Considering the Future of Madison Schools

Marc Eisen:

Unless you have a kid in the Madison schools, many of the issues discussed by the four Madison school board candidates in our weekly Take-Home Test may not strike a familiar chord.

That’s why we asked our schools reporter Jason Shepard to provide an overview in this week’s Isthmus of the trends buffeting the 24,000-student district. The cover story is: The Fate of the Schools: Will the Madison district sink or swim? April 4th elections could prove pivotal.

As you’ll read, the growing number of poor students, decreased state funding and nasty board infighting provide a sobering context for the election.

Shepherd has written the definitive piece for the April 4, 2006 election. Pick up the current Isthmus and have a look or view the article online here. I’ve placed two charts from the article below (click continue reading….. if you don’t see them).

4 thoughts on “Considering the Future of Madison Schools”

  1. Congratulations to Marc Eisen for choosing to cover the school board and congratulations to Jason Shepard for pouring a lot of information and emotions into a concise and insightful article.

  2. Isthmus has once again stepped up to fill in the void left by other media outlets. As Jason Shepard so clearly articulated, this race is for control of the majority, make no mistake about it. Don’t be distracted by claims that this is just about “process”. The majority controls the process and thus controls the substantive policy outcomes. Currently, there is no transparency and little opportunity for meaningful input other than from the chosen few. Dissent is equated with “negativity” and simply dismissed. In more ways than one, the manner in which this board majority operates reminds me increasingly of the Bush administration—listening only to what it wants to hear and labeling dissenters “conservatives”, the Madison equivalent of unpatriotic scoundrels.
    So here’s the bottom line: if the current majority doesn’t want to consider a topic, it won’t be allowed on the agenda or taken up by a board committee whose chair the majority also controls. Period.
    Lopez, of course, is already part of that majority, but Silveira undoubtedly will take her place alongside those currently controlling board policy and direction. She is proud to claim the endorsement of Keys, Carstensen, Winston, and others of their allies who showed up at the forum sponsored today by The Mic, 92.1 behaving like teenagers at a pep rally. This isn’t a popularity contest, folks, it’s about grown-ups, behaving as such, tackling the serious problems our community faces in educating our children on an ever-tightening budget. This isn’t intended as mudslinging, but it seems to me that the buzz about Arlene’s networking skills is belied by the failure of those most directly affected by the referendum she made her bones on to actually vote for it. Moreover, she and others of the more vocal supporters were not exactly gracious in that defeat.
    That fractious board you hear about? It’s not Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza who behave rudely. There have been several video posts here that show quite clearly the arrogant, rude and borderline harassing treatment by others on the board, notably Keys and Lopez. ( and
    Voting for Lopez and Silveira will be a vote to continue on the same path we have been so ineptly traversing. That path is littered with an obtuse budget, lack of review of educational policy, little to no oversight of the administration and a dearth of accountabilty to the public for the way business gets done and how choices get made.
    Let me elaborate a bit. The budget process is anything but open to the light of day. It’s not released until the 11th hour making any serious review all but impossible. Assumptions underlying statistics are anything but overt and efforts to get at this ignored. Instead, the strategy, as we’ve witnessed year after year, is to threaten to cut beloved programs, a “do this or else the dog gets it” approach to governance. The fallback position is to go to referendum, asking for money to cover expenses that have no business being covered by borrowed dollars. Of course the state revenue caps are a problem, but it’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon. Thus, we need a board that will roll up its sleeves and make tough choices after a truly honest, open public analysis of what the priorities are.
    We also need a board willing to face down a powerful teachers union that doesn’t want its health insurance benefits altered, despite wildly increasing costs. There are creative ways to support our teachers’ needs, but we need a board willing to challenge status quo thinking on this, especially in the face of a union president serving on the board of the company that currently gets the district’s insurance business.
    Furthermore, we need a board that will stand up to an underreviewed, stubborn and powerful superintendent. As a first order of business, how about not approving the contracts for his administrative staff ahead of the budget cutting process. Before we go eliminating teaching positions, how about we examine how necessary all those administrative staff positions are, the ones paying some of the highest salaries in the district. This is already too long or I’d go on about poorly supported curricular decisions like connected math, reading recovery and one-size-fits-all English programs at West.
    If you’re unhappy with the status quo, then show up on election day April 4 and encourage others to join you. Vote for Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole, two strong, mature, independent moms with a deep and abiding commitment to educating all the children in the district in a manner that is also responsive as well as responsible to the entire community. With their election, a new coalition will be born on the school board. No longer will it be business as usual.

  3. In his article Jason Shepard writes “The Madison district has cut nearly $46 million in services since 1993.” How is this possible? I would bet the budget has at least doubled since 1993. Is this a case of something being proposed and then not implemented being counted as a cut?

  4. Rick, you understand the PR games being played. Each year the board “cuts” from the increase, so the overall budget still increases, while the board and administration only talk about cuts.

Comments are closed.