –The Football Version

From a post on the atrios website:
No Child Left Behind – Football Version
1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held
accountable.
2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.
3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in
football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like football.
4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.

School-Funding Update

Reform advocates need to take action … now!
In school, money really does matter
Support for TABOR in Wisconsin is questionable
School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan — a proposal for school-finance reform — is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.Download School Funding Reform Update

Ford Foundation K-12 Links (Winter Report)

Several interesting items from the Ford Foundation’s Winter 2005 K-12 Report:

  • Dallas public schools are boosting student achievement by integrating arts into the curriculum.
  • In West Virginia and across the country, rural communities are fighting the supersizing of public schools.
  • BOOK REVIEW: School Champion
    A consensus has grown over the last 20 years that for sustainable school reform to occur, the public?not just parents?must be engaged, as instigators of change and as watchdogs to ensure that reforms are put into practice.

Another interesting link: The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a statewide education advocacy organization. We work to improve education for all Kentuckians.

SCHOOLINFOSYSTEMS IS A GOOD THING FOR THE COMMUNITY

Believe it or not, I am a pretty regular reader of the schoolinforsystems website. I find it to be an excellent opportunity to read about other viewpoints and opinions that I don’t hear about in newspapers, radio, television and other media outlets. While I don’t always agree with “everything” that a prospective writer is saying, I do respect their point of view. At times the commentary makes me “think a little harder” or perhaps look at a situation “a little differently.” Maybe it makes me think more “outside the box.” However, I do want to caution that posting on the website should not detract from developing the relationships needed to have further discussion with the elected school board members. It also should not be used to circumvent the democratic processes.

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How Can Parents Be Assured that the MMSD Budget Process Reflects Their Educational Priorities?

Two years ago in February Jane Doughty, MMSD parent and I asked the School Board questions regarding the budget process and we made some suggestions. Some changes have been made, but I think we are still missing: a) budget before budget cuts, b) discussion among board members about allocation of scarce resources, c) dialogue with the community early in the process so that your key stakeholders have a clear understanding of the issues, to name a few
You may still find the following information useful as you think about the budget.
Will the School Board:
A. Develop a clearly detailed, publicly accessible budget process – When?
B. Separate policy and budget issues – How?
C. Involve the public throughout the budget process � How and When?

Suggestions Made to the School Board in January 2003

Work With Representatives From Key Parent / Public Groups To Organize Communication with Public.
Publish Finalized Budget Goals and Objectives, Criteria, Tasks, Timelines For The Full Board & Its Committees � Backpack Mail, MMSD Website.
Make Corrections to Virchow / Krause Document (Other Documents) Prior To Use in Budget Process.
Use A Variety Of Tools That Can Gather Meaningful Input In a Timely Manner � Focus Groups, Public Workshops.
Download How Can Parents Be Assured that the MMSD Budget Reflects Their Priorities
comment section open

School Budget – Here we go AGAIN?!

What to Look for in the Next Few Weeks? Based upon the single macro-forecast of a revenue gap of $8+ million, School Board members were told a list of budget cuts would be presented to the School Board on March 7th. Without benefit of a budget, the School Board will hold public hearings, not meetings, where parents/public have an opportunity to comment on the proposed cuts.
At no time can the public have meaningful comment on the overall budget by department or the allocation of next year’s revenue. Why? This information will not be presented to the School Board until May 2005, and there is only one hearing scheduled after this date. Because the cuts are distributed on March 3rd, the public will only be focusing on the cuts and not the overall budget, budget priorities, etc. This approach takes advantage of parent’s wanting to protect their child’s education first. Since parents are in panic mode, they cannot clearly see the bigger picture and often feel as if they are being held hostage without any alternatives or a chance to pursue/discuss alternatives.
What’s Driving this Timeline? The Superintendent has said in the past that the data are not available and that the teachers’ contract is another the main driver for the timeline. The teacher’s contract includes dates for notices for surplus and layoff. The teacher’s contract says nothing about the School Board’s budget decisionmaking process. Surplus notices are not due until July 1. Layoff notices are due 10 days before the end of the school year. If the School Board had a policy directive to the Superintendent of no teacher layoffs, as they implicitly do with Administrators, the backend timeline would not be as tight. This is apparently not the case – existing teachers can be laid off but not existing administrators. Even though the amount of administrators is smaller than teachers, the policy is not equitable across all employee groups. The Superintendent says licenses requirements differ, etc. This is noise – there is no equitable policy in place.
What have I observed? a) The public is not engaged at the start of the budget process. It’s February 28th and tonight the Board is taking up the discussions of communications with the PTOs. What?
Parents are only “scared into paying attention” when the cut list comes out, because we don’t pay attention the rest of the year. I see no backpack mail from the board to parents on the budget, next steps, what the board wants to hear from parents, etc.
Our ideas and comments are not solicited in meaningful ways or forums. That would have had to take place in the fall.
b) Allocation of new revenues is not discussed. A brief analysis done last fall for the Board said this would mean cuts to deep to non-instruction if all dollars were allocated to instruction as a first priority. End of discussion. A next step for the School Board would have been to come back with more specific impacts and to develop a dialog with the community and an iterative process that would put the School Board more in a leadership position with the direction of the budget – something that does not exist with the existing decisionmaking process.
What am I missing, and why is there only once choice? If I was reviewing my home budget, and I felt I could manage the cuts in my budget, I would think this current board budget decisionmaking process is just fine. My husband and daughter might complain about the changes but not for long.
If I looked at my home budget and saw I could’t buy all the food I needed or medicine or pay my mortgage, I would be in rapid action mode. As soon as I had an idea this was my budget problem, I would be doing something and fast. I wonder why our Superintendent, who says the district is facing this type of financial crunch, isn’t more actively using his school board and getting the public on board beginning last July.
Explicit budget details are not needed to have public discussions about the annual budget, financial planning, priorities, allocation of scarce resources and different models of funding children’s services that Madison values.
Yes, the feds and state are not holding up their end of the bargain – now, what are we going to do about this. Referendums are only one option, but more are needed – we are here again with only one option being presented as viable – oh yes, or cut educational services.

MMSD Budget – Parents Suggestions Over Time

Parent Presentations on the District’s Budget Decisionmaking Process: Since Spring 2002, other parents and I have spoken to the School Board on a number of issues related to the District’s budget decisionmaking promise. We often presented this information in a power point presentation in an easy-to-read and understand format. I’m now in the process of pulling together this information and will be uploading those previous presentations to the school board.

Information Contained in the Presentations:
Much of the information presented to the School Board is still relevant today. Topics include: a) How Can Parents be Assured that the Budget Process is Meeting our Educational Needs? b) Questions to Consider when Discussing Fees c) What are the Revenue Cap and QEO?

Importance of Sharing this Information Now:
We are entering the School Board’s active period with the school budget – cuts affecting children are made known even if the budget is not made known until much later. The budget timeline is the same and the decisionmaking process is the same as it has been for the past several years. The Superintendent’s recommended budget cuts will be presented on March 7th. School Board members say this is only the start of the process and that they want to hear from the community. In reality, very little changes from the time the budget cuts are presented until the Board approves the Budget sometime in June 2005.
Stay tuned…..

Introduction…

Hello, my name is Ben Moga and I’m running for Alder in District 5. I met with the school information system group today at Jim’s house and think it is an excellent organization. Real topics are discussed, the people are genuinely interested, and it serves as a great way to communicate. I see education as a top priority not just locally or nationally, but for the whole world.
I’m working on a project that is meant to address the issue of overweight children. It has become a topic even at the federal level and I’m working to get Badger Athletes out to elementary schools in coordination with the City’s Fitness Initiative. Anyone interested can check out the project and its progress on my blog orientated website.
www.votemoga.com
I am definitely interested in addressing the educational issues that will face not only my district, but that of the whole city. Any comments you have will be greatly appreciated.

Bill Gates: US High Schools Obsolete

Bill Gates:

he most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.
“America’s high schools are obsolete,” Gates said. “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they’re broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they’re working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

I am no fan of Bill Gates. [Slashdot discussion] He does, however raise some useful points, including the biggest obstacle: political will.

Madison School Board Candidate Site Update


Larry Winkler’s video interview (and audio mp3) file are now available on the candidate site. Please note that I’ve heard nothing from incumbent Bill Clingan regarding a video interview or the posting of candidate Q & A documents.
I’ve also posted campaign finance information from the candidate’s January 31, 2005 filings. Here are the numbers:

  • Incumbent Carol Carstensen raised $3,189.00
  • Incumbent Bill Clingan reported $1,085 on hand
  • Lawrie Kobza raised $665.00
  • Larry Winkler raised $100.00

Ford Foundation Funding Arts Infused Education – Supporting Partnerships

The Ford Foundation is one organization that is investing in efforts to integrate the arts into classroom instruction in urban schools. Read Ford Foundation: Deep In the Arts of Texas .
Madison Schools have a fine arts curriculum with standards and benchmarks in place. In addition to fine arts curricula, Madison’s public school children attend performances and there are artists-in-residences, for example. Many of these relationships were nurtured by the district’s fine arts coordinator, a position that has been vacant for nearly 9 months. Two arts issues require immediate attention:

  • First: Last fall, the District’s fine arts teachers asked that the Fine Arts Coordinator be reinstated (which the school board voted to do). These same teachers also asked for personnel to be hired that could help them out in the interim, which has not been done. This has left a void in the district’s relationship with the community’s arts organizations. The Fine Arts Coordinator had served on many local committees and boards to foster the relationship between the District and the community’s arts organizations. We need to get back on track with these relationships. This is an important first step.
  • Second: As a next step, I would like to see a collaborative effort form among the City, University, community arts organizations and the MMSD to explore models for strengthening an arts infused education that further supports learning in the classroom – and raises children’s test scores, especially for low income and minority children. Test scores from various parts of the country are showing the positive links between arts and test scores.

School Spending

The National Center for Education Statistics has released national K-12 student expenditure data per state. The national average is $7,734, of which $4,755 goes for instruction.
The Madison School District spends north of $12.9K (24,430 students in 2004/2005 per Roger Price’s recent budget presentation) per student per year. We’ll hear a great deal about the district’s 2005/2006 budget over the next few months. Regardless of referendums or new federal/state aids, the district budget will go up, from 316.8M in 2004/2005 to perhaps 327.7M in 2005/2006 (again, according to Price’s presentation). Via Joanne Jacobs.

My Views of the Proposed Leopold Expansion

On March 28, the Madison School Board will cast the final vote on the proposed referendum for $14.5M to build a second school on the Leopold Elementary School site. The proposed “paired” school will open its doors to students in September of 2007 and will house up to 550 Kindergarten through second grade students and another 550 third through fifth grade students. If the Leopold community’s current population mix holds, a school of 1100 or more will include 275 (25%) students for whom English is a second language and 121 (11%) who have Special Educational needs. Over half of the students will come from low income homes. Unlike other Madison paired schools that are on different sites, Leopold’s buildings will be on the same grounds and will be physically linked in an L-shape. Students from both schools will share lunch rooms and playground facilities. Students will have separate entrances, but will share buses to and from school.
My duty as a board member is to weigh the pros and cons of this recommendation from the administration. Although I see why current Leopold parents expect great positives from the new building, I believe that these are short-term gains for the school and community and that the negatives of creating an extremely large elementary school may outweigh the short-term advantages. I am particularly concerned that the short-term relief for overcrowding will be undermined when the building reaches full capacity and houses two schools, each of which is far bigger than any K-2 or 3-5 school today. It is my responsibility to ask whether we have the experience to make such a joint school work and what additional resources will be required to assure student success under such conditions.

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More Leopold Expansion Discussion

The proposed Leopold Expansion discussion continues:

  • Visiting with some Leopold Parents at a recent event, a number of points were discussed:
    • Parking is currently a problem and will be worse as the school expands.
    • “We keep taking away their playground space. Where are all of the children going to play? They need space to run around.”
    • “Why can’t Madison build a school in Fitchburg (ie, closer to where all the homes are going in)? Verona has – Stoner Prairie, in Fitchburg [Map illustrating Leopold & Stoner Prairie]. Many homes are as far from Verona shools (in Fitchburg) as they are from Leopold.”
    • “Where are all of these children going to go after Leopold?” “Will they be bused over to a Memorial/Middle School combination?”
    • “I’m concerned about the (proposed) shared library and cafeteria. Will they be adequately staffed for a school this size? The previous addition did not address the lunch room and library needs.
    • “I don’t want to pay any more taxes, it seems like every year we have a budget crisis but my taxes continue to go up. Couldn’t they plan better?”
  • Arlene Silviera is puzzled about Ruth Robarts recent questions regarding the size of the proposed Leopold school.

Blog is good for democratic decision-making

I’m volunteering with a conservation group in Mexico, so I don’t have a lot of time to write a post. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to take a few minutes to respond to (Madson School Board Member) Juan Lopez who said of www.schoolinfosystem.org, “I think this kind of forum is destructive.” See the story in the Wisconsin State Journal
I respectfully disagree.
A healthy democracy requires healthy debate. The tradition dates back to the Roman forums where citizens debated freely, and support for the necessity of public debate runs through the writing of our country’s founders and our constitution.
Mr. Lopez and other board members might sense an unusual flurry of spirited commentary on this forum, because the board may not have provided a forum for the honest exchange of ideas. Suddenly, this blog provides the opportunity. Granted, the board holds public hearings, but they are rarely discussions. Instead, people speak and the board listens. It is most unusual from my experience when the board engages the speaker in a real discussion.
I encourage Mr. Lopez and the other members of the board to debate issues vigorously at board meetings, as well as post on this blog, which represents the best of what democracy offers for free and open debate.
Ulimately, the exchange of ideas on any pending school district decison will produce a better outcome than a decision without debate.
Ed Blume
The comments section is open on this post. Please feel free to agree or disagree. I welcome any comments.

Board Governance Lacking – No Timely Information on Taser Incident From Board President to Public: Chooses to Attack Robarts

Bill Keys, President of the MMSD School Board, chose to attack Ruth Robarts today in The Capital Times saying she was not the first board member to be concerned about the taser incident. Bill Keys’ letter seems to be unnecessarily spiteful and misses the point that was raised in The Capital Times’ editorial on February 15, 2005 . The editorial ended:
“Robarts is asking questions that need to be asked. And she is doing so in a thoughtful, forward-looking manner that invites the rest of the board and the community to join in a debate that needs to take place.”
There was no criticism of the School Board – just praise for raising questions publicly, which is what the School Board needs to do in a situation where children’s safety is an issue. The taser incident happened at Memorial High School on January 21, 2005. The incident was first reported in The Wisconsin State Journal on January 31, 2005, 10 days after the incident took place. In that article, Ruth Robarts commented that:
“School Board member Ruth Robarts said she was concerned that she didn’t hear about the incident until a reporter’s phone call.” I find this incredible that she would hear about an issue such as this nearly 10 days after it happened from the press.
In that same article “Member Bill Clingan said it’s appropriate that police authority trumps the school’s, and that the incident is a police issue. But as an individual, he doesn’t like to hear that a youth was subdued with a Taser.”
What’s missing – board governance. Neither Bill Keys, as president of the School Board, nor Bill Clingan, as vice president of the school board, did not appear to notify their colleagues about the incident in a timely manner; because, as it turns out, it’s not clear from public documents when they learned of the incident. How can that be? I would expect the first question Bill Keys might ask Superintendent Rainwater is: Why wasn’t the Board notified of this incident (at least before board members were contacted by the press) and what steps are you taking?
However, after learning about the incident, our School Board officers did not put the incident on a school board special session agenda so that they could 1) hear a public update about the incident from the Superintendent and what he was doing (such as, hiring an outside attorney to undertake an investigation), 2) provide the community with information about the incident that could be presented publicly and 3) have a public board discussion about next steps and what, if any, additional direction from the board to the Superintendent was needed. As an alternative, either school board officer could have written a letter to the paper about what the school board was doing to address the issue, complementing the questions raised by Ruth Robarts and letting the community know that this issue was of great concern to the board and that other board members were equally concerned as Ms. Robarts and were asking similar questions.
Instead, the public heard nothing from the school board president or vice president about an issue of importance to them (student safety) and what the school board would be doing. Rather than taking the opportunity to keep us updated, Mr. Keys decided more than one month after the taser incident to attack his colleague rather than thanking her for what she said, letting the public know what other board members were doing, and updating the public about what steps would be taken.

Rainwater pushes a new school: He’s told to prepare a contingency plan

Lee Sensenbrenner writing in The Capital Times on February 22, 2005:
“You’re manipulating my vote,” said Mary Kay Battaglia, who has children at Crestwood Elementary and Jefferson Middle School. “You’re giving me a choice to move my child and 1,100 others or to vote for a referendum I don’t think is necessary.”…
…Board member Bill Clingan said that the board was neither efficient nor intelligent enough to be manipulative…

Truth-in-Advertising: The Proposed Paired Leopold School is a HUGE Elementary School

On February 21, the district administration presented its recommendations for resolving overcrowding problems at Leopold Elementary School and accommodating children from new and future housing developments on the west side of Madison to the Long Range Planning Committee.
During the discussion, I questioned the educational merit of creating a paired K-5 elementary school on the Leopold grounds that will house 1100 students. If the voters approve the proposed May referendum to spend $14.5M to construct a new school at the Leopold site, the school will hold 1100 students in two buildings joined in an L-shape.
Superintendent Art Rainwater dismissed my concern. According to the superintendent, the enrollment number for the proposed pair is a non-issue. The superintendent assured us that �you can find research that supports any size of elementary school from 250 to 650 students�. In other words, there is no optimal size for an elementary school. He pointed to current Madison K-5 schools as a standard.

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The Crackers – a For Profit Version of NYC’s Yellow Gates

Leave it to New Yorkers to leave no sacred cows. Read on and enjoy the picture –
Gift to the City � is it Art or for the Birds? “The Crackers” is as much a public happening as it is a tasty snack, defying the domino theory. Peanut butter or cheddar cheese. They poured their hearts and souls into the project for over 26 minutes. It required three dozen crackers and spanned over nearly 23 inches along a footbridge in the park at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of $2.50. Is it art? You decide. The installation was completed with no permits or bureaucracy, and fed to the ducks after about a half hour. “The Crackers” is entirely for profit
View “The Crackers” and brighten your day

MMSD’s Kurt Keifer on the Administration’s Boundary Plans

Kurt Kiefer via email:

I’m writing in response to your questions from last week re: boundary change options. Tim Potter, research analyst on my staff who is handling all of the GIS work on the project, provided the details.
a) Leopold at 1040 students. I seem to recall the original plan was 800? (it’s now much less than that) Is this correct?
We are not sure how the 1040 figure is derived. Leopold with current boundaries is projected to have 750 students by 2010. Since the new developments are all within the Leopold attendance boundary they are incorporated in that projection. The McGaw Park development, for which there is no plat yet created, would not be included in the projection. Capacity at the Leopold site WITH a new school would be 1120. Students in Leopold in the various modules ranges from 582 to 875.
b) What are the implications of that growth on cherokee and west?
Depending on which plan you are referring to, yes, there could be an impact on Cherokee and West. Cherokee is currently projected to reach 100% capacity in 2010. The two new, platted developments (i.e., Swan Creek and Oak Meadow) are already in the Leopold attendance area so they are already in the projections. Thoreau already feeds into Cherokee and West so the return of those areas to Leopold would not have an impact at middle/high. The return of the area from Chavez could have an impact. On 3rd Friday, there were 31 and 33 middle high students in this area. On 3rd Friday, 21 of the middle school students were enrolled at Toki and 5 at Cherokee. Of the 33 high school students in this area, 11 attend West and 18 attend Memorial. Capacities at Cherokee and West are 648 and 2173 students, respectively.
c) What about Wright Middle School?
Wright is listed with a capacity of 324 and currently they have 207 students. Wright could alleviate any problems at Cherokee that might be caused by new developments.
d) Some wondered why Velma Hamilton was not affected by any of the
scenarios.

Any changes being made to the elementary schools which feed Hamilton would affect the latter. None of the plans affect Franklin, Randall, Shorewood Hills or Van Hise Elementary Schools. These schools are not experiencing significant changes in enrollments due to changing housing patterns or developments.
Let us know if you have any further questions.
Kurt Kiefer
Madison Metropolitan School District
Planning/Research & Evaluation
608-663-4946
kkiefer at madison.k12.wi.us

Big props to the very active Kiefer’s – Kurt’s better half Jone’ is an excellent elementary school teacher while son Oliver is the student representative on the Board of Education.

Question for Ruth Robarts: Better fallback plan required, or new building?

Thanks, Ms. Robarts, for calling attention to the problems with MMSD’s fallback proposal for boundary changes on the west side, if a referendum to build a new elementary school should fail. You point out that under the fallback plan, too many kids would be coming and going from some schools, and that the boundary changes would disproportinately affect certain schools on the west side.
Do you know if anyone has come up with a better proposal to handle west side growth, in the event we can’t build a new school?

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Why I Oppose the Administration’s Recommendation for School Boundary Changes if the Leopold School Referendum Fails

On Monday, February 21, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board will hear the administration�s explanation of five options for reducing overcrowding at Leopold School and providing seats for students from new housing developments on the west and southwest side of the district. Last Monday, after I asked the administration to withdraw options that it will not recommend, a set of nine options dropped to five. Of the remaining five options, the administration recommends only two choices. Option A (3A2 PDF) depends on passage of a referendum to build a second school building on the Leopold grounds. Option B (3D1 PDF) assumes that the referendum fails. Madison Schools Boundary Change web page.
I cannot support Option B, the fallback option in the event that the proposed Leopold referendum fails. There are important but unanswered questions about how the proposed school boundary changes would affect the middle and high schools on the west side. However, more compelling to me is that this option moves 1137 students to new elementary schools, including 516 low income students, and moves them in a way that will excessively disrupt many of the eleven affected schools.

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Roger Price Budget Presentation

Roger Price, the Madison School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services presented a look at the upcoming year’s district budget last Monday night (2.14.2005). Roger forwarded his powerpoint slides (260K pdf) and an excel spreadsheet on tax levies from 1993 to 2005 that he used in his presentation. You can view the presentation (or listen to an audio mp3 file) here.
Barb Schrank took a look at the video clip and has some comments below.

MMSD Budget Forecast – Board Asks Few Questions

Roger Price presented to the School Board a budget forecast (Roger Price Presentation – video/mp3 audio) for the next four years.
Watching the video I was surprised there was very limited discussion and few questions about the substance of the forecast. There was no discussion about or requests for the administration to develop alternative budget forecasts using different assumptions. There was no questions about the assumptions used. There was no discussion about setting a time to review directions to administration for making cuts – for example, what are the personnel policies? There will be no layoffs of administrators. Will that be the same for existing teachers? There was no discussion about when to discuss the financial impacts of programs that are not as effective as others and may be costing more than we can afford for the results. Examples of questions about curriculum – reading: what is being done to appeal federal $2 million, what is being done to review costs of reading and evaluating what is working best for most children, how is curriculum being evaluated at Lapham, how much are new contracts going to cost and relating this to personnel layoffs if referendums are not passed. what programs are not working, what do they costs, etc.
Basically, the majority of the school board assumed that was the gap – $29 million cumulatively over 4 years. No questions were asked about the assumptions used. This is the most important part of a forecast – what the assumptions are, what other assumptions could be considered. Unless you have a good understanding and confidence in the assumptions used, your forecast will be weakened.
The School Board received the information, said thank you and reviewed the dates needed to make a decision about going to a referendum for operating expenses. This is the first time the board has seen a budget forecast for 05-06 – no substantive discussion.
With the exception of the additional years in the budget forecast, which I was glad to see that an attempt had been made to go out several years, this presentation is the same process and discussions that I saw last year. The majority of the Board had no questions last year either – how can that be?
I think I would have lots of questions if I was facing a cumulative $29 million gap between revenues and expenditures in my budget.
Link to MMSD Budget Page

Budgeting and Financial Planning – What’s the Difference?

The Superintendent of a small Massachusetts School District, East Long Meadow, prepared a clear, concise document describing his perspective of differences between budgeting and financial planning ( East Long Meadow MA Financial Planning Overview Document). He described fiscal responsibility of the school district:
“School Committee members, superintendents, and business managers have two levels of fiscal responsibility. The first level is compliance with state and federal law. Compliance ensures that the budget meets state standards and that state funds are directed to legislated accounts and programs. Compliance does not ensure that funds are being used efficiently or effectively, however. The second, higher order of responsibility is that of fiscal stewardship, which goes well beyond compliance and ensures that funds are spent on programs that make a difference and move the district toward its vision. Fiscal stewardship avoids deficit spending and the need for drastic cuts that undermine education. It requires that policy and process are in place to ensure that funds are used effectively and wisely and that deficits are avoided.
How does a School Committee achieve effective fiscal stewardship? The answer is financial planning. You would never build a new house only to tear down part of it because you didn’t budget enough to finish the entire building. Unfortunately, that’s how some districts often handle funds. Some build a district vision for student success one year at a time and often end up spending so much on small projects that they don’t have enough for the programs that would really make a difference. But building a successful district requires a strategic plan, improvement goals, and a financial plan to support the vision–plus the fiscal stewardship to make sure tax dollars are being directed to the most effective programs and departments.”
As MMSD takes its first small, positive public steps developing a multi-year budget, there is valuable information in this budget that can provide guidance for questions to ask about multi-year financial planning and not simply the same budget with inflated expenses.
I sent a copy of this memo to Carol Carstensen earlier this month. I have been asking for a long term financial picture, as has Ruth Robarts and others in the community. I am encouraged to see that the District Administration has taken the first step in that direction on February 14th.

School Board Governance Weak – School Closings

I agree wholeheartedly with the Capital Times February 17, 2005, editorial statement ( Editorial – February 17, 2005that the Madison Metropolitan School district ��seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities�� The district administration�s proposed boundary changes and redistricting proposals presented to the board on February 14th was no �sweetheart proposal,� and once again demonstrated the lack of meaningful communication and collaboration between the school board and the public.
The Superintendent and his senior staff work in what appears to many as a heavy handed and an alienating manner, because the majority of the school board lets this happen. Do we want a board that allows the district administration present incomplete proposals and then drive the discussion with the board coming along for the ride? I know I don�t.
If Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Juan Jose Lopez and Shwaw Vang did not support closing schools, then this criterion needed to be communicated to the district administration clearly via a public meeting prior to the development of and release of a district administration report with options for easing overcrowding in schools.
As Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee last year, Mr. Clingan had the opportunity to put in place such an approach for addressing these big planning issues. As Lucy Mathiak wrote in two previous letters ( February 2, 2005, February 14, 2005 )to the Capital Times editor, ��he squandered his opportunity.� This is not a hind-sight comment. A long range planning committee needs to continually be looking long range and adjusting planning as needed.
As hard as the LRPC has worked this year (meeting bi-monthly) trying to meet fast-approaching deadlines, that committee and the public advisory committee has not had an opportunity to discuss strategically and to plan for new buildings, maintenance and redistricting as a package. All of these piecesare interrelated and need to be considered in the context of the impact of various options on decisions about building a new school, closing a school(s), maintenance, etc.
From here on out, I would recommend that board members direct the district administration to work closely with the community and the Long Range Planning Committee prior to releasing a detailed report with recommendations. At a minimum, the Chair of the Long Range Planning
Committee (Ruth Robarts this year) should not be receiving administration recommendations on the fly as they are being released to the public.
Emerson is now off the table for discussion, in part because of Capital Times editorial and public outcry. Also, Ruth Robarts directed the administration to take the option out, because a) there was no support for this option and b) further public discussions would be necessary before revisiting this option.

Cap Times: Don’t Close Emerson

From the editorial page:

The Madison Metropolitan School District administration, which seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities, was recently forced to back off from a foolish proposal to close two east side elementary schools and a middle school. But the administration is still recommending that Emerson Elementary School be closed.

Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Don Severson has written a letter to the Isthmus editor regarding Jason Shephard’s 2/10/2005 article: Talking out of School (Shephard looks at the upcoming school board races in this article). Here’s Severson’s letter to the editor:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen complains that critics of the Board aren’t really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions. She states that “I get a little concerned when people say, ‘You should be doing this,’ but then are unable to give me a better plan for how to achieve what they want.” The significant issue here is that Ms. Carstensen is unwilling and unable to consider, discuss and evaluate other processes, approaches, criteria and recommendations for alternatives and solutions.

[PDF Version]

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Madison School District’s Boundary Change Scenarios

The Madison School District has posted quite a bit of information, including an executive summary (in html!) on their web site. The details include a number of scenarios along with a school by school analysis. (very nicely done – fewer pdf’s would be wonderful, but it’s a great start).
There are a couple of related meetings Monday, February 14, 2005 that we’ll record and post shortly thereafter:

  • Special Board of Education Meeting @ 5:00p.m. where they will discuss the Board’s Equity Policy and the District’s projected budget gap from 2005 to 2009.
  • The Board’s Long Range Planning Committee meets at 6:00p.m. to discuss the boundary change options.

These meetings are held in the Doyle Administration Building [Map] in room 103 (enter from the back of the building).
Sandy Cullen writes about some parent’s reactions. Lee Sensenbrenner on the District’s 8.6M in pending reductions (or reductions in the increase).

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Lunch 2.17.2005

Jeff Mayers forwarded this event information (calendar) [Candidate information]:
Top two DPI candidates from the 2/15/2005 primary election.
February 17, 11:45 a.m., the Madison Club, Wilson Street, Madison
Join us to hear Jeff Mayers and the candidates discuss the state of
education and the race.
Cost is $15 for Madison Club members and $19 for non-members. Call Loretta to RSVP at the Madison Club, 608-255-4861.
The event is co-sponsored by WHD Government Affairs and Sonic Foundry.

Wisconsin DPI Candidate Fund Raising

dpi013105cash.jpg
The money being tossed around in this race reflects the growing partisan nature of a purportedly non-partisan position (Burmaster was on stage at the recent Kerry/Springsteen rally). Dave Zweifel also weighs in on the changing nature of this elected position.

The DPI Candidate primary is Tuesday, 2/15/2005. Vote – perhaps for Yvarra or Stelzel, two who are running without a serious cash machine….

Given the partisan nature of the job, Zweifel is correct in advocating for a fall election.
Background on the candidates 1/31/2005 campaign finance disclosures: [AP] [Wisconsin Elections Board]

Q and A with MMSD school staff

MAFAAC (Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Coalition)
PO Box 5311
Madison, WI 53705
836-0616 for more information
What: Q and A with MMSD school staff, Valencia Douglas, Jane
Belmore and Marcy Peters-Felice
Subject: How can parents and other community members get involved in school issues; Who is welcome in our schools; How
are decisions made about important issues involving our children;
And how do we file a complaint when we feel wronged???
When: Saturday, February 12th
Time: 1:00-3:00 PM
Where: South Madison Health and Wellness Center, 2202 S. Park St.
This meeting is free and open to the public. We strongly encourage you to come and ask questions of the school representatives.
Snacks will be provided.

School Board Governance Lacking – Fine Arts

Let the School Board know how you feel about the following at comments@madison.k12.wi.us.
Monday, February 7, 2005, I spoke before the School Board during public appearances. The purpose of my statement was to speak about my concern re. the School Board’s ongoing inaction regarding the fine arts curriculum. During the past six years, there have been cuts to courses, reduced positions, continued threats of cuts to curriculum (such as the elementary strings academic classes) without any engagement or dialogue with the hundreds of concerned community members who have voiced their support for a strong fine arts curriculum and have asked (over and over) for the School Board to work collaboratively with the community to develop a fine arts vision and strategy for fine arts.
If the fine arts curriculum were being treated fairly in light of the District’s overall financial challenges, that would be one thing. But this academic discipline has not been treated fairly and in some cases analyses and a board member’s recommendation are made that appear spiteful (for example, a $500-600 fee for the elementary strings academic classes that are part of the School Board approved Grade 4-12 instrumental curriculum). In the fall the District formed a working group with supporters of extracurricular sports. What’s wrong with this picture? Fine arts is also a great way to explore and develop community partnerships.
I believe the City of Madison and its fine arts community need to be seriously concerned with the District’s continued lack of attention to this important curriculum area and the absence of leadership by the School Board to �think outside the box.� Board members are allowing this curriculum to wither even in light of research showing the positive effect on low income student achievement and have missed opportunities for federal funding of the arts for low income children.
On Monday, I was “politely” told that I should be the one to remind board committee chairs to follow up with items on their agenda. What kind of foolishness is this? Each board committee has a support person from district staff who should review this information with the committee and provide periodic updates – publicly, since the public is expecting follow-up.
This follow-up and continuity is not happening. For example, in March 2003 the Fine Arts coordinator provided an overview of fine arts curriculum and community relationships between MMSD and the community to the Performance and Achievement Committee. Board members asked for a follow-up the next year. This did not happen. During the year, I contacted the Fine Arts Coordinator and asked about progress on a Fine Arts strategy. He informed me that his superiors would tell him when to work on this – they never did. Does that mean the public needs to take note of tasks assigned or commitments made publicly at a meeting and follow whether the statements are being followed up? No way.
I also reminded the School Board that the superintendent said that in the absence of a Fine Arts Coordinator, he had told the board a committee of teachers would be put together to handle tasks. Rather than address my concern, I was “politely” told (dismissed) about how it’s taken so long to find a Fine Arts Coordinator, because the District wants the best person for the position. I say hogwash. The District waited 5 months before even putting up an ad for the position when the outreach portion existed.
Are community members supposed to let the School Board know the teachers’ committee is not in place, there has been no posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator position and MMSD positions on fine arts boards are going unfilled because there is no Fine Arts coordinator and another options is needed? The fine arts teachers did just that in early fall – no action by the School Board.
The Board says they are making an effort to find the best person. Yet, the District abandoned the first interview process that included qualified candidates, lowered the standards (removed a licensing requirement) and re-announced the position. Ads were only placed in newspapers. When asked if the District had placed ads with professional organizations that would know how to contact qualified personnel, the District said they did not have the time to do that. (note: many employers advertise online for positions
these days – www.monster.com is the place to be, generally).
Why does the public have to follow up with everything? Why can’t we have confidence that appropriate steps are being taken? Why are there no mechanisms in place for the Board to provide appropriate oversight?
By his actions (and inactions) the Superintendent continues to show a lack of understanding of the demonstrated positive benefits of fine arts curriculum on student achievement, and fails to reach out to the community to keep the arts strong in Madison�s schools, which is something the community deeply values. In times of scarce resources, the district needs to work collaboratively with the community.
In the area of Fine Arts, it appears the Superintendent needs closer supervision by the Board. Yet, the School Board is not providing oversight either. Maybe I’m being too cranky. Afterall, what difference does it make if the Board abandons fine arts? Plenty.
What are the risks of not doing this? The board runs the risk of missing an important opportunity to improve student achievement and build community relationships with a community that strongly values the arts. Also, the board runs the risk of the district not remaining competitive with surrounding districts that have strong fine arts curriculum for their students. This would be an additional burden and negative impact on our low income students whose families do not have the opportunity to move to the suburbs. We can�t let this happen. Our children’s learning deserves more responsibility and accountability from our School Board.
How does the School Board expect the community to support a referendum when there is inaction year after year? They won�t if the public is not confident in the board’s ability to keep our school district strong by reflecting community values.
Specific comments in my statement included:

A. School Board is Non-responsive to the Community.

For three years, children, parents and members of the Madison community have spoken to board members about the important contribution of the fine arts curriculum to successful learning in core academic subject areas. While the School Board forms community committees to address community concerns about long-term planning, extracurricular sports, afterschool, and even school animals, the requests of hundreds of children, teachers and community members over the past three years for such a committee for fine arts curriculum planning go unanswered.
Abandoned promises. While looking for a new Fine Arts Coordinator, the School Board has let 9 months pass without professional support in the fine arts area for teachers and as a liaison with the community. Yet, the Superintendent said a committee of fine arts teachers would be put into place � this did not happen, and there was no follow-up publicly from the Board even after fine arts teachers spoke to the School Board about needing help last fall. Teachers even provided the School Board with possible solutions.
What has this meant? Diminished Community Outreach. There has been less community outreach and communication between the District and the arts community than in previous years. Representatives from the district�s fine arts professionals have not been on boards. I can only believe that if you had asked any of the fine arts teachers who are experienced professionals (many are involved in the community) to be on these boards, they would have been honored to serve. Even if you need to pay for time, the money would have been well spent.
Diminished Long-Term Planning for the Arts. MMSD lacks a fine arts vision that can only be developed with teacher, administrator, and community involvement. Long-term planning for the fine arts curriculum � looking at what currently exists, and what is needed for maintenance and growth of a strong fine arts curriculum is non-existent.
B. Missed Funding Opportunities.
In July, the Secretary of Education sent all school district superintendents a policy letter on fine arts curriculum. His letter began,
�As I am sure you know, the arts are a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I believe the arts have a significant role in education both for their intrinsic value and for the ways in which they can enhance general academic achievement and improve students’ social and emotional development.�
While we can all agree that we have philosophical and financial issues with NCLB, the points made in the Secretary�s letter reflect the current knowledge, key strengths and benefits to math and reading about fine arts education. His letter also went on to provide links to flexibility in federal grants for fine arts curriculum for low income students and all students and provided links to resources and to research showing independently evaluated improved test scores for low income children. This funding has been available for several years � MMSD�s former fine arts coordinator was not included in grant applications at federal level for fine arts. This is not something you would not undertake independently.

C. Community Enagagement/Partnering

How much longer is the School Board willing to let the District�s fine arts curriculum wither? If resources are as scarce as the School Board continues to warn the public, then action is needed yesterday. Our community values fine arts � that�s clear to everyone. Fine arts curriculum directly benefits children�s performance in school � achievement.
Other districts nationally are independently assessing the proven benefits of fine arts curriculum for low income children�s learning and academic achievement. They are seeing improved results in their test scores. How long is the School Board willing to risk these benefits to Madison�s children?
What�s needed? I believe the Board needs a Fine Arts working group under the Partnership Committee with feedback to the Performance and Achievement Committee. This committee must a) review what exists � existing approved curriculum and standards, b) develop a vision and action plan for fine arts that will lead to a strong fine arts curriculum for our children c) determine costs and d) identify partnerships. I would recommend the first step for the group would be to develop a work plan for board approval. I believe the Fine Arts Coordinator needs to lead this, but I asked the Board to begin now. Even though the Fine Arts Coordinator might be new, there are people with vast experience in this field and strong community ties who can help get up and going and provide the support the Fine Arts Coordinator will need when they are on board.
What are the risks of not doing this? The board runs the risk of missing an important opportunity to improve student achievement. Also, the board runs the risk of the district not remaining competitive with surrounding districts that have strong fine arts curriculum for their students. This would be an additional burden and negative impact on our low income students whose families do not have the opportunity to move around. We can�t let this happen.

California: Mandatory Student ID Cards with RFID’s

The EFF (well worth your support):

Several civil liberties groups, including the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter today expressing alarm at the Brittan School District’s use of mandatory ID badges that include a RFID device that tracks the students’ movements. The device transmits private information to a computer on campus whenever a student passes under one of the scanners. The ID badges also include the student’s name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number. Students are required to prominently display the badges by wearing them around the neck at all times.

Madison Schools Proposed Athletic Field Fees

A reader forwarded me comments that were sent to the Madison School Board regarding the proposed athletic field fees:

As you would guess, many of us who have watched a soccer game, t-ball game or football game and enjoyed the unencumbered spirit and play of our children and have personally mowed the grass, or lined a field, you may oppose the school board proposal of a user fee for the athletic fields during non-school hours.
I sent a letter to the comments section of MMSD school board. Send yours to: comments@ at madison.k12.wi.us
My letter to the school board stated:

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Stand & Deliver: an Update

I recently watched the 1987 film, Stand & Deliver; A moving, mostly-true story of famed East L.A. math teacher Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos), who finds himself in a classroom of rebellious remedial-math students. He stuns fellow faculty members with his plans to teach AP Calculus. Jerry Jesness dives deep into the story and talks with many of the players. Quite interesting.

Donna Ford’s Visit to Madison

Madison is fortunate to have Donna Ford, Ph.D. visit on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 8 and 9, 2005. Dr. Ford is the Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. She conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on: (1) recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education; (2) multicultural and urban education; and (3) minority student achievement and underachievement.
Dr. Ford will be meeting with TAG staff and administrators during her visit, and will be speaking about multicultural education at West High School as part of a staff in-service. On Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Ford will be giving a community presentation entitled �Increasing the participation of culturally diverse students in talented and gifted education� at Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Rd. This presentation is open to all interested parents and community members. Translation will be available for Spanish, Hmong, and hearing impaired audience members. Dr. Ford is also scheduled to give a colloquium on Wednesday, February 9 at 11:30 a.m., in the UW Department of Counseling Psychology. This presentation entitled �Understanding culture: Implications for improving minority student achievement.� will be held in Room 154 Education. For further information, please contact Jeff Henriques, jhenriqu@wisc.edu or visit the TAG Parents website: http://tagparents.org.
Dr. Ford’s visit to Madison is supported by the MMSD Department of Parent Community Relations, American Family Insurance, West High School, and the UW Department of Counseling Psychology.

The Public Survey Trap and Music Education

In his weekly advice on music advocacy, Dr. Benham, on www.supportmusic.com talks about public surveys. Useful information can be gathered, but they can also be used to threaten the public or be used as a mandate from the public if referendums do not pass. the music advocate needs to keep music off the surveys. Dr. Benham writes,
“In the presence of a financial crisis one of the approaches used to inform the public of the seriousness of the situation is a Public Survey.
The survey may be used for a variety of reasons, some of which may need to be “read between the lines.”
* To inform the public of the financial crisis
* To inform the public of the need to raise taxes
* To establish a basis for a levy referendum to increase funding
* To inform (sometimes threaten) the public of probable cuts if additional finding is not increased
* To get a sense of what the public values most so that the cuts made cause the least negative reaction
One school district in which I worked mailed surveys to all employees and residents in the district. The survey listed 200 categories or programs within the district. The respondent was asked to rank each with a response of “A” (Most important to retain), “B” (Cut here first), or “C” (Save this if possible). After the district levy referendum failed the district mandated cuts in the music program that would have eliminated 70% of the orchestra staff and 48% of the band staff.
What actually occurred is that the results were summarily ignored, not even calculated. The administration proposed the music cuts based on their own educational philosophy and blamed the community for lack of support for music. The music parents requested permission to review the surveys and discovered the following.
* Of the 60,000 surveys distributed only 211 were returned
* Lack of participation by the community invalidated the survey, exposing the administrative action as self-serving
* Of the nine (9) music categories included on the list of 200 in the survey, music was ranked by the community as “most important to retain” on a basis equivalent with curricular status.
* Music categories outranked all extra-curricular activities as “most important to retain”
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Update on Lowell Elementary School and Emissions from Kipp Corp.

On Monday evening School Board members heard from parents, professionals and a local business about emissions from Kipp Corporation.
Parents and Clean Air Madison are concerned that emissions from changes in manufacturing and a permit from the WI DNR will negatively affect the health of Lowell Elementary School children. Kipp Corporation maintains they are operating within both state and city guidelines. Both CAM and Kipp made presentations of their positions to the board.
After much discussion by board members, Ruth Robarts made a motion to ask the state Department of Natural Resources to install an air monitoring device at Lowell Elementary School. Her motion, seconded by Juan Lopez, passed unanimously.

Lucy Mathiak on Bill Clingan & Leopold Expansion

Lucy Mathiak:

Dear Editor: I am writing in response to Bill Clingan’s Jan. 27 letter regarding the second Leopold School. A second school is long overdue. It is the right thing to do.
While there is no doubt that Mr. Clingan will be a vocal advocate for the Leopold referendum, one wonders where his passion for this initiative was in 2003-04 when he chaired the Long Range Planning Committee. As chair, he had the power to move the school forward, and he squandered that opportunity.
According to the school district Web site, the Long Range Planning Committee met a total of three times under Mr. Clingan’s leadership. Planning for a Leopold building referendum was not an agenda item at any of those meetings. The committee did not meet again while Mr. Clingan was the chair.

Madison School Administrators: What is the trend?

Before February 1 of each year, the Madison School Board must decide whether to renew its administrators’ contracts. If the Board plans to cut administrative positions, it must give the administrators notice that their employment contracts will not be renewed. Otherwise, the contracts automatically renew for one or two years.
Because continued shortfalls in state and federal aid for schools force budget reductions each year, the number of administrators and the total cost of their wages and benefits is a factor in the budget for the next year.
On January 24, 2005 Superintendent Art Rainwater used the following graph and table as evidence of a trend of reductions in the MMSD administrative staff.

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