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Madison’s Strings Program….. All Quiet?

For my family, one of the unexpected assets of the Madison School District was the Strings Program. Perennially under attack during the Superintendent Rainwater reign, I’ve seen little mention of the District’s String’s program, now available from grades 5 to 12. I only found this snippet on the Madison School District’s website:

Music opportunities continue to expand in Grades 5 through 12. Strings instruction is available to students starting in 5th grade and the curriculum is based on the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Instrumental Music. Students in grades 6 and 7 choose to participate in Band, Chorus, General Music, or Orchestra, which also have curriculum based on the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards. In grades 8-12, students may elect to enroll in one of these classes or the additional elective courses at our high schools. These course in connection with the community musical offerings, provide a breadth of experiences to help build student skills and knowledge of music.

Is there more?

Music Event Benefitting Madison’s Elementary Strings Program

Wednesday night, May 23, local band Marvin’s Gardens, will be playing at the King’s Club (114 King Street). There will be jazz from 6-9 p.m. All proceeds will go to benefit Grade 5 Strings! Strings players invited to bring their instruments to play with the band.
$5 at the door.

Strings Program – Why is it So Important?

Reader Andrea Cox emails:

I don’t understand why it’s so important to keep the elementary strings program. Some things have to go because of the budget constraints imposed upon the schools. Strings strikes me as much less important than, say, class size, mathematics, or reading. We can’t have everything without major changes in how the school funding is set at the state level.
(I would have posted a “comment” to this topic, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this on the site.)

Strings Program – A Response

I would like to be perfectly clear. I want a Madison Metropolitan School District strings program in elementary schools. I have been very clear about this since my first televised board meeting last year, where I exclaimed, “I want a strings program in the budget!” However, with unfunded mandates, revenue caps, additional academic testing requirements and possible annual referendums, it is very hard to continue to make that exclamation.


5 Reasons Why the Madison School Board Should Continue the Elementary Strings Program

In the May 24 referendum for the operating budget, voters will determine whether the Madison schools will have an additional $7.4 million to spend next year and for all the years thereafter. Superintendent Art Rainwater and the management team issued a cut list in March. According to Rainwater, the board should cut the programs, staff and expenses on this list if the referendum fails.
Before the referendum election, the school board can take items off of the cut list. One of the items that should come off the list is the proposed elimination of the elementary strings program, a program that costs $500,000 within a budget of more than $350 million.


Axing the Arts: District (again) proposes cutting popular strings program

Jason Shephard, writing in the 3.11.2005 Isthmus:
Music teachers, parents and community activists are already agitating against Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater�s call to eliminate the elementary strings program, as part of a proposed slate of budget cuts.
�This creates a very disturbing environment in the community,� says Marie Breed, executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. �It�s particularly shocking for a strong arts community like Madison to dismiss elementary string education so easily, saying essentially, �We�re not going to support these children.��
By eliminating the fourth- and fifth-grade strings program, Rainwater says the district can cut nearly ten full-time equivalent positions, saving about $500,000 in salaries and another $100,000 in equipment, repairs and books. In all, the district needs to trim $8.6 million to comply with state-imposed revenue caps — or else secure referendum approval to exceed them.


Parent Comments on Strings Program

“The strings program has been very valuable to my son. It has built up his confidence, and the musical performances have really shown him how his hard work pays off. Strings are an asset to his education that benefits him beyond the musical arena.”


String quartet brings classical music to area elementary schools

Scott Girard:

“So for some kids here this is their first experience with orchestral string instruments,” Moran said. “Getting to see them live is a really exciting and big deal for them.

“I feel really lucky to have it at our school.”

That excitement was clear as the students listened to the four members of the quartet — Rachel Reese, Alex Chambers-Ozasky, Ava Shadmani and Fabio Sággin — explain ascending and descending melodies in the various pieces they played. Students at times pretended to conduct the group from their seats, and excitedly yelled out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when they recognized the piece.

Moran said the students making connections with the music and the musicians is an especially great part of the program, as the same four visit each time and the students begin to recognize them. The diversity of the group, with one each from Mississippi, Minnesota, Brazil and Iran, allows a range of students to see that orchestral music can be open to all.

Madison’s elementary strings program has been on the chopping block a number of times, despite ongoing tax and spending increases.

The Tragic Decline of Music Literacy (and Quality)

Jon Henschen:

Throughout grade school and high school, I was fortunate to participate in quality music programs. Our high school had a top Illinois state jazz band; I also participated in symphonic band, which gave me a greater appreciation for classical music. It wasn’t enough to just read music. You would need to sight read, meaning you are given a difficult composition to play cold, without any prior practice. Sight reading would quickly reveal how fine-tuned playing “chops” really were. In college I continued in a jazz band and also took a music theory class. The experience gave me the ability to visualize music (If you play by ear only, you will never have that same depth of understanding music construct.)

Both jazz and classical art forms require not only music literacy, but for the musician to be at the top of their game in technical proficiency, tonal quality and creativity in the case of the jazz idiom. Jazz masters like John Coltrane would practice six to nine hours a day, often cutting his practice only because his inner lower lip would be bleeding from the friction caused by his mouth piece against his gums and teeth. His ability to compose and create new styles and directions for jazz was legendary. With few exceptions such as Wes Montgomery or Chet Baker, if you couldn’t read music, you couldn’t play jazz. In the case of classical music, if you can’t read music you can’t play in an orchestra or symphonic band. Over the last 20 years, musical foundations like reading and composing music are disappearing with the percentage of people that can read music notation proficiently down to 11 percent, according to some surveys.

Related: Madison’s periodic battle over the elementary strings program.

Mission Vs Organization: Shades Of Cutting Strings….

Valerie Strauss:

“Their priorities are distorted. We need to make a decision to put kids first. Especially when they’re savings is about $500,000 to $750,000, when they’re paying out a million dollars on, on public relations specialists and on lobbyists, a million dollars.”

Former Superintendent Art Rainwater frequently attempted to kill Madison’s strings program.

Like Albuquerque, Madison long had a lobbyist. Do they have one today?

Madison, with “plenty of resources” spends about $18,000 per student annually – well above the national average.

An emphasis on “adult employment“.

Strings are making a comeback for fifth-graders at Sandburg Elementary

Amanda Finn:

Fifth-graders will soon be coming out of Sandburg Elementary fiddling happy tunes thanks to a major instrument donation making it possible for strings to be part of the fifth-grade curriculum.

The VH1 Save the Music Foundation and Madison-based teamed up to provide Sandburg with 36 new instruments, worth about $35,000, to fill gaps in an aged instrument inventory and to provide enough instruments to suit the needs of the children.

The foundation has already been working with the Madison School District to create 12 keyboard labs in various elementary schools.

“We are really fortunate that we began a relationship with VH1 Save the Music six years ago,” said Laurie Fellenz, fine arts coordinator for the district.

The Strings Program has a rather fascinating history, including numerous attempts to abort it.

Arts Rich School Blueprint (Madison)

Madison School District

Why is it important for all of our children in Madison to have equitable access to a comprehensive arts education and to thrive in an arts rich school? Through creating, presenting, responding, and connecting in multiple art forms, students can come to recognize and celebrate their own unique ways of seeing, doing, and communicating. With access to a comprehensive arts education, our students can explore and problem-solve through productivity and teamwork. Skill development through an art form teaches students to describe, analyze, and interpret visual, aural, and kinesthetic images. This strengthens skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening within text and language of that art form, and contributes to their comprehensive literacy skills.

The arts also impact our local economy by creating a sense of place, developing skilled creative workers for non-arts related careers, helping to revitalize neighborhoods and giving communities a competitive edge in attracting businesses and talent. We believe that arts rich schools are a foundational piece of our community fabric that cultivate the creative thinking, innovation, and attractive community that will fuel our economic future. Students trained in the arts as part of their K-12 education will have the opportunity to contribute to one of our city’s major economic engines. The local abundance of cultural offerings and the arts are cited frequently as attributes that support Madison being listed as a top place to live in the United States.

The Arts Rich Schools Blueprint will also build on a long history of arts education support between the Madison Metropolitan School District and the community.

The Madison School District administration tried, a number of years ago, to kill the popular strings program.

View a longer version of the Arts Rich School Blueprint (PDF).

Arts Rich School Continnum Rubric – 2015-16 (PDF).

Music Education Needs to Be a Click Away

David Gelernter

Most children learn nothing about serious music in school and don’t expect to learn anything. Outside school, the music world is being upended and shaken vigorously. The ways we choose music and listen to it are being transformed by iTunes and Spotify and other such sites.

For most young people, music is a minor consumable, like toothpaste. Musicians and music majors aside, my students at Yale—and there are no smarter, more eager, more open students anywhere—just barely know who Beethoven is. Beethoven. “He composed music”—that is the general consensus.

To know nothing about Beethoven? That is cultural bankruptcy. That is collapse. It goes far beyond incompetence, deep into betrayal and farce.

“Why should we know anything about Beethoven?” The question was asked in all seriousness by a sophomore just a few months ago. When I dredged up old, tired clichés, he listened carefully—and seemed convinced! What could be sadder? He was only waiting for the smallest bit of encouragement.

Ironically, the Madison School District Administration tried for a number of years to kill the “strings program“.

2012 WSMA State Festival Madison Area High School Student Event Counts

I’ve periodically wondered what the downstream effects of the Madison School District’s mid-2000’s war on the long running strings program might be. Perhaps this chart is a place to begin the discussion.
Of course there may be many other explanations, from staff changes, student interests and so on. That said, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony continues to be popular.
Data via The Wisconsin School Music Association. Note that I looked around the WSMA site extensively for Sun Prairie counts, but failed to find any.
Per Student Spending:
Middleton 2011-2012 budget: $87,676,611 for 6,421 students = $13,654.67/student, about 8% less than Madison.
Madison spends $14,858.40/student (2011-2012 budget)
Waunakee spends $12,953.81/student about 13% less than Madison.

Administration Memo on the Madison Superintendent Search

Dylan Pauly, Legal Services:

Dr. Nerad recently announced his retirement effective June 30, 2013. Consequently, over the next few months this Board will be required to begin its search for the next District leader. While some members of the Board were Board members during the search that brought Dr. Nerad to Madison, many were not. A number of members have asked me to provide some background information so that they may familiarize themselves with the process that was used in 2007. Consequently, I have gathered the following documents for your review:
1. Request for Proposals: Consultation Services for Superintendent Search, Proposal 3113, dated March 19, 2007;
2. Minutes from Board meetings on February 26,2007, and March 12,2007, reflecting Board input and feedback regarding draft versions ofthe RFP;
3. Contract with Hazard, Young and Attea;
4. A copy of the Notice of Vacancy that was published in Education Week;
5. Minutes from a Board meeting on August 27, 2007, which contains the general timeline used to complete the search process; and,
6. Superintendent Search- Leadership Profile Development Session Schedule, which reflects how community engagement was handled during the previous search.
It is also my understanding that the Board may wish to create an ad hoc committee to handle various procedural tasks related to the search process. In line with Board Policy 1041, I believe it is appropriate to take official action in open session to create the new ad hoc. I recommend the following motion:

Dave Zweiful shares his thoughts on Dan Nerad’s retirement.
Related: Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires since 1992.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.

The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances:

The Madison Superintendent position’s success is subject to a number of factors, including: the 182 page Madison Teachers, Inc. contract, which may become the District’s handbook (Seniority notes and links)…, state and federal laws, hiring practices, teacher content knowledge, the School Board, lobbying and community economic conditions (tax increase environment) among others.

Superintendent Nerad’s reign has certainly been far more open about critical issues such as reading, math and open enrollment than his predecessor (some board members have certainly been active with respect to improvement and accountability). The strings program has also not been under an annual assault, lately. That said, changing anything in a large organization, not to mention a school district spending nearly $15,000 per student is difficult, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman pointed out in 2009.

Would things improve if a new Superintendent enters the scene? Well, in this case, it is useful to take a look at the District’s recent history. In my view, diffused governance in the form of more independent charter schools and perhaps a series of smaller Districts, possibly organized around the high schools might make a difference. I also think the District must focus on just a few things, namely reading/writing, math and science. Change is coming to our agrarian era school model (or, perhaps the Frederick Taylor manufacturing model is more appropriate). Ideally, Madison, given its unparalleled tax and intellectual base should lead the way.

Perhaps we might even see the local Teachers union authorize charters as they are doing in Minneapolis.

Madison School Board rates Superintendent Nerad barely ‘proficient’;

Matthew DeFour:

If Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s job performance were judged like a student taking the state achievement test, he would score barely proficient, according to the Madison School Board’s most recent evaluation.
The evaluation, completed last month and released to the State Journal under the state’s Open Records Law, reveals the School Board’s divided view of Nerad’s performance.
School Board President James Howard said he expects the board to vote later this month on whether to extend Nerad’s contract beyond June 2013. The decision has been delayed as Nerad’s achievement gap plan is reviewed by the public, Howard said.
Soon after that plan was proposed last month, Howard said he would support extending Nerad’s contract. Now, Howard says he is uncertain how he’ll vote.
“It’s probably a toss-up,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues on the table in Madison. It’s time to resolve them. All this kicking-the-can-down-the-road stuff has to stop.”
Nerad said he has always welcomed feedback on how he can improve as a leader.

Related: Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires since 1992.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.
The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances:

The Madison Superintendent position’s success is subject to a number of factors, including: the 182 page Madison Teachers, Inc. contract, which may become the District’s handbook (Seniority notes and links)…, state and federal laws, hiring practices, teacher content knowledge, the School Board, lobbying and community economic conditions (tax increase environment) among others.
Superintendent Nerad’s reign has certainly been far more open about critical issues such as reading, math and open enrollment than his predecessor (some board members have certainly been active with respect to improvement and accountability). The strings program has also not been under an annual assault, lately. That said, changing anything in a large organization, not to mention a school district spending nearly $15,000 per student is difficult, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman pointed out in 2009.
Would things improve if a new Superintendent enters the scene? Well, in this case, it is useful to take a look at the District’s recent history. In my view, diffused governance in the form of more independent charter schools and perhaps a series of smaller Districts, possibly organized around the high schools might make a difference. I also think the District must focus on just a few things, namely reading/writing, math and science. Change is coming to our agrarian era school model (or, perhaps the Frederick Taylor manufacturing model is more appropriate). Ideally, Madison, given its unparalleled tax and intellectual base should lead the way.
Perhaps we might even see the local Teachers union authorize charters as they are doing in Minneapolis.

Sometimes, the best we can do for kids’ education is to get out of the way and let them do it themselves.

Steve Rankin, via email:

Mikko Utevsky, 17, of Madison, decided to form a student-led chamber orchestra, so he did. Their premiere was June 17 on the UW-Madison campus, and here’s what Mikko had to say to Jacob Stockinger, a classical music blogger from Madison, at the beginning of a week of intensive rehearsal:
Obviously, these kids did not arrive at their musical talents without adult teaching and guidance. Many of them began in their school bands and orchestras. They continue to study with their own teachers and with adult-run orchestras such as WYSO ( and school-based bands and orchestras. As school funding continues to be in jeopardy, and arts programming is first on the chopping block (the MMSD strings program has been under threat of elimination a number of times and has been cut twice since most of these students began, (,,,, – many more citations available through SIS), the chances for a student-led ensemble such as MAYCO (Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra) to continue to thrive are also in jeopardy.

Keeping Notes Afloat in Class

Michael Alison Chandler:

Third-graders at Hunters Woods Elementary School are required to learn the fundamentals of the violin. They know how to stand up straight, how to hold their instruments and how to use the tippy tips of their fingers when they press on the strings so they don’t make what their teacher calls “an icky sound.”
After learning a grand total of eight notes, they also know how to make music. Their repertoire one fall morning included pieces from a range of cultures and styles: “Caribbean Island,” “Seminole Chant,” “Good King Wenceslas.”
In Fairfax County and elsewhere, students often begin studying violin in fourth grade. Hunters Woods, an arts and science magnet school in Reston, gives them a one-year head start. Experts say the earlier children begin, the more likely they are to succeed in music.
Hunters Woods, with 950 students, is one of more than a dozen local schools in which teachers are trained through the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to infuse arts education into other subjects. For instance, students might build instruments from recycled materials, learn science through lessons on sound and vibration or study math through measurement and patterning. Some also compose songs with lyrics inspired by Virginia history.
But music programs and the rest of the education budget are under scrutiny as the county School Board seeks to close a $220 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July. One proposal to save about $850,000 would trim band and strings teaching positions, making it tough to keep such programs in third and fourth grades, said Roger Tomhave, fine arts coordinator for Fairfax schools.

This tune sounds familiar. Madison formerly offered a 4th grade strings program (now only in 5th).

2007 / 2008 Budget Approved: School Board keeps Lindbergh open

Susan Troller:

Board members tussled over dozens of suggestions to try to find money to return various programs and services to the district that had been cut by the administration in an effort to balance the $339.6 million budget.
The administration had originally proposed about $8 million in cuts, including $2 million from special education aimed at helping students with speech or language problems, increased class size at the elementary level and closing Lindbergh Elementary and Black Hawk Middle School, and consolidating Marquette and Lapham.
The board also approved a district proposal to eliminate busing for five Catholic schools in the district, and offer parents a $450 subsidy to transport their children themselves, to save about $230,000. State statutes require that public schools provide transportation for all students in their district. Parents of students at other area private schools take the subsidy in lieu of busing.
Board member Lucy Mathiak and Superintendent Art Rainwater had several testy exchanges as Mathiak grilled administrators on their programs and expenses.
“I’m trying to understand why our district requires so many more people in teaching and learning than other districts,” Mathiak said.
“Our priorities since I’ve been superintendent are highly trained, highly skilled teachers in a small class. After that, we believe in highly trained, highly skilled teachers in front of a large class. We don’t believe in poorly trained teachers in small classes,” Rainwater said sharply as he defended the Madison district’s focus on professional development.
Board members also disagreed on how aggressively to use projected salary savings, an accounting method that predicts how many teachers will leave the district. Any shortfall would have to come out of the district’s equity fund, which some board members feel is dangerously low.

Andy Hall:

In a six-plus-hour meeting punctuated by flaring tempers, the board also found ways to stave off most proposed increases in elementary class sizes by raising fees and increasing projected savings in salaries for the 2007-08 school year.
The board also spared the district’s fifth-grade strings program from elimination.
The moves came as the board balanced the district’s $339.6 million budget by cutting $7.9 million from existing services and programs.
The budget finally was approved just after midnight on a 6-1 vote. Lucy Mathiak was the lone dissenter.
Board members voted 4-3 to consolidate Marquette and Lapham at Lapham, 1045 E. Dayton St., into a kindergarten through fifth-grade school, while rejecting a proposal from Superintendent Art Rainwater to close Lindbergh, 4500 Kennedy Road. Currently, Lapham hosts K-2 students while Marquette hosts grades three through five.
Rainwater also had proposed consolidating Black Hawk Middle School into Sherman and O’Keeffe middle schools, but that proposal wasn’t adopted.
Voting for the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham, to save $522,000, were Lawrie Kobza, Arlene Silveira, Beth Moss and Maya Cole. Opposing the measure were Johnny Winston Jr., Carol Carstensen and Mathiak.

The Madison school board approved the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham elementary schools under next year’s budget. The two schools will combine under Lapham’s roof, reported WISC-TV.
Under the budget, Marquette will be used for alternative education programs.
The school board also approved combining all high school boys golf teams into two and elminated bussing to Wright and Spring Harbor charter schools.
The moves are all a part of cutting the budget by more than $7 million.
Many of those linked to affected schools have loudly spoken out in opposition to the closings, and Monday was no exception. Parents and students put their concerns in writing outside the Doyle Administration Building — children writing in chalk on the ground — hoping to catch the eye of board members before the meeting inside.

Brenda Konkel, TJ Mertz and Paul Soglin have more. Paul mentioned:

“From the debate, the motions and the votes, it seems that all of the rancor over ideological splits in the Madison Metropolitan School Board is irrelevant” given the vote to consolidate Marquette and Lapham schools

I think the current diversity of viewpoints on the Madison School Board is healthy. Rewind the clock three years and imagine how some of these issues might have played out. Would there have been a public discussion? Would the vote have been 6 – 1, or ? One of the reasons the “spending gap” in the MMSD’s $339.6M+ budget was larger this year is due to the Board and Administration’s public recognition of the structural deficit. The MMSD’s “equity” has declined by half over the past 7 years. More from

Grade 5 Strings – How you can help

Grade 5 elementary string students need your help. There are ways you can support the hundreds of ten-year olds who are in Grade 5 strings and this year’s Grade 4 students who would like the chance to take the course next year:
A. Bring your child to play his/her instrument at Thursday’s Budget Hearing – April 19th at 6:00 p.m., Memorial High School Auditorium.
If your child would like to “play” in support of Grade 5 strings, there will be an opportunity to do this at Thursday’s budget hearing to be held in the auditorium at Memorial High School ( Students from grades 5-12 are welcome. There will be adults present to help coordinate the playing of a few songs from the strings festival. If you want to play, please come at 6 p.m., so we can organize the students.
B. Email the School Board – – let them know:
1. you support the program for all children,
2. what this course has meant to your child if your child is/has
taken elementary strings,
3. you would like the newly formed school board community task
force on fine arts to have a chance to do it’s work, which
a. identifying the community’s fine arts education values and
b. identifying ways to increase low-income/minority
participation in the arts (45% elementary string students
are minority, 35% are low income), and
c. identifying funding priorities for the School Board
C. Speak at the Budget Hearings – 6:30 p.m. – Tuesday, April 17th at La Follette High School Auditorium and Thursday, April 19th at Memorial High School Auditorium:
There are two public hearings next week on the budget – Tuesday, April 17th, 6:30 p.m. at La Follette High School and Thursday, April 19th, 6:30 p.m. at Memorial High School – both public hearings are in the school’s auditoriums. If you come, you need to sign if you want to speak. You can sign in and not speak but say you support the program. Each person who speaks is given 3 minutes.
For nearly 40 years, MMSD has had an elementary strings program. Two years ago, elementary string instruction was cut in half. Last year, Grade 4 strings was cut entirely. This year, Superintendent Rainwater is proposing to cut Grade 5 strings, which would eliminate all string instruction during the school day.
Thank you for your support of Grade 5 strings and a strong fine arts education for our children.

April Board of Education Progress Report – Johnny Winston, Jr.

The month of April brings showers; however, for the Madison BOE it brings new beginnings, budget challenges and community dialogue.
First, regarding new beginnings, let me congratulate Beth Moss and Maya Cole on their election onto the Madison School Board. They will be replacing the retiring Shwaw Vang and Ruth Robarts. Our community should be proud of Mr. Vang and Ms. Robarts’ years of service. I was also re-elected to a second term and look forward to continued public service in this position.
In addition to new Board members, the Board decided unanimously to name the new school General Vang Pao Elementary.
Second, the Madison School District faces a $7.9 million dollar shortfall, which has the Board discussing school closings and consolidations, increasing elementary class sizes in several schools, increasing class sizes across the district in elementary art, music, gym and REACH, and eliminating the 5th grade strings program. After 14 years of being under the state imposed revenue limits, the budget cuts are now reaching the point of cutting into the foundation of our educational values.
Third, several public hearings on the budget reductions will be held throughout the community including on Tuesday April 17th at La Follette and Thursday April 19th at Memorial. Both hearings are at 6:30 pm. The 2007-08 budget will be finalized in late April or early May.
Fourth, the Board voted down an operating referendum proposal that could have taken place in the summer. However, given our budgetary situation I won’t be surprised to see an operating referendum on the ballot in February 2008.
Fifth, the Board approved a Request For Proposals for consultants to conduct a superintendent search, and decided on health insurance contributions for administrators.
Board Committees
A full month of public hearings and Board workshop agendas kept many committees from meeting since my last report. However, the committees have played an important part in analysis and discussion this year.
Finance and Operations (Lawrie Kobza, Chair) continues its work on the citizen’s budget. Long Range Planning (Carol Carstensen, Chair) held public hearings in the community regarding the proposed closings and consolidations.
Communications (Arlene Silveira, Chair) held a special workshop regarding community advocacy efforts regarding lobbying our state government for additional K-12 funding. Community Partnerships (Lucy Mathiak, Chair) received a presentation regarding the process and procedure the UW Foundation uses to engage people to make contributions.
On Monday March 26th, the MMSD held its annual recognition awards honoring district staff, students and citizens who have made significant contributions to Madison’s outstanding schools. Nine students received the Joe Thomas Community Service Award, five teachers were recognized for their work toward the Kohl Teacher Fellowship, and eleven individuals received the Distinguished Service Award. For more MMSD news click here:
Thank you for your interest and support of the MMSD.
Johnny Winston, Jr., President, Madison Board of Education
Want district information? Go to
Write to the entire school board at
Sign up for MMSD communications at
Watch school board meetings and other district programs on MMSD Channel 10 & 19.
Ken Syke
Public Information
Madison School District
voice 663 1903; cell 608 575 6682; fax 608 204 0342

Maintain and Grow Madison’s Art Programs: Support Elementary Strings

Parents and Students distributed to attendees of the recent Spring 2007 Strings Festival the following information in a flier:
Madison Community Asks the MMSD School Board:
Don’t Cut, Work with the Community to Strengthen and Grow
Madison’s Elementary String Program

Superintendent Rainwater has proposed cutting Grade 5 strings, which would eliminate the nearly 40-year old elementary strings program. This does not have to happen and you can help:
1) Email the School Board (, letting the School Board know:
a. You support elementary strings and a vibrant, strong fine arts academic education for all Madison’s school children as important for and fundamental to a student’s personal and academic growth, and
b. You support and want the newly formed School Board Community Fine Arts Task Force to have a chance and time to explore ways to continue and to sustain elementary strings, and all arts education, in Madison’s schools, without further cuts to programs.

Budget Impacts at Franklin-Randall–Don’t Get Mad, Get Active!!

(This letter is being distributed to parents of Franklin-Randall students, but should concern everyone in the MMSD and Regent Neighborhood)
Don’t get mad, get active!!
March 16, 2007
The School Board recently announced sweeping budget cuts for the coming school year that will have a severe impact on Franklin-Randall, as well as other schools in the district. Following Tuesday’s PTO meeting, parents in attendance agreed that we must act QUICKLY to address this crisis. Below, we have summarized the funding crisis, and how cuts to our and other schools will affect our children’s education and safety. Most importantly, we conclude with specific ideas that we can all implement, to positively address this crisis.
Brief overview of the FUNDING CRISIS: Wisconsin has placed an indefinite “Budget Cap” on all additional funding towards schools. Every year there are increased costs to our schools to cover teacher salaries, increased student numbers, and increased maintenance costs. Without intervention and change, Madison’s reputation for excellence in education is going to change significantly, and with that, so will the diversity, appeal, and attraction of our city.
How will current district recommendations directly affect the education and safety of your children in the Franklin-Randall community?
*As a result of the “SAGE” program being cut from our schools, Franklin-Randall class sizes will rise from 15 to 22 for Kindergarten and First grade, and from 15 to 24 for Second and Third grades this Fall.
*Franklin will lose 5.1 teacher allocations; this most likely means that 3 classroom teachers will be laid-off, and there will be reductions throughout Art, Music, PE, and Reach.
*Randall will lose 1.6 teacher allocations.
*Randall will lose the 5th grade strings program (last year 4th grade strings was cut).
How will cuts at OTHER schools affect the education and safety of your children?
All of our city’s elementary school children come together in middle and high schools; sub-standard education in any one of these schools will therefore affect all students eventually: a loss for one school will become a loss for all.
What can I do NOW?
1. Talk to people at your bus stop, in your neighborhood, and in the hallways at school when you’re there– work together to come up with at least one idea to present at the Rescue Our Schools brainstorm session. This meeting will follow the monthly PTO meeting (Tuesday, April 10th at 6:30) in the Randall Library.
2. Talk to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors who DON’T have children about how these changes to our schools will affect them. One key point to address is that our city is only as appealing as its future, and our children are the future. Everyone, with or without kids, will be affected. Wisconsin has a history of valuing education and performance; if this changes, we are giving up a source of identity and pride!
3. Attend the Information and Advocacy Session at the Doyle Administration Building, Thursday, March 29th at 6:30pm
4. Form shared child-care groups with friends and neighbors to allow for more parental presence in the schools. Make it a goal to do this in some capacity weekly. These cooperatives will allow you to watch or volunteer at more school functions, participate in school trips, or attend school board meetings. Education research definitively shows, that the more YOU are involved, the more success your child will have in school!
5. As you are able, contribute with time or money to the PTO! $100 can buy a violin that will last 10 years! Commit to a half-hour stint helping on the playground weekly — this equates to invaluable community-building, camaraderie, injury prevention, as well as much-needed breaks for our teachers.
6. Attend the MMSD School Board Meetings, held on Mondays at the Doyle Administration Bldg at 545 W. Dayton St, next door to the Kohl Center. Beginning at 7:15, any person or group can make a “Public Appearance” (up to three minutes each) to deliver opinions / make arguments about any school-related topic. To find out more, go to : under “District Information” click on “Board of Education”, then under “Meetings”, click on “Board of Education Calendar”.
7. Become active in the you school PTO!!! Sign up to be on the Franklin-Randall List-Serve — This is a fast, easy and inexpensive way for people to notify each other about F-R events and news. Simply send an email to:, with “subscribe” in the subject line. To find out about all the up-coming meetings and events, go to the F-R PTO website. Site address is
8. Don’t forget to VOTE on Tues, April 3rd, during Spring break–And if you’re not in town, vote ABSENTEE! To vote absentee, go anytime within one week before the election, to the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rm. 103. 8-4:30pm. Alternatively, by calling 266-4601, you may ask the city to mail you a ballot (English, Spanish or Hmong), or simply go online: (also downloadable in English, Spanish or Hmong)
What can I do long-term?
Ultimately, we have to address long-term changes to school funding at the State and National level. Through grassroots organizing directed at raising awareness of the issues, we can make a change. We must reach out to like-minded groups (other PTO’s, PTA etc.), and legislators around the state. To this end, following April’s PTO meeting, we will meet to collect ideas, and organize our strategies —
*PLEASE come to the PTO Meeting, April 10th at 6:30pm (Randall Library)!! *
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for taking action in whatever way you can!
Concerned Franklin-Randall Parents
For further information, please contact any of us:
Sari Judge 233-1754, Megan Brown 250-0552, Kate Zirbel 661-9090,
Mollie Kane 232-1809, Erika Kluetmeier, 238-6209

“Bitter Medicine for Madison Schools”:
07/08 budget grows 3.6% from 333M (06/07) to $345M with Reductions in the Increase

Doug Erickson on the 2007/2008 $345M budget (up from $333M in 2006/2007) for 24,342 students):

As feared by some parents, the recommendations also included a plan to consolidate schools on the city’s East Side. Marquette Elementary students would move to Lapham Elementary and Sherman Middle School students would be split between O’Keeffe and Black Hawk middle schools.
No school buildings would actually close – O’Keeffe would expand into the space it currently shares with Marquette, and the district’s alternative programs would move to Sherman Middle School from leased space.
District officials sought to convince people Friday that the consolidation plan would have some educational benefits, but those officials saw no silver lining in having to increase class sizes at several elementary schools.
Friday’s announcement has become part of an annual ritual in which Madison – and most other state districts – must reduce programs and services because overhead is rising faster than state-allowed revenue increases. A state law caps property-tax income for districts based on enrollment and other factors.
The Madison School District will have more money to spend next year – about $345 million, up from $332 million – but not enough to keep doing everything it does this year.
School Board members ultimately will decide which cuts to make by late May or June, but typically they stick closely to the administration’s recommendations. Last year, out of $6.8 million in reductions, board members altered less than $500,000 of Rainwater’s proposal.
Board President Johnny Winston Jr. called the cuts “draconian” but said the district has little choice. Asked if the School Board will consider a referendum to head off the cuts, he said members “will discuss everything.”
But board Vice President Lawrie Kobza said she thinks it’s too early to ask the community for more money. Voters approved a $23 million referendum last November that included money for a new elementary school on the city’s Far West Side.
“I don’t see a referendum passing,” she said.

Links: Wisconsin K-12 spending. The 10.5M reductions in the increase plus the planned budget growth of $12M yields a “desired” increase of 7.5%. In other words, current Administration spending growth requires a 7.5% increase in tax receipts from property, sales, income, fees and other taxes (maybe less – see Susan Troller’s article below). The proposed 07/08 budget grows 3.6% from 333M+ (06/07) to $345M (07/08). Madison’s per student spending has grown an average of 5.25% since 1987 – details here.
UPDATE: A reader emails:

The spectre of central city school closings was what prompted some of us to resist the far-west side school referendum. Given the looming energy crisis, we should be encouraging folks to live in town, not at the fringes, strengthen our city neighborhoods. Plus, along with the need to overhaul the way we fund schools, we need a law requiring developers to provide a school or at least the land as a condition to development.

UPDATE 2: Susan Troller pegs the reduction in the increase at $7.2M:

Proposed reductions totaled almost $7.2 million and include increases in elementary school class sizes, changes in special education allocations and school consolidations on the near east side.
Other recommendations include increased hockey fees, the elimination of the elementary strings program and increased student-to-staff ratios at the high school and middle school levels.

UPDATE 3: Roger Price kindly emailed the total planned 07/08 budget: $339,139,282

Elementary String Education for Nine and Ten Year Olds: Private Funding Required

According to a meeting I had with the Superintendent, he says MMSD will require $300,000 to fund elementary string instruction and that private funding and/or grants will be needed to continue Elementary String Education in the Madison public schools. Without this funding, he is likely to again propose cutting this Madison public school tradition of nearly 40 years.
I’m exploring setting up a specific fund for string education at either the Foundation for Madison Public Schools or the Madison Community Foundation, so tax deductible contributions can be made in support of the curriculum. Madisonians United for String Education for Students (MUSEs) is a working title for a group of parents who want to keep elementary string instruction in our public schools for our young children. We welcome your ideas on next steps. Personally, we feel if this is the route we have to take, an endowment fund will be needed to ensure the course continues into the future.
I met last week with the Superintendent who said he a) supports elementary string curriculum instruction during the school day, b) would accept proposals for privately funding elementary string education. I also said the support and/or leadership of the Fine Arts Coordinator was important to such an effort, and he agreed, saying the Fine Arts Coordinator would be supportive.
Public schools surrounding Madison have strong, growing elementary string courses, because the community values the course and this is the foundation course for more advanced instrumental training/experiences in middle and high school. Plus, elementary string courses make their school districts attractive to parents deciding where to live and to send their children to school. Many parents want their children to have the experience of learning to play an instrument and to make music with other students. Private lessons can cost $2,000 or more per year – few families can afford this, especially low income families. That’s what’s special about Madison’s elementary strings program. In Madison, in previous years, Grade 4 and 5 strings taught about 500+ low-income students annually.
String instrument instruction offers a number of benefits for children – they can be sized to a small child, they are “easy” to take home to practice, all types of cultural and popular music can be played on the string instruments, and these instruments lend themselves to ensemble playing. Furthermore, learning how to play an instrument prepares you for playing a string or band instrument in middle school or for chorus, because you learn how to read music. Through the one- to two-year elementary course, children experience the joy of making music and performing through discipline and practice. Also, by offering this course Madison’s public schools stand shoulder to shoulder with what the surrounding school districts value and offer their children.
Lastly, I’m also be looking at various financial information to develop some proposals for the School Board’s consideration. I welcome your support and ideas.

June 12th School Board Update – End of School Year

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

The Madison School Board has been (and will be) very busy. At the June 12th meeting the board voted to go to referendum on November 7th for a new elementary school on the far Westside of Madison, Leopold Addition and refinancing of existing debt. The total amount of the referendum is $23.5 million. If approved, it would represent about a $21 increase in property taxes for the next 20 years on the average $239,449 home.
The June 5th meeting was devoted to discussing the possible referendum items.
On May 31st the board passed the $333 million dollar budget for the 2006-07 school year. Amongst notable budget amendments include: 5th grade strings program two times per week (with a pilot program at one school with students having the choice of either general music or strings), community services funding for Kasjiab House and GSA for Safe Schools, elementary library pages, Connect program and a garbage truck (to end privatization of service).


Week of May 30th – School Board Update by President Johnny Winston, Jr.

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Currently, the Madison School Board is deliberating over the 2006-07 budget. Board members submitted budget amendments to the Administration last week. The strings program, library pages, funding for community groups, student fees, school programs and class sizes are among the items identified by board members to change in the budget. For a list of budget amendments and Administrative responses please go to:
We invite the public to comment on the budget amendments at our public hearing on Tuesday May 30th at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Building or in writing to the board at The board will finalize the budget on Wednesday May 31st. Both of these meetings will be televised on MMSD television on cable channel 10 at 5 p.m.


School Board to restore school programs, but . . .

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board members have come up with their lists of programs to put back into next year’s budget.
But in order to get those items back, four of the board’s seven members have to agree not only on what to add, but how to fund it.
Madison School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. wants to restore the district’s elementary strings program for fifth- graders to twice a week, keep fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Lincoln Elementary School limited to 20 students and fund programs to improve the attendance of Hmong students and to make schools safer by reducing bullying.
School Board member Ruth Robarts wants to keep the strings program for fourth graders as well as fifth-graders, nix increases in student textbook fees and restore the positions of library pages who assist school librarians, which were cut from the $332 million budget district administrators have proposed for next year.

Cutting Elementary Strings Hurts Children From Families With Low and Moderate Incomes

Members of the Board of Education,
I am writing to urge you all to vote in support of continuing the strings program in elementary schools.
I am a parent of a 6th grader at Hamilton Middle School, and I am fortunate to have been able to afford private and group violin lessons outside the school system for my son, since kindergarten. I can not tell you what a huge benefit this has been to him, in terms of teaching him to strive towards a rewarding goal, the joy of working together in a group of other learners, and appreciating the goodness of the arts in a troubled world.
And yet I know that the disadvantaged children in MMSD have no opportunity at all to play a violin or other instrument in elementary school unless the strings program continues.
It is clear to me and all music instructors that if a child starts violin in 6th grade, it is by far more difficult for them and much more likely that they will become frustrated and give up.
Starting in grade 4 will not only help students learn and stay with it, but will be a better use of the precious funds that we do allocate to strings in all grades — a better foundation means better participation and more benefits in the later grades.
My own son did not take strings in 4th and 5th grade, because I felt it was better to give another spot to a family that did not have another means to offer strings to their child. He now participates in 6th grade. I can tell you that with all the other major adjustments of the transition to middle school, starting a stringed instrument from scratch would have added a lot of stress to our family.
Please, please find a way to continue strings in 4th and 5th grades. I have been to enough meetings to know that there are things that could be cut from the budget that are way less important than strings.
Thank you,
Jane Sekulski
PS. If you have never seen the movie “Music of the Heart”, please consider doing so. It is based on a true story, which is documented in the film “Small Wonders”, of a violin program in inner city New York. The documentary is even better.

Weekly Email Message

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
The 2006-07 proposed budget is on the district’s web site ( The Executive Summary provides an overview of the budget. The list of specific staff cuts is found on pages 3 & 4 of Chapter 3, Department & Division Reports.
None of the cuts are good for the district or for the education of our children but they are required to keep the budget in compliance with the state revenue caps. Since there is likely to be considerable discussion about the cut affecting the elementary strings program, I wanted to provide a little additional information. The administration is proposing to continue the current structure (strings once a week for 45 minutes) for 5th graders only. Additionally, there is a recommendation to have a committee of district staff and UW music education specialists develop a new approach for K-5 music that will include, for all students, experience playing an instrument.
There are forums on the budget scheduled for Tuesday, May 2 at 6:30 p.m. at LaFollette and Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 at Memorial.


Madison Schools’ Proposed Balanced Budget for 2006/2007

The Madison Metropolitan School District Administration published it’s proposed $332.9M+ balanced budget for 2006/2007 in 3 parts:

  • Executive Summary [pdf]
  • Financial Summaries [pdf]
  • Department and Division Reports [pdf]

“Total spending under the proposed budget is $332,947,870, which is an increase of $11,012,181 or 3.42% over 2005-06. The increase of 2.6% under the revenue limit plus other fund increases or expenditures makes up the whole proposed budget. The property tax levy would increase $11,626,677 or 5.8% to $211,989,932.”
“The property tax levy has to increase more than spending because state and federal aids and grants are decreasing. The district is being conservative in its early estimates of these aids and grants in order to avoid overspending.”

4/5 strings is once again on the chopping block. Page 6 of the executive summary. The document refers to the “current strings program”.
Links & Notes:


I believe there has been enough ineffective communication on the school board and I am ready for decisions based on solid data and careful discussion. I believe that Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak will both bring that to the board.
I am also certain that if we do not vote for them, we will endanger the strings programs, the TAG program and others that current board members deem unnecessary, even though they serve a diverse population of students.
We are a family looking for other educational options for our kids because we are tired of fighting to get our children’s needs met in the Madison Schools. We are tired of “being patient,” as one teacher told us. We are ready for our children to have access to challenges. Cole and Mathiak will serve the board well in examining the current school district agenda and exposing the truth.
– Elizabeth A. Dohrn, Madison
March 30, 2006 – WI State Journal


A proposal is before the Madison Metropolitan School Board to approve a $2.8 million addition to Leopold funded under the revenue caps. The Board may vote on this proposal on Monday, March 27. While the Leopold overcrowding is a serious problem that absolutely must be addressed, the question for the Board is whether this should be addressed by cutting an additional $343,000 (the yearly debt service on the $2.8 million loan) from programs and services from our operating budget.
What would we have to cut to pay for this? We don’t know yet, but examples of items that could be proposed for cuts include:

  • Elimination of the entire elementary strings programs (approx. $250,000)
  • Elimination of High School Hockey, Gymnastics, Golf, and Wrestling ($265,000)
  • Reduction of 4 Psychologists or Social Workers ($277,000)
  • Reduction of 7 Classroom Teachers ($350,000)

While no one wants to pit one educational need against another, that is what happens in the budgeting process when we are constrained by revenue caps. Paying for necessary physical improvements to Leopold now out of the operating budget means that other programs will be cut. On the other hand, failure to make those physical improvements now out of the operating budget means that either Leopold students will be required to deal with very overcrowded conditions without any assurance that a referendum to pay for a solution to the overcrowding will pass, or that boundary changes will have to be made that will affect many students in the West attendance area.
Difficult decisions must be made on what to fund out of our operating budget, and ultimately it comes down to a question of how we prioritize our District’s different educational needs. I would appreciate readers’ thoughts (click the comments below) on how to prioritize these needs and whether they believe the Leopold expansion should be paid for out of the operating budget.

AKA Fundraiser: Men Who Cook

On SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 3PM TO 5 PM Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Annual Scholarship Fundraiser “Men Who Cook” is at the Fitchburg Community Center located on 5520 Lacy Road. Tickets are $15 in advance or can be purchased at the door the day of the event for $20.


Board Votes to Create Equity Task Force

Schools to take closer look at equity
Task force could lead to budget war

By Matt Pommer, The Capital Times
November 1, 2005
The Madison School Board created an “equity” task force Monday, setting the stage for a possible budget war over programs like elementary school strings and foreign language instruction in middle schools.
President Carol Carstensen said the board had been “skirting difficult issues” in budget preparations.
The board has been in favor of equality and directing resources to the neediest population, but “we have not used our power to allocate resources to our neediest children,” she said.
The citizens task force was given a March 31 target date for a report, time enough to influence the development of the School Board’s 2006-07 budget. Twelve people – three from each high school attendance area – will be named to the task force.
In light of state budget controls, it becomes more difficult to fund program like strings and foreign language in middle school, Carstensen said.
Board member Juan Lopez said the School Board has been “responsive” to organized groups rather than focused on equity. For example, the strings program is important, but he asked, “Is it equitable? No.”
Groups may come to the board with a plea for an additional charter school, Lopez noted. That may not be equitable, but the board responds to a political push, he suggested.
Abha Thakkar, a member of the Northside Planning Council and the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition, urged the board to appoint the task force. She said in a “time of prosperity” it is easy to continue programs that help just some of the students in the district.
Helping the pupils from poor families is not just an east side or north side issue, she indicated. “It’s a districtwide issue,” she said, in urging adoption of the task force.
After the meeting, she told The Capital Times she was pleased by the creation of the task force. But she was most pleased at the lengthy board discussion before the vote.
“They finally fessed up to the issue,” she said.
Board member Lawrie Kobza said the equity issue was the reason she ran for the board. “Maybe it’s difficult to define equity,” she said.

Guest Editorial to the Simpson Street Free Press

Dear Editor:
Thank you for your comments regarding the reductions in Madison Metropolitan School District’s 4th and 5th grade elementary strings program and other Fine Arts programs. I personally know the importance of the strings program. I played the violin many years ago as a student at Lindbergh Elementary School. I continue to support Fine Arts programming. My board motions, budget amendments and voting record reflect those priorities. However, given our budgetary challenges I cannot make a strong commitment to any program in the future.


Simpson Street Free Press

On Thursday July 21st, I was asked to speak to a group of students at the Simpson Street Free Press regarding the recent budget cuts and threats to music and fine arts programming in the MMSD. I have to say that I really enjoy the opportunity to speak with students. I feel it is very important to listen to their issues as well as giving them the opportunity to hear an adult perspective.


Simply amazing

This season’s Concerts on the Square kicked off with an interesting medley of polka/waltz/cancans, but the best reason to have attended was the performance of a Dvorak piece by a 16-year old violinist from Janesville Parker, Saya Chang-O’Hara. Put simply, she was brilliant. Juilliard should be knocking on her door any day now. It was an honor to hear her play.
But what might be of interest to folks on this site is this: she only started playing when she was eleven, AS PART OF HER SCHOOL’S STRINGS PROGRAM.

Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Andrea Gilmore (This opinion piece was published in the Wisconsin State Journal):

I am lucky. I have been playing the violin since I was in the fourth grade. I was exposed to music at an early age and music has helped me gain skills that have enhanced my school career. Through music, I learned self-confidence, self-discipline, time management, cooperation and study skills.
Unfortunately, many young people may not have the opportunity I had. The elementary strings program costs only $500,000 in a budget of about $300 million. School board members recently decided to keep the elementary strings program next year in some form, while cutting approximately $500,000 overall out of the music-education programs.


There is Something Seriously Wrong with Music Education in MMSD

Suzy Grindrod writes that Madison school bureaucrats’ decisions are short-sighted and are Stringing the kids along
So they make the arts unworkable in early elementary school, they gut the incredibly successful elementary strings program, they remove band and orchestra from core curriculum in middle school … and then they are going to complain that there is no diversity in the high school bands and orchestras and — CHOP.
There is something fundamentally wrong with what is happening in Wisconsin’s Capitol city — a community that just built a $200 million arts district downtown, as these short-sighted and creatively stunted bureaucrats make it unlikely that many Madison kids will end up on Overture’s stage in the future unless they have the money to buy private lessons.
Can Madison turn this disgraceful situation around before the existing cost-effective MMSD music education curriculum implodes and vanishes from public school and performance music education is only for those who can pay?


Superintendent Rainwater: It doesn’t matter what Johnny thinks

In Thursday’s Capital Times article titled “Strings program is still not safe” by Lee Sensenbrenner, the Superintendent said, “It doesn’t matter what Johnny thinks!” Mr. Winston responded strongly. “I would like to see the strings program continued somehow, some way,” Winston added. “I think the community wants that. I think that’s loud and clear.”
Mr. Rainwater, it does matter to me what Johnny thinks. I, and I’m sure others, care about what the School Board is directing the superintendent to do, and we care deeply that the Superintendent is following through on directions from the majority of the School Board. Coming back one day later, declaring the charge is impossible, is puzzling following a presentation by the administration the night before of options.


Unbelievable comments from Rainwater

In a Cap Times story on Thursday, May 12, the superintendent seems to be trying to:
1. Control the news by telling the paper how to report on board action.
2. Tell Johnny Winston, Jr. that what Johnny thinks is irrelevant to the superintendent.
3. Put the board in its place by telling it that he will cut strings if the referendum fails, no matter what resolution the board passes.
Fortunately, Johnny seems to be speaking up.


My Proposal for 4th & 5th Grade Strings

Tonight (May 10, 2005) the Board of Education will discuss proposed amendments to the budget. This discussion will include a discussion of the 4th & 5th grade strings programs.
I support offering students the opportunity to take strings in 4th and 5th grade. Currently, 4th and 5th grade students who elect to take strings have two different music classes each week: general music, and strings. General music has two 30 minute classes per week, and strings meets twice a week for 45 minutes each. The strings classes are pull-out classes, which means that the students taking strings are missing another class during the time that they are out for strings.


Koloen: School Board Should Question Health Care Costs

Jim Koloen (appeared in the Capital Times):

Dear Editor: It is perplexing that the Madison School Board can approve a labor contract without actually having read it except through a summary provided by the administration. Why bother with a board at all if it simply behaves as though the administration and the board are one and the same? The words “rubber stamp” come to mind.

Evidently another contract ( five year transportation) was approved on May 2 – without presentation of the full financial details. (9 minute video clip of the discussion – the award was approved 4 – 2 with Kobza & Robarts voting against it due to lack of information. Check out the video). Generally, I think a five year deal is not a bad idea, IF all of the costs & benefits are known.


Elementary Strings – It Doesn’t Affect You Bill Keys Tells Student

An East High Student wrote Bill Keys, MMSD School Board president. In her letter she wrote:
“The reason I am involved in the high school orchestra today is
because I was able to participate in the elementary strings program
in elementary school….I am the oldest child of thirteen children. The youngest is about two months old today. All of my siblings following me up to the fifth grade play the violin in school. This was made possible because we were all given the chance to participate in the ever-wonderful Elementary Strings program that started in elementary school.”
Mr. Keys’ began his response, “First, to clarify: it is only at the 4th and 5th grade level that the strings program has been recommended bythe staff for cut should the referendum fail.”
Mr. Keys, I think it is you who need the clarification.


Open Letter to the Community Regarding Strings

Dear Community Members:
Thank you for your heartfelt comments regarding the 4th & 5th grade strings program. I know first hand about the program. I was a strings program participant at Lindbergh Elementary School in 1977. I know that strings are a very beloved program within our district. However, I don’t believe that our community understands the complexity of our budgetary challenges. This is not something you merely can “bake sale”, “brat fest” or write grants to solve.


String / Fine Arts Rally – May 2nd at 545 W. Dayton

What: Elementary Strings / Fine Arts Rally –
Where: Doyle Building – 545 W. Dayton Street
When: May 2nd, 7 p.m.
Why: 1,866 Nine- and Ten-Year Old Children Need Your Help Now! The entire 4th and 5th grade elementary strings program has been targeted for removal from the 2005-2006 budget. Further, since last year, the administration has not undertaken any curriculum assessment and review of fine arts education, needs, costs, etc. The administration has not done their homework. There is no justification for cutting 100% a program that costs 0.17% of the $328 million school budget and is a well-established, much-loved curriculum.
Download Information on String Rally

Mr. Rainwater, I am looking at you. And I�m more than disappointed.

Dear Editor,
I just returned from the annual Madison Strings Festival with a warm feeling in my heart. It wasn�t the warmth of joy, however, despite the lasting echoes of 1,000 children playing music. It was the embers of rage beginning to kindle. For the fourth time, the Strings Festival was tainted by rumblings of anger, shock, and outrage at Art Rainwater�s ongoing assault on Madison values. For the fourth time, the elementary strings program in the Madison schools is targeted for demolition.


The arts are a crucial component of an intelligent school curriculum.

“Without incorporating arts education, our children will not be prepared for success and survival in the world community we live in. The arts broaden our perception of the world, utilize our brains more fully and train us to look for a variety of solutions. The arts bring joy into lives that are not always full of sun.


Let the String Teachers Stick to Music Education

“It is unreasonable that the strings program in MMSD should be the target of cuts every year, when it is demonstrated OVER AND OVER that it is a successful program musically, it helps with academic progress, and it is a boon to economically disadvantaged students. Will the School Board please allow the string teachers in the district stick to music education rather than fighting for the existence of a proven program?”
from comments – String Survey

String Survey – Comments

Take the string survey – results will be tabulated and forwarded to the school board. I’ll be posting comments from the survey on this website:
survey comment response: “Don’t cut music. I was never in a strings program, but rather played trombone. I think that my experiences in music helped shape my teenage years more than probably any other factor. I think it would be sad to see it go. 4th grade is not too young to learn music; and early start allows them to be interested in music before they are overwhelmed by too many other things.”

String Orchestra Festival Soars Despite District Administration Annual Assault

The annual string festival is a reminder of how wonderful music education is, and of how important this is for our children’s education. This annual spring event is also a reminder of how badly the existing School Board is failing our children. Lawrie Kobza, school board candidate for Seat 6, wrote, “Fourth and fifth grade strings is a well-established, much-loved, and much-supported program. There is also significant research demonstrating a high correlation between playing an instrument and achievement. Given all of these positives, the 4th & 5th grades strings program should not be considered for cuts until the district does everything possible it can to retain or if necessary restructure the program so that strings can continue to be offered in 4th and 5th grades even in times of tight finances.” This is Lawrie’s approach – not settling for the status quo, working together creatively for what we value for our kids’s education. I am voting for her on Tuesday, April 5th, because the strings festival, sports, academics would all benefit from her talents on the school board. The status quo is not working locally – the longer we stay with the status quo, the more our kids will suffer.


School Board Candidate Lawrie Kobza Says Don’t Cut Elementary Strings – Offers Suggestions

I support offering students the opportunity to take strings in 4th and 5th grade, and oppose the administration’s proposed cuts to the program.
Fourth and fifth grade strings is a well-established, much-loved, and much-supported program. There is also significant research demonstrating a high correlation between playing an instrument and achievement. Given all of these positives, the 4th & 5th grades strings program should not be considered for cuts until the district does everything possible it can to retain or if necessary restructure the program so that strings can continue to be offered in 4th and 5th grades even in times of tight finances.


Carol Carstensen Says I’m Angry and Threatens Elementary Strings: Raises Confidence and Governance Issues for Me

Carol Carstensen told me last night that I’ve been “angry” over elementary strings for the past four years. I learned many years ago never to “tell” people what they are feeling – 90% of the time you’re wrong, and in this case Ms. Carstensen is dead wrong about me.
Her comment to me came after I asked her why the board would agree to a recommendation that puts the ENTIRE elementary strings program at risk if a referendum does not pass yet the board did not ask nor would it even consider a) reducing the administrative budget (increased $1.5 million over two years even with cut of 2 positions), b) reducing any of the services to high school children for extracurricular sports ($2 million budget) – which makes sense. They are paying 20% of the cost of the program, and, so are the elementary strings children. Plus, the board has an athletics committee – not a fine arts committee. Something wrong with this picture? Yes, very much so, and it’s resulting in discrimination against underprivileged children who study instrumental music.


Our School Board Needs a Budget: No Budget Yet We Have a Cut List that Harms Underprivileged Children’s Education and Divides Parent Groups

The inside, unsigned cover page of MMSD’s non-budget cut list that tells the public that the administration is protecting math and reading for young children. For $12,000+ per student, the administration will teach our kids to read and to do math – what happened to science and social studies? What happened to educating the whole child or the district’s educational framework – engagement, learning and relationships?
You don’t put a cut list before a budget – no family would do that with their own budgeting process. How does a board member know where the money is going and how can board members ask needed, important questions about policy and direction? Looking at the proposed cuts in the elementary school you can easily see these cuts harm the academics and academic support for underprivileged child the most � it’s hard to determine if consider educating the whole child.


3/7/2005 Madison School Board Meeting Budget Comments

Board Members and citizens discussed the Madison School District Administration’s proposed budget changes (reductions in the increase, cuts and program eliminations – see this post for details. The overall budget will go up, from 317M to 327.7M as it does annually.) this past Monday evening:

Elementary School Needs String Instruments – Sandy Cullen

Sandy Cullen, Wisconsin State Journal reporter, wrote a story in early December about a shortage of string instruments at Leopold Elementary School. It seems that newly hired MMSD strings teacher, Pat Kukes, has more students than violins for his elementary string students. He’s hoping donations will be made to the school so that children will have instruments to practice and so that all students can play together in a concert.
Most of the students in the elementary strings program are low income, so renting an instrument privately is not an option.
Elementary School Needs String Instrumenets

School Board Balances Final Budget on the Backs of Some Kids

On Monday, May 17th, the MMSD School Board made less than $1 million in changes to Mr. Rainwater’s proposed $308 million budget for the 2004-2005 school year. These changes were made right after the Board approved more than $500,000 in salary and benefits increases to Administrators. The primary changes later made to the 2004-2005 budget were made by increasing existing fees (sport fees to $115/sport) and creating a new elementary strings fee of $50 per participant. The increase in fees for 2004-2005 totaled more than $300,000.
Robarts, Vang and Winston were right to vote against the proposed 2004-2005 school budget. Ruth Robarts’ call for an alternative budgeting approach is needed now. Reasons for her approach are outlined further in the following commentary that is also being submitted as a Letter to the Editor.


Budget Hearing – Elementary Strings Update

At the May 13th MMSD Budget Hearing parents and community representatives spoke against the proposed elementary string fee, calling it outrageous and equivalent to cutting the program.
“We are not a good-things-come-to-those-who pay town,” said parent Maureen Rickman, adding that the proposed fee would “cut out a big chunk of the students [in the middle income range].”
This coming Monday, May 17, the Board will begin the process of voting on the budget amendments. It is expected that they will start with those amendments that involve personnel because layoff notices need to go out before the end of the school year.


B Sharp Not Flat

In an effort to find funding for custodians and maintenance work, a Madison Board member proposed an unprecedented $460 fee for elementary strings, which is an academic curriculum subject in the Madison School District. No other fee, not even for extracurricular sports is as high.
He noted as part of his explanation for the fee that he starts high in a negotiation so as not to bargain away his position. Other Board member recommendations for changes to the MMSD 04-05 budget tried to minimize the impact on children’s instruction and opportunity to participate in activities beneficial to their education.
If the MMSD School Board wants the City of Madison’s support, I hope they take better care than to make extreme recommendations on a targeted group of students. The following Letter to the Editor, which has been sent in to the papers but not yet published asks for fairness and responsible decisionmaking when it comes to all academic curriculum.


MMSD Administration’s Cost Analysis of Elementary Strings is Out of Tune – A Critique

If the City of Madison is to have confidence in the School Board’s decisions, a fair and equitable budget process that is clear and understandable to the public is essential.
In late April 2004, the District Administration responded to the Bill Keys’ question about the cost of the District’s elementary strings program. The following letter to the School Board is a critique of that analysis which concluded the budget and curriculum information presented to the Board on elementary strings was done in a manner inconsistent with other cost studies and was incomplete.


String ’em up – Strings Hits the Isthmus

In an article by Vikki Kratz in the Isthmus, published on May 7, 2004, the author wonders if the MMSD is tone deaf.
“Bill Keys, president of the Madison Board of Education, recently asked for a budget analysis of the popular 4th and 5th grade strings program. … The move by Keys was the last straw for Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, who says he can no longer work in the district’s anti-arts atmosphere. ”
The analsysis that exasperated the District’s Fine Arts Coordinator was not prepared by him, but by District business professionals, unfamiliar with the academic curriculum. The analysis stated that a fee to cover the costs of the program would need to be nearly $500 per academic year.
The elementary strings program costs 1/4 what the District spends on extracurricular sports ($2 million per year) but a possible fee would be more than 5 times higher than what is currently paid for by any participant in a MMSD extracurricular sport this school year.
Examining the costs of all the District’s programs and services ought to be part of a robust budget process – targeting one program seems purposeful and biased. This approach runs the risk of losing rather than building the community’s confidence in its School Board.
The complete article and reference material is included below and can also be read at:


Elementary Strings Rally A Success

About forty elementary string students serenaded the School Board members as they entered the McDaniels Auditorium Monday evening, May 3rd. Nearly 200 parents and children filled the auditorium to demonstrate to School Board members their support for the academic program.
If you have not written the School Board about the strings program, take a moment to compose an e-mail. Ask your children if they want to write a letter to School Board members (545 W. Dayton Street, Madison, 53703) – School Board members read these letters AND THEY DO MATTER.
MMSD School Board e-mail:
Public Hearing on the Budget – May 13 5:00 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium.


Strings Community Action

A. Introduction:
There’s no need for community action if the MMSD Administration and BOE state support for the current elementary strings academic curriculum. They don’t. When the Board members don’t say yes, it means no, given their recent history with this curriculum.
The MMSD Board of Education adopted and approved the elementary strings program as a necessary component of its Music Education Curriculum in the late 1980s. Standards and benchmarks were added in the late 1990s. The BOE has neither discussed nor changed its decisions on this curriculum.
The recent treatment of the elementary strings curriculum is another example of what happens when our BOE is lacking Long Range Plans for curriculum, for funding and for letting the Administration call the shots for kids rather than the BOE.


Elementary Strings – Call to Action

Who: Students, Parents, Teachers and Citizens � Elementary Strings Kids Need Your Help!
What: Rally in Support of the Elementary Strings Program � Grades 4 & 5.
When: Monday, May 3, 2004 � Meet at 6:30 p.m. to organize/picket before the 7:15 p.m.regular School Board Meeting and personal appearances. String teachers will organize children who bring their string instruments to play a couple of songs from the spring string festival.
Where: Doyle Building McDaniels Auditorium at 545 W. Dayton Street.
Why: To let the MMSD School Board know that we do not want to see elementary strings added to the cut list this year. No assessment of the cut�s curriculum impact has been made.
On March 21, Board President Bill Keys asked the Administration to prepare an analysisof the cost of the elementary strings program. The Administration�s analysis, which was released only last Thursday, April 22, was very biased, incorrect and unfavorable toward thecurriculum and proposed a $493 fee to cover the full cost of the program � no other activity has a 100% fee! Blatant, inequitable treatment � not fair to kids or Madison!
There is a chance the elementary strings program could be put on the cut list by School Boardmembers, and the May 3rd rally at the auditorium is to let the School Board hear from the public in a loud unison voice – NO.
Time is of the essence. Budget decisions will be made very soon. Here�s the budget timeline:

  • May 3 � Budget workshop before the 7:15 p.m. regular school board meeting. Further review of the proposed 2004-2005 budget.
  • May 5 � Board member amendments to the MMSD Administration budget cut list to be submitted. At this time a School Board member could recommend including elementary strings (4th and 5th grade) on the cut list.
  • May 10 � Board budget workshop to discuss and vote on Board member proposed amendments. Four votes are needed to include/exclude an item from the budget cut list
  • May 13 � Public Hearing on the Budget at 7 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium.
  • May 17 � Board budget workshop � determine personnel layoffs.

Come to the rally and let your voice be heard. Tell others. Call Board members. E-mail the Board:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
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