Hard MMSD Budget Still Has Wiggle Room

Scott Milfred:

It’s a contentious fact that has run through so many Madison School Board races and referendums in recent years:
Madison schools spend a lot — $12,111 per student during the 2005-06 school year.
If the district is spending that much, how can it be in crisis?
The answer is complex and a bit murky. Yet a few things are clear.
Liberal Madison has long spent more than most K-12 districts in Wisconsin. This was true before the state adopted school revenue limits in the 1990s, and the caps only reinforced this today.
“When revenue caps went in, everyone was basically frozen in place,” Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater said Friday. “We do spend more than the state average. But that has been the expectation of our community.”
So why does Madison spend more? Berry points to Madison’s higher number of staff who aren’t teachers. Madison hires a lot of social workers, psychologists, nurses and administrators.
Madison spends more per pupil than Racine, Green Bay and Kenosha — as well as the state average — on student and staff services, administration and building and grounds. And Madison’s non- instructional costs are rising as a percentage of its spending.
“Madison is actually de- emphasizing instruction,” Berry contends.
In addition, Berry suspects Madison is over-identifying students for learning disabilities.

Links: Madison spending, student and staffing history. 2006/2007 MMSD Citizen’s Budget. Carol Carstensen’s thoughts on a 2007 Referendum.

3 thoughts on “Hard MMSD Budget Still Has Wiggle Room”

  1. “Madison also is a magnet for special education students.
    That’s partly because of its reputation for good programming, but also because Madison is home to world-class institutions such as the Waisman Center, which studies developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases.
    “We substantially exceed the state average for children with those complex issues,” Rainwater said. “We have about 140 students who (each) cost between $43,000 and $223,000 a year.”
    This was a topic we tried to have a rational discussion about a few weeks ago here. If our district is incurring exceptional expenses for a small number of students drawn here by Waisman, does that not suggest this inflates the per pupil spending figure?

  2. Take a look at the responses to Paul Soglin’s ‘Strangling Education’ from a few days ago.
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/03/strangling wisc.php.
    Beth Sweeden says that the reason people come is not Waisman, but the Medicaid waivers in Wisconsin that allow parents to get intensive instruction for disabled kids under the age of 8. And that California is the only other state that pays for this. Perhaps once people decide on a state, then they look further into what’s available for their children in terms of outside and school supports in different regions and Madison and area is a natural draw. Beth says Verona has more than Madison.
    Not that the source of the draw affects MMSD’s costs, but it is interesting to know what is driving it.
    Anyone know anything about these Medicaid waivers?

  3. It’s important to note that MMSD’s annual growth rate in per pupil spending (5.25%) since 1987 has been right on pace with the Wisconin average (5.10% annual growth). However, MMSD has always had high per pupil spending relative to the Wisconsin average (basis is higher). For details, hunt through the Jan. 2007 archives on SIS to find “School Finance: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate” posted by Jim Zellmer.
    I would expect that the rate of growth in special ed spending has been much higher than the Wisconsin average. This implies that MMSD has dealt with the budget stresses associated with special ed while keeping the rate of increase in per pupil spending right in line with the state average.

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