Isthmus school targetted for closing

From all appearances, the MMSD administration desperately wants to close Lapham Elementary without giving serious consideration to other cost-saving options.
The 2006 East Area Task Force concluded that closing a school would be harmful.
Weigh in on whether to close a school by contacting board members and administators with this e-mail address: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

56 thoughts on “Isthmus school targetted for closing”

  1. Ed,
    I find it disingenuous to imply that the MMSD administration isn’t giving serious consideration to cost-saving options other than closing Lapham Elementary school.
    This idea is being explored as well as closing Sherman Middle School and numerous other ideas along with consideration of changing class-sizes.
    See http://www.mmsd.org/boe/longrange/
    With the anticipated budget gap, many difficult and painful decisions will be made by the administration and the board.
    I encourage everyone to remain aware of these conversations as they progress and weigh in as appropriate to your views.
    (March 5th is the first BOE meeting specifically bulleting the proposed budget.)
    Deb Gilbert

  2. Lindberg Elementary might be closed, as well as O’Keefe Middle and Marquette. Monday Feb. 12th is a LRP meeting at Doyle and I do believe that they will dispose of some of these ideas then, leaving the most viable alternatives for further discussion.

  3. David, can you point me to an anlysis prepared by the administration that shows the costs and benefits of selling the Doyle Building? And a comparison of those costs and benefits to closing an isthmus school, which would disrupt the lives of hundreds of families and run counter to the city’s plans for the area? Or how about an analysis of moving the Brearly Street programs to the Doyle Building? Or how about an analysis of moving the teachers out of the Doyle Building and putting them in schools so that the Brearly Street programs can move to Doyle? If those analyses exist, point me to ’em.
    The administration and many board members dismiss these ideas out of hand. Their minds are made up. They have a plan and they’ll push it through.
    You know well that the superintendent needs only 4 votes on the board to close a school. From what I can ascertain, Lawrie, Johnny, and Carol will probably vote to close a school. Who will give the superintendent the fourth vote? Marj Passman? Beth Moss? Pam Cross-Leone? Maya Cole opposes closing a school.
    The superintendent has wanted to close Lapham for years. Ditto for Hartley. Maybe it will be their crowning moment as they depart.
    You served on the East Task Force. What were the reasons it recommended not closing a school? You’re close to the north planning council, so maybe you know why it now says it’s okay to close an isthmus school. Is that because of a quip pro quo between the administration and planning council on Lakeview and boundary changes?

  4. I’ve never posted here before, but I feel like I must respond to this. I’ve attended almost all of the Long Range Planning meetings this fall/winter, and I honestly have not spoken with a single BOE member or Administration employee who “desperately wants to close” anything.
    They have 10-15 options out there to deal with overcrowding/budgetary issues. Closing Lapham is mentioned. But so is closing Lindbergh, or Sherman or O’Keefe. I’ve also heard lots of discussion about changing class sizes to reduce costs as well.
    None of the options are pleasant. At each meeting I’ve attended, someone from the administration says something to the effect of “the last thing we want to do is close a school or increase class sizes.” But without substantial reform in how we fund our schools – what else can they do?
    And it doesn’t sound like they have targeted one particular school for closing at this stage. Right now, everything is still on the table. That will probably change after Monday’s meeting.

  5. Kristen,
    There are public pronouncements, and then there are real agendas. They’re common everywhere, but especially in the MMSD.

  6. Whoa big boy…I was not on the East Task Force. All PTO Presidents were excluded from serving on that one. Jill J. or another East Task Force person will have to give you the reasons why they didn’t choose to close a school. As far as Doyle goes, I know Ruth asked about that last winter, she’d have to tell you what the answers were- if they ever even considered it. I’d be shocked if Carol voted to close Lapham, she is perfectly capable of making her own statement about closing any schools, and I imagine she will do so on Monday night- she is the chair of LRP. Lawrie, Johnny, Lucy, and the “candidates” can make their own statements in this regard as well. ASK THEM.
    In re: the Northside Planning Council, I’m not a member, nor have I ever seen anyone affliliated with them state that closing a school is an option. If they’ve made such a statement, please direct me to it. Quid Pro Quo over the Lakeview issues? I don’t think the MMSD administration has anything with which to scratch the back of northsiders, Ed. Northsiders stand to lose Lindberg AND Sherman Middle in this process. We also stand WITH our neighbors on the near East side that Lapham remains open. Should a school be closed? No. Will a school be closed? Maybe. There are so many iterations at present it’s just impossible to tell until more pieces of the budgetary/boundary puzzles get laid on the table.
    Consider this trade off (fiscally): Close a school and keep social workers and psychologists in all the poorer East area schools, or keep all schools open and cut these professionals by 50%-80%…dire financial straits make for damn tough decisions. Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Maybe they’ll keep every school open and cut the reading specialists (I’m being facetious but Jesus, in times like these, we need some humour, however twisted it might be)!

  7. Ya’ got me. As soon as I hit post, I realized that you didn’t serve on the task force, but you attended nearly every meeting.
    I’m glad that you oppose closing Lapham. I hope that you’ve communicated your opposition to the superintendent and school board members. And I hope that you’ll encourage the northside planning council to oppose any and all closings too.
    You can create all kinds of unacceptable choices, as you did, so try to be creative and come up with some that would be acceptable to everyone. What’s so wrong with moving teachers out of the Doyle building and into schools?
    The administration has pushed and pushed to close Lapham for a number of years. I believe at the last East Task Force meeting the administration was still urging closure of Lapham.
    I’ll ask the candidates via this blog for their positions on school closings.
    Going back to academic achievement. Are you bragging that ONLY a third of the African American kids can’t read in third grade? Is that your definition of success — 70%?

  8. No one likes to close schools, but it makes no sense to keep schools open if the student population in the area doesn’t justify it. Keeping underutilized schools open guarantees cuts in programs for all kids district-wide.
    Putting alternative programs/charters into schools with lower than capacity student numbers is a way to redistribute students, and keep such schools open. However, the administration has to be willing to adjust administrative assignments in a more creative way, so that the alternative programs end up saving money, rather than costing money.

  9. Knowing the families in my area, and what they go through on a daily (if not hour by hour) basis to survive, even a 70% success rate surprises me. Do I wish it were 100%? Damn right I do. But I also wish for a lot of things that aren’t going to happen without a lot of sweat and hard work. Do you have any data on how african american kids in, say, Columbia, S.C., or Lexington, Ky. (or comparable sized cities to Madison) score? I really don’t know how we stack up against other potentially comparable communities. I’d be real interested to see how african american kids at other elementary schools that have a 73% poverty rate score compared to Mendota…ditto w/8th graders at a middle school like Black Hawk (we’re somewhere between 57% and 67% poverty- and not all people of color, mind you).
    And Ed, as best as I can tell, your data doesn’t show that a third of african american kids can’t read in third grade. It shows they can’t read at grade level, which is different than being illiterate.
    Now, I don’t know how to do this, but shouldn’t this discussion be placed on this thread: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/02/comments_on_the.php#c134212

  10. David, point me to “an anlysis prepared by the administration that shows the costs and benefits of selling the Doyle Building? And a comparison of those costs and benefits to closing an isthmus school, which would disrupt the lives of hundreds of families and run counter to the city’s plans for the area? Or how about an analysis of moving the Brearly Street programs to the Doyle Building? Or how about an analysis of moving the teachers out of the Doyle Building and putting them in schools so that the Brearly Street programs can move to Doyle?”
    Try to back up your assertions with some facts.

  11. I think it is important to separate the two issues:
    1) We need boundary changes to alleviate overcrowding at Lake View
    2) The district is looking at painful options (school closings and other options) to alleviate budget shortfalls.
    They are not really related, in my mind, except for the fact that they are occuring at the same time.
    I wasn’t on the Task Force group, but I am one of the two Co-Presidents of the Lake View parent/teacher group. No one I’ve spoken with wants any school closed, especially not Lapham or Lindbergh. Those are both strong neighborhood elementary schools. Personally, I think it would be short-sighted to close either elementary school. (But I’m not in charge of cutting $10 million out of the budget and I frankly have no idea how they are going to do that.)
    Lake View’s overcrowding problem can be alleviated with a simple boundary change for 50-60 kids. There is no need to close a school to solve that issue.
    Unfortunately for us, we become overcrowded in the same year that they need to cut millions out of the budget…
    But please don’t suggest that us northsiders want to close an Isthmus school. That simply isn’t true and it takes the focus off the real issue: how do we get necessary school funding for all the MMSD schools?

  12. Ed,
    You keep talking about moving the teachers at Doyle into the schools. Which teachers are you referring to? Would those be the TAG resource teachers that both parents and teachers depend upon to meet the needs of kids who are not well served by their grade level curriculum? Would it be the math or reading resource teachers that provide training and support to those of us who are in the classrooms? In a perfect world, I suppose we don’t need either because every teacher in the district would have emerged from college as an expert differentiator in multiple curricular approaches AND we would become expert in new ways of doing things by…magic, perhaps? This not being a perfect world, most of us hone our skills in more conventional ways. I rely on access to teachers who have the time to locate resources, provide training and consult with me when I run into situations that challenge my skills-to-date.

  13. Sorry, Ed. I didn’t make those “assertions”.I directed you to ask Ruth Robarts what, if anything, came of her questioning of the value of Doyle last spring. I’m not advocating closing an isthmus school, nor am i advocating moving Brearly alternatives. Please don’t put words into my mouth when I’ve explicitly stated the opposite. It’s a drag that Lapham appears to be targeted, as I know your wife works there. I have tons of friends who have kids there, my son went to Lapham’s early childhood, many of us have strong ties to that building, etc. If I were you (and everyone), I’d relax until Long Range Planning makes some decisions. Then we can see what types of options we have to keep Lapham (and the other schools, which are every bit as valuable as Lapham) open and still cut the budget by $10 million. Panic isn’t the best response to pain.

  14. WOW! Hard work lies ahead, but perhaps some (or we, depending) should be saying “Please, please, please, close my school!”
    With so much criticism of the public schools, and MMSD in particular, these school closings are the opportune time for these schools to reopen under new management.
    Do you want a school that pushes the basics, like the Classical School in Appleton (E.D. Hirsch based), or a Montessori school, how about a school that will guarantee pulling low income kids up using direct instruction and phonics, and drill to make up for that lack of opportunities that poverty causes. How about contracting with KIPP to open one of the closed schools using their model?
    You name it.
    But a closed school is an opportunity to do more than criticize or defend, or nibble around the edges of problems for those who see better ways of delivering an education.

  15. I’m glad people besides David and I are posting. It makes for a better discussion.
    To Teacher L: I’m glad that you asked about what teachers might move out of the Doyle building. The resources teachers, who you mentioned, would be good candidates. I can come up with no convincing reason for why they have to be located in the Doyle building. For instance, they don’t perform any administrative functions that would require them to interact with other administrators on a regular basis. So it would make sense to put them in a school, and free up space in Doyle. The role of the resource teachers wouldn’t change; however, the space could then be used for the programs at Brearly, which only need to be located near bus lines. Moving the Brearly programs to Doyle would save the district the money that it currently pays for rent at Brearly.
    To Larry: You’re on the right track. Let’s try to be creative to take advantage of this crisis. Let’s think about what can be restructured within the MMSD to save money, bring in new students, and raise academic achievement.
    To David: My wife works at Lapham, so I have a sense of the history for the administration’s attempts to close Lapham over the years. My wife won’t lose her job. If Lapham closes she’ll just go to another school. So I really have no self-interest in whether the school stays open or not.
    Peter Gascoyne had an excellent post on school closing on a listserve, and I’ve asked him to begin a new thread by posting it here. It could take the discussion in new directions.
    I hope that others will join the discussion with creative ideas on how to save money, keep schools open, and raise academic achievement.

  16. Ed: An issue w/Brearly’s alternative programs is that they require outdoor playground space for the child-care program. Brearly has all of the district’s high school age moms/dads, and their kids (infants thru toddlers) have on-premises child care. Either Federal or State law requires “x” amount of outdoor playground facilities for a childcare program, so if they went to Doyle, they’d need to either build something akin to a playground on the roof or in the parking lot.

  17. Ed asks “can you point me to an anlysis prepared by the administration that shows the costs and benefits of selling the Doyle Building?” You bet I can!! you can find it at: http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/financial/ Click on Doyle Building Property Analysis.
    The short answer is that the cost of renovating existing schools to accomodate downtown staff costs more than the sale of Doyle is likely to bring (if it sells at all).
    The analysis also looks at putting the alternative programs in Doyle – this does entail costs for renovation (which would also be true if they were put at Lapham) – but the bigger problem is that currently the Affiliated Alternatives has an on-site child care center – and to be certified it has to have outdoor play space – which is not possible at Doyle.
    Most importantly, the reason the East Task Force recommended against closing a school (and the reason the Board agreed) was looking at the long term projections which indicated the need for all of the existing space. To sell Doyle and move staff to space available in existing schools would entail significant costs for a solution that works for only a few years – when student enrollment increases where will staff go?
    Carol

  18. Thanks, Carol. As I recall, that’s the report that the administration put together to dismiss suggestions that the Doyle building might have some better use than its current use. When the administration doesn’t want to do something, it generates reams of reasons why it can’t be done. Nonetheless, I’ll take another look at the report.
    We have to be creative.
    I don’t believe that the Brearly building has playground space, does it? And I don’t see the playground space as insurmountable.
    Is “Affliated Alternatives” a generic name for all of the programs at Brearly, Carol? I have the impression that several programs occupy the space, and not all of them would need a playground.
    Maybe the program that needs a playground could move to a building other than Doyle, while the other programs move to Doyle, and the MMSD still saves the rent money.
    How many students are enrolled in Affiliated Alternatives and in what programs? I can’t find any numbers on the sites for DPI and MMSD. How many children need day care?
    Whatever moves might be made will probably involve some costs for renovations, even closing Lapham and moving the students to Marquette. Is there any analysis of those costs, Carol?
    What are your thoughts, Carol, on closing a school? My impression is that you always have favored the idea, and would probably vote yes if it came before the board. Please correct me if I’m mistaken.
    Maybe you can also tell us, Carol, why it’s important to have resource teachers working out of the Doyle building.

  19. From the Northside Planning Council:
    “The Northside Planning Council has not taken any position on school closing nor boundary issues, nor have we even discussed this.
    You can pass this on to anyone who needs to know.
    Yours,
    Jim Powell
    Facilitator, Northside Planning Council
    Editor, Northside News”

  20. Ed:
    Do you think MMSD can rent its way out of its latest budget crunch? Really, I assume everyone connected with making the looming budget discussions appreciates “outside the box” thinking and innovative ways to get at this. But $10 million is $10 million; it’s (roughly) 3 percent of MMSD’s annual budget, which — by any budget measure — is a big chunk. What does MMSD spend most of its money on? Having spent much of the past decade in similar exercises, I’m guessing MMSD and the board have tried to avoid deep cuts in personnel and money spent in classrooms. But take a look at this:
    http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/budget/mmsd/0708/items.htm
    Assuming the list is a fair representation of the choices out there, most of the big-ticket items involve personnel. Even a school closing — the subject of much of SIS’s comments in the past 48 hours — brings about maybe $1 million in savings. I think a continual focus on nickel-and-dime efforts like school rentals obscures the more fundamental discussion that needs to take place, which (I would suggest) is: how many people do folks want working in MMSD? And what impact would reducing those numbers have on classroom instruction and academic performance?

  21. No, Phil M, I don’t think the MMSD can “rent” its way out of this unfortunate budget crisis. No one budget move will save $10 million. Balancing the budget will take several changes, which will add up to whatever figure might be needed.
    You know, Phil M, I don’t appreciate being attacked because I’m making suggestions. No one else makes any suggestions on this blog or on the listserve of Schools and Communities Together. Everyone sits back and smugly points a finger at the legislature, and then shoots down any suggestions that I might offer.
    So come on, Phil M (or whoever you really are), give use some suggestions. Given your deep insights into the budget problems, what would you do to solve the MMSD budget shortfall?
    By the way, closing a school will save no place close to $1 million. All of the teachers will simply move to the schools with increased enrollments from the kids who leave the closed school. The utilities will stay on in the school, unless you’d rather have the pipes freeze and pay for the water damage. If Lapham were to close, I presume that the MSCR would continue to use the pool and gym. I presume that the full block of sidewalks around Lapham would still be shoveled in the winter and the grass mowed in the summer. In other words, even some janitorial staff would still be needed.
    I’d guess that closing a school might save $200,000 a year.
    I also doubt that the real deficit is $10 million. That’s the so-called “cost to continue” but the administration gives little data to justify the numbers, and maybe (just maybe) there are some costs that ought not to continue. But we’ll never know about those because the administration doesn’t do anything but chant, “Cost to continue. Cost to continue.”
    Speak up, Phil M! I’m waiting to read your budget-balancing suggestions.

  22. The savings of closing a school depends on various factors. It can range from about $250,000 to near $1 million depending on what’s done with the building. You’ll get more savings if you sell.

  23. Donald,
    Without doubt the savings would fall within a range, but in this case the schools under discussion are all similar to Lapham, I believe. Consequently, I’d think the lower end of the range would be most likely.
    I certainly would not want to see the MMSD sell schools on the isthmus. See Peter Gascoyne’s post and my comments on peak oil.

  24. Ed:
    If my post was viewed as an attack, then I apologize. I viewed it as well within the boundaries of the spirited give and take that is the hallmark of SIS.
    I will note that:
    — Nowhere in my post did I suggest that you favor closing Lapham or any other school. You have argued in previous posts — a view I tend to agree with — that small schools often outperform larger ones academically, and that school closings ought to be approached with a large degree of caution.
    — Nowhere in my post did I assign blame for MMSD’s current budget situation on the Legislature. My interest in this discussion is how MMSD can see its way through its latest budget crunch, not in assigning past blame.
    — Nowhere in my post did I accept at face value MMSD’s projected cost savings of up to $1 million by closing or “consolidatig” (MMSD language) schools. Rather, I used the $1 million figure to demonstrate that even a politically charged issue like closing a school — one that’s occupied a fair amount of SIS gigabyte space in the past two days, and one that would likely consume a fair degree of political energy — yields relatively modest (one-tenth of the amount, if you believe MMSD’s figures) savings that MMSD says it needs.
    My initial remark that took issue with your advocacy of rental income was meant in this vein: it’s not a bad idea, Ed, but it’s a small one. And I’d suggest MMSD’s budget situation — having followed it for the better part of the past decade or so — is one in which small ideas just won’t cut it anymore. And I just sense a hestitation on the part of the regular SIS posting set to really get at the fundamental issue that this budget dilemma represents, which really is about staffing. (Lucy, to her credit, in the Lapham-Marquette memo, says what really needs to be said — saying she supports a review of staffing levels.)
    You may very well be right, Ed; maybe there are programs that don’t need to be continued. And maybe there are potential income streams out there that can be utilized. But here’s where I’d begin the discussions, because this is where a lot of money is spent:
    Teacher/staff ratios:
    Change Special Education/ESL ratios — up to $4.28 million
    Reduce/eliminate supplemental — up to $1.824 million
    Increase class size — up to $2.5 million
    Reduce librarians — up to $310,000
    Student Services:
    Reduce psychologists — up to $2 million
    Reduce social workers — up to $2.5 million
    Reduce/eliminate Minority Staff Coordinator — up to $200,000
    Reduce nurse — up to $1 million
    Curriculum Development and Support:
    Reduce professional development — up to $50,000
    Reduce/eliminate planners — up to $140,000
    Reduce Learning Coordinators — up to $840,000

  25. Phil, I apologize for my rant. You just caught me at a time when my frustration boiled over.
    I simply want people who care about the schools to make some creative suggestions for how to stay within the budget.
    From a post on a listserve, a person active in the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) reported that WAES is going to live with whatever school funding makes its way into the budget, meaning that WAES isn’t going to push hard for a change in school financing.
    People like us must be creative in ways to balance the budget, because the administration and legislature certainly aren’t.

  26. Ed,
    The deficit really IS $10 million. Lawrie uncovered the problem when we went into the contingency reserves for almost $3 million after passing what we believed to be a balanced budget last spring. The $10 million reflects a gap in what has been budgeted for anticipated salary savings and the real spending. There is video of that discussion on this site.
    Since the board has chipped away at the reserve over the past few years, there is nowhere near the resources that we would need to cover the deficit. It is structural, it is recurring, and it is very real.
    I want to be clear that this board did not create the deficit – it has accrued over a long period. But we did inherit it, and must deal with it in the upcoming spending cycle and those to come.
    Lucy

  27. Any idea how much we can save, on an annual basis, by getting rid of high school athletics? It’s a far from popular idea, I know….but kids can play their sport privately or in clubs where taxpayers don’t foot the bill. Maybe even through MSCR, which has a sweet budget. You can’t for that with special education, for instance, or reading specialists. I can’t imagine the Board has the chutzpah to go that route, though!

  28. I’m with you, David. I’d have no problem reducing funding for athletics or cutting them altogether. Given a choice between money for learning and paying for a limited number of students to play a sport, I’ll choose the academics every time.

  29. The point with athletics, and other courses and programs that enrich and add value to our children’s education, is: If we cannot fund these activities with revenue cap tax dollars, what do we do and how do we get there? Maybe we do use non-tax dollars to play a role in extracurricular sports, for example, but I do not support simply drop kicking sports to private funding or fund 80, if that were even legal (which I do not think it is). I do support working together to identifying what areas are at risk and developing a funding plan to make the transition to a different “basket” of funding.
    Again, the leadership to do this will need to come from the School Board.

  30. p.s. – ideas and legwork may come from the community, but a mechanism and clear, strong support from the school board is needed.
    This all pales in comparison to the state getting it together re school financing, support for special education and ELL.

  31. Phil M,
    You write:
    But here’s where I’d begin the discussions, because this is where a lot of money is spent:
    Teacher/staff ratios:
    Change Special Education/ESL ratios — up to $4.28 million
    Reduce/eliminate supplemental — up to $1.824 million
    Increase class size — up to $2.5 million
    Reduce librarians — up to $310,000
    Student Services:
    Reduce psychologists — up to $2 million
    Reduce social workers — up to $2.5 million
    Reduce/eliminate Minority Staff Coordinator — up to $200,000
    Reduce nurse — up to $1 million
    Curriculum Development and Support:
    Reduce professional development — up to $50,000
    Reduce/eliminate planners — up to $140,000
    Reduce Learning Coordinators — up to $840,000
    ————————————————-
    All I can say is that, in an environment in which people are already complaining about school quality, the kind of places you are looking to save money would be devastating. Changing ratios in special education and ESL does not mean that there will be bigger Special Ed or ESL classes–it means that regular ed classes (which I see you also want to increase) will have yet more responsibility for figuring out how to meet the unique needs of students who are english language learners, and the unique and often complicated needs of students who have disabilities. Ditto for proposed cuts in social work, psychology and nursing. Whether you think it is the school’s responsibility to provide these types of services or not, the reality is that students arrive at our door with a pressing need for these services every day. When those needs are unmet, they are disruptive to the classroom, and learning for all students decreases.
    I don’t know, perhaps it is different in schools with low poverty numbers (It’s been about 12 years since I’ve worked in a school that has a “low” poverty rate), but in schools like mine, those staff members are critical. Special Ed allocations may look great on paper–but one only needs to look at the burnout rate for special education teachers to have an idea of the actual demands of the job. ESL ratios are already quite high given the lack of experience other MMSD staff typically have had in this area.
    Do I have a solution to offer? No. However, when I follow these debates and see “solutions” offered as if they are somehow obvious answers that are being ignored for no good reason, I cannot help thinking that the debate has become significantly detached from the real impacts of these decisions on the health of our school system.

  32. Just to add some “real world” numbers to Teacher L’s practical illustrations above (my numbers aren’t exact due to federal privacy laws, but they’re close): My son’s 7th grade at Black Hawk Middle has approximately 128 kids. Approximately 32 of them have IEP’s (individualized education plans) which utilize “special ed” teachers in some fashion. There are TWO special ed teachers for our 7th grade. They are busting their asses as it is. And when I say they are busting their asses, I MEAN THEY ARE BUSTING THEIR ASSES. Do you think every child is being served to the best of anyone’s ability? They’re only being served as well as they can be given the numbers. Now, take away one of the special ed teachers. Get the picture? Especially in a building where needs are high given a poverty rate above 55% (so many non-special ed kids are disadvantaged as well)…now, imagine being a regular ed classroom teacher in that grade level with 25 kids, 27% of which have some type of disability, and more than half of your regular ed students we’d consider poor, and your special ed teachers are split between you and another class at any given moment. THAT is the reality on the ground where my autistic 7th grader goes to school. The only thing that’s more incredible to me is how well our teachers and staff actually handle things!

  33. Barb, of course, it would be great to have private funding for athletics, but athletics doesn’t seem to have a champion like you and your wonderful support for the arts.

  34. I have heard through the rumor mill that job shares in the district are being cut more and more. I would have thought that this would be a savings for the district if they didn’t have to pay for health care for either of these employees. Wouldn’t it be worth the board to look at alternatives to less expensive health care? In the private world, this is an area where a lot of businesses are cutting costs.
    My one concern about cutting athletics in high school for the number of students this is why they stay in school, and keep their grades.
    What about putting two SAGE classrooms within the same 4 walls. This way, there would be one lead teacher leading the group on a project, with a second teacher helping. They could switch off or have two groups of students working in the same classroom. I know this isn’t what most teachers like to do, but I have seen it work very well when teachers are willing to work together. This would save on space which would help those schools with overcrowding issues or potentially close a school if needed.
    Ed, back in the 70’s when schools where closed, the district sold and maybe even rented space for a while. This would actually make the district some money. And if nothing else, the land that the Doyle Building is on would be worth a fair amount of money I would think either to the UW or private businesses.
    I don’t understand Carol’s comment that moving district people would cause schools to be renovated. What would need to be done besides phone lines? Maybe use cell phones? And aren’t many of those staff on the road most of the time anyway? there would be the cost of the actual move, but I can’t see how that would be that much money.
    Another area to maybe look at is the cost of the technology. So many computers sit in classrooms unused most of the time. Kids go to REACH starting in kindergarten, maybe cut back the amount of computer usage? Penmanship of kids stink today. How about using aides in the library rather than librarians part of the time. Cutting back administration to only one principal per elementary school, there are a few which have two.
    I wouldn’t cut social workers, psychologists or nurses. These people are needed in schools. For so many families (from every spectrum) these are the people who help identify students with needs whether it is fitting in, social skills, identification of both kids above and below grade level, medication distribution, and handling life or death situations. Private schools don’t have these usually, and parents are relying on untrained personal to give their children medication and possibly counseling.
    Special ed staff has been overworked for years, and the turnover rate is very high. There are already so many aides untrained working directly with students. Is ESL the same as bilingual classrooms? What size are the non-SAGE classrooms? I believe ELL is under special education and therefore isn’t it mandated? I really don’t know on this one either.
    I don’t really know how to answer reducing professional development. Teachers get higher pay by taking additional classes. Can professional development that the district offers, help a teacher on the pay scale. If so, then maybe this should be cut. If it only benefits what is happening in the classroom then I would question this being cut.
    Anyway, that is my two cents worth.

  35. I am only posting here because I believe something I wrote on a list serve both Ed and I are on has been misrepresented and this misrepresentation extends beyond me to an organization I am associated with. I want to make it clear that this not an official Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools position, but my impressions of a meeting. I posted this in response to a request for an update from Ed.
    In this thread Ed wrote:
    “From a post on a list serve, a person active in the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) reported that WAES is going to live with whatever school funding makes its way into the budget, meaning that WAES isn’t going to push hard for a change in school financing.”
    This is far from what I wrote:
    “The short answer is that unless there are new developments, WAES will using most of our scant resources to work on a serious finance reform resolution that will be introduced in the Fall (post-budget fights). The resolution already has many sponsors. Much time was spent on how best to mobilize and what tactics and strategies to use.
    It looks like there will be little in the budget proposal that requires or even invites WAES efforts and to work against the budget proposal would sysiphisian.
    If and when an official summary or call to action is issued, I’ll forward it.
    TJM”
    WAES very reason for being is to “to push hard for a change in school financing,” but like many grassroots organizations, we must pick our battles carefully. The sense of the room was that we can have little impact on the budget to be announced Tuesday and debated after. That process won’t be ignored by WAES, but the sense was that we should concentrate our energies elsewhere.
    For more info on WAES: http://www.excellentschools.org/
    TJM

  36. I did not mean to misrepresent what you reported, TJ. I’m terribly sorry it may have come out that way.
    My point was that we’re going to have to live with whatever is in the state budget because WAES isn’t going to push hard for finance reform in the budget. I didn’t say “in the budget” in my original post, but I guess that I should have. Maybe that would have made my summary more accurate.

  37. One more thought. I’ll answer and promote any call whenever WAES makes one to rally around a legislative proposal.

  38. A few observations:
    For Teacher L — I do not necessarily support any or all of the items listed (copied directly from MMSD’s position paper on this issue), nor do I advocate them as “solutions” that are somehow obvious. “Obvious” implies (and perhaps I’m misinterpreting the tone of your remarks) “easy” or something that should be done well before any other budget cuts. And I don’t think that’s the case at all. Rather, I used MMSD’s own paper/memo to suggest the cold reality of this budget problem — which is that cuts in personnel are likely to be a significant component of closing the budget deficit. Is that a fair assessment? Regardless of the merits of doing so, does anyone out there think MMSD can avoid personnel cuts to get at this?
    As for the WAES/funding debate, most everyone following school financing issues knows that Doyle and the Legislature are waiting for UW-Madison professor Alan Odden to unveil his financing package, which is unlikely before this summer (or past the upcoming budget deliberations at the Capitol). Odden’s been trotting it out to various interest groups lately, and fine-tuning parts of it based on some reactions he’s getting. But that’s the reason there is no big “reform” push right now with regards to school financing; everyone’s waiting on Odden, and (more importantly, perhaps) whether he can get any major sponsors (like, the governor, or WEAC, or WMC, to name three budget players) to run with it.

  39. I just needed to post after reading all of these posts that make no sense. I am a teacher in the district and have seen the direct effects of all of the past cuts. It has gotten completely out of hand and I see what people are talking about and I see all of these hare-brained ideas of closing Doyle and sending the teachers to the schools.
    Anyone who has even a slight idea of what happens at Doyle knows that these people are already in the schools. Just because they show up as being stationed in the Doyle building does not mean that that is where they actually work. They are running around the district attempting to meet the needs of students, teachers and schools. I wish so much that the people who work at Doyle could spend more time in my school to provide much needed expertise and support, but I also realize that their positions have been cut to shreds and they are trying to put our fires and actually do staff development because they believe in our schools.
    Our after-school program and our Saturday recreational program have been cut, our title one teaching have been cut, our esl and our een (special ed) allocation have also been cut to a point where the esl and een teachers spend much of their time assessing and completing state and federal requirements when they should be in the classroom.
    Our schools are under attack on two fronts: from the federal government attempting to take local control from our schools; and, the state continues its strangle-hold on funding. We have had more and more responsibilities, we spend more and more of our own money, and we have managed to still set high standards for our students. So when I hear some blowhard complaining that “ONLY a third of the African American kids can’t read in third grade? Is that your definition of success — 70%?” I want to scream.
    I work hard every day and I see every teacher I work with do the same. When looking at a problem look to the source. It is not Doyle, it is not the teachers, it is the QEO. Wake up and smell the chalk. I, for one, am fed up with swatting at flies. Go ahead, close a school, close Doyle, cut out strings, cut out athletics, get rid of sage, deny education to kids with special needs, get rid of health care for teachers, actually cut their salary so much that they are eligible for badger care, AND….
    We STILL will be in the negative, over time, due to the QEO. Stop rearranging chairs on the Titanic. Madison students deserve better.

  40. It’s actually the QEO in combination with the revenue cap that causes the problems. Teacher salaries & benefits, although constrained, are still allowed to increase at a higher rate then the revenue cap does. Since salaries & benefits make up the vast majority of a district’s budget, there will always be a deficit until that is changed.
    And Phil M. is right….what else can you do but cut personnel costs to help meet the deficit? There just doesn’t appear to be any way to fill a $10 million hole without cutting staff somewhere. It’s going to be a difficult year for the school board with budget deliberations. I hope people appreciate all the work the board members do to try and figure out what cuts will impact kids the least. It isn’t going to be pretty.

  41. TeacherT:
    Your last paragraph leaves me confused. Is it your take the QEO is the source of budget problems for MMSD, or revenue caps, or the two of them combined?

  42. A couple of observations.
    First, staff is the last place that I will cut, and I will be looking at staffing levels based on school demographics when we address staffing. Schools with over 50% low income students simply must have adequate staffing if they are to function. One of the challenges before the district is that our equity policy was supposed to award staffing according to levels of poverty, English language learners, and other special needs among the school populations. The superintendent and others have readily admitted that we have not followed that policy, and for that reason the board voted 6-1 to instruct district administration to staff according to need this time around.
    Before people recommend cutting psychologists and social workers and nurses, I suggest you visit one of our high-poverty schools and talk with the staff about what it takes to create a successful learning environment.
    Some schools, like Mendota and Wright Middle are doing amazing work. But we cannot expect that work to continue indefinitely with insufficient resources.
    Second, we cannot rent our way out of a budget crunch. But we do need to look at ALL potential savings and ALL potential sources of revenue. IF we have schools that are underused and an administration building on prime real estate, we do need to have an accurate and factual (e.g. not padded) analysis of what the benefits and losses would be if we were to either sell or rent the Doyle building.
    How on earth can we talk about closing schools but be unwilling to even consider whether it might be possible to have administrative clusters among several buildings? God knows we are paying for enough cell phones and mileage that where an office is located is less important than it was 10 years ago.
    Lucy

  43. Teacher T, I hear your frustration. However, I’m pretty certain that you don’t allow name-calling in your classroom, so I ask you to use the same standard of polite behavior when you post on the blog.
    I’ve suggested moving teachers, such as the resource specialists, into schools to open space in the Doyle building for the Brearly Street programs (or maybe for rent to community groups). I did not suggest cutting the positions for exactly the reasons you elaborated, though I believe some positions at Doyle could be cut (more about this another time).
    I agree that reading failure is not the teachers’ fault. It’s the curriculum — balanced literacy. The MMSD could use a less expensive and more effective curriculum, but the superintendent’s beliefs prevent it.
    Never will I settle for a standard of academic success less than 90-95%, and neither should anyone else.

  44. Ed,
    I realize that this is off topic for this thread, but since you included it in your last post….
    I’m curious as to whether you are opposed to all aspects of the balanced literacy approach or just just to its use with students who are not yet fluent decoders? Do you advocate D.I. for all students at all levels of reading proficiency K-5? Also, when you are comparing expenses, is that a cost comparison based on staffing ratios for intervention (reading recovery vs. D.I.)or does it incorporate the material costs that would be required for implementation on a large scale?

  45. Joining this thoughtful stream of conciousness, just a few remarks. I served on the East Task Force, where we spent scores of hours understanding, analyzing, critiquing, debating… One of our primary recommendations advocated removing school closings from consideration (and let’s get real, consolidation is the same thing). Don’t get me started, but one clear conclusion found no short or long-term , valid or reliable, benefit to the district. That’s a nutshell. Here’s another:
    I was one of those advocating we at least LOOK at Doyle: we were charged with considering capacity for all District buildings. It’s quite possible the Doyle building is the biggest bake sale item on the table–yeah, I said that a lot last year. Although I requested an analysis of the building, from the very early meetings and on, I kept hearing it was coming…As we were putting our coats on and leaving the last meeting, a very thick handout on the Doyle building was, well, sort of passed out. Obviously, nothing happened with it; I skimmed through and it clearly needed critique. One more nutshell: speaking only for Lapham and Marquette, the district shows those two hovering around 63& capacity; they’re actually around 72-74%. I can’t speak for all the great stories and histories of other schools, but I do know the city needs these two to stay as configured, bolstering both sides of the East corridor. Okay, one more thing then I’ll shut up: O’Keeffe was projected to have 353 students, they have at least 414. New 6th and 7th grade sections are needed next fall, and we will be welcoming 27 (or so?) students from the Hawthorne attendance area. I’m just sayin’.

  46. P.S. One more thing, for now: BOE policy (Appendix E, according to a handout from last year), defines schools with “declining enrollment” as those with “two or less sections for each grade level and whether this condition will continue for at least 3 years,,” or schools with capacity at 67% or lower, with that anticipated continue more than 5 years.
    Again, it neither makes sense from a policy nor a fiscal standpoint to consider actions to conolidate (effectively closing) Lapham or Marquette.
    So there.

  47. One thing that nobody is discussing would be to move some of the alternative programs over to Spring Harbor Middle School. They have the space and they’re right near a major thoroughfare/busline on University Ave. Oh yeah, they’re adjacent to Shorewood Hills, think that might be a problem? If it would help keep a neighborhood school open, I think it’s well worth investigating!

  48. Teacher L,
    In all honesty, I don’t want to start a long debate on balanced literacy vs. direct instruction.
    It makes no sense to debate the issue; the MMSD will not supplement balanced literacy and Reading Recovery with anything else or even initiate a pilot of direct instruction as long as Art Rainwater believes in balanced literacy.
    Additionally, the board members seem disinterested or else satisfied with the MMSD’s reading results, so we aren’t going to get any discussion on the board.
    Nonetheless, I’ll give you some brief responses.
    Direct instruction offers tremendous advantages over balanced literacy because it leaves nothing to chance and teaches to mastery, among other benefits.
    Decoding is only one small slice of a curriculum like Reading Mastery, for instance, though it gets most of the attention.
    The cost issue usually revolves around the high cost of Reading Recovery. I’m not aware of cost comparisons between direct instruction programs and balanced literacy, but I suppose they might be on the Web someplace. You can search this blog for cost figures related to Reading Recovery.
    If you’d like to learn more, I especially recommend the video of a presentation by Dolores and Norm Mishelow, former Milwaukee principals:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2004/11/norm_and_dolore.php.
    Once again, reading instruction just isn’t open for discussion in the MMSD, so let’s not waste our time.

  49. David, I suspect that any number of options might be right for the alternative programs at Brearly Street, but the superintendent has already narrowed the options. I can’t imagine that a new idea like Spring Harbor will make it into the discussion.
    I could even imagine that the superintendent has already made up his mind on where he wants the Brearly Street progams, and he’s probably working the board to find four votes for it.

  50. Art’s made no secret of the fact that he wants out of the Brearly Street rental space. We’ve known this for the last 3 years. I don’t think he really cares WHERE the programs move to- that’s more of Steve Hartley’s issue, as the manager of the alternative programs. He prefers to be in a location that doesn’t tempt his students, and an elementary school is less tempting than a middle school.

  51. My only point a ways back is that whatever decisions are made, or new directions followed, we look out several years. And, if private funding is needed for whatever, and that makes sense, we plan and transition.
    I support Lucy’s looking at all options.

  52. Ed,
    I must not have communicated well if you thought my questions were intended to be confrontational–I wasn’t trying to start a debate, I was just trying to better interpret your position. I am very familiar with D.I. as I have been using it as a part of my reading instruction for the past 8 years. Again, I know this isn’t the strand to discuss this, but I actually did ask from a place of curiosity.
    L

  53. Teacher L,
    My apologies for being cautious. I’ve been into way too many meaningless debates over the years.
    I hope that the references and sources on this blog give you some information.
    If you’d like to chat outside of this blog, feel free to drop me an e-mail.
    Ed

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