A $30 Million Puzzle ‘Solution’? What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Like many citizens, journalists, and some of my fellow board members, I have been struggling to make sense of the projected $30 million budget or tax gap. Like others who have tried to understand how we got to the number “$30,” I have tried several approaches to see if I could come to the same conclusion. Some of them focused on an unexpected major rise in spending, or, an unexpected or unexplained loss of revenue beyond the $17 million in state cuts. (See Susan Troller’s Madison School’s ‘Budget Gap’ is Really a Tax Gap, for example.)
The answers for the portion of the gap that I could not understand or explain kept coming back to the tax levy. District staff were patient and helpful in trying to answer my questions, but we still didn’t understand each other. The shortest version of the tax levy explanation comes from the district’s Budget Questions and Answers handout.
To recap, the MMSD $30 million budget gap has been explained thusly by
administration. There are two parts to the gap, $1.2 million in expenses that cannot be met, and $28.6 million shortfall from a combination of state funding cuts and tax levy. To date, administration has explained the gap thusly:
This gap is $28.6 million. This total is composed of three parts:
* $9.2 million cut in state aid the MMSD sustained this year;
* $7.8 million cut in state aid the district will sustain next year;
* $11.6 million of increased costs that come with levying authority – broken out in two parts:
— $7.6 million of increased costs in order to deliver the same services next year that the MMSD is delivering this year, and which the state funding formula allows;
— $4.0 million of increased costs and with levying authority from the approved 2008 referendum)
$28.6 million Tax Shortfall Total
For me, and for others, the sticking point has been the idea that additional levying authority through the referendum and the state funding formula, would add to the shortfall in funds to run our schools. That is, how could more funds turn into a funding loss? Or, put in mathematical terms, how could -17 + 11.6 become -28.6? My math is rusty, and I don’t understand connected math, but it did seem to me that it was unlikely that a negative number would get larger after adding a positive number to it.
Full post on-line at lucymathiak.blogspot.com