Citizens swing ax at school budget

A story by Sandy Cullen in the Wisconsin State Journal reports on two groups that tried the $100 budget exercise:

The State Journal asked 10 people to participate in the exercise led by Superintendent Art Rainwater and his assistant superintendent for business services, Roger Price. District administrators will lead additional sessions of the exercise at Madison’s 11 middle schools on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“This is not a process to build a budget,” Price said. Rather, the exercise is meant to give residents an opportunity to express their priorities to administrators and School Board members as the district puts together its 2006-07 budget.

4 thoughts on “Citizens swing ax at school budget”

  1. What the State Journal left out of this story, however, is that some people turned down their request to be part of the “$100 Budget”. One of my fellow northsiders refused because the MMSD set the parameters on what could be cut. He said it came down to cutting (or pitting) clean schools against ELL and sports and special ed. His assertion is that the $100 budget is simply an exercise that will allow the MMSD to say “see, it’s not that easy”, while avoiding talk about cutting parts of the budget they refuse to present to the public.
    My personal opinion is that the $100 Budget exercise will help citizens to understand a bit more about the budget, but it is also a Public Relations tool. The budget is still so obfuscating that Roger Price couldn’t produce it on demand last spring, and long time Board members like Carol (who knows more than most of us combined) still don’t have a firm grasp on the details. It’s very much a “Wag the Dog” situation, and it needs to be resolved if we expect to get the taxpayers to pass a referendum on operating costs.

  2. This is definitly a controlled PR stunt. My wife came home from the session at Hamilton last evening with steam coming out of her ears. The things she wanted to see cuts in were not marked because the “group” she was in was controlled by a former school board memeber (sorry, I don’t know the name).
    The actual proposed budget can be found here:
    It is thin on numbers. What is more infuriating is that it combines Fine Arts and Physical Education into the same funding department (see page 96).
    It is very clear that the game is obfuscation. I’m not sure who gains from this, but it is obviously my loss.
    We hear a lot of complaints about federal and state unfunded mandates, along with lots of other things which are funded.
    One task the board needs to perform is a cost analysis of ignoring mandates – just how much money can we save by *not* doing the mandates and *not* collecting the federal and state dollars? If the unfunded mandates outnumber the funded ones, then ignoring the federal and state requirements can help us balance the budget.
    But until real numbers are used and compared (rather than “proposed” numbers) nobody is going to really know. Are there any laws requiring public spending to be in the public domain? If so, it is time to start using some powerful levers on the Madison School District. If not, we have a much bigger problem.

  3. I was going to attend the session at Spring Harbor tonight but after reading through the information supplied at the MMSD website and reading the above comments, I won’t waste my time. This is obviously an attempt to continue to obscure the details of the budget while trying to make the public “feel sorry” for the Board by demonstrating how “complicated” it is.
    I have worked on several budgets over the years, some of which totaled a lot more than MMSD’s and I’m sure lots of other parents have also. While making cuts in a budget is never easy, it would be a lot easier if the process was well defined which it is definitely not in the case of MMSD. In fact in the 4 years that I have been following (or trying to follow) the MMSD process, the process is more confusing, if anything.
    In addition, the Board and the Administration have only themselves to blame as they have known for years that these cuts will need to be made year after year and yet they continue to refuse to engage the public in any meaningful way. In my opinion the Board gets the lion share of the blame because they have refused to exercise their authority and insist on clear concise information from the Administration.
    It is time for the Board to do its job and not just “rubber stamp” whatever the Administration hands it. Every possible avenue should be explored (e.g. administrators’ contracts) so that tradeoffs can be made later in the process. Every program should be required to justify its existence or level of funding. The achievement gap still exists. We can no longer afford to let the Administration reply with “We’re the experts – trust us — You haven’t given Program XYZ enough time to show results.”
    If the Board won’t demand clear information and answers then it is time for change on the Board and subsequent change in the Administration.

  4. I attended the $100 budget session at Sherman on Tuesday and found it to be a less than satisfying experience. I’m not going to say it was worthless….I learned something about group dynamics and scripted exercises.
    But it was also frustrating. Like many of you who post to this site, I’ve spent several years trying to understand the MMSD budget. I totally agree with Jane’s comment regarding the Board…they haven’t insisted on getting clear concise information on the budget. And I’m not sure that getting feedback from the public on the $100 budget exercise is going to be that beneficial for them. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details….and it has been historically difficult to get down to the details in the MMSD budget! But, I’ll keep trying…..

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