Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

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.
Referendum Questions
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 or to selected ones of your choice.

3 thoughts on “Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!”

  1. There have been any number of discussions over the years regarding the effectiveness of various Madison School District Programs (rigor, assessements, math, reading, discipline (“pragmatic over ideological” as a teacher friend mentioned), curriculum reduction via “small learning communities” among others).
    It would seem that, if a three year approach is required to review the strategies and programs of the District (“breathing room?”), perhaps citizens should have an opportunity to again decide, based on the results of such reviews (or whether they substantively occur), whether to renew the tax and spending increases above and beyond the “normal” budget growth.
    MMSD spending increases annually (“5.25% over the past 10-15 years” with flat enrollment is not bad) and perhaps – it’s a long shot – there may be changes in redistributed state and federal tax dollars which could benefit local K-12 budgets.
    If indeed a partnership is sought with parents, citizens and taxpayers, then the opportunity to vote again on these increases in three years time appears reasonable.
    Finally, in terms of ACE, we should all be thankful that there are people like Don – a former teacher -, and others who care deeply about education, so much so, that they spend inordinate amounts of time seeking effectiveness and accountability. Lose them and we slide closer to Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit.
    Was it Twain who said (paraphrasing) “I’d never join any group that would have me”?

  2. I agree with most of what you wrote Jim, but I’m trying to figure out who is in ACE. Is it just Don, or is there a large and representative group from the community involved? For example, there are some very fiscally conservative people out there who have absolutely no interest in making the MMSD a better place. They ONLY want lower taxes. I think Don wants to see a more effective MMSD, and that’s an admirable goal. But, for instance, the Kirby Brandts of the world have publicly opposed the use of social workers and psychologists and federal food assistance in the MMSD. So it’s a fine line between the “tax nuts” and the fiscal conservatives. And it seems to me that everyone who posts here “cares deeply about education, so much so, that they spend inordinate amounts of time seeking effectiveness and accountability” in some way, shape or form.

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