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October 19, 2004

Reactions to statement on new school on Leopold site

Here's a copy of the statement I used to address the Long Range Planning Committee on October 18.

After my statement, discussions with and among the Committee clarified that the annual additional cost of operating a new school falls in the range of $300,000 to $400,000 annually, not $2.4 million as I had calculated. The cost isn't so high, according to the discussion, because the district already spends money on teachers and supplies that would simply move into a new building. Even with an annual operating cost increase of $300,000, no one pointed to a specific plan to cover the expense and no backup should a referendum fail to allow spending above the state-imposed revenue cap.

The student representative on the Board acknowleged at West might be crowded but it wasn't a major concern. [I'm sorry that I don't remember his exactly words, but I think I have the meaning of what he said.] District officials said that more detailed five-year enrollment projections would be available on the MMSD Web site in November.

Carol Carstensen agreed with the suggestion for more hearings across the city.

From Board members' comments at the meeting and in news reports, the Board appears ready to approve a referendum.

Ed Blume

I suggest that the Long Range Planning Committee take the time to think beyond an April referendum on a new school, rather than rush to approve a referendum with possible consequences you�ve not yet considered.

I ask you to do only three simple things � consider the tax and referenda implications of a new school; consider a possible tidal-wave of enrollment on other schools; and, listen to the advice of the district�s citizens.

First, take the time to understand the budget consequences of a new school. By this I mean that you needed a referendum for operating expenses for this school year. You expect to schedule a referendum for operating expenses for next school year, and, I presume, every year into the foreseeable future.

How much additionally will you need to ask from taxpayers in annual referenda to fund a new elementary school? I have a possible answer � in the neighborhood of $2.4 million a year -- the current cost of operating a K-5 school, based on a total elementary budget of $66.4 million and the equivalent of 28 K-5 schools. That�s $2.4 million on top of whatever amount you need for current operations.

What�s your back-up plan if one of those annual referenda fails? Deleting whole programs, like strings, athletics, all extra curricular activities, or core programs? Closing schools? Massive layoffs? You appear to be hurtling down a budgetary slope without a map or safety line.

Second, take the time to understand the enrollment impact of a new elementary school on the middle school and high school it will serve. As I understand it, West High School has an overcrowding problem. Will a new elementary school push a tsunami of more students into an overcrowded high school? Again, you�re apparently headed into unknown consequences.

Third, citizens of the broad Madison school community include people with a tremendous amount of expertise in education, management, finance, urban planning, real life, and more. You should use every possible opportunity to tap their knowledge.

I have this perhaps naive democratic belief that the more ideas you get the better the final outcome, so you should schedule several well-publicized hearings throughout the district before deciding that a referendum is your only possible option.

In summary, I simply ask the Long Range Planning Committee to take the time to understand the broad range of unintended consequences of a new school and solicit the community�s expertise. If you don�t, you may well create a solution for Leopold today and migraine headaches for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers in the very near future.

Posted by Ed Blume at October 19, 2004 11:34 AM
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