Yes to strategic planning, no to last minute referendums and school closings

On March 26, I voted no on Carol Carstensen’s proposed three-year referendum for several reasons.
First, a referendum requires careful planning. Two weeks notice did not allow the Madison School Board to do the necessary analysis or planning. Ms. Carstensen—not the administration—provided the only budget analysis for her proposal. The board has not set priorities because the board it is just beginning the budget process.
Second, the referendum is not part of a strategic long-range plan. The district needs a ten-year strategic plan, and such a plan must address the structural deficit created by state revenue limits. It must also bring businesses, community organizations and the City of Madison into the solution. While referendums for operating dollars will be necessary, without planning they are of limited use.
Third, relief from the state revenue limits is not on the horizon. Governor Doyle has no proposal for eliminating the revenue limits. Madison’s state representatives recommend that we focus our lobbying efforts on small scale, stop-gap funding issues. Only Ms. Carstensen and the teachers union seem to think that change is coming soon.
There are some steps that the school board can take to increase public confidence and pass operating budget referendums in the future.
1. Direct the administration to find the best ways to use the Doyle Building to generate revenue for the district. In 2006, the board defeated this proposal (Kobza and Robarts voting yes, Carstensen, Keys, Lopez, Vang and Winston voting no). Using the building as a revenue-generating asset could also move administrators to school buildings and help keep the schools open.
2. Negotiate changes in health insurance coverage for teachers to minimize future costs. Administrators and other unions have recently made such changes without losing quality of health care. Dane County has a competitive health insurance market that can help use save dollars and protect quality of care.
3. Take the closing/consolidation options presented by the Long Range Planning Committee off the table. Look for more focused approaches to saving money, such as moving the Park Street Work and Learn Center into an under-enrolled elementary school as we did in the past when we housed WLC at Allis School.
4. Invite the community to join in a strategic planning process as soon as possible. As long as the state and federal governments shirk their responsibilities and the state over-relies on residential property taxes to pay for essential local services, there will be a gap between the tax funds available and the cost of the high quality, comprehensive k-12 school system that we want. We need a plan as badly as we need the elimination of the revenue limits and a progressive tax to adequately fund our schools.
I am ready to support operating budget referendums based on a strategic plan and best use of the revenues that we have.