Commentary on Taxpayer Spending Priorities

Chris Rickert::

It seemed appropriate to look at the Madison School District first, given that on Tuesday, two Madison School Board members, Anna Moffit and Nicki Vander Meulen, took to Facebook in support of Johnson’s Fitchburg grievance.

Invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people,” Vander Meulen declared: “I’m done being silent.”

“I do not believe that this budget reflects the values and priorities for the community of Fitchburg and hope that it will be changed to make sure that the children come first, not last,” Moffit said. Although she told me she “would support Fitchburg establishing a consistent process for funding and evaluating non-profit partnerships.” That’s a good idea but one Johnson rejected last year.

It’s ironic to see two people who sit on the board of a school district that has consistently failed to close the minority achievement gap — and who seem in no hurry to implement any major changes that might — lecturing anyone to spend more money on services for minority youth.

It also didn’t take me more than a few minutes to find expenditures in the district’s preliminary 2017-18 operating budget that seem far less important than feeding and supervising kids at a neighborhood center located just on Fitchburg’s side of its border with Madison — which is what the Boys & Girls Club had been using the $50,000 in noncompetitive Fitchburg grant money to pay for.

For one, the district’s $390 million budget sets aside about $764,000 for employee travel, a 10 percent increase from last year.

There’s also $120,000 in one-time funds budgeted this year for upgrades to the human resources outer office at the Doyle Administration Building. Other spending from the same account includes projects that are arguably much more kid-focused — $100,000 for “all-gender restroom and locker room needs,” for example.

We have long spent far more than most government funded school districts (now nearly $20,000 per student), yet we’ve long tolerated disastrous reading results. Yet, Madison’s non diverse governance model continues unabated, aborting the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter school and more recently a quasi Montessori charter proposal.