A proposal is before the Madison Metropolitan School Board to approve a $2.8 million addition to Leopold funded under the revenue caps. The Board may vote on this proposal on Monday, March 27. While the Leopold overcrowding is a serious problem that absolutely must be addressed, the question for the Board is whether this should be addressed by cutting an additional $343,000 (the yearly debt service on the $2.8 million loan) from programs and services from our operating budget.
What would we have to cut to pay for this? We don’t know yet, but examples of items that could be proposed for cuts include:

  • Elimination of the entire elementary strings programs (approx. $250,000)
  • Elimination of High School Hockey, Gymnastics, Golf, and Wrestling ($265,000)
  • Reduction of 4 Psychologists or Social Workers ($277,000)
  • Reduction of 7 Classroom Teachers ($350,000)

While no one wants to pit one educational need against another, that is what happens in the budgeting process when we are constrained by revenue caps. Paying for necessary physical improvements to Leopold now out of the operating budget means that other programs will be cut. On the other hand, failure to make those physical improvements now out of the operating budget means that either Leopold students will be required to deal with very overcrowded conditions without any assurance that a referendum to pay for a solution to the overcrowding will pass, or that boundary changes will have to be made that will affect many students in the West attendance area.
Difficult decisions must be made on what to fund out of our operating budget, and ultimately it comes down to a question of how we prioritize our District’s different educational needs. I would appreciate readers’ thoughts (click the comments below) on how to prioritize these needs and whether they believe the Leopold expansion should be paid for out of the operating budget.


  1. Lawrie,
    The cart is way before the horse. I’m not sure the horse will be able to find the cart – hope so.
    Thank you for putting this issue in the context of the larger budget and the difficult choices the School Board will need to make this year, and thank you for bringing the attention to a wider public audience. I believe it is imperative for the School Board to do this with the entire budget; and, if the School Board majority is talking about going ahead with what will amount to an additional $350,000 in cuts to the operating budget, the School Board needs to have some semblance of the 06-07 budget and what cuts are being proposed before them now and not in late April. The decision on what/how to pay for an addition to Leopold needs to be part of the entire budget discussion, not put forward as a separate piece.
    At this point, I cannot support approval of a non-referendum financing option to build an addition onto Leopold Elementary School if it means additional cuts to the classroom, on top of cuts that will amount to $8 million, until the entire budget is before the School Board and discussed publicly. I will not trade off any of your suggestions/other suggestions for an addition out of context of the entire budget and a public discussion. We need to know the costs to all our children’s education before an additional $350,000 is cut. We haven’t even seen a budget and proposed allocation of resources with $8 million in cuts. The cart is way ahead of the horse here. I think taking issues out of context has plagued forward movement of additions and new schools in general for some time now.
    Using your examples, I’ve added estimates of the number of children affected:
    Leopold Addition – $350,000 each year for X number of years – As of 9/05 there were 23 students in excess of the capacity of the school. Does someone have the projection for that school for the next five years?
    7 classroom teachers – teach from 105 to 175 students.
    About 4.5 elementary string FTEs – teach 1750
    Grade 4 & 5 children districtwide in 27 schools (1:389)
    Hockey, Wrestling, Gymnastics, Golf – 386 students districtwide (source: 2002 Virchow-Krause Report)
    4 Social workers – about 2,000 students districtwide (source: virchow krause 1:520)
    What is sad is that the School Board waits each year until the spring to get to these issues. We knew last year we would be facing about $8 million in cuts – what is the School Board waiting for each year? We know there is no relief coming from the state legislature in the foreseeable future, we know we have to pass referendums, and we know we have to do things differently.
    Courses and services at risk need to be before the School Board and discussed months before now, last summer. Since the School Board did not take this step last year, I think they need to take this step now, and fast. As I noted in an earlier blog today, allocations will be going out without board discussions on April 3rd, yet the School Board will be discussing $350,000 in additional cuts to bypass a referendum to build an addition, without the entire budget before the board.
    We have seen this lack of foresight and planning affect athletics, specials, foreign language, etc. For example: My interest is music and art education in addition to the budget and election issues. For 5 springs hundreds of parents and community members have asked for the formation of a community task force/working group to work on music and art education – elementary strings did not need to be on the table for 5 springs, could have been addressed AND saved money, which is what I support. No meaningful action from year to year by the Superintendent and the majority of the school board, inconsequential requests to the admin by the board and reports to the School Board that do not address important, pertinent issues and no action on this course – none. Members of the board prefered to attack advocates of this course rather than work with them toward viable, practical solutions. This is only one of many examples.
    Our children deserve better.
    I’m a parent, spouse of a music teacher, campaign treasurer, artist, taxpayer, liberal, etc., etc.

  2. Good question – easy answer. If at all possible, we shouldn’t constrain the operational budget any further than it is. As the Long Range Planning Task Force said (very clearly), we need to have in place budgeting that allows long range plans to be carried out. Long range plans are what matter most to residents – although there is an urgent issue of where kids are to be place next fall. It is very difficult to plan when all the discussion carries doubt of a referendum passing.
    We had a fairly clear (but bold) vision for doing this and this was to go to referendum, with repect for the taxpayers but without apologies. The BOE seems to be inching forward less boldly – with a scrawny, marginal plan that will end up being less efficient and certainly less comprehensive. If the BOE believes there exists good support, within the data, for bolder moves – it is the BOE’s duty to bring those forward to the voters. You can get additional community support for refining plans. In the meantime, because we failed to act on plans from the past – we’ll have to patch something together for the interim. No more questions on whether a referendum is needed or 90 degree turns. In my opinion, you will not get such a clear response from those who first want assurance that a referendum will pass.
    When you put all the burden of space management within the operation budget – administrators that focus on the learning and staffing will do their best to meet next year’s goals, leaving little that can be done for long-range facility planning in that context. Not to blame them, the real wealth of the district is in its people and programs, not its bricks.
    For those who doubt the magnitude of the problem of space on the west side, get to know the situations at the schools, particularly Leopold, Chavez, and review the growth data for the Leopold area and the far west side. You could also walk around West High, East High, and many other schools and question how well we are taking care of buildings and grounds relative to our neighbors in Middleton, Verona, Sun Prairie, …
    (Midvale Elementary Rep. for Long Range Planning Task Force)

  3. I support going to referendum for a new school, an addition to Leopold AND a TWO YEAR operating budget that exceeds the revenue caps and gives the MMSD the same level of funding it had in 2002. When you’re up to your tuchus in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your initial goal was to drain the swamp!

  4. This is a politically incorrect response but here goes.
    1. I liked the idea of converting Leopold’s cafeteria to rooms and building a new cafeteria. Some how it is cheaper and utilizes space available. It also allows the district to add on common space which seems to be their focus for this school as they assume they will eventually add on more…..
    2. I do not like the idea of using the operating budget to fund the expansion BUT…..I would be SO SO happy to move on past the 23 – future 60 students at Leopold that has dumbfounded this districts ability to move them or build, that I would think it well worth the progressive while maybe ill advised spending of this money, and then we could MOVE ON TO OTHER STUFF FOR THE OTHER 20,000 students.
    3. The Memorial attendance area is going to need a new school very soon and I think it would be an easier sell to the public and referendum would pass easier without the question of Leopold.
    4. What about the increase in funding for SAGE students from the state? Will that affect the outcome of our projected shortfall as we should get a significant amount of money if Doyle and his office discussion with the Republican reps really pans out?
    5. And lastly I would like to say I like to follow a set of standards and a flow of good practices but in this case I just don’t think this district will ever move on if we don’t get this issue solved! So I say move on and let’s get to stuff like improved curriculm, improved lunch, better math, inequity distibution, the East decline in attendance, Memorial rapid growth, closing the achievement gap, etc……must I go on.
    I would find it interesting to see if the expansion was set up and something was eliminated from the budget, because currently what is funded and not funded is a fog of mystery. Our PTO is more exact on it’s budget than the district seems to be.

  5. First, I commend any board member who is asking for input of their constitutes. Some board members do post here, while others never respond to emails.
    As a Fitchburg resident and with kids that went to Leopold, I question exactly what the $350,000 is suppose to pay. How many children are going to be affected by the cuts (that includes the kids cheer on the sport programs, not just the players).
    I have seen Leopold in many different stages over the years, and feel that the school is already too large. Years ago when we it was decided to outpost students, I was in favor but now I have seen greener grasses and realize that Leopold is already too big. Studies show all the time that effective schools have smaller numbers. Even at West, they have gone to SLCs, so why support building an already too big elementary school when the high school is saying smaller is better.
    I feel that administration doesn’t look at the most efficient ways to do things. Outposting 3rd grade made no sense. Kids are at Leopold for 3 years, one year out and then 2 years back. It would have made more sense to send Kindergarten or 5th grade for the students sake. I have gone into Leopold and the old library is very disorganized. There are many creative ways of making this a pleasant atmosphere, and I feel that the administration is set to make it as uncomfortable for everyone, in order for them to get their way.
    If the board really wants to pass a referendum, cutting things all over the district in order to spend it on some things for Leopold, isn’t the way to go.
    Right now, I can’t support a new school/addition to Leopold when just last year administration told the board they should consider closing some schools on the east side. I haven’t been sold that there isn’t an alternative. Parents of students in Leopold, don’t want to change. When 3rd graders where outposted, many parents where seeing some greener grass at Huegel and questioned about staying their for 4th and 5th. The principals at Leopold told families that this wasn’t an alternative.
    Fitchburg families are probably not going to pass a referendum again this year because their assessments went up on average $100,000, and our school taxes also increased about $100.00 more from 2004. I haven’t been sold that I should spend another approximately $163 on a school while others are not being used wisely.

  6. Least we forget, we would not be in this position had the referendum passed last year. We would have no need for a task force, we could focus on the cuts due to the QEO, we could focus on legitimate disagreements on how to teach mathematics, inclusion, we would not have to discuss Swan Creek moving to another school district, we would not be discussing a proposal to add even more students to Leopold, and we would not talk about cutting positions to fund an addition to Leopold. We are at a crossroads in our school district. A unified school board that is able to address the issues is what is needed. We have seen what happens when a divided school board tries to bring forward a referendum. The conditions at Leopold may be the standard for the future.

  7. The 2 failed referendums did mean added work and that may very well be what we face for the next few years – sadly. We better roll up our sleeves and learn how to work collectively on multiple issues, simultaneously. I have seen very little of that to date from the leadership of the School Board, who are responsible for setting the agendas which determines what gets discussed and what Board work gets done. I have seen tremendous commitment and hard work by community members whenever they are asked to work on an issue, and I’ve seen positive work come out of such efforts. I feel we will need more of that in the future, not less and we will need to put in place mechansims that get that work done – community members leading groups and doing more work, reporting directly to the Board, keeping admin in the loop. Other?
    I believe we need a working school board (not simply a yes board) who can identify and prioritize critical issues at the beginning of the year (reprioritize throughout the year), can follow threads for multiple issues throughout the year, can develop different mechansisms to address these issues, will stop making all issues as “you’re either with us and if not, you’re against us” and will stop demonizing and attacking those who offer different perspectives and approaches but have the same basic interests in excellent education for our children – it’s wasting time, wasting away our children’s education and compounding the negative effect of revenue caps and the QEO.
    When I look at the various board committee agendas, I don’t see prioritization, I don’t see common threads, I don’t see much of anything except wasted time. If the finances are such an issue, why was and will there be no budget discussions during the entire month of March. There are absolutely no board committee or full board meetings that will discuss allocations being sent to all principals on Monday, April 3rd – on the eve of the school board elections.
    This is not solely about getting 7 people to say yes, let’s go to referendum.

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