Madison School Board Votes on Equity Policy On September 12: what’s at stake? what’s the rush?

On Monday, September 12, the Madison Board of Education will vote on proposed revisions to the district’s Equity Resource Policy. The revisions gut the current policy and replace it with an already existing formula for allocating staff to schools based on socioeconomic factors. The meeting is a Special Board meeting called by President Carol Carstensen. At the meeting administrators will recommend this change and the full Board will vote on the recommendation. Not much notice to the public, not much opportunity to hear public opinion and analysis, no analysis by any Board committee. Only very savvy people who closely watch the Board agendas will know that this vote is coming.

What’s at stake?

Equity Policy 9001 makes five important promises.
1. Staff will review and prioritize the needs of each school in the district.
2. There will be an annual examination of student “success indicators” including student achievement, participation, and
school climate.
3. After the review, the superintendent will recommend appropriate strategies for each school to the Board of Education.
4. The Board will vote on the strategies.
5. If necessary, strategies may result in different staffing, facilities and program options at individual schools. That is,
schools that need different resources to improve student success would receive them based on the superintendent’s recommendation for the schools.
In contrast, the “Equity Resource Formula” that will be recommended to the Board drops all of these commitments to the individual schools. It continues a policy of allocating staff to schools based on socioeconomic and other factors. The ERF is based on total number of students, number of low income students, school attendance rates, level of education of parents, number of adults living with the student, and the number of students identified as needing Special Education services or assistance learning English.

What’s the rush?

For many years parents have told the Board that they want Equity Policy 9001 implemented. In particular, parents and organizations on the Northside of Madison have told us that implementing Policy 9001 is essential to improving student results at many of their schools. They are not satisfied with the results of the ERF policy. They want to see the kind of high-level review of their schools and high level commitment to change that Equity Policy 9001 promises but does not deliver.
As recently as the North Side Planning Council’s forum on the 2005 referendums in May, leaders from the community forcefully drew the attention of the Board to their desire to see individual school resource allocations depend on planning, review and strategies. They were clear. As far as they are concerned, the ERF does not produce the planning or the resources that they believe their schools need.
I will not support the proposed Equity Policy changes. I believe that the parents are right: Without the review and planning process required by current Equity Policy 9001, individual schools do not get the high-level attention, analysis and planning that they need and deserve. Moreover, I will not be voting for any policy changes handled in this manner. One of the most important duties of school board members is the duty to carefully review administrative recommendations and give the public an opportunity to comment on recommendations before we take the final vote. Special Board meetings that collapse the whole process into an hour undermine our ability to meet our obligations as elected representatives.
To comment on this meeting and the proposed policy change, send your thoughts to The entire Board receives messages at this address.