Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum?

TJ Mertz comments on Monday evening’s Madison School Board 2010-2011 budget discussion (video – the budget discussion begins about 170 minutes into the meeting). The discussion largely covered potential property tax increases. However and unfortunately, I’ve not seen a document that includes total revenue projections for 2010-2011.
The District’s Administration’s last public total 2009-2010 revenue disclosure ($418,415,780) was in October 2009.
Property tax revenue is one part of the MMSD’s budget picture. State and Federal redistributed tax dollars are another big part. The now dead “citizens budget” was a useful effort to provide more transparency to the public. I hope that the Board pushes for a complete picture before any further substantive budget discussions. Finally, the Administration promised program reviews as part of the “Strategic Planning Process” and the recent referendum (“breathing room”). The documents released to date do not include any substantive program review budget items.
Ed Hughes (about 190 minutes): “it is worth noting that evening if we taxed to the max and I don’t think we’ll do that, the total expenditures for the school District will be less than we were projecting during the referendum“. The documents published, as far as I can tell, on the school board’s website do not reflect 2010-2011 total spending.
Links to Madison School District spending since 2007 (the referendum Ed mentioned was in 2008)

It would be great to see a year over year spending comparison from the District, including future projections.
Further, the recent “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.
Ed, Lucy and Arlene thankfully mentioned that the Board needs to have the full picture before proceeding.

4 thoughts on “Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum?”

  1. Here is some background on our current budget dilemma. At the time of the referendum in 2008, we were projecting total district expenditures in 2011-2012 of $435,519,137. Our current projection of total district expenditures, assuming we tax to our full authority, is $432,764,707, or $2,754,430 less than we were projecting in 2008. The lower figure is attributable to a reduction that the legislature imposed in the per-pupil amount by which spending could increase from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011.
    We will have to pare $1.2 million from a same-services budget for next year to get down to the $432 million figure. While challenging, this task is manageable. The problem is that the legislature has slashed the amount of state aid the district will receive 15% this year and an additional 15% next year.
    Here is a list of our total state aid for the past five years, plus this year, plus our projection for next year:
    2004-05 – $50,064,391
    2005-06 – $58,996,880
    2006-07 – $56,984,763
    2007-08 – $57,301,616
    2008-09 – $60,743,743
    2009-10 – $51,513,826
    2010-11 – $43,761,093 (projected)
    No one would have predicted two years ago, when we were planning for the referendum, that our total state aid in 2010-2011 would be $17 million less than it was in that year.
    The consequence of this is that, if we authorize spending to our full authority next year, we will have to make up in the property levy what we have lost in state aid. This would make for a very ugly increase in the property levy – an increase of more than $300 on a $250,000 house, assuming no change in overall property values.
    The Board will have to figure out where to draw the line — what we can cut and by how much, in order to mitigate to some extent the increase in the levy that will be coming. We’re asking for a broad list of possible cuts so we can get a better sense of the trade-offs involved. I expect that we will do what we can to start a public conversation so that we can try to work through the very difficult budget decisions we’ll be facing together as a community. Stay tuned and buckle your seat belts.

  2. Thank you for this information, Ed. This is helpful and makes more sense to me now. The lack of “willingness” at the state level to tackle the funding of education over the past 10+ years has put all WI school districts in even more financial straits with this current economy as the state backs away from its commitment under the 1993 revenue cap legislation.
    I’m assuming, on the revenue side, potential money from “race to the top” or other such revenue sources is not include in Mr. Kass’ projection. This would make sense since the grant only recently went in.
    However, with or without this money, what continues to concern me is the continued lack of attention to this issue at the state level. If the economy does not get stronger in WI, this could imperil the state’s contribution to school district funding even further in the next biennium budget. Because of Madison’s high property values, we already were on the lower side of the percentage of our budget met through state funding.

  3. Thanks for posting additional MMSD budget data, Ed. Ideally, it should not require a school board member’s initiative to post this public information. The now dead citizen’s budget, updated throughout the year, would be a great venue to keep the public (and Board) informed in an “easy” to follow manner.
    As an observer of local school budgets for 6 years, total spending has historically increased throughout the year due to additional redistributed state & federal tax dollars and grants. (The Obama administration has proposed increasing Federal education funds in the next budget despite the “spending freeze” rhetoric and record debt levels).
    Megan Matteucci’s article on Dekalb County schools’ spending “federal” tax dollars on increased adult to adult conversations while eliminating adult to student efforts illustrates the importance of seeing the entire picture.
    Finally, given the exploding federal debt (we are very fortunate to not be dealing with Iceland, Greece or Spain’s debt issues), state finance challenges and the local property tax burden, it would seem that the MMSD Administration should be deep into “thinking different” about many existing processes. This is, of course, not a new subject with respect to program review, spending effectiveness and the ongoing “same service” approach to budgeting.

  4. We as citizens need to better voice our opinion. When I have contacted my state legislators, which I obnoxiously do from time to time, they inform me they never hear complaints about the school funding formula so therefore it is low on their priority. Does anyone else contact their state legislators……cause they darn well need to hear our complaints. Spread the word.

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