In a guest editorial in The Capital Times on January 10, 2007, MTI leader John Matthews explains that Madison school superintendent Art Rainwater unveiled his plan to resign at the end of 2007-08 to the teachers union leader long before he told the Madison Board of Education in an executive session on Monday, January 8, 2007.
“When Madison Superintendent of Schools Art Rainwater announced on Monday that he will retire in June of 2008, the news did not catch me by surprise for two reasons.
First, he proclaimed when he was appointed superintendent in 1999 that he would serve for 10 years, the duration of his contract. He said then that he and his wife, a teacher in Verona, planned to retire in 2008.
Secondly, he told me at our regular weekly meeting during the week of Dec. 18 that he would advise the School Board of his resignation when school resumed in January.
Art elected to serve the notice at this time as a courtesy to the school district. It is his belief that the process of selecting a new superintendent will take about 14 months and it will take the next few months to put a plan in place to conduct the search, hire a search firm and the like. Thus, notice at this time is necessary to enable a selection to be made in time to replace him by July 1, 2008.
Art took over as the leader of Madison’s schools at a very difficult time. The previous superintendent, Cheryl Wilhoyte, had been terminated during a stormy year of controversial bargaining with Madison Teachers Inc.
Wilhoyte sought to break MTI as she saw the union as being too powerful and she attempted to force a change in MTI’s selection of health insurance carriers. She failed on both accounts and caused substantial unrest in the community with her failed attempts.
Art was named interim superintendent and on his first day in office called me early in the morning to say, “We have a lot of bridges to build. When can we get started?”
I responded that we could discuss it at lunch that day.
We developed plans to enable the union and the school district to work together whenever possible and the means to solve problems when the parties experienced bumps in the road.
We talked about how we could improve communications with each other and understand the position of the other party.
Among the systems we developed on that first day were that he and I would meet weekly for a meal. If lunch was not possible, it would be an early breakfast. We agreed that we would not discuss business until we had finished the meal. This really forces the parties to get to know each other and, in our case, develop a respect for each other.
We decided that the MTI professional staff and the district’s Labor Relations and Human Resources staff would meet each week and discuss an agenda of cases. When this did not produce resolution of a case, we agreed that the case would go on Art’s and my agenda and if we could not resolve it that we would find a peaceful means of resolution.
At times, that has meant litigation via arbitration or the courts, but most often the cases are resolved by the aforementioned means.
We opened our phone lines to each other and take and make calls knowing that the other will be available if we state that there is a need.
In this way, we have gone from a totally dysfunctional relationship with the district being headed by the prior superintendent, to a functional working relationship with Art at the helm.
I see Art as a very knowledgeable and capable educational leader who is hampered by the state’s failure to adequately fund education. In fact, he has had to guide the dismantling of the country’s best school district because of the Republican leadership usurping the local School Board’s authority by imposing revenue controls.
Art is a tough but competent administrator who finds the dismantling of Madison’s schools the most repugnant thing he has ever had to do.
On the other side of this issue, he has worked with me to attempt to correct this negative legislation, even to the point of inviting me to meet with the state superintendents’ association.
I think the harsh state-imposed revenue controls on school boards will make it very difficult for the Madison Metropolitan School District to attract highly competent candidates for superintendent. They will see their job not as being able to promote programs to improve the quality of education, but rather as overseeing the further demise of the district because of the impact of the revenue controls.
Wisconsin superintendents, in an annual survey, have repeatedly said that they are cutting elective courses, increasing class sizes, laying off staff, not making repairs to buildings, not cleaning classrooms as often as they should be cleaned, using outdated textbooks, etc.
Why would a high-caliber superintendent want to take employment in a district facing such a future?”