Spending, achievement, taxes and Madison’s school climate

Naegassi Tesfamichael:

The School Board will also soon be the public face of a facilities referendum that MMSD is eyeing for the November 2020 election. The proposed facilities upgrades currently focus on East, La Follette, West and East high schools, which have an average age of 75 years old and have been identified as having significant deferred maintenance needs that have piled up over the years.

The price tag for the facilities plan is still unknown, but could range from $120 million to $280 million, according to plans presented to the School Board earlier this spring. The ask could be significant — in 2015, Madison voters authorized a $41 million school facility improvement plan that addressed needs across the district.

Pressure to pass a referendum of this size is on the district, as neighboring school districts have recently approved a slew of referendums for new schools and upgrades in the Middleton-Cross Plains, Verona Area and Sun Prairie school districts.

Students and parents from Madison West have been on a campaign of sorts to push the School Board to prioritize upgrades there. West is acknowledged as one of the most space-constrained high schools. The swimming pool lags behind current standards and has led to students developing health problems, according to several students who testified before the board.

Cheatham said the district is also attempting to look at facilities inequities, including identifying how to better serve areas that do not have a neighborhood school.

Though Vander Meulen said the board will have to manage its expectations for what it can accomplish this term, items such as improving facilities have to be prioritized.

“We can’t do everything all at once, but with some of the stuff happening at West right now with the tiles falling off the pool, we have to make sure nobody gets hurt,” Vander Meulen said.

The district plans to present an initial range of options for the referendum to the School Board in May. The School Board would need to authorize a referendum by May 2020 if it wanted to get the project on the November ballot.

“What we are looking at is a big, big project when you look at renovating four high schools that are all old,” Burke said. “We’re going to have to work to gather community support to get it passed … this almost could be a historic referendum in Madison.”

Madison has long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – now around $20k per student.

This despite long term, disastrous reading results.