School Information System
Newsletter Sign Up | Send Ideas | Directory | | Sponsorships

June 29, 2004

Resources online

I wanted to point out a couple of useful sites on the internet that can be very helpful in demonstrating the importance of music education as an important part of all students' development.

A very useful site with lots of information, research and resources is They can even help you build your case for keeping your school's music program by addressing talking points to 13 common issues including: Music is not perceived as a core academic subject or districtwide budget cuts.

Another useful site is the American Music Conference. They also have a sizable listing of music related research.

For instance, did you know that middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. University studies conducted in Georgia and Texas found significant correlations between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.

Another important finding: A ten-year study, tracking more than 25,000 students, shows that music-making improves test scores. Regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks in standardized tests than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also in reading proficiency exams.

Visit both of these sites and see why schools need more not less music instruction.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin School Finance Opinion Articles

The Wisconsin State Journal has published three related editorials on school finance issues:

I would be surprised if this round of school finance changes substantially increases the amount of money available for schools. There's also a growing risk of problems as local districts rely completely on state/federal funding sources (filled with political schemes and deal making).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 28, 2004

Re: A difficult transition at East High

You can visit the Document Feed at the Isthmus Web site to read the entire article by Bill Lueders.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Chiefs Lead The Way in Pay Trends

From Education Week an article by Catherine Gewertz

New data from a survey of more than 500 school districts show the average salary of their superintendents has risen by more than 12 percent over the past decade in inflation-adjusted dollars, and that of their high school principals by more than 4 percent, while the average teacher salary declined by nearly 2 percent.

The salary survey of employees in precollegiate public schools also shows that the gap between teachers� and superintendents� salaries grew a bit wider in the same period. In 1993-94, the superintendents were paid on average 2.4 times as much as teachers. By 2003-04, the difference was 2.75 times.

The data come from the National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools and were released to Education Week this month by Educational Research Service as part of a research partnership.

ERS, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., has been conducting the salary survey for 31 years. The data cover the pay of public school employees in 23 professional and 10 support positions, including bus drivers, secretaries, librarians, teachers, principals, district business directors, and superintendents.

The survey data track those employees� salaries annually from 1993-94 to this past fall. Education Week adjusted the pay in each of those years into 2003 dollars to assess how earnings fared relative to the cost of living over time.

The ERS survey shows relationships between salary and a district�s enrollment, per-pupil spending, and location.

Because the fall 2003 findings were obtained from the survey responses of 527 nationally representative districts, which together have about 1.4 million employees, they "could be considered a comprehensive picture of salaries" paid to public school employees for a given year, or over time, according to ERS researchers. They caution that the data are not weighted to estimate national statistics, but they reflect the salaries only in the districts that responded to the survey.

The 527 districts that responded to the survey make up 4.7 percent of the nation�s 11,206 public school systems enrolling 300 or more students. Districts smaller than that were not surveyed.

The data, which ERS will release in a full report this summer, are designed primarily to enable districts to put their employees� salaries into a national or regional context, assess their competitiveness in hiring, and analyze salary trends over time, ERS researchers said in a preliminary draft of the report.

Losing Ground
In looking at teachers� pay, the data show that the mean of classroom teachers� average salaries in the districts surveyed was $36,531 in 1993-94, and $45,646 in 2003-04. Education Week�s cost-of-living adjustment changes the 1993-94 figure to $46,517.

In real dollars, then, the average teacher salary fell by $871, or 1.87 percent, during the period studied.

Some of the decline in teacher pay could be driven by the retirement of more experienced teachers at the upper end of the pay scale, and their replacement with younger, lower-paid teachers, ERS researchers said.

Tom Mooney, a vice president of the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers and the president of its Ohio state affiliate, said he believes the decline was driven by insufficient resources and a lack of commitment in state and local governments to pay teachers more.

The AFT�s own research shows teachers are paid less than most white-collar private-sector employees.

The difference between teachers� pay and superintendents� pay could be even wider in urban areas, as big-city districts agree to higher salaries for talented superintendents to address chronically low student achievement, said Norm Fruchter, the director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University.

That willingness to seek cures for the ills of urban schools by compensating top officials has not been extended to teachers, Mr. Fruchter said, a situation he attributes to an underlying lack of respect for their profession.

While teachers� actual salaries overall appear to have lost ground in the districts surveyed, the ERS data indicate that contract salaries for entry-level teachers have grown more than 14 percent in each of the five- year periods of the past decade, or by 30.6 percent overall, outpacing inflation by more than 3 percent. ERS researchers speculate that some states� efforts to attract new teachers with higher pay might be fueling that trend.

Attracting good teachers is important, but retaining them is just as crucial, and too often overlooked in debates about teacher shortages, said Richard M. Ingersoll, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The field has traditionally "front-loaded" its salary scales, meaning that it pays newcomers relatively well and veterans relatively poorly, said Mr. Ingersoll, who studies the teaching profession. That pay structure sends the message that experience isn�t valued, and exacerbates turnover, he said.

A Decade�s Trends
The consumer price index rose by 27.3 percent over the past decade. The ERS data show that the salaries of some groups of public education employees fared better than others relative to the cost of living.

The salaries for central-office administrators rose 36.5 percent on average, significantly outpacing the CPI. The salaries of school administrators such as principals and assistant principals increased by 31.3 percent.

Pay for support personnel such as teachers� aides, custodians, and bus drivers rose by 32.2 percent. Auxiliary personnel such as counselors, librarians, and nurses gained 28.6 percent. Teachers� pay rose by 25 percent, falling short of the rise in the CPI.

John M. Forsyth, ERS� president and director of research, said the data suggest the need for better compensation in public education.

"Relative to other professions requiring similar training, public school salaries are too low and � should be raised to levels that are professionally competitive and market- sensitive," he said.

Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.- based American Association of School Administrators, which represents superintendents and is one of seven organizations that co-founded ERS, said he was gratified that administrators� salaries have been rising. But he is pessimistic about the chances that their pay will ever rival that of private- sector jobs requiring similar skills.

"We never will pay our school leaders as much as the private sector," Mr. Hunter said. "[In the public�s view], schools are important, but not that important."

The data show a strong correlation between public school employees� pay and the size of their school districts, as measured by student enrollment.

Superintendents� average salaries, for instance, are $96,387 in districts enrolling 300 to 2,499 students; $117,839 in districts with 2,500 to 9,999 students; $140,435 in districts with 10,000 to 24,999 students; and $174,805 in those with 25,000 or more pupils.

Similar patterns emerge for some other public school employees, such as principals and subject-area supervisors, but don�t hold true for others. Bus drivers, custodians, and teachers, for instance, earn more in the middle-size districts surveyed than they do in the largest ones.

There were correlations between salaries, which make up the biggest part of school system budgets, and districts� per-pupil spending.

Teachers in districts spending $9,000 or more per student earn $9,000 more annually than teachers who work in districts that spend less than $6,000 per pupil.

High school principals earn $16,200 more in the highest-spending districts than do their counterparts in the lowest-spending systems. Custodians earn $3 more per hour in the highest-spending districts than they do in the lowest- spending.

The pattern wasn�t as clear for superintendents, who earn more in the lowest-spending districts ($122,885) than they do in the second-highest- spending ($118,657).

Regional Differences
The data show some regional patterns in pay.

In general, public school employees are paid more in states in the Far West and Mideast regions. Central-office secretaries, for instance, earn $39,055 in the Far West, and $34,195 in the Mideast, compared with $27,104 in the Plains states and $26,844 in the Southwest.

Type of community also seems to influence pay, with large urban and suburban areas paying the most, and rural areas the least.

Superintendents in large urban districts, for instance, earned $175,344 in 2003-04, compared with $139,949 in medium urban districts, $148,201 in suburban, $108,542 in small-town districts, and $88,149 in rural ones. Teachers in the suburbs earned $50,844 on average�more than teachers made in any other type of community.

Superintendents� salaries showed correlations with the district chiefs� race and ethnicity. Hispanic superintendents in the districts surveyed averaged the highest salaries, followed by black superintendents, and then white superintendents.

ERS researchers said the gaps could be explained in part by the heavier distribution of minority superintendents in urban areas, where pay scales are higher. Mr. Hunter, of the AASA, said the pattern also could have emerged because many minority superintendents entered the field relatively recently, when contract salaries have been higher.

He also said the average pay of white superintendents could be lower because small, rural districts, where pay tends to be lower, are disproportionately run by white superintendents.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The �No Child� Law�s Biggest Victims

An Answer That May Surprise
Margaret DeLacy's recent article in Education Week

Since education is high on the national agenda, here�s a pop quiz that every American should take.

Question: What group of students makes the lowest achievement gains in school?
Answer: The brightest students.

In a pioneering study of the effects of teachers and schools on student learning, William Sanders and his staff at the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System put in this way: "Student achievement level was the second most important predictor of student learning. The higher the achievement level, the less growth a student was likely to have."

Mr. Sanders found this problem in schools throughout the state, and with different levels of poverty and of minority enrollments. He speculated that the problem was due to a "lack of opportunity for highscoring students to proceed at their own pace, lack of challenging materials, lack of accelerated course
offerings, and concentration of instruction on the average or below-average student."

While less effective teachers produced gains for lower-achieving students, Mr. Sanders found, only the top one-fifth of teachers were effective with high-achieving students. These problems have been confirmed in other states. There is overwhelming evidence that gifted students simply do not succeed on their own.

Question: What group of students has been harmed most by the No Child Left Behind Act?
Answer: Our brightest students.

The federal law seeks to ensure that all students meet minimum standards. Most districts, in their desperate rush to improve the performance of struggling students, have forgotten or ignored their obligations to students who exceed standards. These students spend their days reviewing material for proficiency tests they mastered years before, instead of learning something new. This is a profoundly alienating experience.

Question: How well is the United States preparing able students to compete in the world economy?
Answer: Very poorly.

Of all students obtaining doctorates in engineering in American universities, just 39 percent are Americans. According to the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, "The performance of U.S. physics and advanced math students was among the lowest of the 16 countries that administered the ... assessments."

Question: What group of special-needs students receives the least funding?
Answer: Our brightest students.

And it�s getting worse. For example, Illinois, New York, and Oregon recently cut all state funding for gifted programs.

Given these facts, why has a board commissioned by the National Research Council proposed to make things much worse? The board�s report, ironically entitled "Engaging Schools: Fostering High School Students� Motivation to Learn," contains recommendations that amount to a recipe for completely alienating our most capable children. Based on old, discredited, and sloppy research, the committee, which did not include any experts on gifted education, recommended the elimination of all "formal or informal" tracking�even if participation was voluntary�in favor of mixed-ability classrooms.

Does tracking really harm students? Jeannie Oakes claimed that it did in a popular but, to my mind, poorly researched book called Keeping Track published nearly 20 years ago. However, a 1998 review of the evidence on tracking over the past two decades, done by Tom Loveless, the director of the Brookings Institution�s Brown Center on Education Policy, found no consensus that tracking is harmful or creates unequal opportunities for academic achievement. This review was ignored in the NRC panel�s 40 pages of research citations.

Also missing was any reference to a 1993 report from the U.S. Department of Education, "National Excellence," in which then-Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley noted a "quiet crisis" in the education of top students, pointing out that "these students have special needs that are seldom met," and warning that "our neglect of these students makes it impossible for Americans to compete in a global economy demanding their skills."

Although research on schoolwide tracking cuts both ways, research pointing to the importance of advanced classes and grouping for gifted students is overwhelming.

A research review by Karen B. Rogers found that grouping gifted students produces big gains�sometimes exceeding half a year�s additional achievement per year in school when curriculum is modified appropriately. On the other hand, she found that cooperative learning within mixed-ability groups produces no gains.

In her 2002 book Re-Forming Gifted Education (also ignored by the NRC panel), Ms. Rogers noted that under the mixed-ability-group instruction recommended by the NRC, "few students, except those with exceptionally low ability, will benefit."(emphasis added)

A statistical analysis published in 1992 by James A. Kulik demonstrated that the benefits from advanced classes for talented students were "positive, large, and important" and said that [de-tracking] could greatly damage American education." Student achievement would suffer, Mr. Kulik maintained, and the damage would be greatest if schools "eliminated enriched and accelerated classes for their brightest learners. The achievement level of such students falls dramatically." He also found that students of all ability levels benefit from grouping that adjusts the curriculum to their aptitude levels.

A study of intermediate students� math achievement published in 2002 by Carol Tieso also found that differentiated instruction combined with flexible grouping improved academic achievement. Ms. Tieso concluded that students from all socioeconomic backgrounds made gains, and that students enjoyed working in differentiated groups and were more motivated than peers in a comparison group.

Even the National Research Council board acknowledged that teachers would require a lot of specialized training to carry out its recommendations in "Engaging Minds." Differentiation is hard to do well. Teachers must know how to assess students who are years above grade level and then be able to rewrite the whole curriculum to address their assessed learning needs. Although the board members must know that this training has not been provided and is not going to happen, they went ahead and recklessly recommended a policy that will harm many capable, hard-working students in the hope that it might help some struggling students.

They seem to be unaware of the daily realities affecting American schools. Studies by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented have repeatedly found that teachers do not make significant modifications to their instruction to accommodate gifted students.

This past November, Seattle teachers issued a resolution protesting a directive requiring advanced instruction for highly capable students in their classrooms because they had neither the time, training, and class size, nor the resources necessary to carry it out. Ability grouping is significantly more cost-effective, requires less training, and is more effective in this regard than heterogeneous classes. Do we have education dollars to waste?

Gifted students are truly our forgotten children. Neglected in our schools and ignored by our policymakers, they spend their days dozing through classes in which they aren�t learning. Many suffer from depression. It is time to take them out of their holding pens and give them a chance to stretch and to grow.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 27, 2004

Balancing Mission & Money in Higher Education

Lewis Collens reviews Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education by David L. Kirp.

David Kirp's excellent book "Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line" provides a remarkable window into the financial challenges of higher education and the crosscurrents that drive institutional decision-making. He reminds us that the coin of the realm in higher education is the quality of education and research, and he cautions that the pursuit of dollars can debase the coin of the realm.

Kirp explores the continuing battle for the soul of the university: the role of the marketplace in shaping higher education, the tension between revenue generation and the historic mission of the university to advance the public good.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 26, 2004

Isthmus articles

Two articles of interest appear in the issue of Isthmus dated June 15, 2004.

A small article on page 6 says "Several Madison elementary schools, including Thoreau and Glenn Stephens, will begin teaching Singapore Math next year. The change comes amid concerns that the district's preferred math program, TERC Investigations, which stresses self-guided problem solving, does not teach students enough basic math skills."

A lengthier article reviews the "difficult transiton at East High." As "faculty vent deep discontent," the article headline asks "is new princiapl to blame?" One source doubts, says the article, that "Tillman's contract will be renewed" beyond next year."

Ed Blume

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 23, 2004

Need Your Ideas for 2005-06 Budget Process - Madison Schools

As the Madison School Board ends the 2003-04 school year, the Finance & Operations Committee is beginning to develope the budget for 2005-06. Committee Chair Carol Carstensen asked for Board suggestions. This memo gives my suggestions.

You can participate by sending your suggestions to the entire Board at

To: Carol Carstensen, Chair of Finance & Operations Committee
From: Ruth Robarts, Member of Committee
Date: June 23, 2004
RE: Suggestions for process to develop budget for 2005-06

Thanks for asking for written suggestions for the budget process for next year. First, I?d like to offer some comments on budget development from the National School Boards Association.

The budget is the official plan for spending public funds for the school district. This refers to the so-called final budget, as formally adopted by vote of the board after amendments have been made to the proposed or first draft budget initially submitted to the board by the superintendent, based on requests from staff, filtered through decisions by principals and district administrators.

This is also a critical board function. Board members have to fully participate in developing the final budget to ensure that the spending priorities in it are well aligned with the school system?s vision, mission, values and goal statements. For every expenditure, the board should ask:
? Which of the district?s goals is this money intended to advance?
? What are the possible alternative expenditures for advancing district schools toward that goal?
? How is this particular expenditure better than the other options?

According to the NSBA, ?the board must invest enough time in the budget development process to have a clear understanding of what?s in the budget, what?s not and why? [and] how each item included in the budget aligns with the district?s visions and goals?.

The NSBA model focuses on the Board?s role in aligning all resources to support student achievement.

Administration uses specific, measurable goals to review student achievement in prior year according to district?s ?Strategic Priorities?. For example, it reviews reading, math, social studies, science curriculum for all student groups as well as other academic programs aligned to district standards. Administration should ensure that suggestions for program change come from the staff level that will implement the changes. Board committees monitor the review throughout the year.

Administration reviews facility, maintenance and non-instructional departments for prior year seeking efficiencies. Board committees monitor the review throughout the year.

Administration recommends curriculum & program changes to improve student achievement. Appropriate committees review recommendations before sending them to full Board.

Administration recommends budget for the next year allocating resources based on its analysis (connection between curriculum and programs and desired student achievement).

Where the recommended budget exceeds revenue forecast for coming year, Administration presents funding alternatives including private partnerships or changes in fees.

Administration recommends modifications and cuts necessary to balance budget for coming year.

Board reviews recommendations for modifications and cuts, adopting or revising administrative recommendations.
Board approves budget for coming year.

Second, I?d like to suggest specific features within this model for our 2005-06 budget process.

The Board should require the administration to do the following.

1. Use a budget format that provides information essential for readers to see changes from year to year in number of FTEs (full-time employees) and other key categories of expenditures. For a model see the City of Madison?s web pages at

2. Use a budget format that provides reasons for additions and cuts, answering the questions above about why the recommended expenditure is the better alternative and why items are in as well as out. Also see City of Madison web pages.

3. Require all department heads to solicit suggestions for program improvement from the staff responsible for implementing the programs and provide summaries of the suggestions to the Board.

4. Balance the operating budget by ?holding harmless? the following departments, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Educational Services and Students Services.

5. Require heads of all other departments to reduce budgets by a specific percentage, one that balances the budget without further cuts to those departments held harmless.

6. Provide a separate process for approval of expenditures under Fund 80, so that the Board can prioritize Fund 80 expenditures and consider the impact of increases in Fund 80 spending on the tax levy in view of potential referendums.

7. Approve the Fund 80 budget separately.

In turn, the Board should do the following:

1. Set a schedule for BOE committees so that each committee reviews suggestions for cuts from appropriate departments (staff and administration), holds public hearings on its recommendations and makes budget recommendations to the Finance & Operations Committee. For example, the calendar would require Performance & Achievement to review suggestions for cuts and departmental recommendations, make its own recommendations, and hold hearings on the recommendations before they go to the Finance & Operations Committee.

2. Require Human Resources Committee to seek a legal opinion about a reduction-in-force policy for administrators and develop a RIF policy for review by the Finance & Operations Committee.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 8:20 PM | Comments (468) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 21, 2004

Reductions in TAG programming "unavaoidable"

Good article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on added cuts to TAG programming.

Posted by at 9:37 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 20, 2004

State School District Financial Support Data

The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its 2003-2004 Estimated State Support for School Districts (227K PDF)
This report includes information on total state aid to local school districts along with individual school district aid data. The State provided $5.286B, up from $5,081 in 2001-2002 and $5,254B in 2002-2003.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 17, 2004

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". Rather, Wisconsin has controversial state laws that control the annual rate of increase in local school spending ("revenue caps") and teacher contract compensation growth (QEO). Indeed, there are state caps on most, but not all school spending growth.

Interestingly, according to this Active Citizens for Education document (270K PDF), Madison school spending has increased from $180M in 1993 to $308M in 2003/2004 - with revenue caps in place ($12,419/student). The document also mentions that enrollment "has stayed virtually the same during the past ten years: 24,800".

Given the spending growth, there must be more to this than is mentioned in Lee's article.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:03 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 13, 2004

School Finance Reform

Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal features an editorial on the recently proposed Public School Finance Reforms:
School reformers fail math test:

Put together, this equation fails any basic math test. Even under the current limits, payroll eats around 80 percent of the money available to schools. If schools no longer limit employee cost increases but cannot get new money to cover those rising costs, where is the money coming from? Cuts to other areas? Most of the frills are already gone. More fees? Parents already fork over hundreds of dollars on top of the taxes they - and everyone else - already pay for schools. Tax swap aids pols, not schools Fatal flaw aside, any plan that uses sales taxes to help pay for schools invites a new set of problems. The task force nevertheless expects to recommend increasing the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to generate $800 million a year.
Links and additional comments are available here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 12, 2004

Arts & School Crime in the Local Newspapers

Brendia Ingersoll on "Some say schools have gotten more violent."

Lee Sensenbrenner on Arts in Schools supporters pressing the Board of Education to save K-12 curriculum.

Manny Fernandez provides another perspective on school crime, from Washington, DC.

He avoided trouble by sticking to the basketball court, focused on sharpening his game while walking past clusters of young men who hang out near his apartment building after school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 11, 2004

Small Scale School Enthuses Students

"We believe the arts and technology are a great tool for engaging students", Bob Lenz, Principal of the Marin School of Art & Technology. Maggie Shiels writes about this Novato, CA school for the BBC.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 10, 2004

FAQ: "Community Service" Funds aka "Fund 80"

Q: What is ?Fund 80??

A: A property tax that school districts may levy for ?community programs and services.? Unlike property tax levies for school operations, Fund 80 property taxes are subject to less restrictive revenue limits.

Beginning in 1993, Wisconsin law has imposed limits on the increases in residential property taxes that school districts may levy to pay for the operations of the k-12 educational program. Unless a referendum passes, the districts may increase taxes only up to a limit determined by a legal formula.

Since 2000-2001 the legislature has allowed districts to levy property taxes outside of the ?revenue limits? for certain ?community programs and services?. Funds raised in this way are known as ?Community Service? funds or ?Fund 80?. The dollars collected are residential property tax dollars. In other words, local taxpayers contribute property taxes to the schools in two ways?through taxes for operation of the schools that are limited and through taxes for community services and programs that are not limited.

Q: Are there limits on how districts spend ?community service? funds?

A: Yes. Following state law, the Department of Public Instruction identifies the activities that can and cannot be funded by ?community service? taxes.

Districts may adopt a separate tax levy to pay for community services such as adult education, community recreation programs, evening swimming pool operation and sports leagues, elderly food service programs, non-special education preschool, day care services, and other programs which are not elementary and secondary educational programs but have the primary function of serving the community. Access to ?community service? activities may not be limited to pupils enrolled in the district's formal K-12 educational programs.

Q: What are the characteristics of a ?community service? activity?

A: The Department of Public Instruction lists the following features as characteristics of a ?community service? activity.?

The activity takes place outside of the usual K-12 instructional and extracurricular time periods.
? The activity is open to everyone (age appropriate) in the community.
? Additional direct cost is incurred in operating the program.
? The cost of the activity is recovered through user fees unless the school board makes a policy decision that program operations should be subsidized by a separate community service tax levy.

Q: What kinds of activities do not qualify for ?community service? tax support?

A: According to the Department of Public Instruction, the following activities do not qualify for community service tax support:?

Activities which limit access to only pupils enrolled in the school district, such as inter-scholastic athletics and other extra-curricular activities, pupil clubs, dances, field trips, student seminars and symposiums.
? Costs for district-wide instructional program administration and support services.
? Expenditures for the welfare of and safety of pupils and staff involved with K-12 instructional programs.
? Facilities, sites and improvements unless specifically for community service activities. Any facilities funded with general obligation debt, including state trust fund loans, will require a debt service tax levy accounted for in the district's Debt Service Fund. Any such debt service levy is subject to revenue limitations if the related debt was not approved by referendum.
? Custodian, building and site maintenance, security services and utility costs may not be covered by ?community service? funds unless an additional cost can be directly associated with a specifically provided community service activity.

This explanation is based on information provided by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction at

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:23 PM | Comments (504) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Community Service" Funds: The Common Thread between Cutting the Fine Arts Coordinator, Displacing After School Programs and Buying More Computerized Time Clock Systems

On June 7, teachers, students, parents, and community representatives took the Madison Board of Education to task for its recent decision to eliminate the full-time district-level position of Fine Arts Coordinator. The same night, parents of children attending YMCA and After School, Inc. after-school programs at Midvale-Lincoln and Allis schools questioned the district?s unilateral imposition of a plan to replace those programs next year with ?Safe Haven?, a program operated by the district?s Madison School-Community Recreation department (MSCR). Later in the evening the Board voted 5-2 to spend more than $173,000 on a computerized time clock system for MSCR staff (YES: Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys, Juan Lopez, Shwaw Vang; NO: Johnny Winston Jr. and I).

On the surface the parent, staff, and community criticisms appear to have little relation to the decision to computerize time clocks for community program staff. But there is a common thread in terms of the district?s budget?something called ?Community Service? funds, or, ?Fund 80.?

When the majority of the Board voted to cut the Fine Arts Coordinator, they ended the district?s long-standing commitment to have a qualified expert on staff to coordinate fine arts teaching across the district and to integrate district education with community arts programs. Instead, board members agreed to the superintendent?s suggestion to replace the former full-time coordinator position with a half-time ?development? staff person. The new half-time position will be funded by ?Community Service? dollars rather than the operating budget.

Safe Haven, the MSCR after-school program that will replace the YMCA and After School, Inc. programs, will receive a substantial percentage of its funding from the ?Community Service? funds and from the operating budget.

Finally, the $173,209 to expand the Kronos, Inc. Timekeeping system to MSCR hourly employees, as well as an additional $74,817 to upgrade a computerized system for reserving classrooms, will also be financed by ?Community Service? funds.

In a time of deep cuts to school programs and school staff, creating a new community development job, expanding after-school programs at schools already served by private programs, and spending a quarter of a million dollars on software for non-school purposes seem hard to explain.

What is the magic of ?Community Service? dollars? They are residential property tax dollars that are not subject to the much discussed ?revenue limits?. They are taxes that the Board can increase without a spending cap and without having to obtain public consent through a referendum. When the Board shifts a cost from the operating budget to ?Community Service? funds, the action frees up dollars in the operating budget for other uses. However, spending ?Community Service? dollars also increases the pressure on taxpayers.

In my view, spending of ?Community Service? funds should be carefully prioritized. When the Board cuts a position that directly serves children in the schools, such as the Fine Arts Coordinator, should it add back a position that only serves the broader community? Should the Board displace after-school programs that families value with district programs that require substantial tax support? Do we need computerized time clocks for MSCR staff? Each of these decisions increases local property taxes and likely makes a future referendum harder to sell to voters.

What?s your advice? Contact me at, or all Madison Board members at

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 8:59 PM | Comments (369) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Math Counts

Jay Matthews writes that Mathcounts lets smart middle schoolers compete to solve complex math problems.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 9, 2004

West High Principal Search

A strongly substantiated rumor has it the Ed Holmes, the current principal of Wright Middle School, is all but certain to be selected as the next principal of West High School. People who are more informed and more involved at West than I am believe that Mr. Holmes would be a very bad match for West High.

Holmes has previously been turned down for two high school principal positions in the district. Assistant Superintendent Valencia Douglas had assured the West High community that a national search would be conducted for a new principal. However, this was not the case. The search, which began on March 31, was only a local search and some members of the search committee felt that none of the applicants were qualified to move on through the hiring process. The high school is going through a period of tremendous upheaval and change: the student demographics are very different from what they were 5-10 years ago presenting new challenges to teachers and staff, the school is being reorganized into small learning communities in an attempt to increase acheivement among low income and minority students, and there are the continuing issues related to budget issues and allocation of limited instructional dollars. West High needs a highly qualified high school principal at this critical juncture. Parents have been asked to contact Superintendent Art Rainwater and tell him that Ed Holmes is a bad match for West High and ask him to reopen the search process. Perhaps someone could be brought in to serve as an interim principal for a year while a more thorough search is conducted.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:05 PM | Comments (119) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 7, 2004

States' End Run Dilutes Special Ed Burden

Diana Jean Schemo writes about States' efforts to get around the No Child Left Behind improvement requirements:

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, every category of student at Broad Acres � including special education � must show improvement or the entire school can face penalties. But like a dozen other states, Maryland is hoping to circumvent those rules, asking to count students like Ms. Grant's only as children of poverty, a big group that would hide any lack of academic growth.

Maryland officials say their proposals would avoid large numbers of schools being labeled "in need of improvement" when only small numbers of students are doing poorly. If changes are not made, said Nancy Grasmick, Maryland's superintendent of schools, "there'll be a lot of anger on the part of the community," some of it possibly directed at the special education students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 6, 2004

New Black Hawk Principal

To learn more about Alan Harris, the new principal of Black Hawk Middle School, you might want to visit the site that has the "report card" for the school he's leaving.

It appears that 27% of the students scored advanced or proficient on English language arts in 2002-2003, compared to 50% for the district, and 35% for the state average.

Posted by Ed Blume at 2:51 PM | Comments (219) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 5, 2004

National Spelling Bee, School Finance

Two fascinating posts at former SJ Mercury writer Joanne Jacobs blog:

  • National Spelling Bee results, commentary from the American Literacy Union, who picketed the event (debt vs dette among other useful comments). Jackobs also writes about single mother Ashley White, a former spelling bee contestant featured in the film Spellbound.
  • School Finance Post, with some interesting comments and links (California Finance and a recent Economist article).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Walk on the Child's Side

Barb Schrank sent along this 1 page pdf file (37K) that covers the June 24, 2004 School Finance Reform Walkathon. For more info, see or contact MTI Staff Rep Doug Keillor (

Madison Area Schedule for June 248:00 a.m. Walkers will leave the Madison Travel Center truck stop at Hwy 51 and Interstate 90/94 to walk down Hwy. 51 to Madison (8 miles).

10:00 a.m. The walkers rally at Madison East High School before continuingdown East Washington to the State Capitol Building (2 miles). Noon Rally at the State Capitol BuildingJoin hundreds of educators, parents, students and citizens on the last leg of their walk from Butternut to the Capitol to demand that the Legislators and the Governor get serious about school finance reform. We need an adequate school finance system now!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 1, 2004

Cutting Fine Arts Coordinator Will Cost Money

With the recent elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator in the Madison public schools, music and art (arts) education in Madison�s public schools will continue to crumble and to fall apart but at a faster pace. That�s bad for our children�s education, but it�s also bad for the City�s economy.

This letter to the editor of local Madison papers expresses concerns over the educational and financial costs of cutting 1/2 the position of the MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator that works with the District's 130+ music and art FTEs in 47 schools to help these teachers deliver a quality curriculum.

Dear Editor:

With the recent elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator in the Madison public schools, music and art (arts) education in Madison�s public schools will continue to crumble and to fall apart but at a faster pace. That�s bad for our children�s education, but it�s also bad for the City�s economy.

Madison�s School Board did not have to eliminate the portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator that supports the entire District�s arts education. Rather than save money, this decision will likely cost the District money. More expensive personnel will be scheduling 130+ FTEs in 47 schools in increments of 0.1 positions. Those same expensive personnel will now assemble a team of teachers to oversee the arts curriculums which will be an added expense. This additional personnel time will be needed to develop and monitor the music and arts curriculums, to ensure that MMSD continues to meet DPI requirements and to ensure that the arts staff has the needed resources and support to do their jobs.

Why didn�t the Board�s decision include an estimate of these costs before the Board voted May 17 on Winston�s proposal (seconded by Bill Clingan)? Why did Board discussion last only a few minutes before deciding to eliminate this position? Budgets are tight and the community has been calling for a reduction in administrative staff, but there still ought to be some basic review and analysis of the net educational and dollar impacts before positions are eliminated. If this work was done on this position, I don�t remember seeing this information presented and discussed publicly. I don�t think members of the arts community were asked for their opinions prior to the Board�s decision.

Arts education in the public schools ought to be a foundation piece in a City that is as invested in its arts community as Madison is. Just as people want to live in Madison because of what Forbes magazine calls Madison�s hyper-active arts schedule, they also want to live in Madison because their children can get a good arts education as part of an excellent public school education system.

The children in our schools represent the City�s present performers and will be Madison�s future audience and its future performers. The MMSD music and art teachers are experts in their field, and they also perform professionally. Madison teachers perform in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, theater productions, Madison Opera, choral works, gallery exhibits, to name a few art venues. Their efforts contribute to the cultural and economic well-being of the City.

In Madison arts education is already efficient and cost-effective. Less than 5% (less than $10 million) of the District�s $308 million annual budget supports the entire DPI mandated music and art curriculums. The entire budget costs less than $400/student (MMSD spend about $2,000/elementary student on language arts education). Elementary music and art teachers instruct more than 200 students per teacher (classroom teachers average about 125 students each). Music and art teachers are itinerant teachers. In the elementary school these teachers can travel to as many as five schools to instruct children. The District�s Fine Arts Coordinator adds to the cost-effectiveness of the arts education curriculum by efficiently scheduling personnel and serving as an important liaison between itinerant arts teachers and school principals.

Only the � time outreach portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator position will remain, which is responsible for relationships between the District and the community�s arts organizations. While this is a necessary component of a Fine Arts Coordinator�s role, it is neither sufficient nor adequate. An outreach-only Fine Arts Coordinator for the District cannot do his/her job without both the connection to the schools and a relationship with the District�s arts teachers. Otherwise, the relationship with the community will be greatly diminished.

Studies done on arts education have reported that those school districts with successful arts education have the following elements: strong community support and involvement in the politics and instruction of arts education in the schools, a vision for arts education from the Superintendent, a supportive School Board, a districtwide fine arts coordinator, arts curriculums and staff specialized in their field. Madison is quickly losing these key elements.

Perhaps MMSD needs a Fine Arts Council composed of arts educators and community representatives who actively oversee and make recommendations to the District�s arts curriculums, serving to build consensus among the Superintendent, School Board, teachers and the community. Perhaps the community ought to push for arts education in the public schools to be a more integral part of the City�s cultural planning. Afterall, arts education is a core component of No Child Left Behind.

For the past five years, music and art curriculums in Madison�s schools have been on the decline, squeezing personnel allocations and eliminating important elements of the curriculum. With the elimination of the Fine Arts Coordinator position in the schools, Madison�s School Board and its Superintendent are continuing to abandon the strong arts support we have had in our schools for decades. Rather than reaching out to and working with the community to build a strong vision for arts education in the public schools that would continue to be a foundation piece of the larger community of arts Madison so dearly values and invests in, MMSD�s leaders are choosing to turn their backs on what Madison values.
Barbara M. Schrank

Posted by at 1:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas