Our School Board Needs a Budget: No Budget Yet We Have a Cut List that Harms Underprivileged Children’s Education and Divides Parent Groups

The inside, unsigned cover page of MMSD’s non-budget cut list that tells the public that the administration is protecting math and reading for young children. For $12,000+ per student, the administration will teach our kids to read and to do math – what happened to science and social studies? What happened to educating the whole child or the district’s educational framework – engagement, learning and relationships?
You don’t put a cut list before a budget – no family would do that with their own budgeting process. How does a board member know where the money is going and how can board members ask needed, important questions about policy and direction? Looking at the proposed cuts in the elementary school you can easily see these cuts harm the academics and academic support for underprivileged child the most � it’s hard to determine if consider educating the whole child.

As an example, District administration by proposing a 100% cut to elementary strings is creating an environment where �Underprivileged children will suffer the most,� says Davis in a March 10, 2005 Isthmus article, Axing the Arts. �It�s another way of letting only those who can afford it get the opportunities. The fear is that you�re going to have a very one-sided, warped community, where one world will have all of the exposure and sophistication, and the other world won�t.� There are many alternatives to a 100% cut.
The board needs to say no one group should bear such a burden, especially such young underprivileged children for whom access to opportunity is hard enough already. 100% of this academic curriculum will be cut if the board goes to referendum and the referendum fails.
Open classroom, TAG, fine arts, homeless support advocates are stunned by the cut list. They should be. The administration’s proposed cut list has nothing to do with student achievement and everything to do with holding the community hostage and protecting turf. Our current board asks no questions, and they go along for the ride. It’s a tiring tactic, and I’m feeling abused this year with the complete elimination of the elementary strings on the chopping block if a referendum fails.
What’s on the cut list may be those courses or services that a) district administration does not support (or like, in the case of elementary fine arts) or b) district administration knows board members will put back into the budget, saving the moment, but missing the big picture – student achievement. Without the budget, it’s hard for the school board to ask the questions they need to in order to understand where the dollars are being allocated and if these allocations make sense.
Further the cut list is developed could be seen to divide the parent groups, not bring them together. I know this from my experience with the fine arts curriculum. For four years, the administration has targeted this curriculum, in particular elementary strings, mercilessly, without equity in bearing the cuts. This year, the administration took their apparent hostility towards the academic elementary fine arts to a new level, cutting elementary fine arts $1 million (25% cut over the 25% cut last year – 100% of the elementary strings program) while hiding or protecting other areas. Administrators began telling teachers last fall their program was gone next year. Where is academics and children�s achievement in statements like this? Only 9.5 FTEs teach more than 1800+ students in 30 elementary schools.
District administration is keeping extracurricular activities ($2 million) not subject to the results of a referendum – and the administration can bury this information in the budget, because the budget will not be released until May 2005. In the meantime, the administration has everyone focused on the cut list and there is no budget. Board members are not asking questions about what�s in the budget.
What else? MMSD’s administration is 25% higher than the state average of #students/administrator – that cost is $2 million. The District administration protects administrators from layoffs, but not teaching positions. Even with revenue caps and the QEO, staffing costs are likely to increase $8-10 million for teachers (an amount for this is already included in the budget gap). Where is the leadership Kathleen Falk demonstrates when presenting a budget – protect employees from layoffs, protect services. MMSD’s district administration protects its administrators from layoffs, sacrificing teachers instead.
Is there more? Reading Recovery, which costs $1-2 million has not been discussed. Yet this program was shown to be no more effective than other reading strategies. The board needs to ask for alternatives � needs to see the data, needs to have a public discussion.
What does the District administration do? The public is continuously told that MMSD turned away up to $10+ million in federal funds for reading over several years, because we do it better. We get a seminar on why MMSD is better – no data to support this decision was presented.
Has MMSD done a great job to date? In some areas, you bet, and I believe a large part of that success is the tremendous public support behind the reading goal. But, the children who are challenged the most, are those children for whom the administration is proposing to stay the course, not even looking closely at Laphams’ success. I find it hard to believe that MMSD administrators could not figure out a way to make this work. Board members need to tell the Superintendent to follow up with this
These items are only the tip of the iceberg. When the Board does not have the budget, board members cannot discuss the big picture when making decisions. There is no way to keep student achievement as a top priority. we need our board to have these discussions publicly. We need to know how much more mandates are costing, utilities, etc.
Public education is about student achievement – discussions of boundary changes, new schools, maintenance costs need to flow from that objective one would think that would make sense. The confusion is everywhere – boundary changes, new school – why didn’t we start from instruction and build the budget out from there.
Our Superintendent says to our School Board, “Board, you have to make a suggestion to replace what’s on the cut list. To the Superintendent and the School Board, I ask isn’t that your job to provide a budget and alternatives for public discussion. With only one options and no meaningful discussion, there is room only for very limited public discussion, but lots of intimidation.”
If we have the education vision, build the budget, down the road, won’t we be better able to make our case to the state and to the citizens of Madison for a referendum? I value excellent education, music and art, but I don’t trust a cut list that that puts one group of students at risk totally while protecting another group. More than 30% of the elementary strings program students come from underprivileged environments.