We need a new School Board

Carol Carstensen�s recent letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal (�Carstensen replies to Robarts�) illustrates the choices before the public in this spring�s school board elections. Many of these choices revolve around the core question of whether one can support progressive ideals and challenge the board�s go along and get along status quo.
I believe that it is not only possible but necessary for progressives to question the status quo � particularly if it results in serious board consideration of balance between employee wages and benefits as part of a comprehensive search for ways to preserve our current staff levels and programs in view of current funding realities.
In her letter, Carol Carstensen erroneously reduces my suggestions to one simplistic idea and then condemns the idea as anti-teacher and ill-informed. Perhaps it is easier to attack a straw-person concept, but it doesn�t move the community or the board closer to the honest problem-solving that is required at a time when we need all of the input and ideas that we can get.

To set the record straight, I did not recommend cutting teachers� wages and benefits. I did recommend looking for ways to keep their increases in line with the community�s ability to pay as part of a larger plan. I did not propose to hold teacher wages and benefits to any particular percentage or to roll back employee wages. I have not suggested that any or all of my ideas would eliminate the total budget gap for next year; I do believe that this is not a zero sum game and that any reduction in the gap is a step in the right direction, an idea that Carol dismisses in her letter.
The larger plan that I have promoted includes changes that Carol and others on the board have rejected: meaningful reductions in administrative staff, serious evaluations of whether we are getting a good return on our investments in educational programs such as reading and math, and reductions in purchasing contracted services.
If we are to solve the serious dilemmas facing our city and our schools, the board must engage in a serious discussion of facts, analyses, ideas, and clear proposals rather than posturing and labels. That is not happening with the current board. A board that calls itself pro-education, pro-teacher and progressive needs to do the serious work involved in keeping teachers and custodians in the buildings and with the kids. As a progressive member of the board, it is my right and my responsibility to continue to promote informed decision-making to make the best use of scarce resources for our schools and for our community.
Ruth Robarts
(see my article: Annual Spring Four Act Play: Madison School’s Budget Process)
Member, Board of Education