Commentary (seems to lack data…) on Madison’s K-12 Tax & Spending Increase Referendum

It is unfortunate two recent articles on the upcoming Madison School District tax & spending increase referendum lack data, such as:

Doug Erickson:

To offset cuts in state aid and the tightening revenue caps, Act 10 eliminated collective bargaining over benefits. State employees and other public workers without an existing contract were required to start contributing to their pensions. Once a district’s collectively bargained contract expired, the district also could do things such as switch insurance providers, increase employee benefit contributions, and change work rules — all without needing union approval.

“It took the handcuffs off school boards,” Nygren said.

In Madison, Act 10 ushered in significant changes. Faced with the state-imposed cuts but before Act 10 took effect, employee unions agreed during contract negotiations to major concessions in 2011-12. That included a salary freeze (saving $4 million) and a requirement that employees begin contributing 5.8 percent of their salary toward their state pensions (saving $11 million).

The union also agreed to drop Wisconsin Physicians Service as an insurance provider in 2012, a $5 million savings. WPS was the most costly plan the district offered, and employees who had opted for it had been paying a portion of their monthly premiums.

Union members also had agreed back then to begin paying a percentage of the premiums for the three other insurance options, although the School Board chose not to go that route at that point. That changed this year. The School Board is, for the first time, now requiring all employees to pay something toward their monthly health insurance premiums.

The percentage varies by employee group, with teachers paying 3 percent (6 percent if they don’t participate in the district’s wellness program). This followed the expiration of the district’s final union contract over the summer.

Doug Keillor, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the district’s teachers union, said Act 10 alienated public employees and took a “wrecking ball” to public schools.

“The district could keep cutting pay and could keep increasing health insurance contributions, so from that standpoint, the district has not transferred as much of the costs onto the backs of employees as they could,” he said. “But you have to first back up and say, ‘How do you build a quality public school district?’ A district needs to attract people into this profession and keep them. The Legislature didn’t give school boards the tools to do that.”

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, a member of the Senate Education Committee, argues that most of the discussions about public school funding are wrongly framed from a perspective that more money automatically means higher student achievement.

“Our reforms are working,” she said. “We’ve given the school districts through Act 10 the tools to do more with the resources they have. Those districts that have embraced that are doing really well.”

Amber Walker:

Public education advocates are organizing in support of the upcoming K-12 operational referendum for the Madison Metropolitan School District, which is necessary to maintain a quality education for local students, they say.

On Nov. 8, the district is asking voters to permanently raise its revenue limit authority by $26 million.

The district proposes that this change happens incrementally over the next four school years. MMSD seeks an additional $5 million per year for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years and an additional $8 million per year for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

Commentary on redistributed state tax collections and spending.

Madison School District 2016 tax & spending increase referendum content. Channel 3000.

I’ve not seen total Madison School District spending data, much less history, amongst the referendum content.