Sports, Music, Academics – Last Minute Proposals Stressful: Need Big Picture with all the Pieces

(The Capital Times, Strings to play on in city’s schools by Lee Sensenbrenner) reported that I “…admitted to calling Winston “a jock,” but said she meant the board was favoring athletics while it dealt with budget cuts..” Not exactly with the name-calling, but I have been critical of the District Administration’s handling of cuts to fine arts, and the School Board’s implicit support of this approach until hundreds of students, teachers, parents and other Madison residents rally, write letters and emails, or lobby board members. I believe the board needs to be working on any changes to an academic curriculum over the year and needs to engage teachers, parents and other professionals in the process. That has simply not been done with the fine arts, an academic curriculum, and I still believe the proposed cuts to the fine arts curriculum, especially in elementary school, are burdensome – 41% of the proposed elementary school budget cut is from elementary music education (general and strings classes) yet elementary music education makes up less than 3% of the elementary school budget. A 3% cut to elementary music education would have been $49,000 – reduction of 1 FTE rather than nearly 13 FTEs. We need to share the burden of cuts – I don’t get cutting a high-demand (1,866), highly valued curriculum program 100% that just put in place a fee this year.

Since 2002, hundreds of teachers, parents and community members have asked the District administration and the School Board to look at fine arts education – what next steps need to be taken in light of our continuing financial challenges. In the absence of a fine arts coordinator, a committee of teachers was to be formed last summer to oversee te fine arts curriculum. This did not happen. Fine arts supporters specifically asked the board for their help last fall. The board did not form a fine arts task force. However, they did form a sports task force, which reported to the Partnership Committee that Mr. Winston chaired. One can’t help but wonder where priorities are being placed when planning decisions like these are made. I’d like to see the board look at the big picture all year long, and I think they need to do a better job of engaging teachers and the community in their planning process before major changes and decisions are proposed.
I do not support trading one group of teachers for another group of teachers. There are options that provide what’s good for students’ learning and there are approaches that can be taken that save money and do not result in playing one group of teachers against another group of teachers. But for that to happen, the School Board cannot wait each year until April to think about what to do.
Note: Both elementary strings and HS sports saw an increase in their fees this school year – elementary strings had a $50 participation fee for the first time, sports fees soared past $100 with special fees for more expensive sports. Cuts to HS athletics this year (mostly proposed transfer of dollars to fund 80) – about $213,700. Cuts to elementary music education – $150,000 and to elementary strings – $600,000 (staff and supplies).
HS athletics budget is about $2 million – about 20 to 25% is from fees/gate receipts. Board has not received any information at a board meeting on HS athletics budget, serving 4,200 participants (not students – there are students who participate in multiple sports)
Elementary strings budget is $500,000 (staff) and $100,000 supplies, serving 1,866 students