Madison Virtual Campus costs $1.34 million so far

I asked Roger Price to point out where I could find spending for the Virtual Campus in the MMSD budget documents.
The MMSD then provided a memo which shows the following expenditures from DPI grants:

$295,000 . . 2001-2002
$250,000 . . 2002-2003
$235,000 . . 2003-2004
$250,000 . . 2004-2005
$200,000 . . 2005-2006
$100,000 . . 2006-2007
$ 7,755 Spring 2005
$1,337,755 Total

No district operating budget has been used to build the Virtual Campus,” according to the memo (original emphasis).
Based on Johnny Winston’s comment, “Why don’t people know about this,” I can only assume that the administration spent $1.34 million without ever informing the Board of Education. That’s just plain wrong (my emphasis).

17 thoughts on “Madison Virtual Campus costs $1.34 million so far”

  1. Thanks, Ed for pursuing this issue.
    The memo seems to show that not even Roger was aware of the costs! Instead of these items being kept in the financial system, thereby ensuring central control and auditing, it is being kept on spreadsheets.
    So, we seem to have here a double “That’s just plain wrong”.
    One other note. Just because the cost is being borne by grants does not mean there was no cost to the district. Ignoring G/L and P/L data, the costs were that staff were not available to do other work. This is an issue of prioritization — a BOE responsibility.

  2. How much will the MMSD need to spend to maintain and operate the Virtual Campus and where will the district get the money? Has the money been approved in this year’s budget? Will those expenses rise or fall in coming years?

  3. Ed,
    Do you know what the district did/got for those dollars? Was this grant money specifically targeting online learning and/or virtual schools? What was the name of the grant? Thanks

  4. And are you asking these specific questions to BoE members? Asking them here doesn’t really do the trick ya know…

  5. The funding source was federal Title IID Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) competitive grants. DPI’s EETT page is at This used to be known as TLCF.
    The majority of the funds supported professional development, as stipulated by the grant. Some of this was wholly online professional development, some was face-to-face training, but focused on online learning and student technology topics. These were teacher training opportunties that either would not have occurred or would have come from the general fund.
    In addition, virtual courses were provided to at-risk/alt-ed students, students with needs for enrichment/acceleration, and school-to-career. These are opportunities that would not have been otherwise available for these students, or they would have had to have been funded from non-grant sources.
    For Waunakee, the professional development and school to career elements were the most significant. Middleton-Cross Plains and MMSD drew more heavily on the programs for at-risk students, with MMSD also drawing more heavily on options for students needing enrichment/acceleration.
    The attachment provided in the post is the annual grant fiscal report that is required by DPI via the federal aids and audit section of DPI’s finance team. It does NOT indicate that the grant was somehow accounted for strictly in spreadsheets instead of the district’s financial system.
    While I have knowledge about much of the grant funded activities up to this point, I have no specific knowledge about Madison’s plans for the Virtual Campus.
    It’s great to see such a high level of interest in what is becoming a more highly utilized method of providing learning opportunities for students and educators.

  6. Tim (and anyone else out there who knows anything), Can you tell me about “Lawson” (referred to by you in a recent comment)? Thanks.

  7. Not quite so specific to the questions about the Virtual Campus initiative, but more generally to the topic of information and awareness…
    Madison is a large district with many schools, departments, and activities. It is very difficult, probably impossible, for any one individual to have detail knowledge about all activities in the district. Absence of awareness does not mean that information is not publicly available, nor does it mean that information is intentionally withheld from the public.
    Out of genuine curiosity, I spent a few minutes cruising the MMSD website. I looked at both the departmental reports from 2003-2004 to the BOE and the technology section of the Teaching and Learning website. In both instances, I found references to MMSD’s online learning initiatives. Was the information complete enough to satisfy all questions? Probably not. But a cursory check of the district web site shows that information was provided to the Board and that the initiative wasn’t in stealth mode.
    I’m grateful for the service rendered by our Boards of Education. From observing the Boards I’ve worked with over my career, I believe the intrinsic rewards are considerable, but the responsibility and time demands are great. Board members receive much more criticism than praise. I don’t know the workflow of the MMSD Board, but I’m familiar with my Board. They receive a tremendous volume of information. When I see the Board packet being prepared, I often think it must be like drinking from a fire hose. I am fortunate to work with a great Board. They are very diligent, available to the community, and present in the schools. But I would never assume that they can recall every report, financial statement, or memo that has been sent their way, nor be familiar in a detailed way with every program we offer. When they have questions, they ask. And I am grateful for that active oversight. MMSD is much larger than Waunakee, so the challenges for the individual Board member are that much greater.
    I think it is great that members of the MMSD Board frequent and post on this site. When folks have questions and concerns, the best response is to engage. I respect Johnny, Ruth, Lucy, Carol, and any others for stepping into the arena and engaging in a dialogue with this community. Over the years, I have noticed the occasional post from Board members that do not reflect information that I have high confidence has been sent their way. Does that diminish my view of them? No. Because that piece of information was like a pebble on the beach. Even if I think it was a noteworthy pebble (online learning, quality/capabilities of the MMSD desktop environment), I’m realistic and recognize that it was received, but not registered, but other important topics and concerns took its place.
    Public schools belong to the public. I wouldn’t trade the interest and skepticism on this site for apathy. But I invite participants here to contemplate how they would discharge a Board member’s responsibilities while balancing their occupation and family life. I would also invite those, particularly those in the private sector, to compare management staffing and reporting in MMSD with their own work environment and consider how the “span of control” and cross-functional environment in MMSD parallels their workplace.
    Best regards to all…

  8. Thanks for the link, Tim.
    My understanding, though, is that a huge (and unknown) amont of money has been paid out to them for a system that still does not work right. Not only that, but others (e.g., the UW) have cut their losses and gone elsewhere to get the technology they need. Not so, the MMSD. Is that true? Only rumor? In areas I, myself, know less about, I often have a hard time knowing what to believe.
    I’m rather inept at perusing websites for specific information, Tim. You seem quite adept, if not expert. Can you find out how much the District has paid out to Lawson? As well, do you know how far along the Lawson project is and how well it’s going (or not)?
    Thanks for your help.

  9. Tim,
    Thanks for your always informative posts. I like your thoughts on the role of school boards, and I’ll start a new thread to pursue that issue.
    How do Waunakee and Middleton-Cross Plains tie into the development and use of the Madison Virtual Campus? Or, are you just explaining how other districts used their grant money. I guess, I’m just asking Barb Schrank’s question again, i.e., what did Madison get for $1.34 million? If it was just training, what was the training, who took it, and how does it improve academic achievement? (I know that you don’t know all of those answers, but they’re questions that certainly come to mind when thinking about a project that spent $1.34 million.)
    Can someone explain the difference between the Madison Virtual Campus and Digital Districts Online? From the little I’ve seen, the Virtual Campus links directly to Digital Districts, so there isn’t much difference.

  10. Lots of great comments.
    I think virtual learning tools are essential to economically and practically expand our next generation’s learning opportunities. That said, communicating what’s available would be useful for all.
    David Meister passes along some useful words in this respect:
    “Long after the class ended I finally began to understand the wisdom of these two simple thoughts:
    1. Policy is what happens.
    2. Peoples’ feelings about the process largely determine their feelings about the outcome of the process.”
    If only more managers understood those two lessons!.
    Policy isn’t goals, visions, missions, values, principles, etc. It’s what happens around here. Manage that!”

  11. Regarding the question of how the Madison Virtual Campus (MVC) and Digital District Online (DDO) are the same and different —
    Here’s what I heard back from Joan Peebles today. (Joan is the Technology and Learning Coordinator in the MMSD Teaching and Learning Department.)
    Hello Laurie,
    To answer your question, I will give you the history as well as the present status.
    DDO grew out of a grant consortium led by MMSD. Six districts worked together for five years to explore and learn about onlline learning.
    The concept of districts working together to efficiently deliver resources was a good one, but grew too big for MMSD to handle and the
    consortium approached WISCNET to take over the project. MMSD was a DDO member last year during its transition to a statewide organization.
    This year, however, MMSD has moved forward to develop the Madison Virtual Campus [MVC] and is no longer a member of DDO. We are still in the process of setting up our MVC servers, so our portal, catalogs, etc. are not yet online [coming soon!]. The course catalog, developed by MMSD, will be the same as that presently at DDO, but will continually change and grow as our needs evolve. We do not buy our courses through DDO, rather directly through our state partners, who are the same content providers for DDO. Every course in the catalog went through a rigorous selection/evaluation process led by teacher teams and I am attaching the evaluation form we developed for that process.
    The Madison Virtual Campus is still evolving so we can give you more details on that over the next couple of months. It is being built using the same knowledge, lessons learned and infrastructure that was used to build DDO, however, it will be customized specifically for MMSD staff and student needs.
    I hope this explanation helps to answer your question. I know this must seem somewhat confusing to an outsider! The good news is that we have learned a lot about this exciting area of virtual education for our students and staff. Both the Madison Virtual Campus, and other state districts who work with DDO, get to benefit from the DPI grant funds used to build these delivery structures. We are excited about planning and taking the next steps.
    Joan Peebles

  12. The extent to which the Lawson HR-payroll system is working or not for MMSD I have no personal information. But, by the failure of the Lawson product for UW System, it cannot reasonably be inferred that the Lawson product could not work for MMSD.
    The Lawson system implementation for the UW System campuses failed for various reasons: poor project leadership, failure to understand and take into account the size and complexity of the Madison campus, and the mismatch between the business rules programmed into the Lawson product and the business rules of the UW System.
    Just for starters UW System has 160,000 students; 32,000 employees; 26 campuses plus statewide UW Extension; and a $4B biennial budget. An order of magnitude size difference between MMSD and UW System is a big deal.
    Whether Lawson is working for MMSD has to be argued based solely on its effectiveness for MMSD, and not by other implications.

  13. Caveat for the following comments: I’m raising questions based upon what I’ve read in this post and its threads. I don’t have an opinion at this time about the virtual campus. Yet, I am inclined to be supportive of this, but only after more substantive public discussions have taken place and more complete information is made available to the School Board.
    For example: Was the School Board involved in the decision to go from a consortium model to a more independent model – Madison Virtual Campus? What are the costs and benefits of being in a consortium vs solo – educational and financial? If the grant money was for a consortium, does going solo still qualify for grant money? Will MMSD have to use its own revenue capped operating costs and when? What are the costs per student, etc?
    Are there minutes anywhere documenting this process, assessments and decisions? I can see this approach as part of MMSD’s future, but don’t some of the decisions along the way rest with the School Board and its commmittees – Performance and Achievement, Finance and Operations, and Partnership?

  14. I asked Roger Price about the operating expenses for the Madison Virtual Campus, and he kindly responded:
    “We are in the early stages of developing the Business Plan that would take the project to the next level. The objective of the plan will be to have no future impact on the operating budget as well. There are many revenue considerations that we will be evaluating to offset any additional costs.”
    While laudable that the project won’t impact the operating budget, it still seems more than appropriate to include the school board in the revenue considerations. I hope that the administration will brief the Finance and Operations Committee and the Performance and Achievement Committee in the very near future.

  15. Tried to post this two days ago and it didn’t go through. Not necessarily more informative than some of the preceding posts.
    Regarding Lawson, I don’t know enough to go into detail about costs
    > and how well the system is working. What I do know is that Lawson is
    > a major provider of large, integrated business systems (ERP aka
    > Enterprise Resource Planning). For example, it might integrate
    > accounting, payroll, and HR systems.
    > If you move into, or change, your core systems, it is a major project.
    > The system has to be deployed, users have to be trained, and there
    > will be at least some changes in your workflow and business practices.
    > There are risks around each of these sets of activities and problems
    > should be expected. High initial costs and some implementation
    > problems are probably not questions I would choose to focus on.
    > Rather, I’d be interested in knowing what the long-term costs were vs.
    > other options, what value is being added by the new features the
    > Lawson system provides, and whether the implementation experienced a
    > typical level of delays and changes, less, or more. I don’t have
    > answers to any of those questions, but it looks like Madison’s
    > consortium has had a more successful Lawson implementation than the UW system.
    > Regarding the EETT grants and Madison’s Virtual Campus, Madison led a
    > grant consortium that included several other districts and private
    > schools. Virtual Campus is a Madison outgrowth of those grant
    > projects, but there have been no discussions between Madison and
    > Waunakee, at least, regarding Virtual Campus.
    > For us, there were three key areas of immediate impact in my view.
    > Virtual professional development that was available in an
    > individualized, convenient way for teachers whose family commitments
    > precluded late afternoon/evening courses, strong face-to-face
    > trainings for some of my technology innovators in areas like
    > developing Flash applications, digital youth culture, and gaming, and
    > online courses for our youth apprenticeship students that provided
    > more scheduling convenience for the students (keeping them on campus)
    > and reduced cost to the district. Longer term, the I think the most
    > promising direction is the development of learning object repositories
    > for K-12, but that’s not widely implemented yet. At Waunakee, we’re
    > ahead of where we would have been in virtual education and learning objects without the grants.
    > The bigger the district, the bigger the role in the grants. I know
    > that there was a significant number of credits earned in courses
    > funded by these grants by Madison and Middleton student in alternative
    > programs. I don’t have a specific number, and it’s really Madison and
    > Middleton’s story to tell. I hope they do, because I think it would
    > demonstrate an effect on student success that folks would be happy with.
    > I won’t try to explain the difference between DDO and Virtual Campus
    > until I am comfortable I can do that accurately. Hopefully, that will be soon.

  16. A related issue: As best I can tell, the MMSD BOE has yet to approve a Policy and Procedures concerning students taking online courses. It would seem to me that such a policy is needed to make it clear to all (i) who can access online courses and under what conditions, (ii) who pays the tuition for these courses, and (iii) whether the students can receive credit for them toward fulfilling graduation requirements.

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