Commentary on Madison’s April 7, 2015 Maintenance Referendum; District spending data remains MIA

Molly Beck: If approved, the referendum would raise property taxes about $62 on the average $237,678 Madison home for 10 years. The district is still paying off $30 million in referendum debt for the construction of Olson and Chavez elementary schools in the late 2000s, according to the district. The final payment, for the Olson … Continue reading Commentary on Madison’s April 7, 2015 Maintenance Referendum; District spending data remains MIA

Commentary and Results of the Madison School District’s Maintenance Referendum Survey (3% Response)

Madison School District Administration (PDF): MMSD received a total of 3,081 responses to the online survey. However, only Question #1 received the maximum number of responses; Questions #2-13 averaged around 2,200 respondents. Normally, a response rate is calculated by dividing the number of responses by the number of invitations to complete the survey. However, it … Continue reading Commentary and Results of the Madison School District’s Maintenance Referendum Survey (3% Response)

Madison Schools Propose a $24,000,000 Maintenance Referendum & Property Tax Increase; above $402M budget; 4%+ tax increase looms

The Madison School District (1.4MB PDF). “All elementary boundaries are due for a long term review”. Agreed. A look at the maps below along with the wide demographic variation across Madison public public schools indicates that addressing boundaries is job #2 – after dealing with the long term disastrous reading results. Going to referendum prior … Continue reading Madison Schools Propose a $24,000,000 Maintenance Referendum & Property Tax Increase; above $402M budget; 4%+ tax increase looms

Preparing the Way for a Madison School District Maintenance Referendum

Gayle Worland::

The analysis comes on the heels of a 2012-13 budget for the district proposed by Nerad that would increase Madison School District property taxes by 4.1 percent. Nerad’s $379.3 million budget did not specify a funding source for his high-profile plan to raise the achievement levels of low-income and minority students, originally estimated to cost $105.6 million over the next five years.
The report outlines several options for doubling the district’s maintenance funds, such as using money already within the district’s budget, increasing the property tax levy, using current and future equity reserves, long-term borrowing, or asking voters to approve a referendum that would allow for annual increases for maintenance.
The district spends $4.5 million, or 2.77 percent of its budget, on facility maintenance, which the committee recommended increasing by $4.2 million.
That would amount to $566 per pupil, according to the report. By contrast, the Monona Grove school district spends $1,825 per pupil on facility costs; Sun Prairie schools spend $1,787; and Waunakee spends $1,443, the report said.

Related regarding the most recent Madison School District maintenance referendum: Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent.

Another Madison Maintenance Referendum? District Administration Facility Assessment Report and Database

Erik Kass, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services 6.5mb pdf:

This project began when the Board of Education approved the contract with Durrant Engineering in April of2009. Durrant was hired to provide a full condition assessment of all school district buildings to identify long and short-term repair needs.
The vision of this project was to deliver to the school district a living database that would aid in the budgeting and planning process into the future.
The study focused primarily on all engineering systems and equipment, but also included an in-depth study of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues our school district faces. The study didn’t include roofing projects, as that work has already been completed and is continually updated on an annual basis. For the assessment, trained professional engineers visited every site within the school district, evaluating systems and conditions, while also taking actual photographs to integrate into the report. This work transitioned into a grading system that has become part of the database delivered to the school district for future planning.
All of the information gathered and organized into the database format provides a lot of functionality for the school district moving forward.
Each item has actual digital photos attached for reference, cost ranges are summarized for each item, and the ability to sort the information in various ways are examples o f the functionality of the database.
Four individuals from Durrant Engineering will be present to provide a more in-depth review of the work that was completed. This presentation will also include a demonstration ofthe database that was created to show the functionality provided to the district with this tool.
D. Describe the action requested of the BOE – Administration is looking for the Board of Education to accept the maintenance project study with the database which is the planning tool to be used for future maintenance projects.
Next Steps – It is the intent of Administration to work toward creating a multi-year project plan, along with projected funds necessary to implement this plan each year. This work will begin upon approval by the Board ofthe information and data within the database, and will become important work of the new Director for the division of Building Services. Our goal is to return to the Board in May/June 2011 to present this multi-year plan with projected sources of funding.

Bold added.
The District has apparently been unable to account for $23,000,000 spent via the 2005 “maintenance referendum”. Additional commentary here. Notes and links on the 2005 maintenance referendum (two out of three MMSD questions failed).

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Easy Money, Hard Truths & Local Maintenance Referendum Audit?

David Einhorn:

Are you worried that we are passing our debt on to future generations? Well, you need not worry.
Before this recession it appeared that absent action, the government’s long-term commitments would become a problem in a few decades. I believe the government response to the recession has created budgetary stress sufficient to bring about the crisis much sooner. Our generation — not our grandchildren’s — will have to deal with the consequences.
According to the Bank for International Settlements, the United States’ structural deficit — the amount of our deficit adjusted for the economic cycle — has increased from 3.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 to 9.2 percent in 2010. This does not take into account the very large liabilities the government has taken on by socializing losses in the housing market. We have not seen the bills for bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and even more so the Federal Housing Administration, which is issuing government-guaranteed loans to non-creditworthy borrowers on terms easier than anything offered during the housing bubble. Government accounting is done on a cash basis, so promises to pay in the future — whether Social Security benefits or loan guarantees — do not count in the budget until the money goes out the door.
A good percentage of the structural increase in the deficit is because last year’s “stimulus” was not stimulus in the traditional sense. Rather than a one-time injection of spending to replace a cyclical reduction in private demand, the vast majority of the stimulus has been a permanent increase in the base level of government spending — including spending on federal jobs. How different is the government today from what General Motors was a decade ago? Government employees are expensive and difficult to fire. Bloomberg News reported that from the last peak businesses have let go 8.5 million people, or 7.4 percent of the work force, while local governments have cut only 141,000 workers, or less than 1 percent.

Locally, the Madison School Board meets Tuesday evening, 6/1 to discuss the 2010-2011 budget, which looks like it will raise property taxes at least 10%. A number of issues have arisen around the District’s numbers, including expenditures from the 2005 maintenance referendum.
I’ve not seen any updates on Susan Troller’s April, 12, 2010 question: “Where did the money go?” It would seem that proper resolution of this matter would inform the public with respect to future spending and tax increases.

Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent

Susan Troller, via a kind reader’s email:

Where did the money go?
For more than a year, Madison School Board member Lucy Mathiak has been asking Madison school district officials for a precise, up-to-date summary of how $26.2 million in 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent over the last five years.
She’s still waiting, but her patience is wearing out.
Now the sharp-tongued budget hawk says she may ask the school board as early as Monday night to authorize an outside audit that would identify how the money approved by taxpayers in 2005 for repairs and maintenance of dozens of the district’s aging buildings was actually spent between 2005 and fall of 2009.
“We need to have a serious, credible accounting for where the money went from the last referendum, and I haven’t seen that yet,” Mathiak told The Capital Times. “I’m ready to ask for an audit, and I think there are other board members who are equally concerned.”

Related: Proposed Madison School District Maintenance Referendum: 1999, 2005 and 2010 Documents:

The Madison School District is considering another maintenance referendum ($85M?). The documents below provide a list of completed (1999, 2005) and planned projects (2010+). The reader may wish to review and compare the lists:

The 2005 special election included 3 referenda questions, just one of which passed – the maintenance matter.

Proposed Madison School District Maintenance Referendum: 1999, 2005 and 2010 Documents

The Madison School District is considering another maintenance referendum ($85M?). The documents below provide a list of completed (1999, 2005) and planned projects (2010+). The reader may wish to review and compare the lists:

The 2005 special election included 3 referenda questions, just one of which passed – the maintenance matter.

A New Maintenance Referendum? The latest Madison School District Facilities Review

Madison School District Administration [2.3MB PDF]:

The 2010 Facility Assessment identifies $85,753,506 of immediate maintenance needs. It does not address items that have been traditionally handled through our work order system and the annual operating budget. This includes items such as floor tile, carpeting, casework, ceilings tile, painting, wall treatments, minor fencing projects, grounds maintenance and window treatments. The Facility Assessment includes projects divided into specific areas

  1. Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Building Envelope, gym floors, interior doors, high school athletic fields.
  2. Roofing
  3. Pavement
  4. Playgrounds

In previous years, all projects were prioritized in order to insure life safety items took precedence over other items like parking lots. It is now necessary to spread funding over multiple trade areas in order to prevent one area from becoming excessively deteriorated. The 2010 Facility Assessment recommends funding all areas offacility needs annually, at varying levels, according to the condition assigned.

Racine’s Maintenance Referendum Tour

Dani McClain:

Racine Unified’s school board has a new plan to convince taxpayers to support its April 1 facilities referendum:
District officials are loading residents onto school buses Saturday morning and taking them on a tour.
“A picture says a thousand words,” board member Don Nielsen says. “The real thing says even more.”
District finance director David Hazen will lead the “tourists” from Case High School (where Nielsen says doors are in bad shape), to Janes Elementary school (where the fire alarm system is too old, Nielsen says), to Walden III Middle and High School (where Nielsen says the boiler has just about had it).

Boulder’s $296.8M Maintenance Referendum

Amy Bounds: Supporters of Boulder Valley’s measure say the hefty price tag is the result of cuts to the district’s maintenance budget, along with an average building age of 43 years. The combination, they say, has led to schools that are in bad shape. “We have a lot of old buildings,” school board member Ken … Continue reading Boulder’s $296.8M Maintenance Referendum

Maintenance Referendum: Long Range Planning Meeting Tonight

The Madison School Board’s Long Range Planning Committee is holding a public hearing on the proposed maintenance referendum (one of potentially 3 referendums this spring) Wednesday night, January 19, 2005 @ 6:00p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building, McDaniels Auditorium. I’ve emailed the MMSD TV folks to see if they are broadcasting this event, but have … Continue reading Maintenance Referendum: Long Range Planning Meeting Tonight

Ready for a $27M Maintenance Referendum?

On September 13, the administration for the Madison Metropolitan School District advised the Long Range Planning Committee of the Board of Education that the district needs $27M for maintenance projects between 2005 and 2010. A referendum would be necessary to raise this amount, because the administration is seeking a total of $46M for maintenance over … Continue reading Ready for a $27M Maintenance Referendum?

Elementary Data: Madison’s Proposed $39,500,000 Maintenance & Expansion Referendum

Madison Schools’ March, 2014 Facility Plan (PDF):: Shorewood Elementary: In conjunction with building an elevator tower, add a four-classroom addition. The additional classrooms are a relatively easy gain based on the building design. Shorewood’s 2013-2014 Low Income Population: 33.8%; All Madison Elementary Schools: 52.1% 2012-2013 Basic & Minimal Reading Proficiency: 34.3% Madison School District: 62.5% … Continue reading Elementary Data: Madison’s Proposed $39,500,000 Maintenance & Expansion Referendum

Columbus referendums…one for Pre-K, and the other for maintenance and operations.

Paul Scharf: The Columbus School Board held its only meeting for the month of May at the Elba Town Hall. It was held on Monday night with a special referendum election forum. The board is gearing up for June 12, when voters will go to the polls to decide on three questions. The board will … Continue reading Columbus referendums…one for Pre-K, and the other for maintenance and operations.

2020 Referendum Climate: Madison Tax Base Edition

Dean Mosiman: More than 70% of the city’s General Fund revenues come from the property tax, and nearly two-third of property taxes have already been paid for 2020, which brings some stability, Schmiedicke said. The city already imposed a $40 wheel tax for the current budget. But preliminary projections show an overall drop of 4%, or about $13 … Continue reading 2020 Referendum Climate: Madison Tax Base Edition

Madison School Board eyes $317M facilities referendum, $33M operating referendum

Logan Wroge: The Madison School Board signaled support Monday for a $317 million facilities referendum and a $33 million operating referendum, setting up the board to finalize the ballot questions later this month for the November election. With several options on the table, board members expressed broad support for a slightly larger facilities referendum that … Continue reading Madison School Board eyes $317M facilities referendum, $33M operating referendum

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Taxpayer Income, purchasing power and 2020 Madison Referendum climate

Oren Cass: 2/ Punchline: Popular perception is correct. In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary. By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year. Notes, links and some data on Madison’s … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Taxpayer Income, purchasing power and 2020 Madison Referendum climate

Commentary on Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 School District 2020 Referendum & Spending Plans

Logan Wroge: “I appreciate the cuts in central office because I want more people in the classroom,” said board member Nicki Vander Meulen. Ruppel said the proposed reduction of school staff, which would be about 35 positions across a district that employs 4,000 people, is in response to expected short-term drops in enrollment due to … Continue reading Commentary on Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 School District 2020 Referendum & Spending Plans

2020 Madison Tax & Spending Increase Referendum Planning: School Board Rhetoric

Scott Girard: During a board retreat Saturday to discuss strategies for both a capital and an operating referendum in April, board members generally agreed they wanted to vote in March — before board member Kate Toews’ term is over and a new board member takes her place. Toews is not running for re-election to Seat 6 … Continue reading 2020 Madison Tax & Spending Increase Referendum Planning: School Board Rhetoric

Madison K-12 Achievement Data @ LaFollette 2020 Referendum Presentation

The presentation included assertions on redistributed state taxpayer dollars sent to Madison (2010 – 2019 data available here). The presentation did not mention total Madison K-12 spending , nor the implications of spending increase referendums on local property taxes and redistributed state taxpayer funds. In essence, the more a local school district exceeds state revenue … Continue reading Madison K-12 Achievement Data @ LaFollette 2020 Referendum Presentation

Commentary on a proposed 2020 Madison K-12 Tax & Spending Increase Referendum

Logan Wroge: If voters were to approve a $150 million referendum, the owner of a $300,000 house — near the median-value home in the district of $294,833 — could have their property taxes increase by $93 annually, according to district estimates. A larger referendum of $280 million is estimated to raise property taxes on a … Continue reading Commentary on a proposed 2020 Madison K-12 Tax & Spending Increase Referendum

Commentary on Wisconsin K-12 School Tax & Spending Referendums

Margaret Cannon: According to Wisconsin Policy Forum report, voters approved referendum questions totaling $783 million. Total borrowing requests on school district ballots statewide reached $1.2 billion, with voters turning down some of the largest individual ballot items. Voters approved 45 of the 60 questions on this year’s ballot. The Wisconsin Policy Forum report shows a … Continue reading Commentary on Wisconsin K-12 School Tax & Spending Referendums

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: a planned Madison tax increase for bricks and mortar? Will space utilization and attendance boundaries be addressed first? 1% spent on maintenance

Logan Wroge: Wiese said the district has an annual maintenance budget of about $5.4 million for 4.5 million square feet of space. The high schools alone have deferred maintenance needs of $154 million, according to a study completed in 2017. In 2015, district voters overwhelmingly passed a $41 million facilities referendum targeting improvements in 16 … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: a planned Madison tax increase for bricks and mortar? Will space utilization and attendance boundaries be addressed first? 1% spent on maintenance

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Another Madison Referendum in the works

Negassi Tesfamichael: In 2015, Madison voters authorized a $41 million school facility improvement plan that addressed needs in 16 schools across the district. “I think our schools need (upgrades), but at the same point, I don’t want to force someone out of their home, which I’ve seen happen to some friends in Middleton because they … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Another Madison Referendum in the works

Wisconsin GOP lawmakers take aim at mounting school referendums

Annysa Johnson: The bills would: Eliminate so-called recurring referendums for operating expenses — those that raise taxes indefinitely — and cap non-recurring referendums at five years. Dock a district’s state aid by an amount equal to 20% of whatever it generates in an operating referendum. So, if voters approve, say, $5 million, they lose $1 … Continue reading Wisconsin GOP lawmakers take aim at mounting school referendums

Property Tax Increase Climate: Madison’s Proposed 2015 Spending Referendum

A variety of notes and links on the planned 2015 Madison School District Property Tax Increase referendum: Madison Schools’ PDF Slides on the proposed projects. Ironically, Madison has long supported a wide variation in low income distribution across its schools. This further expenditure sustains the substantial variation, from Hamilton’s 18% low income population to Black … Continue reading Property Tax Increase Climate: Madison’s Proposed 2015 Spending Referendum

Trial Balloon on Raising Madison’s Property Taxes via another School Referendum? Homeowners compare communities…..

Molly Beck There’s been little movement since mid-March when Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham proposed asking voters in November for $39.5 million in borrowing to upgrade facilities and address crowding. The proposed referendum’s annual impact on property taxes on a $200,000 Madison home could range from $32 to $44, according to the district. After … Continue reading Trial Balloon on Raising Madison’s Property Taxes via another School Referendum? Homeowners compare communities…..

Madison Schools’ Referendum & Possible Boundary Change Commentary

Molly Beck: Even though expanding eight schools is only part of the plan, “if there’s any one (school) that looks particularly challenging to explain,” Hughes said, “we know that will be what the opponents of the referendum will latch onto. … We are going to have to be able to work through that and decide … Continue reading Madison Schools’ Referendum & Possible Boundary Change Commentary

Effective School Maintenance Spending?

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham is proposing a $39,500,000 November, 2014 maintenance referendum (page 38 of 39), according to her “Strategic Framework Progress” update [1MB PDF]. Questions remain on where the money went from the $26,200,000 2005 maintenance referendum. The District has, according to page 3, launched a “zero based budget”. I am hopeful that the … Continue reading Effective School Maintenance Spending?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes New Blog: A Number of Comments on Maintenance Spending & Budgeting

Ed Hughes:

I plan to write in more detail about why I dislike the tradition of explaining property tax levy changes in terms of the impact on the owner of a house assessed at a value of $250,000. The editorial in this morning’s State Journal is evidence of how reliance on the $250,000 house trope can lead to mischief.
Here are the third and fourth paragraphs of the editorial:
“The Madison School Board just agreed to a preliminary budget that will increase the district’s tax on a $250,000 home by about 9 percent to $2,770. The board was dealt a difficult hand by the state. But it didn’t do nearly enough to trim spending.
“Madison Area Technical College is similarly poised to jack up its tax bite by about 8 percent to $348. MATC is at least dealing with higher enrollment. But the 8 percent jump follows a similar increase last year. And MATC is now laying the groundwork for a big building referendum.”

Blog address:, RSS Feed.
I’m glad Ed is writing online. Two Madison School Board seats are open during the spring, 2011 election: the two currently occupied by Ed and Marj Passman.

Madison School District Maintenance Report estimates $3,000 cost to replace single school toilet! What?

Susan Troller:

At $2,000 to $3,000 to replace a single toilet, and the same to repair a leaky faucet, it’s no surprise some Madison School Board members are suffering sticker shock when it comes to a new facility report on short- and long-term maintenance needs for Madison’s public schools.
In fact, Lucy Mathiak, board vice president, wonders if the numbers can even be trusted. “It makes me feel like I’m channeling Bill Proxmire when he challenged the costs on Pentagon toilets,” she says, referring to the late U.S. senator from Wisconsin. “Frankly, getting this information cost us a lot of money and, to say the least, I’m underwhelmed with the product.”
The estimates, though, might not be entirely out of whack with commercial repairs.
While swapping out an old toilet or sink at home could cost $500 or less, such a repair in an institutional or industrial setting might run upward of a couple thousand dollars, particularly if there were hazardous materials involved, or extensive tile or plumbing rework, experts say.

Related: Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent.

Is the 2008 School Referendum Just More of the Same? No!

On November 4, the Madison School Board is asking voters to vote yes on a referendum that will increase the property tax support base for Madison’s public schools by a total of $13 million after three years. For owners of a $250,000, that translates to an additional $90 in property taxes by the third year. … Continue reading Is the 2008 School Referendum Just More of the Same? No!

2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum – Key Issues

1. Mortgage on future property with permanent increase: Asking taxpayers to refinance/mortgage their futures and that of the school district with a permanent increase of $13 million yearly for the operations budget. It has been stated the district needs the money to help keep current programs in place. It is expected that even after 3 years of this referendum totaling $27 million, the Board is projecting a continued revenue gap and will be back asking for even more.
2. No evaluation nor analysis of programs and services: The Board will make budget cuts affecting program and services, whether or not this referendum passes. The cuts will be made with no assessment/evaluation process or strategy for objective analyses of educational or business programs and services to determine the most effective and efficient use of money they already have as well as for the additional money they are asking with this referendum.
3. Inflated criteria for property value growth: The dollar impact on property to be taxed is projected on an inflated criteria of 4% growth in property valuation assessment; therefore, reducing the cost projection for the property tax levy. The growth for property valuation in 2007 was 3.2% and for 2008 it was 1.0%. Given the state of the economy and the housing market, the growth rate is expected to further decline in 2009. [10/13 Update: The above references to property valuation assessment growth are cited from City of Madison Assessor data. See ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for State Department of Revenue citations for property valuation base and growth rate used for determination of MMSD property tax levy.]
4. No direct impact on student learning and classroom instruction: There is District acknowledgement of a serious achievement gap between low-income and minority student groups compared with others. There are no plans evident for changing how new or existing money will be spent differently in order to have an impact on improving student learning/achievement and instructional effectiveness.
5. Lack of verification of reduction in negative aid impact on taxes: District scenarios illustrating a drastic reduction in the negative impact on state aids from our property-rich district is unsubstantiated and unverified, as well as raising questions about unknown possible future unintended consequences. The illustrated reduction is from approximately 60% to 1% results by switching maintenance funds from the operations budget and 2005 referendum proceeds to a newly created “Capital Expansion Fund–Fund 41” account. [Update: 10/13: The reduction in the negative aid impact will take affect regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote. See the ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for details.]

A Public Hearing on Madison’s November, 2008 Referendum


Taxpayers got a chance to ask the questions Tuesday night about the upcoming multimillion dollar Madison school referendum.
More than a dozen people turned out to Sherman Middle School for the first of four public hearings across the city.
Superintendent Dan Nerad gave a brief presentation before opening the forum up for questions.
Voters questioned everything from Fund 80 to the Capital Expansion Fund and student achievement.
Active Citizens for Education said they would like to have seen the referendum scheduled for the spring in order to give the district time to re-evaluate programs that they say are not working – programs that could be cut or changed.
“Where they’re talking about maintaining current programs and services it’s not getting good results,” said ACE’s Don Severson. “You look at the achievement gap, look at increased truancy, look an an increased drop-out rate, decreased attendance rates, more money isn’t going to get different results.”
Referendum supporters, Communities And Schools Together, know the $13 million referendum will be a tough sell, but worth it.
“I think it is going to be a hard sell,” said CAST member and first-grade teacher Troy Dassler. “We really need to get people out there who are interested still in investing in infrastructure. I can think of no greater an investment — even in the most difficult tough times that we’re facing that we wouldn’t invest in the future of Madison.”

Tamira Madsen:

School Board President Arlene Silveira was pleased with the dialogue and questions asked at the forum and said she hasn’t been overwhelmed with questions from constituents about the referendum.
“It’s been fairly quiet, and I think it’s been overshadowed by the presidential election and (downturn with) the economy,” Silveira said. “People are very interested, but it does take an explanation.
“People ask a lot of questions just because it’s different (with the tax components). Their initial reaction is: Tell me what this is again and what this means? They realize a lot of thought and work has gone into this and certainly this is something they will support or consider supporting after they go back and look at their own personal needs.”
Superintendent Dan Nerad has already formulated a plan for program and service cuts in the 2009-2010 budget if voters do not pass the referendum. Those include increasing class sizes at elementary and high schools, trimming services for at-risk students, reducing high school support staff, decreasing special education staffing, and eliminating some maintenance projects.
Nerad said outlining potential budget cuts by general categories as opposed to specific programs was the best route for the district at this juncture.

Madison School Board OKs Nov. referendum

Tamira Madsen:

Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.
The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.
Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.
One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Andy Hall:

Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.
Nerad said the district would work “day and night” to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.


“I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We’re going to do our best to provide good information,” said Nerad.
Some citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.
“Our schools are already underfunded,” said one man.
However, others spoke against the plan. “This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.


Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.
“I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions,” said Nerad. “But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids.”
The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.
“This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison’s taxpayers’ checkbooks,” said Madison resident David Glomp. “It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving.”

NBC 15:

“We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn’t mean they’re anti-school or anti-kids,” says board member Ed Hughes.
Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.
“What’s a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that’s the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. “How much longer can we do this?”
The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.
The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.

Much more on the planned November, 2008 referendum here.
TJ Mertz on the “blank check“.

Madison Superintendent Recommends Three Year Recurring Spending Increase via a November, 2008 Referendum


Nerad told school board members on Monday night that he’s recommending a three-year recurring referendum.
It’s part of what he called a partnership plan to address the budget shortfall.
The plan would put a referendum on the November ballot for $5 million and would ask voters for $4 million in the two following years.
Nerad said to make up the remaining $3 million gap the district would move $2 million from the district’s fund balance, eliminate $600,000 in unallocated staff, which are positions set aside in case of additional enrollment, and make up the remaining $400,000 through other reductions, which he has not yet named.
“We’re working both sides of this and in the end our kids need things from us, our taxpayers need us to be sensitive and all I can say is we tried every step of putting these recommendations together to be responsive on both fronts,” said Nerad.

Andy Hall:

The measure, a “recurring referendum,” would give the district permission to build on the previous year’s spending limit increase by additional amounts of $4 million in 2010-11 and another $4 million in 2011-12. The measure would permit a total increase of $13 million — a change that would be permanent, unlike the impact of some other referendums that end after a specified period.
Approval of the referendum would cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $250,000 an estimated $27.50 in additional taxes in the 2009-10 school year. That represents an increase of 1.1 percent of the School District’s portion of the tax bill.
But for at least the next two years, the schools’ portion of that homeowner’s tax bill would decline even if the referendum is approved, under the plan developed by Nerad and Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.
They estimate the tax bill for 2010-11 would be $27.50 lower than it is now, and the bill the following year would be about $100 below its current level if voters back the referendum and the School Board implements proposed changes in accounting measures.

Tamira Madsen:

In the first year, the referendum would add an additional $27.50 onto the tax bill of a $250,000 home. Another initiative in Nerad’s recommendation, drawn up along with Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Erik Kass, is to enact changes to help mitigate the tax impact of the referendum. Nerad and Kass said these changes would decrease taxes for homeowners in the second and third year of the referendum.
One aspect of the proposal would return $2 million of an equity to the taxpayers in the form of a reduced levy in the Community Services Fund (Fund 80) for the 2009-10 school year. The second part of the tax impact referendum would be implementation of a Capital Expansion Fund, called Fund 41, in an effort to levy a property tax under revenue limits to spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.
Nerad said the referendum process has been a deliberative process, and he’s been cognizant of weighing board members and community questions.



More on the 11/7/2006 Madison Schools Referendum

Andy Hall: The outcomes of previous ballot measures have varied. Voters approved six of seven referendums offered from 1995 to 2003. In May 2005, district voters approved a referendum exempting $29.2 million in maintenance and equipment expenses from state revenue limits through 2010. Voters rejected two other measures, though, that would have exempted $7.4 million … Continue reading More on the 11/7/2006 Madison Schools Referendum

119M in Referendums – Lee Sensenbrenner

Lee Sensenbrenner on the 119M in planned May 24 referendums: If the voters approve a referendum May 24 to prevent classroom and extracurricular cuts for three years, along with two other referendums to ensure adequate maintenance for five years and to expand Leopold Elementary School on the south side, the five-year property tax impact of … Continue reading 119M in Referendums – Lee Sensenbrenner

MMSD Committee Considers Building and Maintenance Referenda – But What About the Rest of the Budget

I’m puzzled. The MMSD School Board’s Long Range Planning Committee and Community Advisory Committee have spent the fall discussing plans to build a new school on the grounds of the existing Leopold Elementary School and $26+ million maintenance referenda. But, what’s the School Board been considering? A new school and a new five year maintenance … Continue reading MMSD Committee Considers Building and Maintenance Referenda – But What About the Rest of the Budget

Diary of an Advisory Committee: Long Range Planning Committee Awaits Recommendation for Referendum for New School

On October 11, the administration will recommend to the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board that the district go to referendum on April 5, 2005 seeking funds for construction of a second elementary school building on the grounds of Leopold Elementary School. The new school would house kindergarten through second grade and … Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: Long Range Planning Committee Awaits Recommendation for Referendum for New School

Diary of an Advisory Committee: Switch from Maintenance to New Building Issues

On September 13, 2004, The Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board reviewed a recommendation from the MMSD administration that the district spend $46M for school maintenance projects from 2005 through 2010. Because the Board dedicates approximately $3.8M per year for maintenance from the operating budget (%19M over the next five years), the … Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: Switch from Maintenance to New Building Issues

2005 Referendums?

Lee Sensenbrenner writes about Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent comments regarding three possible 2005 referendums: “Facing growing subdivisions on the city’s edges, the expiration of a maintenance fund, and state laws that annually force cuts, the Madison School Board may be looking at three referendums next year.” State laws do not directly “force cuts”. … Continue reading 2005 Referendums?

For our schools, is blame the only certain outcome?

Paul Fanlund:

But both are deeply concerned about what the school district’s ability to serve children, and the achievement gap is on the front burner. In the wake of a bitter fight over Madison Preparatory Academy — a proposed but ultimately rejected charter school aimed at fighting that gap — Nerad proposed a detailed achievement gap plan of his own. Even after scaling it back recently, it would still cost an additional $5.8 million next year.
And then there are the maintenance needs. “It’s HVAC systems, it’s roofs, it’s asphalt on parking lots,” Nerad says. “It’s all those things that don’t necessarily lead to a better educational outcome for young people, but it ensures that our buildings look good and people feel good about our buildings, they’re safe for children.”
He pauses, and adds, “My point is that we have a complex set of issues on the table right now.”
Madison teachers made about $20 million in voluntary pay and benefit concessions before the anti-collective bargaining law was enacted, according to district figures. But Nerad says state school support has been in relative decline for more than a decade, long before Walker’s campaign against teacher rights.


Paul Vallas visits Madison; Enrollment Growth: Suburban Districts vs. Madison 1995-2012


Paul Vallas will be speaking at Madison LaFollette high school on Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:00p.m. More information, here.
Much more on Paul Vallas, here.
Per Student Spending:
I don’t believe spending is the issue. Madison spends $14,858.40/student (2011-2012 budget)
Middleton’s 2011-2012 budget: $87,676,611 for 6,421 students = $13,654.67/student, about 8% less than Madison.
Waunakee spends $12,953.81/student about 13% less than Madison.
A few useful links over the past decade:

$9,860/student vs. $14,858.40/student; Paying for Educational Priorities and/or Structural Change: Oconomowoc vs. Madison

Chris Rickert summarizes a bit of recent Madison School Board decision making vis a vis educational outcomes. Contrast this with the recent governance news (more) from Oconomowoc; a community 58 miles east of Madison.

Moreover, it’s not like Madisonians are certain to oppose a large tax hike, especially given the way they responded to Walker’s bid to kill collective bargaining.
Before that idea became law, the board voted for — and the community supported — extending union contracts. Unions agreed to some $21 million in concessions in return for two years’ worth of protection from the law’s restrictions.
But the board could have effectively stripped the union of seniority protections, forced members to pay more for health insurance, ended automatic pay raises and taken other actions that would have been even worse for union workers — but that also would have saved taxpayers lots of money.
Board members didn’t do that because they knew protecting employees was important to the people they represent. They should be able to count on a similar dedication to public schooling in asking for the money to pay for the district’s latest priorities.

Christian D’Andrea

The changes would have a significant effect on teachers that the district retains. Starting positions – though it’s unclear how many would be available due to the staff reduction – would go from starting at a $36,000 salary to a $50,000 stipend. The average teacher in the district would see his or her pay rise from $57,000 to $71,000. It’s a move that would not only reward educators for the extra work that they would take on, but could also have a significant effect in luring high-level teachers to the district.
In essence, the district is moving forward with a plan that will increase the workload for their strong teachers, but also increase their pay to reflect that shift. In cutting staff, the district has the flexibility to raise these salaries while saving money thanks to the benefit packages that will not have to be replaced. Despite the shuffle, class sizes and course offerings will remain the same, though some teachers may not. It’s a bold move to not only retain the high school’s top performers, but to lure good teachers from other districts to the city.
Tuesday’s meeting laid out the first step of issuing non-renewal notices to the 15 teachers that will not be retained. The school board will vote on the reforms as a whole on next month.

The Madison School District has, to date, been unwilling to substantively change it’s model, one that has been around for decades. The continuing use of Reading Recovery despite its cost and lower than average performance is one example.
With respect to facilities spending, perhaps it would be useful to look into the 2005 maintenance referendum spending & effectiveness.
It is my great “hope” (hope and change?) that Madison’s above average spending, in this case, 33% more per student than well to do Oconomowoc, nearby higher education institutions and a very supportive population will ultimately improve the curriculum and provide a superior environment for great teachers.

Old, crumbling schools are, sadly, a Wisconsin tradition

Paul Fanlund:

Last week I walked into West High School for the first time since our daughter, Kate, graduated in 2001.
I’d been warned I might be taken aback by how much the place had changed in a decade. But in fact, I had the opposite reaction. Based on my few hours there, it doesn’t seem to have changed much at all.
It had the same delightful, eclectic, intellectual vibe and ethnic diversity one would expect at the public high school located nearest the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
Its student body of 2,100 — largest of the city’s four high schools — hails from 55 countries. It routinely has more semifinalists for National Merit Scholarships, 26 last year, than any school in Wisconsin.

Related: Madison School District maintenance referendums.

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Advocates Additional Federal Tax Dollar Spending & Borrowing via President Obama’s Proposed Jobs Bill

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad publicly touted President Barack Obama’s stalled jobs proposal Monday, saying it would help the School District pay for millions of dollars in needed maintenance projects.
“We either pay now, or we pay more at a much later date,” Nerad said at a press conference at West High School, which is due for about $17.4 million in maintenance projects over the next five years.
A School Board committee is reviewing maintenance projects identified in a 2010 study by Durrant Engineers that said the district may need to spend as much as $83.7 million over five years on projects not already included in the budget.
The committee is expected to make recommendations early next year. Nerad said the committee hasn’t decided yet whether to recommend another maintenance referendum. A 2004 referendum authorizing $20 million over five years ran out last year.

Federal tax receipts, spending and deficits, fiscal years 2007-2011, billions of dollars:







Outlays Deficit Deficit as a % of GDP
2007 $2,729 $161 1.2%
2008 $2,983 $459 3.2%
2009 $3,520 $1,416 10%
2010 $3,456 $1,294 8.9%
2011 $3,600 $1,298 8.6%

Source: Congressional Budget Office.
The most recent Madison School District maintenance referendum spending has come under scrutiny – though I’ve not seen any further discussion on this topic over the past year.
Related: Wisconsin state budget is bad for kids by Thomas Beebe:

“It’ll be OK,” Gov. Scott Walker said last winter when he announced a budget that snatched away more than $800 million in opportunities to learn from Wisconsin public school kids. “I’m giving you the tools to make it work.”
Well, the tools the governor gave local school districts are the right to force teachers to pay more toward their retirement, and the option to unilaterally require educators to kick in more for their health care. The problem is that the tools, along with any money some of them might have left over from federal jobs funds, are one-time solutions. These tools can’t be used again unless school districts ask teachers to give up even more of their take-home pay.
By law, all school districts have to balance their budgets. They always have, and always will. That’s not the point. The point is that the governor has hijacked the language. Educational accountability isn’t about balancing the budget, it’s about giving kids opportunities to grow up into good, contributing adults. That’s not what Gov. Walker wants to talk about.


The red line, here, is median real household income, as gleaned from the CPS, indexed to January 2000=100. It’s now at 89.4, which means that real incomes are more than 10% lower today than they were over a decade ago.
More striking still is the huge erosion in incomes over the course of the supposed “recovery” — the most recent two years, since the Great Recession ended. From January 2000 through the end of the recession, household incomes fluctuated, but basically stayed in a band within 2 percentage points either side of the 98 level. Once it had fallen to 96 when the recession ended, it would have been reasonable to assume some mean reversion at that point — that with the recovery it would fight its way back up towards 98 or even 100.
Instead, it fell off a cliff, and is now below 90.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Education & Accountability at the Pentagon

Chuck Spinney:

On 4 August 1822, James Madison wrote a letter to W.T. Barry about the importance of popular education and, by inference, the importance of the relationship of the First Amendment to the task of holding an elected government accountable for its actions. He concluded his opening paragraph, setting the tone for the entire letter, by saying, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Nowhere is the farce and tragedy feared by James Madison more evident than in the national debate over if, or how much, the defense budget should be cut back as part of our efforts to reduce the deficit. With the defense budget at war with Social Security, Medicare, and needed discretionary spending in education, investments in infrastructure, and elsewhere, it is a tragedy that must be undone if we are to protect our middle class way of life.

Related: A Madison Maintenance referendum audit?.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Transparency

Sunlight Foundation:

We’ve taken data from other federal reporting systems and compared it with the data found in across three categories: Consistency, Completeness and Timeliness. How close are the reported dollar amounts to the yearly estimates? How many of the required fields are filled out in each record? And how long did it take the agency to report the money once it was allocated to a project?

The inability to keep track and report on public expenditures does not inspire confidence. Related: Madison district got $23M from taxpayers for aging schools; where did it go?. More here. I’ve not seen any additional information on the potential audit of Madison’s most recent maintenance referendum.
The College Station School District publishes all annual expenditures via their check registers.

As the Madison school year starts, a pair of predicaments

Paul Fanlund, via a kind reader:

In fact, the changing face of Madison’s school population comes up consistently in other interviews with public officials.
Police Chief Noble Wray commented recently that gang influences touch even some elementary schools, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz expressed serious concern last week that the young families essential to the health and vitality of Madison are too often choosing to live outside the city based on perceptions of the city’s schools.
Nerad says he saw the mayor’s remarks, and agrees the challenge is real. While numbers for this fall will not be available for weeks, the number of students who live in Madison but leave the district for some alternative through “open enrollment” will likely continue to grow.
“For every one child that comes in there are two or three going out,” Nerad says, a pattern he says he sees in other urban districts. “That is the challenge of quality urban districts touched geographically by quality suburban districts.”
The number of “leavers” grew from 90 students as recently as 2000-01 to 613 last year, though the increase might be at least partly attributed to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greatly curtailed the ability of school districts to use race when deciding where students will go to school. In February 2008, the Madison School Board ended its long-standing practice of denying open enrollment requests if they would create a racial imbalance.
Two key reasons parents cited in a survey last year for moving children were the desire for better opportunities for gifted students and concerns about bullying and school safety. School Board member Lucy Mathiak told me last week that board members continue to hear those two concerns most often.
Nerad hears them too, and he says that while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district. On safety, he points to a recent district policy on bullying as evidence of focus on the problem, including emphasis on what he calls the “bystander” issue, in which witnesses need to report bullying in a way that has not happened often enough.
For all the vexing issues, though, Nerad says much is good about city schools and that perceptions are important. “Let’s be careful not to stereotype the urban school district,” he says. “There is a lot at stake here.”

Related: the growth in outbound open enrollment from the Madison School District and ongoing budget issues, including a 10% hike in property taxes this year and questions over 2005 maintenance referendum spending.
The significant property tax hike and ongoing budget issues may be fodder for the upcoming April, 2011 school board election, where seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot.
Superintendent Nerad’s statement on “ensuring that we have a stable middle class” is an important factor when considering K-12 tax and spending initiatives, particularly in the current “Great Recession” where housing values are flat or declining and the property tax appetite is increasing (The Tax Foundation, via TaxProf:

The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16% in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not.
Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states’ property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4%. In only four states were FY 2008’s collections lower than in FY 2007: Michigan, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. And in three states–Florida, Indiana and New Mexico–property tax collections rose more than 10%.

It will be interesting to see what the Madison school District’s final 2010-2011 budget looks like. Spending and receipts generally increase throughout the year. This year, in particular, with additional borrowed federal tax dollars on the way, the District will have funds to grow spending, address the property tax increase or perhaps as is now increasingly common, spend more on adult to adult professional development.
Madison’s K-12 environment is ripe for change. Perhaps the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy charter school will ignite the community.

Governance, or Potted Plant? Seattle School Board To Become More Involved In District Operations and a view from Madison

Phyllis Fletcher:

The Washington State Auditor told the district this week it has problems managing its money. They’re the same problems he’s told them about before. The school board oversees the district. And auditors for the state say it’s time for board members to get more involved.
Carr: “To the State Auditors’ point, we have work to do. And they’re right: we do.”
Sherry Carr chairs the audit and finance committee of the Seattle School Board. She says the board needs to do more to make sure problems that are found in audits don’t pop up again.
Carr: “We haven’t always had the check in prior to the start of the next audit. So, I think that’s the key.”

Washington State Auditor’s Office:

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released an audit report this week about the Seattle School District’s accountability with public resources, laws and regulations.
We found the School Board and the District’s executive management:
* Must improve oversight of District operations.
* Are not as familiar with state and federal law as the public would expect.
We identified instances of misappropriation and areas that are susceptible to misappropriation. We also found the School Board delegated authority to the Superintendent to create specific procedures to govern day-to-day District operations.
The Board does not evaluate these procedures to determine if they are effective and appropriate. Consequently, we identified 12 findings in this report and in our federal single audit and financial statement report.


  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Washington State Auditor’s Office Accountability Audit Report 190K PDF
  • The Seattle School District’s response 37K PDF:

    Seattle Public Schools establishes rigorous process for addressing financial year 2008-09 audit findings.
    As part of the Washington State Auditor’s Office annual audit process, an Accountability Audit of Seattle Public Schools was issued on July 6, 2010. The audit’s emphasis on the need for continued improvement of internal controls and District policies for accountability is consistent with multi-year efforts under way at Seattle Public Schools to strengthen financial management.
    “Because we are deeply committed to being good stewards of the public’s resources, we take the information in this audit very seriously,” said Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D. “We acknowledge the need to take specific corrective actions noted in the report. It is a key priority to implement appropriate control and accountability measures, with specific consequences, for situations in which policies are not followed.”
    The School Board will work closely with the Superintendent to ensure corrections are made. “We understand and accept the State Auditor’s findings,” said School Board Director Sherry Carr, chair of the Board’s Audit and Finance Committee. “We accept responsibility to ensure needed internal controls are established to improve accountability in Seattle Public Schools, and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public as the work progresses.”

Much more on the Seattle School Board.
After reading this item, I sent this email to Madison Board of Education members a few days ago:

I hope this message finds you well.
The Seattle School Board is going to become more involved in District operations due to “problems managing its money”.
I’m going to post something on this in the next few days.
I recall a BOE discussion where Ed argued that there are things that should be left to the Administration (inferring limits on the BOE’s oversight and ability to ask questions). I am writing to obtain your thoughts on this, particularly in light of:
a) ongoing budget and accounting issues (how many years has this been discussed?), and
b) the lack of substantive program review to date (is 6 years really appropriate, given reading and math requirements of many Madison students?).
I’d like to post your responses, particularly in light of the proposed Administrative re-org and how that may or may not address these and other matters.

I received the following from Lucy Mathiak:

A GENERAL NOTE: There is a cottage industry ginning up books and articles on board “best practices.” The current wisdom, mostly generated by retired superintendents, is that boards should not trouble themselves with little things like financial management, human resources, or operations. Rather, they should focus on “student achievement.” But what that means, and the assumption that financial, HR, and other decisions have NO impact on achievement, remain highly problematical.
At the end of the day, much of the “best practices” looks a lot like the role proposed for the Milwaukee School Board when the state proposed mayoral control last year. Under that scenario, the board would focus on public relations and, a distant second, expulsions. But that would be a violation of state statute on the roles and responsibilities of boards of education.
There are some resources that have interesting info on national trends in school board training here:
I tend to take my guidance from board policy, which refers back to state statute without providing details; I am a detail person so went back to the full text. When we are sworn into office, we swear to uphold these policies and statutes:
Board policy:
“The BOARD shall have the possession, care, control, and management of the property and affairs of the school district with the responsibilities and duties as detailed in Wisconsin Statutes 118.001, 120.12, 120.13, 120.14, 120.15, 120.16, 120.17, 120.18, 120.21, 120.40, 120.41, 120.42, 120.43, and 120.44.”
Because board policy does not elaborate what is IN those statutes, the details can be lost unless one takes a look at “the rules.” Here are some of the more interesting (to me) sections from WI Statute 120:
120.12 School board duties.
The school board of a common or union high school district shall:
Subject to the authority vested in the annual meeting and to the authority and possession specifically given to other school district officers, have thepossession, care, control and management of the property andaffairs of the school district, except for property of the school dis-trict used for public library purposes under s. 43.52.
(2)GENERAL SUPERVISION. Visit and examine the schools ofthe school district, advise the school teachers and administrative staff regarding the instruction, government and progress of the pupils and exercise general supervision over such schools.
(a) On or before November 1, determine the amount necessary to be raised to operate and maintain the schools of the school district and public library facilities operated by the school district under s. 43.52, if the annual meeting has not voted a tax sufficient for such purposes for the school year.
Keep the school buildings and grounds in good repair, suitably equipped and in safe and sanitary condition at all times. The school board shall establish an annual building maintenance schedule.
Determine the school course of study.
Pay the tuition of any pupil enrolled in the school district and attending an institution within the University of Wisconsin System if the pupil is not participating in the program under s. 118.55, the course the pupil is attending at the university is not offered in the school district and the pupil will receive high school credit for the course.

Ed Hughes:

Thanks for contacting us. Can you be a bit more specific about what you are looking for? A general statement about the appropriate line between administration and Board responsibilities? Something more specific about budgeting and accounting, or specific program reviews? And if so, what? I confess that I haven’t followed whatever is going on with the Seatte school board.

My followup:

I am looking for your views on BOE responsibilities vis a vis the Administration, staff and the community.
Two timely specifics, certainly are:
a) ongoing budget problems, such as the maintenance referendum spending, and
b) curricular matters such as reading programs, which, despite decades of annual multi-million dollar expenditures have failed to “move the needle”.
The Seattle District’s “problems managing its money” matter apparently prompted more Board involvement.
Finally, I do recall a BOE discussion where you argued in favor of limits on Administrative oversight. Does my memory serve?
Best wishes,

Marj Passman:

Here is the answer to your question on Evaluation which also touches on the Board’s ultimate role as the final arbiter on District Policy.
Part of the Strategic Plan, and, one of the Superintendants goals that he gave the Board last year, was the need to develop a “District Evaluation Protocol”. The Board actually initiated this by asking for a Study of our Reading Program last February. This protocol was sent to the Board this week and seems to be a timely and much needed document.
Each curricular area would rotate through a seven year cycle of examination. In addition, the Board of Education would review annually a list of proposed evaluations. There will be routine reports and updates to the Board while the process continues and, of course, a final report. At any time the Board can make suggestions as to what should be evaluated and can make changes in the process as they see fit. In other words, the Board will certainly be working within its powers as Overseer of MMSD.
This Protocol should be on the MMSD web site and I recommend reading it in
I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of “perception” – interviews, surveys with parents and teachers. I have been leery of just masses of data analysis predetermining the success or failure of children. Our children must not be reduced to dots on a chart. Tests must be given but many of our students are succeeding in spite of their test scores.
I have a problem with a 7 year cycle and would prefer a shorter one. We need to know sooner rather than later if a program is working or failing. I will bring this up at Monday’s Board meeting.
I will be voting for this Protocol but will spend more time this weekend studying it before my final vote.

W.Va. education spending audit may prove daunting

The Associated Press:

A proposed audit of West Virginia’s education spending enjoys widespread support, but that may not make its undertaking any less tricky.
Officials have yet to decide who would conduct the in-depth review, or even how to authorize it. Then there’s the scope. An estimated 14 cents of every dollar spent by the state goes to public education, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia included an audit in its wish list for next month’s special legislative session focused on education.
“We are not aware of any recent or ongoing investigation regarding the spending practices by governmental departments, agencies and boards of education funded with public education dollars and whether the funds are being used for the intended purpose,” the group said in its outline of the proposal, one of eight it wants lawmakers to consider.

Related: Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent.

Madison district got $23M from taxpayers for aging schools; where did it go?

Susan Troller:

A maintenance referendum may well be a tougher sell this time around than it was when back-to-back, five-year maintenance referendums were approved in 1999 and 2005. Not only do voters feel pinched by the ongoing recession, but taxpayers are facing a likely $225 hike in property taxes this year as part of the effort to balance the Madison schools budget, which took a heavy hit in reduced state aid.
Community support could also be compromised because a growing number of Madison School Board members have become frustrated by what they say is the district’s reluctance to adequately account for how maintenance dollars have been spent.
As chair of the School Board’s finance and operations committee, Lucy Mathiak has persistently asked for a complete accounting of maintenance jobs funded through the 2005 referendum. The minutes from a March 2009 committee meeting confirm that district administrators said they were working on such a report but Mathiak says the information she’s received so far has been less than clear.
“Trying to get this information through two administrations, and then trying to figure it out, is exhausting. The whole thing is a mess. I’m not, by any means, the first board member to ask these kind of questions regarding accountability,” Mathiak says. “You ask for straightforward documentation and you don’t get it, or when it comes it’s a data dump that’s almost impossible to understand.”
That lack of transparency might make it more difficult for other School Board members to get on board with another referendum.
“We have a responsibility to provide an accurate record of what happened with the funding,” says board member Arlene Silveira, who has supported all other school referendums. “I think people understand that other projects may come up and there may be changes from the original plan, but you do need to tell them what was done and what wasn’t done and why. It affects (the district’s) credibility in the community.”

Much more on the 2005 referendum and the District’s 2010-2011 budget (including what appears to be a 10% property tax increase here.
Related: “Accountability is important, now more than ever“.

Madison School Board Updates

via an Arlene Silveira email:

Board of Education Progress Report, November, 2009
BOE updates:
Dual Language Immersion (DLI): The Board approved the expansion of our DLI program into our 4 attendance areas at specified schools at the elementary/middle school levels. We are still studying high school models. DLI is a program where children are taught in both Spanish and English. DLI programs are currently at Nuestro Mundo and Leopold Elementary Schools. Next year our first middle school program will be at Sennett.
Cultural Relevance: The Board received an update on our Cultural Relevance initiatives. This is included in the strategic plan as a Strategic Objective in Curriculum. The District has a number of new/expanding projects in this area. Of note is a pilot created at Mendota and Falk Elementary Schools. Staff are collaborating with UW-Madison faculty for professional development in: African American language development; family involvement; black communications; classroom management; teaching from principles; culturally relevant literacy principles.
School Food Committee: This committee was formed to look at possible options for our food service operations. The district is bringing in an expert (Ann Cooper) in transitioning food service programs. Early next year she will come to Madison to look at our operations and provide a cost estimate for a feasibility study of the MMSD.
Budget: The Board approved our final budget and set the tax levy in October. Summary:

  • Total levy: $234,240,964 (3.49% increase)
  • Tax rate: $10.18 (3.77% increase)
  • Impact on $250,000 home: $92.83

Going into the meeting, the proposed tax rate was $10.40 with the impact on a $250,000 home of $147.50. Aware of the difficult economic times facing our community, the Board approved 6 budget amendments designed to decrease these numbers to the approved numbers. As part of our effort to decrease property taxes, the Board voted to freeze “non-essential” maintenance spending by deferring or foregoing $3,080,000 in maintenance referendum tax levy spending in 2009-10. By doing so, we were able to decrease the tax impact on the average home by $33.16. What does this mean for the schools? We will continue to make essential repairs using existing maintenance funds or other existing district resources. We have already spent 91% of the maintenance referendum that passed 5 years ago. We will evaluate and prioritize the remaining “non-essential” maintenance projects on the list, and will make funding decisions on an as needed basis using a different source of funding.
Lighthouse Project: The Board and Superintendent are participating in the Lighthouse Project. A study focused on behavior of school boards/superintendents in high-achieving school districts. Our participation in this project over the next 6 months will focus on the 7 conditions of school renewal: 1) Shared leadership; 2) Continuous improvement and shared decision-making; 3) Ability to create/sustain initiatives; 4) Supportive workplace for staff; 5) Staff development; 6) Support for school sites through data/information; 7) Community involvement.
H1N1 Activities: We received a presentation on the district’s H1N1 Pandemic Response Plan. The plan focused on 1) Education on H1N1; 2) Vaccination clinics; 3) Student/staff absences; 4) Supporting school operations; 5) Supporting students. An incredible amount of planning and communication went into the development of this plan and the district is now ready to deal with anything that comes our way as a result of H1N1.
If you have any questions/comments, please let us know.
Arlene Silveira (516-8981)

Madison School Board Revises Budget to Reduce the Upcoming Property Tax Increase

WKOW-TV, via a kind reader’s email:

Madison school board leaders are revising a budget plan that lowers their property tax increase but defers millions of dollars in maintenance.
Leaders are looking to lower the previously agreed upon property tax hike by about $50 dollars per homeowner: from $147 on a $250,000 home, to $92.83 on a $250,000 home.
To accomplish that, members took from a few funds, and decided they would not levy the remaining balance on a 2005 maintenance referendum: that equaling out to almost $3 million dollars.
School board members had to compensate for the loss of $12-million dollars in state funding.
The loss of funding for the maintenance referendum didn’t come without discussion. Board member Beth Moss hoped to levy just enough to pay for $1.4 million dollars of roof maintenance.
Moss says, “The maintenance doesn’t go away… You can put it off, but putting it off usually only makes it worse.”
On the list for repairs, a boiler at Marquette Elementary, and more efficient windows at Shorewood Elementary.

Most budget changes passed 7-0, with the exception of the deferred maintenance, which passed 5-2 with Beth Moss and Ed Hughes voting against it. Moss’s school board seat is up for election on April 6, 2010. I emailed Beth last weekend, along with Maya Cole and Johnny Winston, Jr. to see if they plan to run for re-election.
Listen to Monday evening’s Madison School Board discussion via this 1 hour, 50 minute mp3 audio file.
The budget changes were driven by reduced transfers of state tax dollars to school districts and the drop in assessed property values (via an April, 2009 memo). Interestingly, I don’t believe this significant Board (mostly 7 votes, but some big dollar 5-2 as noted above) effort to hold down the local school property tax increase would have occurred with earlier Directors.

Media Education Coverage: An Oxymoron?

Lucy Mathiak’s recent comments regarding the lack of substantive local media education coverage inspired a Mitch Henck discussion (actually rant) [15MB mp3 audio file]. Henck notes that the fault lies with us, the (mostly non) voting public. Apathy certainly reigns. A useful example is Monday’s School Board’s 56 minute $367,806,712 2008/2009 budget discussion. The brief chat included these topics:

  • Retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s view on the District’s structural deficit and the decline in it’s equity (Assets – Liabilities = Equity; Britannica on the The Balance Sheet) from $48,000,000 in the year 2000 to $24,000,000 in 2006 (it is now about 8% of the budget or $20M). (See Lawrie Kobza’s discussion of this issue in November, 2006. Lawrie spent a great deal of time digging into and disclosing the structural deficits.) Art also mentioned the resulting downgrade in the District’s bond rating (results in somewhat higher interest rates).
  • Marj asked an interesting question about the K-1 combination and staff scheduling vis a vis the present Teacher Union Contract.
  • Lucy asked about specials scheduling (about 17 minutes).
  • Maya asked about the combined K-1 Art classes (“Class and a half” art and music) and whether we are losing instructional minutes. She advocated for being “open and honest with the public” about this change. Art responded (23 minutes) vociferously about the reduction in services, the necessity for the community to vote yes on operating referendums, ACT scores and National Merit Scholars.
  • Beth mentioned (about 30 minutes) that “the district has done amazing things with less resources”. She also discussed teacher tools, curriculum and information sharing.
  • Ed Hughes (about 37 minutes) asked about the Madison Family Literacy initiative at Leopold and Northport. Lucy inquired about Fund 80 support for this project.
  • Maya later inquired (45 minutes) about a possible increase in Wisconsin DPI’s common school fund for libraries and left over Title 1 funds supporting future staff costs rather than professional development.
  • Beth (about 48 minutes) advocated accelerated computer deployments to the schools. Lucy followed up and asked about the District’s installation schedule. Johnny followed up on this matter with a question regarding the most recent maintenance referendum which included $500,000 annually for technology.
  • Lucy discussed (52 minutes) contingency funds for energy costs as well as providing some discretion for incoming superintendent Dan Nerad.

Rick Berg notes that some homes are selling below assessed value, which will affect the local tax base (property taxes for schools) and potential referendums:

But the marketplace will ultimately expose any gaps between assessment and true market value. And that could force local governments to choose between reducing spending (not likely) and hiking the mill rate (more likely) to make up for the decreasing value of real estate.
Pity the poor homeowners who see the value of their home fall 10%, 20% or even 30% with no corresponding savings in their property tax bill, or, worse yet, their tax bill goes up! Therein lie the seeds of a genuine taxpayer revolt. Brace yourselves. It’s gonna be a rough ride.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue noted recently that Wisconsin state tax collections are up 2.3% year to date [136K PDF]. Redistributed state tax dollars represented 17.2% of the District’s revenues in 2005 (via the Citizen’s Budget).
Daniel de Vise dives into Montgomery County, Maryland’s school budget:

The budget for Montgomery County’s public schools has doubled in 10 years, a massive investment in smaller classes, better-paid teachers and specialized programs to serve growing ranks of low-income and immigrant children.
That era might be coming to an end. The County Council will adopt an education budget this month that provides the smallest year-to-year increase in a decade for public schools. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended trimming $51 million from the $2.11 billion spending plan submitted by the Board of Education.
County leaders say the budget can no longer keep up with the spending pace of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has overseen a billion-dollar expansion since his arrival in 1999. Weast has reduced elementary class sizes, expanded preschool and kindergarten programs and invested heavily in the high-poverty area of the county known around his office as the Red Zone.
“Laudable goals, objectives, nobody’s going to argue with that,” Leggett said in a recent interview at his Rockville office. “But is it affordable?”
It’s a question being asked of every department in a county whose overall budget has swelled from $2.1 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.3 billion this year, a growth rate Leggett terms “unacceptable.”

Montgomery County enrolls 137,745 students and spent $2,100,000,000 this year ($15,245/student). Madison’s spending has grown about 50% from 1998 ($245,131,022) to 2008 ($367,806,712) while enrollment has declined slightly from 25,132 to 24,268 ($13,997/student).
I’ve not seen any local media coverage of the District’s budget this week.
Thanks to a reader for sending this in.

Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

Citizen Stewart: My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools. I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public … Continue reading Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

Mulligans for Wisconsin Elementary Reading Teachers

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction “DPI”, lead for many years by new Governor Tony Evers, has waived thousands of elementary reading teacher content knowledge requirements. This, despite our long term, disastrous reading results. Chan Stroman tracks the frequent Foundations of Reading (FoRT) mulligans: Yet the statutory FoRT requirement is now deemed satisfied by “attempts” … Continue reading Mulligans for Wisconsin Elementary Reading Teachers

Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate

Josh Elliott: Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from … Continue reading Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate

Black Hawk School financial review finds former principal Kenya Walker, staff didn’t follow rules

Karen Rivedal: A Madison School District review of financial practices at Black Hawk Middle School found widespread disregard for proper accounting and money handling practices under then-principal Kenya Walker, who admitted using district credit cards for personal needs and oversaw school office operations so lax they resulted in the theft of at least $1,000 from … Continue reading Black Hawk School financial review finds former principal Kenya Walker, staff didn’t follow rules

The Art Of The Audit

The Economist: WHEN offices handle public money, said Aristotle, “there must of necessity be another office that examines and audits them.” Today’s equivalent is the “Supreme Audit Institution”, and 192 countries have one. These beancounters-cum-watchdogs check on behalf of legislatures and the public that their governments spend money cleanly and sensibly—and hold them to account … Continue reading The Art Of The Audit

K-16 Governance: An Oxymoron? Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along

Jim Schutze: When Hall was early on the board, the university revealed to regents there were problems with a large private endowment used to provide off-the-books six-figure “forgivable loans” to certain faculty members, out of sight of the university’s formal compensation system. Hall wanted to know how big the forgivable loans were and who decided … Continue reading K-16 Governance: An Oxymoron? Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison/Dane County Property Taxes Highest in Wisconsin, 61st in USA

Nick Heynen: Using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the report’s authors examined residential property taxes in every U.S. county from 2007 to 2011, looking at how much homeowners were paying on average and how that average compared to average home sale prices over the same time period. The data contained some interesting, … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison/Dane County Property Taxes Highest in Wisconsin, 61st in USA

Madison’s Property Taxes Per Capita 2nd Highest in WI; 25% of 2014-2015 $402,464,374 Budget Spent on Benefits

Tap the chart to view a larger version. A few slides from the School District’s fourth 2014-2015 budget presentation to the Board: I am surprised to see Physician’s Plus missing from the healthcare choices, which include: GHC, Unity or Dean. The slides mention that the “Budget Proposal Covers the First 5% of Health Insurance Premium … Continue reading Madison’s Property Taxes Per Capita 2nd Highest in WI; 25% of 2014-2015 $402,464,374 Budget Spent on Benefits

Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 $402,464,374 Budget Document (April, 2014 version)

The Madison School District (3MB PDF): Five Priority Areas (just like the “Big 10”) but who is counting! – page 6: – Common Core – Behavior Education Plan – Recruitment and hiring – New educator induction – Educator Effectiveness – Student, parent and staff surveys – Technology plan 2014-2015 “budget package” 3MB PDF features some … Continue reading Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 $402,464,374 Budget Document (April, 2014 version)

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public Purse Media Spending Oversight, or note…. Bread & Circuses

Compare: Three reporters assigned to the Urban League’s governance transition: 1. Steven Elbow: Madison Urban League chair: Kaleem Caire’s credit card use an ‘internal’ issue. 2. Dee Hall: Urban League head: Kaleem Caire’s ‘integrity intact’. 3. Dean Mosiman: Kaleem Caire’s departure followed concerns about credit card use, overwork. 2005 a reporter follows a story with … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Public Purse Media Spending Oversight, or note…. Bread & Circuses

Carol Carstensen’s Email Message to Parent Groups

Carol Carstensen: Parent Group Presidents: N.B. The Board’s discussion regarding animals in the classroom has been postponed until January. BUDGET FACTOID: Why does the Madison district spend more than the state average per pupil? One part of the answer is that our student enrollment differs significantly from the state average in areas which require more … Continue reading Carol Carstensen’s Email Message to Parent Groups

Hard choices for Madison Voters

On May 24th, citizens in the Madison school district will vote on three referenda questions affecting whether to build an addition to Leopold School, exceed revenue caps, and renew the maintenance referendum. For many people the answers are an easy yes or no vote. Others, like me, have wrestled with their choice for each question. … Continue reading Hard choices for Madison Voters

Editorial: School Board Must Show Unity – A Capital Times Editorial – January 24, 2005

In an editorial in today’s Capital Times, School Board unity is identified as a key factor before deciding on going to a referendum. I couldn’t agree more with this editorial. At this point in their deliberations, MMSD’s School Board is not ready to make a decision to go to referendum(s), because they have more work … Continue reading Editorial: School Board Must Show Unity – A Capital Times Editorial – January 24, 2005

Long Range Planning Committee Advisory Members

On August 30, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board met with its advisory members for the first time. Advisory members in attendance were Dawn Crim, Joan Eggert, Jill Jokela, Lucy Mathiak, Pat Mooney, and Jan Sternbach. Teresa Tellez-Giron (nominated by Board member Juan Lopez) withdrew before our initial meeting. LRP Committee … Continue reading Long Range Planning Committee Advisory Members

The Taxpayer Supported Madison School District offers info session on Behavior Education Plan Tuesday

Scott Girard: Those with questions about the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Behavior Education Plan have a chance to get them answered Tuesday. District staff will hold a session from 6-7:30 p.m. to discuss, “What is the BEP? How does it work? What should I know?” at the Goodman South Public Library, 2222 S. Park St. Speakers at … Continue reading The Taxpayer Supported Madison School District offers info session on Behavior Education Plan Tuesday

Madison School Board leans toward deductibles instead of switching health insurers

Logan Wroge: Increasing the amount staff pay for premiums would see teachers paying 6% of a HMO family plan — up from 3% — to about $44 more a month. Certain hourly employees, such as special education assistants, would pay 2.5% of an HMO family plan instead of 1.25%, or $8.53 more per month. Scott … Continue reading Madison School Board leans toward deductibles instead of switching health insurers

Employee health insurance, referenda discussions on Madison School Board agenda Monday

Scott Girard: The Madison School Board will discuss the potential November referenda and proposed employee health insurance changes Monday. The Operations Work Group meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St., is likely the last opportunity for board members to ask for broad changes ahead of anticipated votes … Continue reading Employee health insurance, referenda discussions on Madison School Board agenda Monday

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 … Continue reading Spending, achievement, taxes and Madison’s school climate

Why, for example, were board members approving staff contracts they’d never seen? Why was the district administrator’s salary higher than his contract stipulated?

Annysa Johnson: One way to make enemies in a small-town school district, it turns out, is to start sniffing around its finances. Christa Reinert was hardly welcomed when she joined the Mercer School Board in 2016. She’d run, at least partly, in protest after two girls basketball coaches — one a sitting School Board member … Continue reading Why, for example, were board members approving staff contracts they’d never seen? Why was the district administrator’s salary higher than his contract stipulated?

Continuing to grow Madison School $pending: now nearly $20k / student

Karen Rivedal: But board members Mary Burke and TJ Mertz offered cautions, urging the administration to be sure every possible building efficiency has been achieved before going to the voters again and every proposed project in any referendum under the plan truly advances the district’s central mission of providing a good education. “My guess is … Continue reading Continuing to grow Madison School $pending: now nearly $20k / student

“In addition, we see that very few schools actually achieved growth improvements of 5% or more, with changes in growth generally clustering around 0%.” Slide updates on Madison’s $500M+ Government School System

PDF slides from a recent Madison School District Quarterly Board retreat. Readers may wish to understand “MAP” or “Measure of Academic Progress” [duck duck go SIS 2012 Madison and Waunakee results] Using MAP for Strategic Framework Milestones and SIP Metrics Feedback from various stakeholders has led us to examine the use of MAP (Measures of … Continue reading “In addition, we see that very few schools actually achieved growth improvements of 5% or more, with changes in growth generally clustering around 0%.” Slide updates on Madison’s $500M+ Government School System

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Cities See a ‘Bright Flight’ Highly Educated Americans Increasingly Move to More Affordable Metro Areas in South, West

Neil Shah: Highly educated Americans are choosing cheaper metropolitan centers in the West and South over more dominant—and expensive—population centers on the coasts and former industrial hubs. After flocking to areas with ample employment opportunities such as New York City and Los Angeles for years, the nation’s most educated are fanning out in search of … Continue reading K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Cities See a ‘Bright Flight’ Highly Educated Americans Increasingly Move to More Affordable Metro Areas in South, West

Build it and they may come Management schools are on a building spree. That is a risk for some

The Economist: BUSINESS-SCHOOL students are a pampered bunch. Scholars sipping a glass of red in the posh rooftop bar of Oxford’s Saïd Business School could be forgiven for thinking they had wandered into the nearby Randolph Hotel by mistake. Stanford students can view an impressive modern-art collection housed in its own museum. Harvard Business School … Continue reading Build it and they may come Management schools are on a building spree. That is a risk for some

Madison School Board Members 2012-2013 “Budget Amendments”

It is interesting to compare and contrast Board member amendments to the Administration’s proposed 2012-2013 Madison School District budget. The 2011-2012 budget spent $369,394,753 for 24,861 students or $14,858.40 each.
Mary Burke: Require Accountability for All Achievement Gap Programs.
Maya Cole offers 11 amendments, the first seeks to address the District’s literacy problems. Cole’s amendment 6 questions the Administration’s use of WPS health care savings (“general fund”).
James Howard seeks a student data analysis assistant and the implementation of a parent university.
Ed Hughes offers 3 amendments, the first seeks to moderate proposed administrative staffing growth, the 2nd requests $3,000,000 in additional maintenance spending (500K less than the Administrative proposal) and a change (reduction) in the use of the District’s reserves (or “fund equity“). Mr. Hughes’ amendments would result in a 5.7% property tax increase. Related: controversy and a possible audit over past maintenance spending.
Beth Moss requests additional middle school media library staffing and increased funding for the middle school Avid program. Much more on the AVID program, here.
Marj Passman requests the introduction of a credit recovery program at East High School (the other high schools evidently have in-house programs) and the creation of a “Department of African American achievement”.
Arlene Silveira requests $75K for the Superintendent Search and a possible interim candidate, a dropout recovery program, a Toki Middle School “Expeditionary Learning Program” and the creation of an implementation plan for all achievement gap programs. Notes and links on Toki middle school and the “Expeditionary Learning Program“.
Somewhat related: Madison Schools Administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”
I continue to wonder if all schools are held to the same academic and financial standards expressed during the debate and rejection of the proposed the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school?

Two contested School Board Races

From today’s Wisconsin State Journal. Two Madison School Board races are shaping up as the city’s most high-profile election contests this spring, with the board’s vote last month against a controversial charter school proposal front and center. All four candidates who filed paperwork by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline say the election is about more than … Continue reading Two contested School Board Races

Bidding Adieu to the Madison School Board; “Facts are an Obstacle to the Reform of America”

Lucy Mathiak, via a kind email:

Dear Friends,
I am writing to thank you for your encouragement and support in my decision to seek election to the MMSD Board of Education in late fall 2005. Your help in getting elected, your support during tough times, and your help in finding solutions to problems, have made a great difference to my service on the board.
I am writing to let you know that I will not seek re-election in 2012. I continue to believe that the Board of Education is one of the most important elected positions for our community and its schools, and encourage others to step forward to serve in this capacity. MMSD is facing significant challenges, and it is more important than ever that thoughtful citizens engage in the work that will be needed to preserve the traditional strengths of our public schools while helping those schools to change in keeping with the times and the families that they serve.
At the same time, I do not view school board service as a career, and believe that turnover in membership is healthy for the organization and for the district. I have been fortunate to have had an opportunity to serve on this board, and to work with many fine community organizations in that capacity. For that I am grateful.
Again, thank you for your interest, support, and collegiality.
Lucy J. Mathiak
716 Orton Ct.
Madison, WI 53703
Madison School Board
Seat #2

I am appreciative of Lucy’s tireless and often thankless work on behalf of our students.
Every organization – public or private, deteriorates. It is often easier to spend more (raise taxes), raise fees on consumers – or a “rate base”, reduce curricular quality and in general go along and get along than to seek substantive improvements. Change is hard.
Citizens who seek facts, ask difficult and uncomfortable questions are essential for strong institutions – public or private. Progress requires conflict.
Yet, very few of us are willing to step into the theatre, spend time, dig deep and raise such questions. I am thankful for those, like Lucy, who do.
Her years of activism and governance have touched numerous issues, from the lack of Superintendent oversight (related: Ruth Robarts) (that’s what a board does), the District’s $372M+ budget priorities and transparency to substantive questions about Math, reading and the endless battle for increased rigor in the Madison Schools.
In closing, I had an opportunity to hear Peter Schneider speak during a recent Madison visit. Schneider discussed cultural differences and similarities between America and Germany. He specifically discussed the recent financial crisis. I paraphrase: “If I do not understand a financial vehicle, I buy it”. “I create a financial product that no one, including me, understands, I sell it”. This is “collective ignorance”.
Schneider’s talk reminded me of a wonderful Madison teacher’s comments some years ago: “if we are doing such a great job, why do so few people vote and/or understand civic and business issues”?
What, then, is the payoff of increased rigor and the pursuit of high standards throughout an organization? Opportunity.
I recently met a technical professional who works throughout the United States from a suburban Madison home. This person is the product of a very poor single parent household. Yet, high parental standards and rigorous academic opportunities at a somewhat rural Wisconsin high school and UW-Madison led to an advanced degree and professional opportunities.
It also led to a successful citizen and taxpayer. The alternative, as discussed in my recent conversation with Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is growth in those who don’t contribute, but rather increase costs on society.
Lucy will be missed.

Committee backs $53 million in interest-free bonds for MPS projects

Larry Sandler & Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools could borrow up to $53.1 million interest-free to create new science and engineering laboratories, build a community learning center and repair aging schools, under a plan backed Wednesday by a Common Council committee.
If the plan wins final approval from the full council, federal stimulus dollars would pay the interest on the bonds and property taxes would be used to repay the principal. The School Board has voted to seek up to $53.1 million of the $72.1 million maximum that the federal government authorized for MPS borrowing, but the city issues school bonds.
Wednesday’s vote by the council’s Finance & Personnel Committee calls for the council to give preliminary approval Tuesday to borrowing the money without a referendum. Further action would be needed to issue the bonds. Mayor Tom Barrett plans to recommend a bond issue of about $48 million, said his chief of staff, Patrick Curley.
Michelle Nate, chief financial officer for MPS, said the ability to borrow at free or extremely low interest rates would allow the district to spend about $30 million on maintenance projects that have been put off for years.
“It’s like any major expense (for a homeowner),” Nate said. “You know you need a new roof, but you put it off until you can afford it.”

Local elected leaders: Vote ‘yes’ Nov. 4 for Madison schools

The Capital Times — 10/27/2008 4:31 am Dear Editor: As elected officials, we work hard to make Madison and Fitchburg the best places in the country. The foundation of our vibrant community is our public schools. Our kids and schools need our support this fall. We urge you to vote for the Madison schools referendum … Continue reading Local elected leaders: Vote ‘yes’ Nov. 4 for Madison schools

Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

Active Citizens for Education (ACE) calls for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to delay making specific decisions for the presentation of a recurring referendum to the taxpayers for a vote on the November election ballot.
Passage of a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would allow the board and school administration to permanently exceed the state mandated revenue spending caps. Such a move to fix a so-called current “budget gap” would allow the board and administration to exceed annual spending caps permanently, every year into the future. This would virtually give the board a “blank check” from district taxpayers to plug future budget gaps or shortfalls. It could prevent the board and administration from having to carefully and thoughtfully budget, like every taxpayer must do when their household budget faces tough economic times and shortfalls.
The plans and communications presented in recent weeks by the board and administration provide greater hope for more effective decision-making now and in the future. The recommendations for changes in policy and accountability options in community services, transportation, lease contracts, fund balances and capital expansion (maintenance) will have positive impacts on reducing the so-called “budget gap.”
The Board must earn the trust of the taxpayers by clearly showing that they can be “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars. Past experience has not earned that trust! If a referendum is ultimately required to fix upcoming budgets, it should be a non-recurring referendum, thereby preventing ‘mortgaging’ the future with year-after-year, permanent increases in spending authority.
The Board and administration must correct the absence of specific processes and strategies for analysis and evaluation of business and educational services, programs, practices and policies. Urgent and substantial investments of time and work are critical for these processes to evolve into hard evidence. This evidence is absolutely necessary to show the public that serious steps are under way to provide clear, concrete data and options for identifying the most effective and efficient results-oriented management of the financial resources of the district. It must be shown that the resources will be directly applied to improvements in student learning and achievement.

Put School Curricula over Buildings

John Torinus:

The West Bend School Board, chastened by a two-to-one defeat of its $119 million referendum for improved facilities, is seeking input from the community on how to go forward.
To their credit, district leaders have done that all along. But they still missed the mark on gauging what the community wanted.
One thing is clear: just coming back at a slightly reduced total will probably not work. The margin of defeat was too large. So, some creative thinking is needed.
My own guess is that the referendum failed on two counts: its sheer size in dollars was too much for taxpayers to swallow and it lacked vision.
It’s hard to get excited about bricks, mortar and maintenance, necessary as they are.
It would be exciting, though, to come up with a program of study that would allow our young people to compete better in the globalizing world.
A stunning new book, “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek columnist and perhaps the most insightful journalist in the country, outlines the challenges facing the United States and its next generations.
He calls it “The Rise of the Rest” and generally says the rise into prosperity of other countries can be a positive for America if we react in the right way.

Desired Superintendent Characteristics

The Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District, after consulting staff, students, parents and community members, seeks an educational leader who is student-centered and demonstrates the following characteristics:

  • Leadership experience and demonstrated success in a diverse community and school district

  • Leadership experience and demonstrated success in challenging and engaging students at all points along the educational performance continuum

  • Effective communication skills

  • Strong collaborative and visionary leadership skills

  • Unquestioned integrity

  • Excellent organizational and fiscal management skills

Ability to:

  • Deal directly and fairly with faculty, staff, students, parents and community members

  • Be accessible, open-minded and consider all points of view before making decisions

  • Build consensus and support for a shared vision for the future

  • Develop positive working relationships with a wide variety of constituent groups

The individual selected is expected to be highly visible in and engaged with the schools and community. Successful experience as a superintendent or district level administrator in a similar urban environment and school district size is preferred.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. Executive Summary 960K PDF File:

This report summarizes the findings of the Leadership Profile Assessment conducted by Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. (HYA) for the Board of Education of Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). The data contained herein were obtained from reviewing approximately 185 completed Leadership Profile Assessment forms, 220 emailed responses and interviews with approximately 240 persons identified b y the Board, in either individual, focus group or community input settings, on September 19 and 20, 2007. The questionnaire, interviews and focus groups were structured to gather data to assist the Board in detennining the primary characteristics it might seek in its next superintendent of schools. Through this process, the consultants attempted to identify the personal and professional characteristics desired in the superintendent, as well as the skill sets necessary to maintain what constituent groups value and to address current and emerging issues which the District might be facing.
Information obtained through interviews, emails and completed questionnaires reflects similar views from all groups with respect to the multiple strengths of MMSD. Respondents were extremely proud of their District’s national recognition for educational excellence. They voiced pride in their students’ excellent test scores, the District’s exceedingly high number of National Merit Semifinalists and its ability to provide top quality academic programs in an environment of rapidly changing demographics. Given the changes in the socio-economic, racial and ethnic make-up of the student body, residents identified as major strengths the District’s commitment to reduce the achievement gap between Caucasian and minority students, its willingness to address issues of diversity and its provision of training in best practices to assist staff in meeting the special needs of a diverse student population.
Respondents also pointed to MMSD’ s commitment to neighborhood schools, retention of small class sizes in most elementary schools, rigorous curriculum, support of music programs and the arts, broad range of sports and other extra-curricular activities, high expectations of a well educated parent constituency and its excellent special education program with the focus on the inclusion of students in regular classrooms. Residents cited the strong support for the District by caring, involved parents and by a community that values high academic standards and achievement. Other strengths cited included the District’s bright, motivated students and its highly competent, dedicated, hard-working teachers and support staff committed to the success of all students. Building administrators were commended for their dedication, accessibility and innovative leadership in providing programs that reflect the needs of their individual school populations. All respondents cited MMSD’s proximity to and partnership with UW-Madison and Edgewood College as invaluable assets.
The over-arching challenge cited by all respondents centered on the MMSD’ s future ability to maintain its excellent academic programs and student performance, given the District’s insufficient financial resources, significant budget cuts and ever-growing low-income and ELL student populations. These concerns are interrelated and if not addressed successfully could eventually become the self-fulfilling cause of what respondents feared the most: the exodus of a considerable number of high-performing upper/middle class students to private or suburban schools as a “bright flight” mentality overrides parental desire to provide children with a “real world” enviromnent of socio-economic, ethnic and racial diversity.
Concern over the funding issue was expressed in several ways: failure to cut the personnel costs of a “top heavy” central office, more equitable funding of the various schools, state level politics that restrict local access to property taxes and fail to increase state funding, the cost of responding to the arbitrary mandates of t he NCLB law, the future need for a referendum to increase property taxes and a strong teachers’ union perceived as placing its salary/benefit issues, restrictions on management prerogatives and undue influence over the Board ahead of the District’s interests. The impact of continued budget cuts strikes at the quality and reputation of the educational program, with fear of an erosion of the comprehensive curriculum and after-school activities, reduction in aides who help classroom teachers with ELL and special education students; curtailment of music, fine arts and gifted programs; increases in class size; lack of classroom supplies; postponed maintenance and renovation of aging facilities; need to update technology and the lack of long-range financial planning as the District confronts one financial crisis after another.
Concern over the impact of the changing demographics was also expressed in various ways: fear that the rising cost of responding to the special needs of an increasingly diverse student population and efforts to close the achievement gap will reduce the dollars available to maintain electives and enrichment programs for regular and gifted students; the changing school culture in which gang activity, fights between students, a pervasive lack of respect by students toward authority are perceived as the norm, which in turn generates fear that the schools are no longer as safe as they used to be; the need to provide more relevant programs for the non-college bound students and the need to address the high minority student dropout rate. Concern that students from minority group populations are disproportionately disciplined, suspended and/or expelled was also expressed.
Almost all constituent groups felt that the Board and Administration need to gain the trust of parents and the community through communication that clearly identifies the fiscal issues and the criteria on which funding and budget decisions are based. Many expressed the view that the Board and Administration’s lack of transparency in district decision-making and show of disrespect toward those who question administrative proposals have eroded constituent support. A concerted effort by the Board and Administration to become more creative in publicizing the successes of MMSD’s outstanding educational opportunities might encourage mor e young upper/middle class families to move into the District and convince others to remain.
Respondents agreed on many of the attributes that would assist a new superintendent in addressing the issues confronting MMSD. They want a student-centered, collaborative educational leader of unquestioned integrity with superior communication, interpersonal and management skills. He/she should have strategic plmming skills and feel comfortable with the involvement of parents, teachers and community members in shaping a vision for the District’s future direction. The successful candidate should be a consensus builder who has had experience in meeting the needs of an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student population. He/she should b e sensitive and proactive in addressing diversity issues and a strong advocate of effective programs for ELL and gifted students and of inclusion programs for special education students. The new superintendent should be open to new ideas and encourage staff to take risks with research-based initiatives that engage students in learning and maintain high academic expectations as they work together toward common goals. When confronted with controversial issues, he/she should be willing to seek the views of those affected, examine all options and then make the tough decisions. The new superintendent should have the courage of his/her convictions and support decisions based on what is best for all students
The successful individual should have a firm understanding of fiscal management and budgets, K-12 curriculum and best practice and the importance of technology in the classroom. He/she should be a strong supporter of music, fine arts and after-school activities. The new superintendent should have successful experience dealing collaboratively with a Board and establishing agreement on their respective govemance roles. He/she should have a proven record of recruiting minority staff and hiring competent people who are empowered to strive for excellence and are held accountable.
He/she should b e visible in the school buildings and at school events, enjoy interacting with students and staff, be actively involved in the community and seek opportunities to develop positive working relationships with state and local officials, business and community groups. The individual should be a personable, accessible, open-minded leader who engages staff, students, parents and the community in dialogue, keeps them well informed and responds respectfully to inquiries in a timely, forthright manner.
While it is unlikely tofind a candidate who possesses all of the characteristics desired by respondents, HYA and the Board intend to meet the challenge of finding an individual who possesses many of the skills and character traits required to address the issues described b y the constituent groups. We expect the new superintendent to provide the leadership that inspires trust and unites the community in its support for MMSD’s efforts to achieve an even higher level of performance for its students and staff.
Respectfully submitted,
Marvin Edwards
Jim Rickabaugh
Joan Levy

960K Executive Summary.

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An open letter to the School Board of Madison Metropolitan Schools

It’s about time that this community approached the budget process with the honesty and integrity that we homeowners are required to do. For the past several years, the Superintendent and his associates have made a projected budget by increasing all categories of the budget by a certain percentage (about 5%) whether costs in that area … Continue reading An open letter to the School Board of Madison Metropolitan Schools