Others also demonize opponents

Beth Zurbuchen isn’t the only pro-referenda advocate who cannot understand referenda opponents who support quality schools but will vote no to force the board and administration to consider better budgeting, management, and curriculum.
Bill Keys said, quoting a Cap Times article:

To school board member Bill Keys, “the people who have doubts about the referendum seem to belong to two camps.”
One, he said, is composed of those who oppose additional school funding whenever the opportunity comes along. . . .
“These people are always against education,” he contended. “That’s their history, that’s their life. They’ve made a career of being against education.”
In the other camp are those, he said, who just don’t want to engage in the complexities of the problem and study the real constraints that exist in school finance.

20 thoughts on “Others also demonize opponents”

  1. Ed,
    I can understand a vote no if you want to lower or maintain property tax. That’s an honest decision.
    Perhaps, you can enlighten me how a vote “no” will actually force the board and administration to consider better budgeting, management, and curriculum.
    There are problems with state law timing of adminstrative contracts, of releasing the state budget and fulfilling mandatates for children. How does a vote “no” force them to take money from where you might think it should be taken?

  2. Marisue,
    Thanks for asking.
    I video taped last night’s board meeting until about 8:00 p.m. when Barb Schrank took over, and I watched the board members make 1) no budget decisions at all or 2) mind boggling choices.
    In terms of no decisons, some of the board members did not seem to take last night’s budget meeting seriously. One or two made almost no constructive comments and offered no amendments. They totally abdicated their responsibility to use the budget to translate community values into a set of priorities for the district. They seemed willing to say that the priorities set in the budget by the administration are the absolutely correct priorities and those priorities are supported by the community, expect for a few nut cases like those of us who see that the district could be much, much more than it is. The board majority seemed to be saying that approval of the referenda is the only way to implement the administration’s “perfect” priorities.
    I’m sorry. I don’t believe that the administration’s budget and spending reflect the priorities and values of the community. I believe that the community does not want elimination of teachers and preservation of all administrative postions, cuts in strings, closing the open classroom, wasting money on poor performing curriculum, and more.
    Now we come to the mind boggling part. The majority of the board members chose to save a vacant downtown planning position and let the administration fill it next year, while they chose to close the open classroom, to cite just one example.
    That decision does not reflect the values and priorities of the community, or even the stated values of the board members, unless you believe that Madison’s citizens and most board members prize administrators more than teachers.
    I hope that a no vote on the referenda will force them to listen more carefully to hear the community’s values and reconsider decisions that place more value on administrators than classrooms, for example. I hope that a no vote will make the board question the priorities of the administration. I hope that a no vote will make the board find effective currciulum that cost less.
    The board will have the opportunity to reflect on community values and reconsider priorities if the referenda fail since it has to take one or two or three more votes to approve a final budget, as I understand the process.
    That’s what I want the board to do. That’s why I’m voting no on at least two of the three.

  3. I can respect that decision as you have thoughtfully considered from your own experiences.
    Whatever the vote ends up being on May 24th, I expect and hope these referenda discussions have engaged the Madison citizen, (no matter what age or family status) to become more knowledgable on the facts, legislative restrictions, mandates, and historical/projections of MMSD.
    I hope to see everyone who is actively involved right now (Yes and those opposing) at the next BOE meeting to provide constructive solutions for our children and to make sure our high standards are always going to be met.

  4. If I might continue Ed, as I respect your decision, I hope YOU can respect mine to vote YES on all three referenda. I too, have:
    Attended BOE meetings (since January)
    Long Range Planning Committee discussions
    Offered considerable solutions for my neighborhood boundaries
    Maintained email communication with parents of my ‘island’ community
    Encouraged citizens to contact the board and to ask poignant questions
    Researched fair comparisons of our elementary and MMSD enrollment populations
    Provided solutions to maintenance issues at my own Madison elementary school
    I took great offense yesterday in your calling me out as “a pro-referenda advocate who cannot understand referenda opponents who support quality schools but will vote no.” I quite simply, do not agree that a vote no will force anything but poor decisions for our children. Calling me out was purely a plot of rhetoric and not a focus on providing constructive information for our citizens to educate themselves on these referenda.

  5. My no vote on the operations money is not a vote against schools or quality education. This will be the first time in my life that I vote no to more money for schools. I understand that a no vote is going to have some negative consequences to school children this year. That is because that’s how the school administration and the school board set this up. They decided to protect the administrators and assure money for what I think are exorbitant raises for staff (given the budget), while cutting programs important for kids. They did this in order to extort yes votes in this referendum.
    If the no side wins, the priorities of the majority of the school board will finally have to change. They will have to start putting kids first, rather than using them in a politically gutless way. They will have to stop wasting money and become more efficient. They will have to bolster programs that work and trim those that don’t. It will be a long-term benefit to schools.

  6. Fair enough.
    Is it school board and administration or is it state law to give notice by January 31 to any administrator whose contract is not going to be renewed?
    Is it school board and administration or is it the timing of the release of the Governors Budget to make fiscal decisions?
    Is it the school board and administration or is it federal and state mandates for ESL and Special Needs requirements that are not being properly funded?
    Is it the school board and administration or is it the guidelines under which they have to function?
    Isn’t part of the real solution for all of us to get our State legislature talking?
    I want these referenda to go away just like anyone else does. What’s the real solution for all Wisconsin School Districts?

  7. Marisue,
    I’m sorry that you thought I was referring to you when I wrote, “Beth Zurbuchen isn’t the only pro-referenda advocate who cannot understand referenda opponents who support quality schools but will vote no to force the board and administration to consider better budgeting, management, and curriculum.” The others who can’t understand are Bill Keys and Mayor Dave.
    In answer to your questions about whether the problem lies with the school board or other requirements, it’s both.
    The school board is most definitely part of the problem when, “The majority of the board members chose to save a vacant downtown planning position and let the administration fill it next year, while they chose to close the open classroom” as it did on Monday night.
    I also appreciate your contribution to the healthy debate, and please understand that I’ve been involved in MMSD school issues for more than 20 years.

  8. Ed,
    Thanks for that clarification and for discussing. I do appreciate the insight from you and those willing to give us your perspective, details and references of where to go to understand it for ourselves.

  9. Ed:
    I’m sorry we didn’t get the opportunity to connect while you were filming. I respectfully disagree on you assertion that some board members didn’t take the budget process seriously. I believe we all did, and all do, regardless of what individual board members voted for or make as their individual priorities. We are the elected officials. We all have friends, we have constituencies, and we all have priorities. To me, these are all good programs, which I support. This is why I’m supporting all three referenda questions on May 24th. It’s easy to be an “arm chair school board member” and say, “I’d vote for this and that instead of that and this.” It is the same thing regarding voting for a referendum. If the general public votes “No” then that’s the decision that’s made. I’m not mad at anyone for standing up to their beliefs and being involved in the democratic process. It is the American way.
    I would like to also clarify my vote regarding the Open Classroom. It isn’t that I don’t support the program because I do; it’s just wasn’t up on my priority list. The decision at that point in time was to take “supplemental funding” from all elementary schools (affecting over 10,000 students) and give it to the Open Classroom (affecting 45 students). This wasn’t a hard decision for me. I hope that the Open Classroom concept is looked at another school that has K-5 programming and perhaps staff it like Nuestro Mundo, knowing that you’d have K-5 teachers their anyway.
    Similarly, I voted against eliminating the “Planner position” because it does the school improvement planning for 31 elementary schools. How can the schools get better with no support to improve? This is NOT an administrative position. It is a teacher position. Training our school staff and improving our schools achievement, climate, and setting measurable goals and outcomes are very important to me. That might not be important to everyone reading this blog or to you but it is to me.
    At the end of the process (which I thought was very good), the school board made some very critical decisions regarding the school district. Several programs were saved regardless of the outcome of the referenda on May 24th. There were no “majority” school board decisions. Just very difficult decisions to make.

  10. I have a child who will go to kindergarten next year and I teach violin, so I get some of the kids in the strings program (I have nothing but great things to say about the strings). However, I will reluctantly vote NO this time around. I resent that the popular strings program is being trotted out again as a sacrificial cow, so that Madison residents will reflexively vote YES on the referenda. There are far more expensive programs that could be trimmed, but every time there is a budget crisis, the strings program gets threatened. I am also tired of MMSD asking and asking and asking. I think the budget should be reexamined and like any household, MMSD has to live within the budget.
    Cuts that I think ought to be made are
    1) Radically decrease special ed. There is rampant overclassification of children into an acronym soup of ADD, ADHD, CD, OD, ODD, ED, etc etc etc. 30 years ago most of these kids were in regular classrooms. Now, they are separated, and a lot of resources are being spent on children who may not have any disability and are simply unmotivated to learn. Our fast paced culture and TV, sugary foods have a lot to do with lack of attention span.
    2) Eliminate basically babysitting of non trainable severely mentally handicapped students. I see them with aides in the malls and this is their “school day.” This is something that the federal and state taxes should pay for in its entirety and not MMSD. I realize a handful of these kids need care, but it should not come at the expense of the strings program and other activities that would benefit thousands of MMSD kids.
    3. Stop cutting the grass! Really, let it grow, save resources, gas, man hours. I live right next to Spring Harbor, and it prides itself on being an environmental school. Well there is a postage stamp size prarie and everything else is mowed. Fine, mow the soccer field, but leave 80% of the grass alone. It looks fine and it will teach kids about succession of vegetation. It’s that British obsession with lawns, and it’s got to stop. I have not cut in 7 years and my yard looks great, tons of native species.
    4. Increase class sizes. I know this is another sacred cow and I realize that smaller class sizes are better, but in these budget tight times, I think 15 kids per class is unrealistic. Perhaps make the goal 25 kids. Somehow, I was in a class of 40+ kids and it was fine.
    5. Why not sell the vacant East side school buildings before asking for money to build Leopold addition. For that matter, why not bus some of the kids to the Dudgeon Monroe school which sits unused and which Wingra wants to buy for $1. Why not make that building a school. It is close to the Allied Drive Dunn Marsh area and it would take the pressure off Leopold. I think a school with 1000 K-5 kids is overwhelming.
    Frankly, the whole idea of linking property taxes to schools is absolutely rotten to the core, but we are stuck with it. It would be far better if taxes from the entire state were pooled and an equal amt designated to every school district, so there would not be a discrepancy between a poor district like say Milwaukee and a rich one such as Waukesha. This would be the most fair solution. It is very disconcerting that while my taxes are going for an illegal and an immoral war and kickbacks to war profiteers, schools have to beg for money. Still though, I really would like the district to seriously reexamine the budget and live within it vs. asking us annually to increase it and threatening to cut off strings. I know these are tough times budgetwise, but they are tough for all of us and another $100 on the property tax bill of an old person may leave them taxed out of their house. Anyway, just my musings.

  11. Marisue,
    A few posts up you seem to assume that people who oppose the referendum(s) have not been engaged with the district and/or have not offered suggestions for solutions.
    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you have to say. If not, I would suggest that you rethink your assumptions – they’re pretty patronizing at best. Many of us have been testifying at board meetings, offering proposals for ways to save money and/or generate new revenue, and, in some cases, preparing formal proposals for sound financial management.
    In my case, the engagement goes back more than ten years. In fact, I started reading the budget on a regular basis after Carol Carstensen trotted out the “if you don’t like our cuts, tell us what you would cut” with me seven years ago.
    The problem is, someone has to be listening for constructive and creative problem solving to take place. For the most part, alternatives and proposals fall on deaf ears when it comes to the board.
    That doesn’t mean that we will give up and go away – indeed, we’ve become a lot more cohesive and sophisticated in the past year as a direct result of board performance.

  12. Lucy,
    Please don’t make this a personal attack on me.
    I am not generalizing or lumping all into one group. I’ve stated I respect Don S., Don P. and Ed. I stated I respect a well informed decision. I can also respect those on a limited budget who don’t want property tax to go up.
    What I do not respect are those who have not informed themselves and are not providing the entire picture nor the facts to our citizens. I think those individuals are well described in my post. I have, respectfully (in this order) asked them for a solution if the vote is no, the answer was sidestepped on the radio. I watched as one wondered where the money went, without providing the information for our voters to look it up. And I’ve also discovered false interpretations of our student enrollment.
    I don’t know you personally and you do not know me. I appreciate any contributions or suggestions you have made however, please refrain from the personal attacks. It gets us nowhere. I’ve enjoyed the discussion (especially with Ed…thank you for that sir) but the rest has left a bad taste. Therefore, I bid you farewell. I hope you don’t do that to all willing to discuss different points of view.

  13. All decisions reflect a value or set of values, whether or not we’re aware of the values driving the decisions.
    I respectfully disagree with the set of values that seemed to underlie board decisions.
    Johnny, your decisions appear to reflect that you value positions and programs “above” the school and classroom level more than positions and programs directly in the schools.
    Let me explain.
    You said that you wanted to continue the vacant planner position because it does “planning for 31 elementary schools.” You opposed use of “supplemental funding” that could have been used to save the Open Classroom because “all elementary schools (affecting over 10,000 students)” benefit from the supplemental funding, while the Open Classroom affects only 45 students. You and the board decided to renew all administrative contracts at the risk of eliminating 130 teachers.
    These decisions say to me that positions and programs at administrative levels are more important than people in the classrooms.
    Personally, I value programs and services in schools and classrooms more than the school-wide positions and programs that the board and administration appear to support.
    I’m not being critical. It might sound like I am, but I’m not. I’m extremely thankful that you’re willing to talk to people through the blog. These are conversations shunned by the administration and most on the board. I just hope that you and the other board members understand that decisions reflect values. Value-free decisions don’t exist. And I hope that everyone considers and speaks up about what values they want the board to pursue. If we can develop a shared set of values among education stakeholders, we can create a shared vision (of acadmeic excellence, I hope) for our school district.

  14. Marisue,
    I thank you, as I thank Johnny, for participating in this discussion.
    It represents the very best of what we need to do to make our schools better.
    I try very hard to keep my comments from appearing to be personal attacks. If they ever do, call me on it.

  15. Marisue,
    Sorry if you construed my comments as a personal attack. It wasn’t. What you were seeing is my frustration with the comments – public and whispered – by some referendum supporters who want to discredit people who are raising legitimate questions. I may have been unfair by lumping your comment with those attacks, and apologize if that is the case.
    I suspect that I am as uncomfortable as are you when the talk radio ranters turn it on, especially when the questions before the voters are as serious as the May 24 vote. I am equally uncomfortable when Bill Keys dismisses legitimate questions as coming from people who are uninformed or incapable of grasping complex problems, Mayor Dave warns of an impending on-slaught of far-right/Republican criticisms, etc. These attacks detract from the larger questions.
    For more than a year, I have watched Don Severson, Barb Schrank, Larry Winkler, and others make polite, reasoned presentations on alternative approaches to the budget. I have watched them come back time and time again despite the rude comments and dismissive responses of some board members.
    I have personally gone through the exasperating exercise of telling Carol where I’d cut the budget. It took me a few years to realize that the response would always be a long explanation of why the district’s choices are inevitable.
    I also have witnessed over the past few years – when the MMSD cameras are not rolling – the vicious and personal attacks by board members that Ruth Robarts has endured for daring to ask whether we might use our resources in other ways.
    As you might imagine, to now see people demonized as naysayers who offer no alternatives doesn’t sit well with me. That is no excuse for my overly-blunt posts, but it does place them in context.
    Marisue, I was one of the citizen advisors to Long Range Planning this past year. The citizens were a diverse group – we did not have consensus on every issue. But the willingness to engage each other, to look at the material and wrestle with the short and long term implications of different decisions was one of the best open planning exercises that I’ve seen in a long time.
    It is my hope that similar focused exercises and exchanges will happen over other questions facing the district, and that you will be part of the process at the table and on the blog. If we can work through our reasoning and our differences (and if I can mind my manners), we have a chance at making a difference.

  16. Ed:
    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion. I believe that you need many positions in a school district so that learning can take place. Only reducing positions that work with students doesn’t take into account the large scale and complex dynamics of running a school district the size of Madison. It is the second largest in the state. The accountant/payroll/budget analyst positions don’t work with children but their positions are important. Custodian positions don’t work with children either but a clean school is important.
    I value everything that this school district does. I value the employees as well. While someone might question administrative contracts and proclaim that their “untouchable”, I would respectfully disagree. I look at each position individually and ask many questions before and during meetings. This is stated in many NASB guide books.
    Not renewing administrative contracts, in essence “fires” an employee. That employee is now free to start looking elsewhere for employment. At the same time, if an employee has a contract, I believe that contract should be honored. If not, that employee has a legal case and rights. It is also very bad public relations for future administrators who might want to be hired by the school district. I also want to add that racial and ethnic minority administrators that have been “recruited” by the district would be harder to retain.
    The students in the Open Classroom are going to receive an education. However, if a program such as 4th & 5th grade strings were to be eliminated, then there would be nothing. I had to make the decision. I had to prioritize my work. There are other programs and services that were worthy of retention as well, but there wasn’t enough money.
    I realize that there is an “anti-administration” sentiment out in the general public and even in the schools themselves, but I believe that employees need supervision as well as support to carry out the functions of the district. I stand behind the decisions I made on Monday night 100%. I believe I had appropriate information to make those decisions. If people don’t agree with those decisions or want to second guess, that’s fine.
    In this case, serving on the school board is alot like being a basketball official. I make the call. Half the people like it, the other half doesn’t. Maybe I should wear my striped shirt to school board meetings instead of a suit and tie.

  17. Johnny,
    Under what circumstances, if any, could you support a reduction in MMSD administrative positions?

  18. Ed:
    I believe that you have to look at each position by position. The first question that I ask myself (this year) is “Will the work get done?” Second, I ask “can a position be combined?” I made a very big mistake last year by cutting the Fine Arts Coordinator. I didn’t necessarily know the position, I just saw the dollars that could be saved plus cutting “downtown” which is what alot of people say to do. Well, it turned out to be a fiasco because that position could have been key to collect fees that the board placed on the strings program, it also could have been a key position to develop more community partnerships that the district will have to rely on for fine arts. The position was vacant. Shame on me. Now this year, there were vacant positions – and I’m not going to go down the same road twice. One board member made a recommendation regarding some positions. While I didn’t support all of them, one was eliminated which I supported and allowed the Supt. to shift another employee into the position. I think there would be nothing worse than having to pay someone to do nothing.
    In essence, it’s real easy to say – cut Admin! The people that work in the schools say it. The community says it. Until you cut someone’s administrator that works for them. Then it’s a problem.
    This is a large organization. You need people to do alot of things that aren’t “classroom personnel” to make things successful for students, staff and the community.

  19. Thanks for the discussion, Johnny.
    This strings of posts seems to have run its course. We’ll talk more on other posts I’m sure.

  20. Johnny,
    I just have to commend you. As a parent, I emphasize to my children; if you think you made a mistake:
    1. admit it
    2. apologize for it
    3. learn from it &
    4. try to never let it happen again
    I wasn’t involved last year when you made the decision about the Fine Arts Coordinator. And, I’m unsure about it’s immediate affects on my children today…but what you wrote is inspiring!

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