MMSD Teacher Layoffs Target Elementary String Teachers

On Thursday, based upon Superintendent Rainwater’s recommendation, the Madison School Board approved 20 FTEs for layoff. These layoffs included 60% of the elementary string staff – the largest percentage of one academic personnel group ever laid off in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District. How come a program that cost less than 1/10 of one percent of the $318 million budget resulted in nearly 50% of the teacher layoffs? Elementary string teacher are less than 3/10 of 1% of the total teacher population. What happeded? No evaluation of the music education curriculum, no planning (not exploring the allowed use of federal dollars for fine arts education for low income children) and some might say vindictiveness from top administrators and some Board members toward string teachers because of the community outcry in support of elementary strings – our community cannot tolerate the latter. Money is not the issue – data do not support money being the issue.

I don’t think it was necessary for any of the 20 layoffs to take place. School Board members said they had no choice, because the operating referendum did not pass. I don’t agree. We have had revenue caps for 10 years. Our School Board makes decisions piecemeal (labor contracts, maintenance, etc.) in isolation from the overall budget and an assessment of the impact of their decisions on children’s learning. You simply cannot do this with revenue caps in place, because a board is always fighting against costs rising faster than revenue caps and board members end up making last minute drastic cuts to certain areas out of proportion to their percentage of the budget.
There was no professional evaluation and redesign of MMSD’s music education curriculum prior to making recommendations to cut music this year. There are numerous studies that document the positive benefits of music education on children’s learning and academic achievement. Cuts to music education should not be made until a detailed evaluation shows there is absolutely NO other option and a well thought out plan is put into place. MMSD administration has not taken this important step.
Cuts to music can still be avoided if the School Board decides to look hard at next year’s budget and the grant dollars that come in over the next few months. Here’s what is in the 05-06 budget and how many teachers’ jobs this cost for examples:
Increase of $1.2 million in the administrative contract budget over two years – 23.76 teaching positions (14.6 teaching positions per year)
Extracurricular sports (not required for high school graduation) – $2 million plus ($1.4 million net of fees and gate receipts) – 29.7 teaching positions. The administration kept this budget out of the Board discussion and public view, giving more weight to HS sports than to academic areas and support for students.
Had the School Board considered increases to textbook/supply fees – each $10 increase would have generated about $180,000 – 3.56 teaching FTEs.
These examples are easy to find. There are other areas where savings would be possible that would protect a) children’s learning and b) teachers’ jobs. Children and teachers are being made to suffer the failed referendum and we need to do everything we can to minimize the impact on their learning!
Even the worst business managers do everything they can to protect their employees’ careers and livelihoods, because that is what is best for the customers in order to remain competitive and in business. Madison is no longer competitive with the surrounding school district’s music education program offerings – surrounding districts have stronger music education curriculums, because these school district’s administrators support the curriculum.
Our children need and deserve better efforts on their behalf from our school district’s leaders.