May 25, 2004

Next Steps - A Vision with a Roadmap

Believe me when I say that I never intended to spend my time over the past three years studying the MMSD budget, even though I have worked professionally with very large budgets. But I love public education, and I love the fine arts. My husband is principal bassist in the MSO and a music teacher in MMSD. My daughter is a young violinist in WYSOís Concert Orchestra and middle school student at Velma Hamilton. I live in a city that invests heavily in its future as a center for the performing arts, and I love my city and the diversity of its neighborhoods.

So two years ago, when Superintendent Art Rainwater proposed to eliminate Grade 4 strings, one of the school districtís gateway programs, I was alarmed. I began to ask questions, and Iíve learned a lot. Over the next several months, I'll be commenting on this website in more detail about next steps for the budget process.

With all the focus on cuts to education, more than anything else I believe what is needed now is a vision for the Madison public schools and the specific funding (public investment in schools) that would be needed for the future of Madisonís public schools over the next 3-5 years. This budget cycle Board members were unable to get to the point to seriously discuss whether to go to a referendum or not, because they do not have a roadmap to guide them. I was at these meetings and witnessed the lack of a decisionmaking framework that comes from not having a vision and roadmap.

From my personal business experience and my recent immersion in the Districtís school budget process, Iíve learned there are no shortcuts to budgeting. Itís critically important to have a vision, measurable overall and specific goals and objectives for that vision and strategies to reach your vision. Madisonís School Board has some of those pieces, but Iím hoping they take the time to develop and to refine their vision for the next 3-5 years and that they engage the community in that process.

I've watched for three budget cycles as the School Board's budget process in the spring revolves around managing the Superintendent's proposed cuts to the Madison School budget. These cuts represent less than 5% of a $300+ million school budget. Yearly, the school budget is approved without any information on what departments actually will be doing with the money next year.

Madison's schools and the School Board need to find another way to work through the yearly budget process. However, until the School Board has developed a 3-5 year vision for the schools with measurable goals and objectives by school department don't be surprised if we end up in the same place next year - panicked parents and a chagrined community distrustful of its School Board's decisions.

Madison needs more from its School Board members than simply threats of cut services if we don't pass a referendum. The Board needs to understand that the support of grass roots efforts in the community will be critical to passing a future referendum.

I think itís critically important to have the grass roots effort and support of community in passing a school referendum. I also think the School Board needs to have more thorough, public budget deliberations before deciding there is a budget gap and focusing on the ďlightening rodsĒ in budget cuts.


With all the focus on cuts to education, rather than on what is the vision for and what specific funding (public investment in schools) is needed for the future of Madisonís public schools over the next 3-5 years, Board members were unable to get to the point to seriously discuss whether to go to a referendum or not. Board members also lacked information from the Administration on Department goals and objectives for the next year. Without this information, the community will have a hard time supporting any increased investments in public education.

I attended nearly all the board meetings and public forums on the budget. In January the Board received a one page forecast of a $10 million gap followed in mid-March with a list of proposed cuts. I think the community needs to know what the vision and roadmap to that vision are for the next several years. We need to have public discussions about what that roadmap should look like. The community needs to play a critical role in helping to develop that future vision.


From my personal business experience and my recent immersion in the Districtís school budget process, Iíve learned there are no shortcuts to budgeting. Itís critically important to have a vision, measurable overall and specific goals and objectives for that vision and strategies to reach your vision. Madisonís School Board has some of those pieces, but Iím hoping they take the time to develop and to refine their vision for the next 3-5 years and that they engage the community that process.

Posted by Barb Schrank at May 25, 2004 12:09 PM | TrackBack
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