Active Citizens for Education (ACE) calls for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to delay making specific decisions for the presentation of a recurring referendum to the taxpayers for a vote on the November election ballot.
Passage of a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would allow the board and school administration to permanently exceed the state mandated revenue spending caps. Such a move to fix a so-called current “budget gap” would allow the board and administration to exceed annual spending caps permanently, every year into the future. This would virtually give the board a “blank check” from district taxpayers to plug future budget gaps or shortfalls. It could prevent the board and administration from having to carefully and thoughtfully budget, like every taxpayer must do when their household budget faces tough economic times and shortfalls.
The plans and communications presented in recent weeks by the board and administration provide greater hope for more effective decision-making now and in the future. The recommendations for changes in policy and accountability options in community services, transportation, lease contracts, fund balances and capital expansion (maintenance) will have positive impacts on reducing the so-called “budget gap.”
The Board must earn the trust of the taxpayers by clearly showing that they can be “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars. Past experience has not earned that trust! If a referendum is ultimately required to fix upcoming budgets, it should be a non-recurring referendum, thereby preventing ‘mortgaging’ the future with year-after-year, permanent increases in spending authority.
The Board and administration must correct the absence of specific processes and strategies for analysis and evaluation of business and educational services, programs, practices and policies. Urgent and substantial investments of time and work are critical for these processes to evolve into hard evidence. This evidence is absolutely necessary to show the public that serious steps are under way to provide clear, concrete data and options for identifying the most effective and efficient results-oriented management of the financial resources of the district. It must be shown that the resources will be directly applied to improvements in student learning and achievement.
In order for the public to support any change in spending habits or spending authority the district must meet the following conditions: a) full disclosure and accountability in the reporting of methodologies, data measurements, analyses and results in spending and the effective use of existing funding levels; b) assure that the shifting of funds is done on the basis of evaluations and assessments; c) changes are put in place to affect improvements in curriculum and instruction which directly increase student achievement and development at all levels; d) make the schools and the educational climate safe and secure for all students and staff; and e) engage in collaborative and cost-sharing initiatives with other government entities, as well as private and non-profit organizations.
Don Severson, President of ACE, said in a statement “When realistic evidence of progress toward these conditions is shown, then Active Citizens for Education and the general public will actively and willingly support the district with appropriate financial means. Anything short of meeting these conditions will not be in the best interests of our children and the community.”
The school board and administration must continue to work to improve their communications and evaluation processes to gain the trust and confidence of the public for both short-and long-term successes. The district board is urged to proceed carefully and firmly in a strategic and progressive manner. A decision, at this time, by the board to request taxpayer support for a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would be significantly premature and disastrous.
Questions raised at the Madison School District’s Financial Forums
Please send your own comments, concerns and/or convictions to all board members and superintenent at firstname.lastname@example.org or to selected ones of your choice.