CAST Gearing Up For $23.5 Million Referendum

From Channel 3000:

Fall is right around the corner. That means classes back in session and another school referendum for Madison voters.
A group calling itself CAST is gearing up to get voters to say yes to a $23.5 million referendum on Nov. 7.
CAST stands for Communities And Schools Together.
Rich Rubasch is heading up the group. He’s a parent looking out for the best interest of his children. He believes a referendum is the answer.

“Since our kids go to Chavez we know the overcrowding is a problem,” said Rubasch. “Music and art are going to take the impact first.” Rubasch believes the best answer is a long-term solution, like the referendum.
The referendum includes a new school on the West side, an addition to Leopold Elementary and refinancing past loans.
If passed, it would cost the typical homeowner about $30 more a year, reported WISC-TV.
School board members say even though the referendum includes Leopold, it looks different than last year.
“We understood there were some shortcomings in the last referendum,” said school board president Johnny Winston.
Winston said this year the decision to seek a referendum came from a community task force, not the school board.
Last year voters failed two of three questions. This year there are also three parts, but only one check box.
“I think it was important to make it as simple as we could and that meant one question,” said Winston.
A citizens group questions the decision to ask for additions to Leopold again. They believe changes and redevelopment at nearby Ridgewood Apartments could lower the school-age population, and make the addition unnecessary.
“We’re trying to get the data, so better informed decisions can be made,” said ACE member Don Severson.
Active Citizens for Education is also raising questions about refinancing loans.
If the district does refinance, it would save $100,000. Severson would like to know what the district plans to do with that money.

32 thoughts on “CAST Gearing Up For $23.5 Million Referendum”

  1. Can someone explain the following statement from this article?
    “Music and art are going to take the impact first.” Rubasch believes the best answer is a long-term solution, like the referendum.
    In a previous thread I was accused of bringing extraneous issues, like art programs cuts, into a discussion of the referendum when saying why I might vote no. But here is a proponent of the referendum bringing in the very same issue. And Mr. Rubasch seems to be employing the administration’s tactic of annually threatening arts programs to extort more money.
    This tactic is going to force me to vote no unless the board takes future cuts to arts programs off the agenda permanently. You threaten arts programs, I vote no.

  2. You are absolutely right, Donald, about being criticized for saying exactly what Rubasch said.
    Here are the two paragraphs from the Channel 3000 story:
    “Rich Rubasch is heading up the group. He’s a parent looking out for the best interest of his children. He believes a referendum is the answer.
    “Since our kids go to Chavez we know the overcrowding is a problem,” said Rubasch. “MUSIC AND ART are going to take the impact first.” Rubasch believes the best answer is a long-term solution, like the referendum.”
    Here’s what you wrote in a response to a post titled Fall Referendum – 3 months to Time Zero:
    “I also want some guarantees that there is going to be a buy-in from the administration to community involvement in saving STRINGS AND OTHER ARTS PROGRAMS from future budget cuts. Also, I want to see the administration back off its push to “dumb down” certain curriculum. In short, my vote is up for grabs, and the administration can secure it by being more committed to higher standards, a diverse curriculum, community involvement, and a more open budget process.”
    After you wrote the above response, Thomas Mertz (TJM) wrote in a response:
    “I don’t think those issues should have much to do with how people vote in November. The questions before the voters concern building facilities and refinancing debt, not curriculum or strings, or demographics, or Fund 80, or the content of report cards or a host of other very real concerns in the community.”
    I think building and refinancing will be the least of the issues on most voters minds, so I’d advise Rubasch to say things like, “I’ve talked to the super and he’s not going to propose cuts in arts and strings if this referendum passes, and he’ll propose an understandable budget process that sets spending based on academic priorities.”
    ps. The name CAST hints at a bit of irony. CAST will be composed of the same cast of characters who couldn’t pass last year’s referenda; CAST seems to be making the same mistake of underestimating community animosity toward the superintendent and board. After the voting, I suspect that they will be downCAST.

  3. When you have overcrowding in an elementary school and need additional regular classrooms, one option is to re-purpose the art and music classrooms. Art and music are then delivered to students in their homerooms by art and music teachers who travel from room to room. This negatively impacts these programs, but is an alternative from adding modular/trailer classrooms outside the main school building, increasing class size, or subdividing the cafeteria for classroom space and moving lunch to the homerooms.
    That’s very different than cutting the staffing levels or operating budgets. If this is what Mr. Rubasch was referring to, it’s something that suburban districts in Dane County have done when faced with overcrowding and is probably not a case of targeting art and music in terms of budget cuts.
    However, we don’t have the full set of Mr. Rubasch’s comments, just one sentence without the context around it.

  4. Space is the issue.
    To alleviate overcrowding, common areas have been converted to classroom space. Without space, music and art rooms will be used as general classrooms and classroom size will have to increase. The task force discussed these options (and so much more), didn’t like them and put forward the plans for building as a solution for our community and schools.
    The BOE unanimously agreed that space is needed to accommodate our community growth and development.
    I hope this clarifies your question and helps in your understanding of what the fall referendum is about.

  5. How about allowing high schoolers (and possibly) middle schoolers “test out” of phy ed courses when they are out for sports, or taking classes outside of school for dance, martial arts, or even ski club. The downfall of this idea is that Mr. Rainwater was a phy ed teacher so he probably doesn’t want to cut them.

  6. Ed Blume wrote: “CAST seems to be making the same mistake of underestimating community animosity toward the superintendent and board.”
    Ed, you can’t sit there and tell me that you feel animosity towards Lucy, Lawrie and Ruth, can you? And, if you widen the scope, I don’t see any community animosity towards the Board, period. Of course there is towards Art, but there will never be a Superintendent who is 100% loved…so quit making stuff up..the reality is that yes, there are some issues that must be tackled, and the community is divided on them, but we’re on our way towards becoming reunited after a period of division. If you give a damn about the schools, you’ll want to help bridge the gap instead of fomenting your own personal “Rainwater jihad”. Please help them see the light, not the darkness. This new version of the Board is still very much in it’s infancy and needs to have some successes with the community at large.

  7. David,
    I give a damn about the schools, as you well know. So please don’t go there again.
    But the average voter probably couldn’t tell you the name of more than one person on the school board, if any at all. They can’t possibly see the small differences from a year ago on the board, because they aren’t school board geeks like you and me.
    And for that matter, the policies the administration pursued during the last referendum have not changed enough, if at all, to influence the average voter. Certainly, little has changed or improved in classrooms.
    You also underestimate the amount of control exercised by the superintendnet over the board and all policies in the district. The board still has little influence even with new members and improved atmosphere at meetings; additionally a majority of the board still doesn’t want to exercise control in some areas such as curriculum where people are screaming for changes in reading, Connected Math, and high school English, just to name a few.
    I’d rather see the board establish its success in areas other than approving the plans the superintendent laid out long before they were elected and the task force went to work.
    So, David, the usual cast of characters must deal with the average voter’s assessment of the superintendent, board, and district as a whole or face another failure.

  8. Mari,
    A thought. Did the task for consider the option of putting 2 teachers and 30 students in a classroom for SAGE? I know some schools don’t have the classroom size for this, but other schools could easily do this. I am not suggesting 2 classes within the same 4 walls, I am suggesting 2 teachers jointly teaching 30 students within the same 4 walls. I was just wondering if this was thought of. Having been in situations where this has happened, when the two teachers get over “my space, your space” but rather look at it as “our space” it can work very effectively. They would trade off being the lead teacher, etc.
    Just a thought that would save money on constantly building, only to get rid of schools down the road.

  9. Our community task forces and BOE discussed many options and considerations to maintain academic success and educational quality.
    Our staff is being utilized to their fullest extent to minimize operating costs and increase efficiencies.
    Space is being used well and there are no indicators, of which I am aware, that point toward getting rid of schools down the road. Space is and will be needed for our residential developments and community turn-over patterns in the North, to the East, to the South and West.

  10. Thanks for the discussion regarding space. I’m sure the citizen task forces did a good job. I agree that trailers and travelling teachers are stop gap measures that should be avoided if possible.
    The school board I was on had similar issues with declining/increasing enrollment unevenly occuring throughout the district. We found a way to close schools, saving money and making it easier for us to build new schools where we needed them. Of course I ran into a buzz saw of opposition in the neighborhoods, including my own, where we closed schools. I hope there is more than speculation about neighborhood “turnover.” Is there any data showing pre-K populations in declining schools are on the upswing?
    Here’s the problem I have. If the administration is going to propose further cuts in art/music, then do we really need the space we have allocated and are creating for these programs? It seems to me if we have much of this space so we can have good arts/music programs, then the administration ought to at least promise that those programs are going to be around to fill that space.

  11. This is a very busy week for me so I can’t say everything I’d like to, but there are some things here that deserve a response from me, in part because I was sloppy in my rhetoric.
    My earlier request to both sides was that we try to focus on the space issues, the long-range planning issues and the budget issues. If I had to phrase it over again, I would have left strings off the list of things I didn’t think we be talking about, because that is obviously a budget issue. Still, I stand by the larger thought that the voters of Madison would be better served by a discussion that did not veer off into things like Art Rainwater’s personality or connected math, which emphatically are not on the ballot.
    There are aspects of the referendum (the refinance of old debt and the financing of the Leopold remodel) that will free up some funds for the general operating budget and this could have an impact on Arts instruction. The amount they will free up is still far below the “cost to continue” projections under QEO and the Revenue Caps. Certainly voting against the referendum will put strings in a more precarious position, but voting for the referendum is no guaranty that strings will continue at the same level. I wish that promise could be made, but the numbers don’t add up. This is not a general operating referendum. It is building referendum first and a building finance referendum second.
    I agree with Rich that as the structural budget squeeze gets tighter, music and arts have been and will be among the places to look for cuts. I wouldn’t have made that a point of emphasis, but there is no party line that needs to be followed among supporters or CAST members.
    On the projections for future space needs, I point you to the work of the East and West task forces and Peter Gascoyne’s fine presentation:

  12. There is no basis on which to make this statement:
    “…as the structural budget squeeze gets tighter, music and arts have been and will be among the places to look for cuts.”
    If the task forces didn’t take into consideration that music and art were likely targets for cuts in future budgets, and from that determine how much space would be freed up by cuts in those programs, then they were working with flawed space assumptions that would result in an overestimate of the amount of new space needed. Why have music/art rooms, when you’re going to cut music and art programs? You can convert those rooms to classrooms in all buildings and eliminate most of the need for the new elementary buildings, and this referendum.
    By holding onto the tired tactic of threatening cuts to music and art, you are making the argument for a no vote on this referendum.
    Why should taxpayers be asked to spend money for music and arts rooms when the administration is going to continually try to cut the programs that are housed in those spaces?

  13. There is really no emphatic answer to your question. There is history, which dictates the future. There is a great wave of change within the administration, BOE and community. In following the budget process for this coming year, changes were made to the elementary strings in order to maintain the program. The changes *increased* scheduling at a couple schools, which will be observed as a pilot program to expand and implement in other facilities.
    Credit the hard work of the BOE working together, changing a historical mindset, and adding ‘value’ to our community.
    Why break that trend?
    Why vote ‘no’ to ensure the old prophecy is fulfilled?
    Why not support our BOE’s unanimous decision to put forward this referendum to help them continue their work toward adding value to our community?

  14. Mari,
    I agree there has been change for the better on the board. I am much more inclined to trust their judgement, and to vote yes this time around. But has the administration changed all that much? Are they willing to commit to a strong and varied arts and music program at all levels for an extended period of time, rather than proposing yearly cuts? Are administrators willing to cut adminstration before they cut popular programs? Have the CAST of characters running the yes campaign changed? Will they and the administration threaten new cuts to arts as a reason to vote yes, or will they stand up and say they are not going to cut these programs? I’m going to be watching. If there is indication that this change goes deeper than just the board, I’ll vote yes. If not, I’ll vote no.

  15. Let’s not overstate the board’s changes. Members behave more professionallly and ask harder questions, but has the board taken control of policy and made improvements? Not really. I haven’t seen the board make the least difference in the policies the administration began pursuing before the current members where elected. Has the board changed the administration’s direction on English 10 at West? No. Is the administration more responsive to teachers and parents? No, as we can see with the upheaval at Leopold. Has the board appointed a community arts advisory board? No. Has the board changed Connected math? No. Has the board looked at more effective and less expensive alternatives to Reading Recovery? No. Has the board expanded Read 180, a program praised by teachers who used it? No. Has anyone heard a peep from any board member on the recent evaluation of the superintendent? No.
    So why is this board different than all the others when it comes to significant improvements in the MMSD? It isn’t yet.
    I’m hopeful that it will begin to exercise more direction to improve student academic achievement, but it hasn’t so far.

  16. The CAST of characters has certainly broadened. There are some East and North area community leaders on board this time around, and we’re making our viewpoints known. You can spin this referendum all you want in terms of art/music/all of Ed’s concerns, but that isn’t what it’s about. Space/Planning is the gist of this one, not operating costs. I don’t think it’s fair to the students in the overcrowded schools to change the subject. Many of us are actually working HARD on these other issues that Ed is raising, and we will prevail, but it’s going to take a united community!

  17. If I may chime in, my comment about art and music were only part of a larger statement and a much longer interview. I, in no way, indicated that the statement about art and music was a primary concern, rather it was what WISC chose to use in the clip.
    The question was something about what the impact would be if the referendum would NOT pass and we all know that class sizes would go up. If more classrooms are needed in such cases, art and music are sometimes the first place to look for optional space etc. I did not imply that there would be sweeping programmatic changes to art and music.
    It was simply the particular sound bite the station chose to use, and, if I may say so mysef, I had a lot more intersting things to say…such as,
    A strong school system that adapts well to growth, uses its resources well, creates the best learning opportunities for students, and is responsive to the communities it serves is good for everyone.
    The task force worked diligently, and debated passionately from all viewpoints to conclude that without adding space, you only had a short-term solution.
    Finally, it is important to note that, even with some problems that exist at various schools, parents and students alike love their MMSD school.
    On that note let me add….GO CHEETA’S!!
    Rich Rubasch
    Chavez Task Force Rep

  18. I guess all that hard work is for naught.
    I’m pleased with the new animals in schools policy; of which, I might add was sent back to the committee by the constituents of the old board including Keys and Lopez, and passed unanimously by all our current board members. I’m also thankful to all my fellow task force members (East and West-Memorial); for their countless hours of dedication to provide input and analysis to maintain value in our community.
    I’m highly respectful of the tough questions being asked by our newest board members, Kobza, Silveira, and Mathiak. And I’m impressed with the new leadership in Winston. They don’t seem to back down easily and therefore, yes, the administration has been forced to change and provide complete information to help make informed decisions.
    The leadership of CAST is very different and supportive of academic achievement and success. Then again Mr. Pay, I would be one of those “characters” from the past so perhaps your respect is not reciprocated. Many have misunderstood my intentions, so I empathize with our new members as well as those being categorized.
    Change? Is it here? Is it recognized? Support? Well, how can change take place if those who fought the valiant fight are not supported in their decisions?
    The referendum is about the need for space, the community data and projections, and how space contributes to the success of public education.

  19. David,
    Where to you see movement by the board, administration, or other work groups on:
    – English 10 at West
    – Responsiveness to teachers and parents
    – A community arts advisory board
    – Connected math
    – More effective and less expensive alternatives to Reading Recovery
    – Expansion of Read 180
    – Information on the recent evaluation of the superintendent
    Maybe I missed some events.

  20. I see progress being made through the framework that the Equity Task Force has been busting our chops over for the past 7 months. For example, TAG programs (and those TAG kids forced into English 10 could fit the mold) being treated as special needs; resources being allocated according to need and not equally; recognizing that if one school gets to remediate reading using strategies other than RR, then it’s inequitable for other schools to not have that same option…it doesnt specifically state this, you have to understand, Ed, that we’re working on a general framework by which the MMSD has to act, and not getting so specific as to preclude anyone from accepting it. For example, you and others might object to West’s English 10 plan, but Equity cannot address a specific curriculum- the Board has not decided to set curriculum- but given a set of curriculum in one school, you have the ability to make it equitable and implement it in other schools.
    The arts board isn’t a pressing issue. It might be a pet project. School A getting Read 180 and schools B & C NOT getting Read 180 IS a pressing issue, one of equity.
    Art’s evaluation by the Board is strictly a personnel matter. It was done last year for the first time in ages (right on!) and I don’t know anywhere outside of internet message boards where anyone cares, UNLESS his review is that he is performing subpar. When the Board tells us he isn’t doing his job, then it becomes an issue to be reckoned with. You might think he isn’t doing his job, but your opinion doesn’t count for much, just like mine doesn’t count for much. However, 20,000 opinions count for something, as do the all important 8 elected opinions!
    We have talked about administrative responsiveness to parents and the community in the context of an Equity Policy. It is included because, as is so often pointed out here, SOME people seem to have access to administrators/staff while others (often minority or ELL families) do not.
    Likewise, we have strongly stated that (up to a point) heterogeneity is a good thing, provided that they spend the money on providing for effective differentiation. I say up to a point because you can’t reasonably expect a Calculus teacher to differentiate to a student who can’t pass algebra- upper level high school classes will always need to be just that- upper level. But in elementary and middle schools, we can do this, it just takes money, and this community will have to decide if we want to pay for this or not.
    Expect a summary of the Equity Policy working product to be presented to the Board in the next month. I think you will be surprised….at least I hope so. Of course, I’m only speaking for myself, as one member of the task force, and others might not agree with every nuance of my own interpretation of our work. My guess is that once we go public (to the Board) with this, others will chime in here or elsewhere in public forums.

  21. I would like to see the Board discuss how they intend to use the money that is “freed up” in the operating budget if the referendum passes. If passage of the referendum takes place, will this affect the 06-07 operating budget? How much? How will those dollars be used? Currently that money is in the Business Services budget.
    Any changes to the approved 06-07 budget require 5 votes once the budget is approved in June. This is the case even though the final final vote on the 06-07 budget is in October after the district receives their student count certification (based upon third Friday in September) and dollars from the state. These numbers determine the tax levy for the 06-07 budget. These board discussions would take place prior to the vote on the referendum.
    Also, when the new school is up and running, there will be operating costs. What are these costs projected to be initially and over time, and are these costs incremental to the current budget and its projected growth?

  22. Keep up the good work, David.
    As you know, your work has barely begun. Approval by the board might take some effort, I don’t know. And buy-in by the administration will take even more. Just because you get a bunch of policies on a piece of paper, even if approved by the board, doesn’t mean much. Maybe you could suggest an ongoing committee of the board to monitor progress and compliance with the task force’s recommendations.

  23. It has taken almost 5 years of talking about Equity to get to where we are today with a task force. I’d be disingenuous if I said this is the end of the task, because we all know it’s not. The Madison community has to buy in to the Task Force’s recommendations, the Board has to approve the final policy that legal counsel drafts, and the administrators have to believe in the goals the community wants to accomplish.
    This is always going to be an ongoing effort and will definitely require continued vigilance by the community!

  24. Barb Shrank’s question needs to be answered:
    “Also, when the new school is up and running, there will be operating costs. What are these costs projected to be initially and over time, and are these costs incremental to the current budget and its projected growth?”
    If there are no plans to close any underutilized schools, or to find ways to reduce costs in underutilized schools (principal/staff sharing) or to move programs in rented space into underutilized schools, you have to assume additional costs.
    Space issues do translate into operating costs, so you can’t really separte the two completely.

  25. For the record, my focus will continue to be on areas that have escaped scrutiny over the past ten years. Those areas involved resources that are not school-based. Music, the arts, special ed, libraries, nurses, student services staff, etc. who are based IN schools are the LAST place I would support cutting. Cutting these areas is inevitable only if the board allows it to be and only if the public go along with proposals to do so.

  26. Just yesterday and today, I received e-mails with committee agendas, which hint that the board might begin fulfilling the hope that I expressed in an earlier response in this string, i.e., “it will begin to exercise more direction to improve student academic achievement.”

  27. Lucy,
    Thanks for your response.
    Can you tell me if you consider athletics to be IN school as well?

  28. Another thing to consider, Lucy, is that “cuts” sometimes happen within a building, at the behest of the principal, because their allocation level forces the decision- not because the District makes the cut, per se. This is one way that full time librarians have become “expendable”, as have social workers, psychologists, counselors etc.

  29. David, you’re right about cuts happening because of decreased allocations to schools. That’s why I worked hard to refocus the cuts on specific areas of central administration during the May budget discussions.
    I believe that my record of support for athletic programs has been consistent for the past four years, so I’m not sure what the point of your question is, Mari. Beyond that, what I “consider” is less important than the inclusion of athletics under the Instruction section of board policy.
    Interscholastic Athletics
    1. Boys’ approved sports for senior high school (grades 9-12) are as follows:
    * Baseball
    * Golf
    * Swimming
    * Wrestling
    * Basketball
    * Gymnastics
    * Tennis
    * Cross Country
    * Hockey
    * Track and Field
    * Football
    * Soccer
    * Volleyball
    2. Girls’ approved sports for senior high school (grades 9-12) are as follows:
    * Basketball
    * Gymnastics
    * Swimming
    * Volleyball
    * Cross Country
    * Soccer
    * Tennis
    * Golf
    * Softball
    * Track
    3. Interscholastic competition, for all sports approved by the BOARD, shall be conducted in accordance with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations for high schools (boys and girls, grades 9-12) with the following exceptions:
    1. A ninth grade student must have the approval of the PRINCIPAL who will review recommendations from the coach, athletic director, parent, and physician in order to compete in football above the ninth grade level.
    2. A ninth grade student may not be a member of a freshman team after becoming a member of a varsity team in a given sport.

  30. I had no point to make. Just wanted to know. Many parents, administrators, staff and citizens pit the arts against athletics. It’s unfortunate. You didn’t mention athletics in your initial comment, for the record, and I wanted more clarity.
    I don’t know the details of all the newest BOE members records.
    I’m still confused though, I don’t understand the last sentence: “Beyond that, what I “consider” is less important than the inclusion of athletics under the Instruction section of board policy”

  31. When the task force asked how much it was to run an elementary school the general number given is 1/2 a million dollars. The staff are already employed except the principal and janitor and secretary.
    The teachers would shift from Leopold, Crestwood etc…as would many of the support staff.
    There is some savings in not busing so many kids,(example….Hawks Landing currently has two buses to Crestwood each full….the district estimates it cost $80,000 per bus a year to run, so you save roughly $160,000 a year in busing so there is some savings.)
    The cart carrying art/music teacher was discussed in the Task Force, and it was brought up by the district not the parents. I know our FABULOUS art teacher and our equally FABULOUS music teacher from Crestwood would move to Middleton, Verona, Waunkee in a minute if they had to cart their room around. So that’s a choice, but we felt it was a poor choice versus $30 a year…..
    The real issue for the referendum is the city is growing out….we have adopted land into MMSD where there are no seats. If we bus students for over 45 minutes we loose students and then we decrease own income from the state. If we build another school the taxpayer pays more but we increase our income from the state.
    We are also dealing with Falk/Leopold/Midvale reaching 60% low income while Crestwood/Chavez/Randall will be dropping below 20% soon. Equity is an issue in the schools as well as space. It is a complicated issue but I do know the growth on the far west side of town is rapid and we have to provide not only seats but a good education for our kids.
    My only worry about the referendum is that they combined the question. It may work, but since 2/3 lost last time I wonder if the majority will vote no and then sink all three questions which would be a huge dissappointment. They smartly used a major election time and wisely waited till fall. The questions are more specific and acceptable in their scope and I hope the citizens of our city do understand the difference in the questions.
    I wish there was a better way to fund education!!

  32. Well Done Mary Kay! I agree:
    “…we have to provide not only seats but a good education for our kids”
    “I wish there was a better way to fund education!!” – Ditto!
    I also worry about losing great teachers & staff because of the working conditions caused by funding constraints and revenue caps; not only in Madison but within all Wisconsin districts.
    From my notes, I think $45K was the estimate per bus route. With 4 new neighborhoods blossoming I would estimate another 2-3 additional busses (to 3 different Memorial elementary schools) being needed before any school building is complete.
    The task force was a great way for me to learn more about my school and other schools within our district. For the sake of another perspective, I guess that’s why I like combining the 3 categories into 1 question. When we loose children from anywhere in the district, we loose funding. Every school affects the entire district.
    One community (Madison Metropolitan area); One school district; One question. We’re in it together.

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