Better MMSD budget process? Maybe next year.

The National School Board Association argues that local school boards exist to translate the community’s educational goals for its children into programs and to hold staff accountable for the quality and effectiveness of the programs:

Your school board sets the standard for achievement in your district, incorporating the community’s view of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Your school board also is responsible for working with the superintendent to establish a valid process for measuring student success and, when necessary, shifting resources to ensure that the district’s goals are achieved.

Don’t expect to see that kind of process as the Madison School Board adopts a $383.7M budget for 2006-07.
On April 24, 2006, Superintendent Art Rainwater presented his proposed budget for 2006-07 to the school board. MMSD Proposed Balanced Budget for 2006-07 To the credit of the administration, the documents are better organized and provide more detail than in recent years.
Nonetheless, the board’s adoption of next year’s budget will likely be an unsatisfying process for parents and the community. I say this because the Madison board has again skipped the decision-making steps that are necessary for budget decisions to occur within a framework that we can all understand and support.
Long before the school board tries to evaluate a budget, the board should have translated the community’s vision for the education of its children into specific, measurable goals for student achievement. Key Work of School Boards
We don’t have such goals except for third grade reading, completion of algebra and geometry and attendance. What kind of budget commitment should we make to offering a comprehensive high school program? We don’t know, because we have set no standards for the “challenging, contemporary curriculum” that we claim is a strategic priority for the district. What funds should we commit to fine arts education? We don’t know, because we have no achievement goals in the arts or any other curriculum area. Should we cease funding a “Race and Equity” position at the $100,000 a year level? We don’t know because we don’t have objectives for the position to accomplish.
The board should also have developed a shared understanding of how data will be used to evaluate the district’s progress toward meeting its goals.
We don’t determine which data will be used in decisions about educational programs or any other aspect of the budget. Should we cease the “same service” approach to the teaching of reading? Should we continue to invest in “instructional coaches” who teach teachers how to present the Connected Math program? Again, we don’t know. The administration claims that its curriculum decisions are data-driven. However, the administration does not share the student achievement data behind our “same service” approach or proposed new programs nor has the board agreed to rely on whatever data that the administration may use in its internal analysis.
As the result of the April elections, the board has two new members: Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira. Both promised to focus on standards and accountability during their campaigns. Maybe next year will be better. That’s important because the fuss that occurs each spring as the board struggles to “restore” programs or staff that the superintendent has cut should not occur. We should not be on the defensive–always having to create our own individual rationales for replacing cut items or changing programs. We should be on the offensive—judging the superintendent’s budget against the goals that we have set for our programs and the measurements of effectiveness that we have agreed on.
Please stay tuned.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison School Board