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March 31, 2005

DPI News

Wisconsin DPI announced the formation of an advisory council on Charter Schools (PDF) and High Schools - via wispolitics Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, WEAC plans to spend $358K to support incumbent Libby Burmaster, more than the $313K (Burmaster = 250K, Underheim = 64K) both candidates have raised to date - via Alan Borsuk!

Mary Battaglia's recent post asks what this government body does (Johnny Winston adds a comment).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Winkler Presentation to the Madison Rotary

Larry Winkler, Candidate for Madison School Board Seat 7, Madison School Board forwarded his presentation to the Madison Rotary Club. (PDF Version) Learn more about the candidates here.

Presentation to Rotary Club of Madison

By Lawrence J. Winkler

Candidate for School Board, Seat 7

March 30, 2005

We need significant change on the Board of Education.

There is no real and consistent leadership. Having watched the Board up close for a couple of years now, that is my perception. That is the perception of many in the public who follow the Board�s activities. That is the perception of former Board members � you can supply the names -- you know them.

The Board does not listen. Yes, there have been some election-time conversions; and yes, when the public is so outraged by the decisions made by the Administration or the Board that they protest en mass, they sometimes listen; and, yes, they too often listen when asked to take on more responsibilities than we can afford. But, when ideas are presented to the Board in times of quiet with the goal of improving how the district does its business, those ideas and suggestions are ignored.

I don�t like to be ignored. I don�t like to see good ideas from others ignored. I do not like to waste my time. I do not like to whine. I like to get things done. That�s why I�m running for School Board.

I have the knowledge and experience.

I have a BA in Psychology, with emphasis on child psychology, and heavy dose of statistics and experimental design. I worked for almost 10 years at UW�s Research and Development Center for Education involved with the design and analysis of research into curriculum and teaching.

I have a Masters degree in Computer Science and I have taught advanced certificate courses at MATC. I�m currently a project manager at the University of Wisconsin.

I also have a Law degree from UW.

I have a 16 year old daughter who is a sophomore at West, and has been on the honor roll every semester. I, and especially my daughter, understand the hard work necessary to succeed. We adopted her from Peru when she was 5 years old. She spoke Spanish and Quetchua. She had never seen a book, crayon, or a pencil.

I, my wife, and especially my daughter understand what is required to close the gap. But I�m not referring to the gap you keep hearing about, the gap that tells you the percentage of minorities reaching advanced or proficient on tests vs whites. I�m talking about the real gap � the gap between where she was and where she could be. She�s not there yet, not close enough.

However, the District would consider its job done, and count her in its �success� column � the column that says 80% of the students are performing at the advanced or proficient level. I keep forgetting she is a minority, and, for some statistical reason, that is important. So, she�s in another column showing the percentage of minorities performing at advanced or proficient.

The Board has not been doing its job. The Board�s and the Administration�s processes must change.

The Board has to evaluate the effectiveness of each program and service it provides. It must account, on its books, for the cost, by program and service. It must ensure that the curriculum is moving everyone forward � that everyone is getting a year�s worth of education every year -- closing the real gap: between where the student is and where he/she could be in a year.

It is important that students be reading at the first grade level at the end of first grade, or the goal is reached that third grade students be reading at third grade level, but it is also crucial, that a child entering first grade reading at third grade level, must be reading at the 5 grade level at the end of first grade. If they are not, then the curriculum must be adjusted.

I�ve had parents tell me their children came into first grade already knowing how to add, subtract, multiple and divide, but by third grade were back to counting on their fingers, having lost previous mastery.

And there is a research paper by one of the teachers in the District who recounts, in a self-satisfied manner, how the most perturbed and angry parents are engineers, architects and math Ph.Ds who are no longer able to guide and help their kids with fractions, because of the new methods of teaching fractions, and further the teacher makes the claim that these same parents really don�t understand fractions.

There is another reason we need to look at curriculum effectiveness. The recent report by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that United States students were significantly below average compared to 40 other nations in problem solving skills. The majority of our 15-year old students have only basic (level 1) skills, with only less than 10% scoring as proficient compared to 30% from the top countries. The Madison School district is not going to be much different as it compares its achievements to other U.S. schools, which we now know, should not be the gold standard.

For the $13,000 per student per year, we need to get better results. But the Board keeps repeating it�s not the process that is the problem, they don�t have to change anything significant, perhaps just tweak a little around the edges. That the problem is money. We simply need to spend more money.

The problem is not money. But that�s what we hear. From the movie Jerry Maguire it�s �Show me the money�. �Show me the money�. The staff say �Show me the money�. The Board says �Show me the money.� (Or education will be cut). I say, �Show me the results!�

I would lay a bet, that no one here, regardless of finances or political stripe, would be bothered by the money, if there were the results.

That�s what I intend to do on the Board. Get results.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Free Speech & Blogs Cause Flap in Tennessee

The fast growing internet writer (and free speech) world is making some waves. Bill Hobbs relates the story of the Tennessee House Speaker killing a representative's bill because he "had the nerve" to start writing about the "goings-on" in the legislature. More here and here. Civil, respectful discourse can only benefit our society. Internet writers are simply stepping into the void created by a changing media landscape. I think Therese Berceau would be an excellent legislative blogger... "Fly in the ointment" - as a good friend mentioned :)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Cares

Madison CARES:

is mobilizing neighbor-to-neighbor education, grassroots visibility, and volunteer energy. We're working from community to community, and neighborhood to neighborhood. We also will communicate through Madison-area media, the World Wide Web, and printed literature.
The link above includes an introduction along with several documents. I'll post additional links as they become available.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kobza for School Board - Our Kids Deserve the Best

I submitted the following letter of endorsement for Lawrie Kobza to the local papers.

Dear Editor,

I am deeply concerned about the lack of commitment to school financing at the federal and state levels and I support changes in school financing. However, I am equally concerned about our local Board of Education�s tepid leadership given the current fiscal constraints.

The school board�s decisions seem to move from one crisis to another, and each spring, the board holds our community hostage to its budget cutting process. The board appears to be paddling feverishly in a canoe without steering. And the canoe continues to go in circles because there is no planned destination. Given the withdrawal of federal and state dollars for schools, the challenge rests with our local school board to begin to chart new waters.

That will only happen if there is a change in leadership on the school board. That�s why I�m supporting Lawrie Kobza candidacy for the board. Ms. Kobza is an exceptionally well-qualified candidate, who is dedicated to excellence in public education and has a proven record of leadership and creative collaboration. She has worked successfully with the community, MMSD staff and current board members on a number of school issues.

A good school board candidate needs to be a) a strong advocate for student achievement and excellent instruction, and b) a strong facilitator of meaningful dialogue between the community, educators and the administration. Only then can we develop the best policies � educational and fiscal � for Madison schools.

A group of parents and community members who are concerned about the current school board�s governance have made numerous suggestions for alternative approaches. These are posted on Many of us believe that voting the status quo in the April school board election will continue more of the same feverish paddling without any direction, while the community faces continued threats of cuts to great programs and services.

Madison will need educational referendums to fund our schools, but we need to know those dollars are spent wisely. This requires a clear vision of what excellent public education means for Madison, how we�ll get there, what the costs are and what different investment options are needed. Various new collaborative financial relationships with the community may also be necessary in some instances, such as for sports or fine arts � two areas Madison values.

Our school board members won�t know what�s possible by talking among themselves. School board members need to invite community members and parent organizations to the table, so that we can identify issues and work together to maintain our excellent public education system. The only trumpet call from the current school board is a call to referendum. One call will not work much longer. Madisonians expect more from their school board.

I know Lawrie Kobza can meet those expectations. She will be thoughtful and thorough in her approach to the issues facing Madison schools. She will navigate us through tough times. I am sure her opponent cares about public education, but Madison needs a school board member who does more than that. Lawrie Kobza not only cares about public education, she also brings independence to the board. She will provide much-needed critical analysis of programming decisions and an openness to community involvement. Madison�s lucky to have a better choice for our kids on April 5, 2005 � Lawrie Kobza.

Barb Schrank
Madison, WI

Posted by at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 30, 2005

School Board Has Public's Confidence

I encourage the expression of any and all points of view on To that end, I posted below a recent letter to the editor on public confidence in the Madison school board.
Ed Blume

The Capital Times :: EDITORIAL :: 9A
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Janet Morrow, Madison

Dear Editor: I am concerned by the "fact" that the public has lost confidence in the Madison School Board.

This is a lie. There is evidence to the contrary. The current board has engaged the public this school year more than ever. Board members have actively listened to public input and responded accordingly.

Take, for example, the possible boundary changes presented by the school district. Board members rejected the changes based on public input, altered them using ideas and suggestions from the community and directed the administration to come up with new boundary changes.

Through this process the public has steadily gained confidence in the School Board. Ignore the rumors and embrace the facts.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

News and Update on Initiative to Form a PTO at East High School

Please share this information with others who may be interested in helping to
create a revitalized PTO at East.

March 30, 2005



Upcoming meetings:

Thursday, April 14
Thursday, May 12

All meetings are held at East High School and begin at 7 p.m., with time for
informal conversation from 6:30 to 7:00.


Upcoming East Events:

Strings festival, Saturday April 2

Taste of East (yum) International Night, Friday April 15
East High School

All That Jazz Dinner and Dance (and silent auction), Friday April 22
Madison Masonic Temple
Fund raiser for Madison East Bands


(from Capital Times March 30, 2005)
Madison East's Kiah Howard has been awarded a National Achievement Scholarship
for academic excellence.
The program rewards 700 black high school seniors with a $2,500 grant; another
100 students will receive a renewable corporate-sponsored scholarship that can
range from $500 to $2,000 annually. Howard received an award sponsored by the
Walgreen Co.
Howard, the daughter of Kate and James Howard, was one of seven Wisconsin
students to receive an award.


Summary of first organizational meeting held Monday, March 7, 2005:

Results: Agreement to set standing meetings the second Thursday of the month,
Jeff Leverich and others to work on proposals for a mission and governance
structure to be presented/discussed at the April meeting.

Welcomes and introductions:

Interim Principal Loren Rathert gave an update on the principal search, which
was re-opened after the first search did not produce enough qualified
applicants to move forward.

Welcomes from Teresa Calderon, School Improvement Coordinator, Kathie Nichols,
Parent Network Coordinator, and Lucy Mathiak, East High parent.

Lawrie Kobza, president of the Sherman Middle School PTO and David Cohen,
president of the Blackhawk Middle School PTO were welcomed to the meeting.


Over 50 people attended the meeting. After the introductions and welcomes, we
divided into small groups to exchange ideas about: 1) Issues that we would like
to address through a PTO, and 2) goals that a PTO might work toward in the
coming year.

We then shared the small group lists with the group as a whole. The ideas,
which are summarized below, will be used to shape the mission statement for the
organization and identify action items for future meetings. In some areas,
notably public relations, people announced existing informal groups that
already are working on projects and welcome others who want to help. The
preliminary themes that emerged from this process (presented in random order)

Constituent relations: who can we build partnerships with to support and
strengthen East as a school and as a school community? (E.g. distinct groups
of parents in the East community; East teachers, staff, and students; other
high school PTOs and PTOs in the East attendance area; volunteers and potential
volunteers; alumni; existing East organizations such as Band Parents and the
Booster Club; area businesses; community centers and organizations in the East
attendance area; UW-Madison and MATC)

Communications: how can we improve communications between East and parents,
among members of the East community, and East and the larger Madison community
(e.g. how can we improve basic information sharing, announcements, etc. through
the newsletter, e-mail, the Web, and other tools? How can we disseminate
information about pressing issues facing East, and advocate for East with the
school board, the press, and other community institutions?)

Media Relations: how can we improve East?s presence and image in the Madison
media? How can we improve and enhance Purgolder pride among students, staff,
and alumni?

Parent concerns: What are the issues facing the East community (e.g. the
principal search and transition to a new principal, student alcohol and other
substance abuse, safety, gangs, policing)? What do we need to know? What can we
do as parents and as a PTO to create more positive outcomes for all members of
the community?

Finances: how can we make sure that East has the resources that it needs to
have the highest level of academic and extracurricular programs? (e.g. what do
we need to know about state and district budgets, and how can we advocate for
East?s interests in school funding debates? How can we help develop resources
for East through fund raising events, through the Foundation for Madison
Schools, through grant proposals to the Madison Community Foundation, Madison
organizations, and other funding sources, and through fund raising events? What
are specific areas ? sports, theatre renovation, music programs - for which
East groups are raising funds?)

East Academic Programs: How can we ensure high standards and diversity in
academic achievement at East? (e.g. building a diverse staff, fostering parent
and community volunteer opportunities, strategies for closing the achievement
gap and diversifying upper level courses, engaging parents in the School
Improvement Process, and building strong parent and community support for the
staff and principals)

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

CapTimes endorses Kobza

Editorial: Lawrie Kobza for School Board
An editorial
March 30, 2005

Voters who care about public education are blessed with two fine candidates for Seat 6 on the Madison School Board. Both incumbent Bill Clingan and challenger Lawrie Kobza have deep roots in the community, both have solid records of involvement with neighborhood schools and both line up on the progressive side of debates about equity, discipline and curriculum in the schools.

So there is not a "wrong" vote that can be cast on April 5. But there is a "right" vote, and that is for Kobza.

The School Board has been rocked by too many personality clashes, and there are growing complaints that the board majority has not done a good job of involving the community in the decision-making process. We worry about the ability of this board to go to an essentially pro-public education electorate and win support for needed school funding referendums. The last referendum barely won, yet the board has continued to operate as if the disenchantment of the voters can be dismissed - or that a slightly different spin will do the trick.

We share Kobza's view that it will take more than that. Kobza says, "I am concerned that the public will be less supportive of referendums than they were in the past. The public has little confidence that the board and district are managing the money the district already has wisely. The board and district must do a better job of making its budget and budgeting process understandable and relevant to the public in order to regain the public's confidence in the board's financial management of the school district."

If elected, Kobza would bring fresh ideas to the board, along with a smart, professional style that, we believe, would allow her achieve the reforms she seeks. We are equally certain that she could do this without getting mired down in the "personality politics" that often thwart board cooperation.

A respected environmental lawyer, Kobza has expertise is in working with local government bodies. As such, she would bring valuable professional skills to the board. But Kobza's passion in recent years has been the Madison public schools, and she has been deeply involved in grass-roots efforts to improve them. She's the president of the parent group at Sherman Middle School, where she and other parents played a leadership role in stabilizing a school that over three years had three principals and four assistant principals.

It is inspiring to listen to Kobza's story of the work she and other parents did to get Sherman back on track - she served on principal interview committees, worked with the district on building improvement plans and helped school staff develop a new discipline plan. And it is notable that Kobza is not just a "my-kid's-school" activist. She's a member of the Northside PTO/A Coalition, where she has been a leader on equity and summer literacy initiatives, and she was recently honored by the Northside Planning Council for her work with schools.

Kobza has direct ties to parents and community activists with whom the School Board needs to make deeper connections. That would help her implement her goal of increasing citizen involvement in budget decisions - perhaps using a model developed by the Waukesha School Board.

Kobza also has a savvy understanding of the dynamics of the current board, including how its internal conflicts have created perception problems in the community. With a tough, no-nonsense approach, she thinks she can free up the debate and create a healthier, more open and engaged discourse.

We believe Kobza is right, which is why we endorse her. It is difficult for us to go against Clingan, an amiable and well-intentioned board member whom we have backed in the past. But we simply don't see the incumbent as someone who is going to change the dynamic on the board. In order to renew confidence in the board, a change is needed, and we think Lawrie Kobza is the best agent of that change.

Editor's note: Thursday's editions of The Capital Times will feature endorsements for the Madison City Council.

Posted by at 5:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Area String Festivals - Saturday, April 2, 2005

Saturday, April 2nd is the annual Madison Area String Festivals - a much-loved, special event for all Madison public school children who play in MMSD's string orchestras from Grades 4-12. More than 2,000 children will be performing 12 songs.

Each of the 4 area high schools will host a string performance on Saturday. Your elementary or middle school child, who is playing in a string orchestra, will be performing at the high school their school feeds into. For example, Randall Elementary feeds into West High School, so the elementary string children from Randall Elementary will be performing Saturday at that high school.

The performances last about one hour, and the schedule for the day is:

Memorial Area String Festival - 10 a.m. at Memorial High School
East Area String Festival - 12 noon at East High School
LaFollette Area String Festival - 2 p.m. at Lafollette High School
West Area String Festival - 4 p.m. at West High School

Dress rehearsals will be held Friday - performers need to check with their orchestra teacher for times.

These are wonderful performances - 600+ children playing together in each of Madison's four area high schools; a special site to behold and wonderful music to hear!

Parents and relatives - bring your still and video cameras! This is truly a unique Madison experience.

Posted by at 5:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Think about the School Board that you want, Vote on April 5

I believe that our community strongly supports high quality schools. I know that the state and federal governments do not provide sufficient funding for the programs that we want. I am willing to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference when necessary. However, before I commit to higher taxes, I must have a high level of confidence in the decisions that put the matter on the ballot. I think that you do also.

Today I ask that you think about the qualities that you want in school board members as you prepare to vote on the May referendums, especially the referendum for the operating budget.

This referendum is a bail-out for our decisions on employee contracts. Because the Board refuses to see the connection between its budget shortfalls and total package increases of 4.2 to 5.9% per year for employee contracts on two-year contracts, we will be back next year with another referendum that doubles the price tag for this one. The only alternative will be major lay-offs of non-administrative employees.

Referendums are serious business. They are not about who�s for public education and who�s against. They are about persuading people whose property taxes are already high that the Board has spent its share of property taxes effectively and will spend the additional money wisely.

Successful referendums depend on accountability and openness in governance. In the past year, the Board has not met these standards. When employees have failed in their duties, the Board has permitted buyouts of their contracts without review. When an internal report on our expensive Reading Recovery program informed us that the program fails 43% of the children, the Board did not require changes in the program. When the superintendent rejected millions of federal dollars for improving the teaching of reading in schools where our low income students have low reading scores, the Board refused to discuss the matter and continued supporting the programs that fail these students. When it reviewed its strategic priorities, the Board did not include the public in the process or look for ways to measure whether we are truly providing a �diverse, up-to-date curriculum that is challenging for all children�. This happened, despite continuous complaints from parents that advanced course offerings are becoming too few.

Please think about these decisions when you vote next Tuesday. We must pass referendums in the very near future. Candidates who are likely to improve the accountability and openness of School Board decisions are also likely to bring you referendums that you can evaluate for yourselves and that you can wholeheartedly support.

This post is the text of comments that I made at the Downtown Rotary Club meeting on the Madison School Board races and referendums.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Referendum Coverage

Angela Bettis:

It�s official, Madison homeowners will be asked to vote on three school referenda in late May.

School Board President Bill Keys said, �This community is at a crossroads. This will determine what type of schools we want.�

But one man opposed to the referenda thinks Madison residents can keep good schools if the district is more creative.

Karyn Saemann also covers Monday Night's Board Decisions. Sandy Cullen has more.

Extensive Madison Schools budget coverage is available here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Standard & Poors School Comparison Site Launches


a public source for information and analysis about our nation's public schools

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 29, 2005

State DPI and Number of Employees

I have lived and followed education in 3 states. Alaska, Texas, and Wisconsin. The DPI is a first. After 4 years I have tried to understand this governmental body. There is a Leader, Ms. Burmaster and based totally on the web site anywhere from 441 to 600 employees in this agency. When I have asked what all these employees do for the education of the state no one seems to know. The many teachers I asked stated their only interaction with the DPI is to renew their license. This seems like a logical function of a state but does it take 400- 600 people? When I view the directory on the DPI web site I am amazed all these people work for the education department yet none of the people I know that work at SCHOOLS actually benefit from all these state salaried persons. Can anyone educate me on the department, I mean really what they do, before I am once again asked to vote for a leader of a governmental body I fail to understand?

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 9:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In Response to Richard Chandler

I have the highest respect for Rick Chandler. He earned it as head of the state's "budget shop" in the Department of Administration a few years ago.

I must, however, take issue with his defense of business taxes in Wisconsin.

The argumet over whether Wisconsin businesses carry their fair share of the tax burden gets admitedly muddied by the imprecise language of speakers like MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater (Wisconsin State Journal) when he talked about "taxes" without specifying which taxes.

Confusion on the part of business tax critics is no reason for Rick to mistate the argument as one about whether businesses pay their fair share of property taxes.

That's not the argument. The true issue is whether businesses pay their fair share of the state taxes necessary to provide an adequate level of state aid for school districts.

They don't. The record is clear, according to the business community's own Forward Wisconsin. If you visit the Web site of this shameless corporate cheerleader, you'll read more than one item that contradicts Chandler. For example:

Wisconsin business taxes are lower than those in 35 other states. That's the conclusion of a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that measures more than 15 taxes that can affect corporate profits.

Wisconsin ranks fourth lowest in the nation in business taxes as a percent of all state and local taxes. The state's business-friendly attitude is reflected in positive business tax changes that have been made in every biennial legislative session since the early 1970s.

If the current "business-friendly attitude" continues in the state legisalture, we'll soon see the decline -- not only of school spending -- but in student achievement.

Ed Blume

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sensenbrenner on the April 5, 2005 School Board Elections

Lee Sensenbrenner has been busy, posting several articles today on the April 5, 2005 Madison School Board Elections (Vote! - find your polling place here: Madison | Fitchburg | Maple Bluff | Shorewood | Town of Madison)

Learn more about the candidates here. This site includes interviews, links and campaign finance information. The best place to compare the candidates and their views is probably the recent Cherokee Candidate Forum. This was an excellent evening and well worth checking out.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Chandler on Business/Residential Property Taxes

Madison Resident Richard Chandler:

There seems to be an orchestrated effort under way to blame high residential property taxes on businesses. This assertion has been made recently by some legislators, a school administrator and local officials who are opposed to a property tax freeze, spending limits, and other efforts to reduce Wisconsin's tax burden by restraining spending.

The argument goes something like this: Over the past 30 years, the share of total property taxes paid by homeowners has risen while the share paid by businesses has dropped. The claim is that this shift is the result of tax exemptions for businesses. While it may serve some political purpose to make this claim, it's not true.

Simply put, the changes in the percentages of property taxes paid by different categories of property over the past three decades are primarily the result of changes in the economy, not tax breaks. During this period, residential property values have increased rapidly in Wisconsin -- and with it the amount of property taxes they pay. What's usually not mentioned is that the share of property taxes paid by commercial property has climbed along with the residential share as we've moved to a more service-oriented economy.

Chandler is the former Wisconsin secretary of revenue and state budget director.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Candidates Battle over Budget

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board members Carol Carstensen and Bill Clingan say they have worked hard to keep years of budget cuts away from the classroom.

But Lawrence Winkler and Lawrie Kobza, who are challenging them in the April 5 election, say the incumbents and other School Board members haven't done enough to deal with the long-term financial challenges plaguing the district.

After more than a decade of state revenue caps that limit how much money school districts can raise in taxes without going to referendum -- and with three referendums slated for a special election May 24 -- this year's board race could serve as a vote of confidence for board members or a mandate for change.

Both Kobza and Winkler have made change a rallying cry. And while Clingan and Carstensen admit that there are always ways in which the board can do better, they maintain that many of their challengers' claims are unfounded.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 28, 2005

Voter Fact Sheet: April 5, 2005 School Board Election

Consider the following facts and issues regarding the Madison school district to help determine whether you will vote for Board of Education candidates who will continue in the same direction as indicated; or, vote for candidates who will change the direction for the future of the District.

1. There is continuous dissemination of incomplete and misinformation, any of which are misleading to the public and self-serving of the Board and administration.
2. There is a continuous �cheerleading� approach to how great things are in terms of the education in the district and how awful things are financially due the state and federal governments and the economy.
3. There is a continuous approach to the absolution of and by the majority of the Board of Education for responsibility and accountability for actions, or lack thereof, in the leadership and management of the district and its educational and fiscal stewardship.
Voter Fact Sheet 150K PDF

Posted by Don Severson at 7:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 26, 2005

Stoughton Won't Renew Superintendent's Contract

I found the story on the Stoughton superintendent interesting because the school board conducts an evaluation twice a year. Madison's board has failed to evaluate the MMSD superintendent for years!

Bill Clingan, chair of the MMSD's human resources committee responsible for evaluating Superintendent Art Rainwater, admits that Lawrie Kobza, his opponent in the upcoming election, is right to highlight an oversight in the superintendent's evaluation, according to a story in Isthmus.

The story on the Stoughton board's action in the Wisconsin State Journal says:

"According to the board's policy, the superintendent is evaluated twice each year, the first during an informal session in the fall. The second evaluation is a formal session before the board's April reorganizational meeting and includes written evaluation statements from each board member.

The president of the board then writes a composite evaluation based on the written work of the board members, and it is then reviewed by the board."

Read the full story here.

Ed Blume

ps The comment option below is open for anyone with thoughts on how the Madison school board could evaluate the superintendent.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 25, 2005

Does Pre-Kindergarden Improve School Preparation & Performance?

David R. Francis:

Using a new rich source of data, researchers Katherine Magnuson, Christopher Ruhm, and Jane Waldfogel conclude in Does Prekindergarten Improve School Preparation and Performance? (NBER Working Paper No. 10452) that early education does increase reading and mathematics skills at school entry, but it also boosts children's classroom behavioral problems and reduces their self-control. Further, for most children the positive effects of pre-kindergarten on skills largely dissipate by the spring of first grade, although the negative behavioral effects continue. In the study, the authors take account of many factors affecting a child, including family background and neighborhood characteristics. These factors include race/ethnicity, age, health status at birth, height, weight, and gender, family income related to need, language spoken in the home, and so on.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Referendum means it's time for finger pointing

I received this message from Brian Grau, a teacher from LaFollette who recently visited his hometown of Racine, who like Madison is going to referendum. Enjoy!

The Journal Times, Racine, WI, 3/24/05
Referendum means it's time for finger pointing
By Jeff Ruggaber

Hey Racine! It's that time again. Time to complain about money spent on schools! Who's to blame? Let the finger pointing begin! Hey, there's a group of teachers. Let's blame them. They are just over paid baby sitters! I wish. I figure if I got paid $5.00 for each kid (25 per class), for 6 hours a day, for 180 days. I would make $135,000 a year! Let's give those with a master's $7.00 and hour per kid. That's $189,000. Reality $39,000. Between my wife and I, last year we paid close to $7,000 just to keep our jobs (property taxes, classes to renew licenses, fee for licenses, and out of pocket expenses to supplement our classroom's). I love paying close to $1000 of my own salary in property taxes. Healthcare. The district offered us the plan. Would you have turned it down? Should we pay more? Remember that teachers did trade salary for benefits.

Let's point fingers at the school district. All they have done is cut spending year after year. Costs go up, spending goes down. You do the math!

Attention Racine: we have schools that were built during the Abraham Lincoln administration! Can you accurately guess from year to year how much it costs to keep these buildings running, when the ghosts of the 1800s still run through the halls! More cuts need to be made even if this does not pass. This district does not have the money to give you what this city deserves. Kids learning in run down, overcrowded buildings is a very real thing.

Next, let's point fingers at the taxpayers. Those same people who spend $1 to $2 for a bottle of water. Those people who spend a dollar a day at the soda machine at work! Those people who don't think twice at paying $4-$5 for one beer at Harbor Fest, Summerfest, Lambeau Field and the rest. Those people who are still driving their SUVs, pick-up trucks, Cadillac's, and other gas guzzling cars. Those same people who pay $40-$50 a month so they can make sure their 12-year-old has a cell phone, $50 cable bills, $200 utility bills, $40 video games to baby-sit your kids, 20 cent increase for a gallon of gas this past week, the list goes on! Complain about those. Oh yeah, those things don't go to a referendum, Why is it that when schools need more money, everyone complains? One person wants a user fee. The more kids you have, the more you pay. So I should pay more for the fire department if they put out my fire and I have 10 kids? Same concept! I've never used the fire department yet, can I get a refund? One lady offered the keys to her house. You got it! That will save three teachers jobs. Thanks! For those who think you don't benefit from Unified because you have no more kids there, well then I think we need to make Unified and Non-Unified lines at every place of business. So when you go to the store, doctor, or gas station you can only go to the line where your tax money is spent.

Now the Racine Taxpayers Association gives the referendum a thumbs down. They say not enough cuts have been made. Have you been to our schools? Have you seen the plaster falling on kid's heads? Have you seen the paint chipped so bad the wood is rotting underneath? Have you felt the below zero wind blow through the cracks in the 100 year old windows? Have you tried to teach in a classroom where the temperature varies from near 90 degrees to 60 degrees all in one day? Oh, that's right, you think teachers should pay more for their insurance. Well if we do, then I want a raise back on my salary that I gave up for the past 10 years. The bottom line is that we have a serious problem.

So either fight for a better educational system and support it, or get out of our way. The future is now!

Without support, you can't imagine how bad things are going to get.

Jeff Ruggaber is an art teacher at Red Apple School.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 12:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 24, 2005

In Pursuit of Excellence: Jerry Brown on Arts Schools

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown (who is wisely blogging):

From today's Oakland Tribune: The arts high school opened by Mayor Jerry Brown in downtown Oakland 2.5 years ago is now officially one of the best schools in California, at least according to the latest rankings assigned to all public schools by the state.
Read the comments as well (bottom of blog entry)

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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 the three referendums could amount to more than $119 million.

An alternate plan the board is considering, which would keep the maintenance and school construction but guarantee against educational cuts for just two years, would collect about $66 million in additional property taxes over the next five years.

All of this is done in the context of a school budget that totals $317 million for this year.

Board member & candidates comments.

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March 23, 2005

News Flash: John Matthews Is Willing to Delay Negotiations for Teachers' Wages Until After the April 5 School Board Elections

Despite a written agreement between Madison Teachers Incorporated and the Board of Education that aims at settling the teachers contract for 2005-07 by June 30, union executive director John Matthews and Superintendent Art Rainwater made a jovial � and unprecedented - announcement that they would delay discussion of wages and benefits until after the April 5 school board elections.

Delaying talk about pay and benefits for teachers is a puzzling step for union leader Matthews, especially given his March 17 comments that "No matter what the settlement is, it won't be enough to reward the teachers," Matthews said as the MTI proposal was presented Wednesday, "These are teachers, not priests and nuns who took a vow of poverty."

Superintendent Rainwater�s reasons for delaying dollars and cents discussions are equally mysterious given the push to finalize wording for three referenda on March 28. Under the circumstances, Rainwater�s communications to the board on contract negotiations can only be described as terse.

In a March 16 e-mail, Rainwater told the board:

�We will begin the teacher bargaining process this afternoon. We are following a different initial process this year. Today MTI will give us their initial proposal. We will not provide our proposal. On Monday night, March 28, we will meet with you in closed session to go over their initial proposal and our proposed counter. We will then give them our initial offer on Wednesday, March 30. That offer will be what is agreed to on March 28. Negotiations will then begin.�

On March 18, he sent an e-mail to the Board that said:

�We have changed the dates for giving our initial proposal to MTI in teacher bargaining. We will meet with the Board on Monday night April 4 to complete our proposal and give it to MTI on April 6. This is because of spring break this next week and the number of people involved who are out of town.�

Meanwhile, the local news media tell us that Matthews and MTI want to discuss non-economic issues before exchanging economic proposals. Matthews believes that teachers are more interested in resolving questions about their possible intellectual property rights in curriculum than resolving issues of wages and benefits that affect them all in a year when administration proposes to cut over 90 teaching positions.

This turn of events looks very much like an agreement to try to minimize damage to MTI candidates on April 5 and to the May operating budget referendum by keeping economic negotiations out of the news.

Here are a few reasons why I am skeptical of the rationales offered to explain delaying economic negotiations.

First, teachers can copyright curriculum materials that they produce if they believe that their work is original and innovative. Copyright prevents others from profiting from their work. Contractual provisions are not necessary to protect those rights.

Furthermore, most teachers are overworked. They donate many after-school hours each week to help kids, attend school activities, and write grant applications to fund events, materials, computer programs and other items that the district used to provide for their students. Given pressing issues of work load and job security, it�s hard to believe that intellectual property rights are more important to them than future wages and perhaps new protections in case of lay-off.

Second, the Board and MTI have a written agreement that sets June 30 as the target date for settling the contract. Under the agreement, the parties negotiate until mid-May, turn to mediation if necessary, and put unresolved issues to arbitration if there is no voluntary agreement by June 30. This timetable is important because the new fiscal year for the district begins on July 1 and the Board needs to adopt the 2005-06 budget by the same date.

Third, negotiations with MTI are on a two-year cycle. Both sides know the negotiating calendar very well. Is it truly possible that district and union administration were unaware of the dates for spring break when they planned the negotiating calendar?

Inquiring minds might see reasons why MTI and the superintendent might not want economic negotiations in the news before April 5. If the Board grants teachers the same kinds of wage and benefit packages that it has already granted to administrators and the small unionized groups, teacher negotiations will add $8M to the budget for 2005-06 and a larger amount to the budget for 2006-07. The budget for next year is already increased by another $2M for the increases for administrators, custodians and educational assistants (of these groups, administrators earn the largest salary and benefits).

Consider the dilemma that John Matthews faces in the trade-offs between representing his members and election politics. A public discussion of $10M in new employee wages and benefits before the school board elections on April 5 may create problems for the re-election campaigns of Carol Carstensen and Bill Clingan, the MTI-endorsed candidates who voted for the previous employee increases that will set the floor for the teachers� union demands. In this context, a long, quiet discussion of intellectual property rights may be the most desirable course until April 6.

Consider Art Rainwater�s own dilemmas, for that matter. The budget for next year is already increased by another $2M for the increases for administrators, custodians and educational assistants and at least $8M for the teachers� settlement. Rainwater�s proposal to cut $7.4M in school staff and programs assumes an increase of at least $10M in employee wages and benefits. The Board majority plans to put three referendums on the ballot in a special election on May 24. The operating budget referendum is the one that would cover the employee increases. The possibility of the public connecting the teachers� union negotiations with the size of the operating budget referendum may not be very appealing for Mr. Rainwater, either. Perhaps the spring break followed by negotiations that give priority to intellectual property rights is what provided the common ground behind the smiles and camaraderie that marked the joint announcement that the district has started bargaining with MTI but won�t be talking about economics until after the school board elections on April 5.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 22, 2005

Real Community Leadership

I’ve noticed in several postings that people have criticized the Madison School Board for lack of leadership. I believe that true leadership happens in the community and then comes to the board level for action. This has been the case in many actions that have been taken place in the past, present and will undoubtedly be the case in the future. All of these actions have had or will have a profound impact on the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Fifty-one years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated formal school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. Twenty-five years later, this ruling forced the Madison School District to dramatically change how it educated elementary students. In 1979, South Madison residents lead by Dr. Richard Harris filed a lawsuit with the federal Office of Civil Rights concluding that the Madison School Board had knowingly created and perpetrated racial isolation by closing schools and changing boundaries on the city's heavily populated minority South Madison. This lead to the creation of a task force that created the current school pairings we know today.

This community leadership has also lead to new initiatives such as Nuestro Mundo Community School, the district’s dual-language charter school. This school is responding to Latino community leaders’ concerns regarding the changing demographics in the city and school district. English speaking families wanting to expose their children to Spanish and Latino culture are also enrolling their children in the school.

In addition to Nuestro Mundo, the Madison School Board is supporting the building of Wexford Ridge Community Center on the grounds of Jefferson Middle and Memorial High Schools. Wexford Ridge Neighborhood Center currently runs adult and youth programming out of a two-bedroom apartment. Again, community leaders and residents supported the proposal that initially didn’t have the support of the Superintendent or a majority of the board. I am proud to state that voting for this proposal was one of my first acts as a member of the school board.

In the near future, on April 11th the School Board’s Partnership Committee will convene a meeting to discuss a proposal from a group of parents to form a girls hockey program. This program will be a cooperative effort with girls from Memorial, West, East and LaFollette as well as schools outside of Madison being able to participate on one team. I am in favor of this program because it allows girls to participate positively in athletics and uses parent’s creativity and community resources to fund the proposal.

In conclusion, the school board is elected to lead the school district, however, it is the community that truly leads schools. It is the above stated community initiatives that lead me to believe that the real leadership comes from the community, not solely from school board members. I look forward to seeing what future initiatives come from the community, so we can work together to make them happen for the betterment of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 10:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's not the Schools, It's the Computers!

John Clare:

The less pupils use computers at school and at home, the better they do in international tests of literacy and maths, the largest study of its kind says today.

The findings raise questions over the Government's decision, announced by Gordon Brown in the Budget last week, to spend another �1.5 billion on school computers, in addition to the �2.5 billion it has already spent.

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Cost of 3 MMSD Referendums: $85.1M

On March 28, the Madison School Board will vote to place three referendums on the ballot in a special election on May 24. The total bill for the referendums will be $85.1M if the operating budget referendum is for three years, as proposed by Finance Chair Carol Carstensen.

The operating budget referendum will increase to the MMSD share of the property tax by $44.4M cumulatively by the third year. The $22.2M increase for the third year will be permanent. This referendum allows the school district to exceed state revenue limits by $7.4 each year. In effect, the $7.4M doubles in the second year and triples in the third year. In other words, a successful referendum adds $7.4M to the MMSD tax in the first year, $14.M in the second year and $22.2M in the third year.

According to Assistant Superintendent Roger Price, the increase in the MMSD property tax on the average property currently valued at $204,500 would be $82.99 in 05-06, $211.64 in 06-07 and $331.17 in 07-08. At the end of three years, tax payers will have spent an additional $44.4M on the operating budget over and above state revenue limits. Because the changes in the revenue limits will be permanent, the tax level will remain at an additional $22.2M forever. However, because the state legislature raises the limits on school property taxes each year, the base for the school tax will also be larger with each year. The district does not include this additional amount in its calculations of the costs of the operating budget referendum.

Until last week, the administration estimated the new taxes caused by an operating budget referendum at $164 per year on the average home. That estimate assumed that the Board voted for a one-year referendum to raise $8.6M, not the up-to-three year referendum that the Board now prefers.

The referendum to construct a second school on the Leopold School site will add $14.5M to the homeowner�s tax for schools over a fifteen year period. The district estimates that the school referendum adds $20 per year to the taxes paid on the average Madison home.

The referendum for maintenance and other items will cost $26.2M over five years. This referendum will not increase property taxes. It prevents a decrease of $82 per year for the average home owner. The maintenance referendum asks taxpayers to forgo a drop in taxes that will occur when the last five-year maintenance referendum lapses.

Until March 14, the revenues from this referendum would have gone only to maintenance of the district�s facilities. However, Carol Carstensen persuaded the majority to amend the maintenance referendum. Now money from the referendum could be used to building maintenance or for operating needs such as the purchase of computers, microscopes, and textbooks. If the operating budget referendum fails, the dollars from the maintenance referendum could easily be used for operating costs.

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Public Confidence in the Madison School Board

Janet Morrow says that the "fact" that the public has lost confidence in the Madison Board of Education is a "lie". She points to the Boards reaction to the District Administration's recent proposed Boundary changes as an example of their listening and acting on public input.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Issues RFP for Auditing Services

The RFP is available for inspection on-line here (PDF):

ISSUE DATE: 02/21/05
DUE DATE: 03/31/05 2:00 PM Local Time

PLEASE NOTE: The deadline for requested modifications to the RFP WAS March 8, 2005. A vendor conference WAS held "on March 14, 2005 at 9:00AM in room 209 at 545 West Dayton Street, Madison, to respond to written questions..."

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Elementary Strings is Academic Music Education - Parents and Madison Citizens Need to Ask School Board Why Supt. Is Not Supporting an Academic Curriculum with Direct Postive Benefits on Student Achievement

Madison parents and citizens need to ask the School Board a) why they continue to allow the Superintendent to treat elementary strings separate from the music education curriculum, b) why there is a continued delay in getting a committee together for fine arts, c) why the delay in seeking federal funding for fine arts for disadvantaged children, d) why the Administration continues to attack the fine arts academic curriculum rather than coming forward with ideas for strengthening this curriculum in light of the academic achievement benefits?

In July 2004, U.S. Secretary of Education wrote to all Superintendents of school districts in the United States:

"...the arts are a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). I believe the arts have a significant role in education both for their intrinsic value and for the ways in which they can enhance general academic achievement and improve students' social and emotional development."

"There is much flexibility for states and local school districts under the No Child Left Behind Act with respect to support for the core subjects. ...Under NCLB, Title I, Part A funds also can be used by local education agencies to improve the educational achievement of disadvantaged students through the arts."

"In keeping with NCLB's principle of classroom practices based on research evidence, studies have shown that arts teaching and learning can increase students' cognitive and social development. The arts can be a critical link for students in developing the crucial thinking skills and motivations they need to achieve at higher levels."

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March 21, 2005

Dave Bing Wants a Charter School in Detroit

Former Detroit Piston Star Dave Bing is trying to get a charter school off the ground in Detroit. Rochelle Riley has more:

The group is mad because Bing decided to partner with white philanthropist Bob Thompson, whose offer to build $200 million worth of charter high schools was rejected two years ago for fear it might hurt the city schools. The pair isn't recycling Thompson's old offer. Bing wants one school, near his company, one whose graduates could see their future down the street.

. . . Sambo? Sellout? Not black enough? Dave Bing is the definition of black for this century, always achieving and always looking for ways to help those coming up behind him.

So for those who think being black means letting the public schools die while throwing darts at those who would help, who think being black means letting the city perish before accepting help from someone white, for those who want to take Dave Bing's membership card in the black race, then take mine, too.

Those who would rather call names than welcome solutions don't represent my history, my present or my future. They're segregationists who can single-handedly kill Detroit, if allowed.

Via Joanne Jacobs

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March 20, 2005

Budget Hides Extras - Public Only Shown Cuts Not Budget: Current School Board Not Governing Budget Priorities

Mr. Rainwater says, "We are long past the time that we can solve our revenue cap problems by being more efficient or eliminating things that are nice but not necessary (March 2005 Budget Discussion Items Report - basically, budget cut document). Without the budget, this is a scary statement. Sadly, a budget would show this statement to be a scare tactic.

What's scary to me is that we may indeed need a referendum, but the current board's weak governance, lack of public discussion and review, alienation of many public groups won't be able to make the case, because educating the entire child and excellent instruction for all are not driving the board's priorities. That scares me.

The data will tell another story when the budget is released in May 2005 - extras are still in the budget and targeting academic programs goes unchecked. Money is being spent on administrators ($1.5 million increase in two years) and extracurricular high school sports ($2 million) while elementary children's fine arts curriculum is hammered - elementary strings (teaching 1,800 children) is eliminated and elementary fine arts cuts total $750,000.

Millions will be spent on a reading intervention that only serves first grade and an evaluation last fall showed Reading Recovery to be no better than other strategies (such as strategies using more phonics), and simple statements are given to the public without a board meeting or board discussion about why the Superintendent turned away $10 million (over 4 years) in Reading First money.

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Lobby for Safe and Drug Free Schools

Attached is a fact sheet from Shel Gross, Director of Public Policy for the Mental Health Association in Milwaukee County. He is the head of the Wisconsin Prevention Network.

The fact sheet is to help people lobby against the elimination of Safe and Drug Free Schools funding from the Federal government.

Lucy Gibson

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March 19, 2005

Recent High School Grad Runs for School Board - Portland, OR

Nick Budnick:

Although there are certain things that you get with age, there are also certain things you don't have with age. I can walk into a high-school classroom and sit down any day and act like a high-school student. I can sit down in a meeting with the teachers union and tell them what didn't work in our class. I can also call up some friends who go to Franklin, and Grant, and say, "What's happening?" I can do that; these folks can't. When they hear information, they hear it through administrators and teachers.
via joanne jacobs

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Madison School Board Candidate Diversity Forum

MAFAAC and MPE sponsored a Madison School Board Candidate Diversity Forum Saturday, March 12, 2005 at Edgewood College. Statements, Questions and Video Clips Follow:

  • Introduction/Opening Statements: 26MB Video

  • Q1: What procedures would you put in place to examine the impact of any proposed budget cuts on efforts to close the achievement gap? 20MB Video: all 4 candidates

  • Q2: What is your vision regarding issues of second language learners and bilingual education? 18MB Video: all 4 candidates

  • Q3: Many in our community would like to see an increase in minority staff? How would you propose that mmsd recruit & retain minority staff? 20MB Video: all 4 candidates

  • As a member of the Board, how would you advocate to close the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students? 18MB Video

  • Many students of color, particularily African-American & Latino, are disproportionately recommended for suspension and expulsion. What can the Board do to change this? 22MB Video: all 4 candidates

  • Many parents of minority students feel that they have any ____ participation in their children's schools, or that they are welcome in the schools. How would you address these concerns? 21MB Video: all 4 candidates

  • There are many African-American children who are dyslexic. If elected, what will you do to address this situation? (Carstensen & Winkler)

  • (Parent Question): Is there a concern about minority hiring procedures (that those procedures might screen out qualified candidates)? 5MB Video: (Clingan)

  • (Parent Question): Why don't we have a principal at East and when are we getting one? I'm concerned about the lack of communication. I want to ask the two people who don't have kids at East. 10MB Video: (Clingan & Winkler)

  • Where do you stand on the planned referendums? 6MB Video: (all four candidates)

  • Closing Remarks: 19MB Video: (all four candidates)
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 18, 2005

Referendum Racism

I realize that many people in this community aren’t happy about the recent decision made by the Madison School Board to go to referendum for the operational budget shortfall. This will indeed raise property taxes. I am more than sympathetic to senior citizens (or others) on fixed incomes and how this decision affects them. I also empathize with those who might not agree with the direction of the district by stating additional cuts in services should be considered or discussed. While I’m agreeable with those rationales, I will NOT stand for what I believe is blatant racism by members of this community who will use the changing demographics of the school district and community as an excuse for not voting for a referendum. Listed below is a copy of an e-mail recently sent to school board members. The sender is a City of Madison bus driver who has sent e-mails to the School Board before. I have retracted the sender’s name.

dear board members;i think it is an insult for you , not all of ask for tax increases for the school budget problems.these schools are supposed to be so great in this city.they dont seem to be any better than when i went to school niece was going to east high until a black girl that was 14 years old and already had 2 kids was giving her a hard niece ended up going to another school.and just the other day, a gang of black kids were beating up a white kid at the east transfer point.also at east high.i know some people that said they have seen the black girls walk down the halls and push the white girls out of the way.i bet the public doesnt know about half the things that go on in this city.if you ask me i think you people should actually have better schools than just say you do.i thought schools were bad when i went and they were,i would hate to be a kid going to school here now.getting bullied and the school doesnt do anything about it.and you want us to pay more.i not only think that these schools suck ,this city is starting to also.

This is my response:

It is absolutely incredible to me that in 2005, there are people who perform public services in our community that are without question racist. It seems to me that you are indeed troubled with the changing demographics in the City of Madison. I want to remind you that as an employee working as a bus driver for the City of Madison, taxpayers are paying your salary as well. And, so are the thousands of Black and other racial and ethnic minority persons who probably ride the bus that you’re driving. To be frank, it must be very difficult to drive with the “white sheet” covering your eyes. Thank you for wasting the taxpayer’s time for me having to respond to your ignorance.

Johnny Winston, Jr.
School Board member, who is Black and deeply offended by your bigoted comments. And I wish we didn't have to ask you for your money!

I am more than willing to understand those who disagree but racism has no place in our schools and in our community! I hope we can all agree on that!

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 5:02 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cherokee School Board Candidate Forum Video/Audio

Several westside PTO's hosted a candidate forum Wednesday evening. The candidates discussed a wide variety of questions, including referendums, the budget process, strings, local education media coverage and differences with their opponents. Listen to the entire event (34.6MB mp3 audio file), or click on the links below to review specific questions & answers.

Opening Statements VideoQ1: Referendums: Where do you stand? All four candidates Video
Q2: Do you agree with the proposed cuts? All four candidates VideoQ3: What can you do to protect TAG, arts and other programs due to the continuous funding changes? Bill Clingan & Carol Carstensen Video
Q4: How would you respond to a parent who said that they were leaving the Madison Schools because their child would have better AP, arts or sports opportunities in another district? (Larry Winkler & Lawrie Kobza) VideoQ5: For the incumbents: What specific initiatives have you taken to raise math scores particularily with low income & minority students? (Bill Clingan & Carol Carstensen) Video
Q6: For the challengers: What are the substantive differences between you and your opponent? (Lawrie Kobza & Larry Winkler) VideoQ7: Will you promise to evaluate the Superintendent annually, as his contract calls for? (Bill Clingan) Video
Q8: You said you would vote for a 3 year operating referendum at the recent MAFAAC Forum, now you say you won't. Why have you changed your mind? (Lawrie Kobza) VideoQ9: Does the Administration's budget document reflect School Board priorities? (Carol Carstensen) Video
Q10: Do you think we should be fund raising from corporations, and asking them for money? (Larry Winkler) VideoQ11: Do you feel the media covers school issues and how do you feel about the fact that there are no media representatives here tonight? (Bill Clingan) Video
Q12: Comment on the proposed reduction in Program Support Teachers? (Carol Carstensen) VideoQ13: How important do you think no-cut freshman sports are? (Lawrie Kobza) Video
Q14: How do you propose to address growth in extended parts of the Madison School District? (Larry Winkler) VideoQ15: Strings is part of the Board approved standards. Why is the Administration proposing to eliminate it? What are your views on this issue? (All 4 candidates) Video
Candidate Closing Statements (All 4 candidates) Video
A note on local media coverage. Indeed, no members of the traditional media were present (perhaps this explains why?), but several internet writers were there, and have written about the event on this site.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

No Point in Cutting MMSD Administrators, They Just Grow Back

In January of 2005 Superintendent Art Rainwater told the Madison Board of Education that two administrative positions would be eliminated for 2005-06. He would cut the positions of Risk Manager and Data Manager when the incumbents retired at the end of 2004-05.

Imagine my surprise on March 14, when the superintendent cut half of the position of Risk Manager for a second time.

The propensity of administrative positions to grow back may be the explanation for some otherwise inexplicable facts. One such fact is that the Madison Metropolitan School District had 147 full-time administrative positions in 1998-99, after five years of cuts caused by the state �revenue limits� enacted in 1993. Although cuts continued, administrative staff positions grew to 156 in 2001-02. Three years later MMSD still has more administrators than in 1998-99.


Graph based on MMSD data presented to the School Board on January 24, 2005. For more information see the Minutes of Special Board meeting.

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

Board Scares Parents-Threatens All District Can Teach Kids for $13,000+ is Reading and Math: Yet MMSD Board Has No Budget, Keeps $2 Million for Extracurr. Sports, Increases Admin. Budget $1.5 Million in Two Years, Turned Away $10+ Million Fed. Rdg. Grant

This is not the headline of an article in The Onion. Rather, as the Astronauts on the Apollo Mission said, "Houston, we have a problem."

After 10 years of continually reducing services to our children and community . . . long past the time that we can solve our revenue cap problems by being more efficient or eliminating things that are �nice but not necessary� (MMSD budget cut document - not budget) More than $13,000 per student and all the Distict can do is teach math and reading. This should send a huge red flag up. It is - to those who can afford to, they are moving their kids, home schooling, paying for private tutoring and other lessons, and sending their kids to private schools. Who's losing inthis picture - underprivileged kids in education and priviledged kids by not being part of a diverse school environment. All the kids are losing - big time and the negative impact on the economics and culture of the city will follow - that's why my parents kept me out of NYC schools and I went to high school in Connecticut. That is not what I wanted for my daughter, but I need to protect her education - she's only got the next 5 years.

There is no budget governance and leadership by board members and by the Finance and Operations Committee, which Ms. Carstensen chairs - threatening statements are made to other board members and to the public, no questions are asked, no budget is visible and the state is to blame. I suggest board members hold up a mirror, and I suggest that other progressives in Madison who share my concerns and want an excellent public education system in Madison, vote for a positive change in leadership on April 5th and read the following:

Lets' examine this incorrect and misleading statement:

Budget - Don't have one

Where Does the Money Go?
Last year, the $14 million increased revenue did not go to pay for more teachers in the school budgets - in fact there was a $2 million real cut in the elementary and secondary school budgets from the year before - every other department saw increases.

Nice but not necessary things all eliminated - NO
. $2 million budget for extracurricular high school sports (20% comes from fees/ticket sales). There will be NO cuts in what kids play at the high school level. We need these sports but the board let an athletic committee work on moving small dollars to MSCR, which keeps taxes up. If you have no money, how can you ask parents to pay this amount. Why wasn't the board working with the community on this, asking the sports community for help and guidance? Why is the current board putting kids at risk?

Administrative Contract Budget - increased $1.5 million from 03-04 to next year. Board members needed to hold the admin. budget to 03-04 and direct the Superintendent to hold the line on number of staff or increases. That's the board's responsibility - did they do this? No.

Reading First Grant - Turned away $10+ million in federal Reading First Money over several years - because we do it better? Who believes that? Madison, like the rest of the state, has made great progress in reading, but the money in this federal grant would have helped tremendously training teachers, buying curriculum materials (many options, not just direct instruction to choose from) - this money would have helped the overall infrastructure of the district's reading curriculum as we moving into helping the 20% who are struggling with reading.

Why don't the kids deserve this help and why would the current board be so reckless in not a) reviewing publicly the issues surrounding this grant and taking steps to address them while pursuing the grant and getting the grant - we cannot afford not to use these funds for the kids or for the district's financial well being, b)reviewing publicly the questionable district reading recovery program that is costing $1-$2 million and showing results no better than other interventions in use, and d) putting down direct instruction and refusing to evaluate and report/discuss publicly the continued success at lapham elementary. A new teacher told to use balanced literacy and running problems into teaching children to read is turning to direct instruction at the end of the year so the kids will be able to read.

What does the Board do? Bill Keys and Art Rainwater do a public service announcement with a staged dialogue in front of cameras at the end of a public hearing. Any real public review and questions - of course not!

This school board says I'm critical of what they do and make no suggestions. Link on budget, fine arts and governance and you will read suggestions made up to one year ago. Board make any changes - no. Can we do things? Yes, more to follow.

Oh, and that only one item that board members think I focus on - elementary strings. More on that district disgrace to the 1,800 kids (600+minority, 400+ low income) and their academic achievement to follow - stay tuned. We'll be providing information - with data, which the district does not do, showing this course is THE ONLY course that will be cut if a referendum fails that affects so many kids so positively.

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Madison Teachers Present Contract Proposal

Lee Sensenbrenner:

In a departure from their usual procedure, the two sides are first considering all the changes in contract language put forward by Madison Teachers Inc.

This proposal, covering such changes as whether teachers would gain free access to after-school events and intellectual property rights to the curriculums they design for the classroom, was presented Wednesday afternoon to Superintendent Art Rainwater and his staff.

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March 17, 2005

It's Not Board Attendance that's the Issue, Mr. Clingan, It's Committee Leadership

At Wednesday, March 17, 2005, candidates' forum, Lawrie Kobza provided information that Mr. Clingan did not convene the Human Resouces Committee, which he chairs, to evaluate the Superintendent. As Chair of that committee he also did not follow through on a review of an administrative RFP from last spring that was developed in response to the public's concern about administrators (source: board minutes spring 2004). No follow-up, same issue with administrators this year as last and an increase in the administrative budget from $1.5 million in two years even with 2 less FTEs - it's about leadership and putting children's learning first.

Mr. Clingan pointed out that he had attended more than 200+ meetings. Attendance is important, but it does not demonstrate leadership and does not lead to meaningful committee work being done effectively on behalf of children's education and achievement.

Committee Chairs are leadership positions as is Vice President of the Board. Mr. Clingan said that the Board evaluates the Superintendent and they do so at each meeting providing him direction. You can evaluate the Superintendent at each meeting, but that is not very strategic and tends toward wasteful micromanaging.

The superintendent's contract requires the establishment of yearly goals. This is one of the most important undertaking's the board does. Historically, the Human Resources committee takes the lead in the Superintendent's evaluation - Ray Allen the former chair undertook coordinating this review.

If Mr. Clingan did not want to do this as Chair of that committee he needed to advise the Board president - apprently, since there are no goals in place for the Superintendent, this was not done.

The annual establishment of goals with the superintendent, which should be in place before the start of the school year sets the direction for the rest of the district and its employees and is an important communication goal with the community about what the district will be accomplishing in the short-term towards its long-term goals. What's so complicated about that? Why isn't it done?

Ms. Kobza also pointed out that last year that when Mr. Clingan chaired the Long Range Planning, this committee met for updates, but did not take on issues of boundaries, new schools, maintenance in a) any detail nor b) determine ways to involve the public in what would be a lot of work. In other words, no groundwork was laid last year for the enormous amount of work for the Long Range Planning Committee. Leopold families believe it's board votes this year that affected Leopold.

Yet Johnny Winston, Jr., at a previous board meeting, reminded board members that 20 year ago or more there was the knowledge that Leopold needed a new building.

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April 9 - UW-Madison Science Program for 6-12 grade students

From University Communications:

Event to celebrate women in science
(Posted: 3/16/2005)

The Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL) on Saturday, April 9, will present "Celebrating Women of Science," a daylong event that will feature talks by several prominent researchers, followed by hands-on science activities for teenagers and young adults.

WISL is a project of the chemistry department.

Scientists, including Laura Kiessling, Wendy Crone, Ann Kelley, Judith Burstyn and Gelsomina de Stasio, will speak on topics ranging from cancer to carbohydrates to the neural basis of eating. Chancellor John D. Wiley will make opening remarks.

Following the morning presentations, college, high-school and middle-school students can participate in any of eight hands-on science sessions. Among the activities, students can peer through a scanning electron microscope, handle live microbes or build working batteries on their own.

"Celebrating Women of Science" will take place in from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on April 9 in Room 1315, Chemistry Building, 1101 University Ave. The event is free, but registration is required by Friday, April 1, for the hands-on sessions. To obtain a registration form, visit or call (608) 263-2424.

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Read My Blog: Year Old But Still Good Thoughts On The Budget

I started attending meetings several years ago and, initially, was naive enough to take Carol Carstensen at her word when she said "if you don't like our cuts, you need to tell us where to cut." Board members then claim that they "have no choice" and that critics "only criticize but don't offer solutions." This is one disingenuous ploy, since it invites people to participate but leaves the door open for the board's typical response: we know more than you do and we don't like your ideas. This is not listening.

I was looking through some old records the other day, and found the following message that I sent to the board over a year ago:

March 25, 2004

TO: Members of the Madison School Board
FROM: Lucy Mathiak, 716 Orton Court, parent of two sons at East High School

Re. Some modest recommendations regarding the budget

Although I agree that unfunded mandates and state revenue caps have helped to create a bleak budget situation, it is clear that complaining about external factors that contribute to the problem will not erase the fact that the district faces a serious shortfall. It is time to get on with the serious task of evaluating what district spending is essential to the district�s basic educational mission and priorities. I also urge you to initiate the processes that are demanded of other public institutions: serious assessment and review to determine which district programs are working (including external review and meaningful parent input), which programs are peripheral and cannot be afforded at this time, and which programs are no longer essential and/or are dysfunctional and should be ended. To do less is an insult to the thousands of Madison area employees who have been engaged in just such exercises as a result of state budget cuts and downturns in the private economic sector.

I�ve had an opportunity to read and consider many of the budget documents that are available on-line. I also find that the documentation that is available thus far raises more questions than it answers. Since the publicly available information is presented out of context, with no larger picture of what remains in the budget or the number of FTEs after the cuts compared to one or two years ago, I am forced to take the recommendations at face value and consider what the respective actions will or will not do to resolve the budgetary shortfall.

I am particularly disturbed about the dollar amounts that school administration proposes to cut from General Administration $514,204 of which c. $150,000 is student leadership or minority service coordinator funds and thus cuts to students. Similarly, I am unimpressed with the proposal for Business Services, which cuts $2,434,195 of which more than $1 million is in custodial and trade positions and maintenance workers; $891,000 of the balance is from building maintenance and improvement rather than administrative staff. In short, this set of proposals appears to protect high level administrators at the expense of students and workers who are among the lowest paid and least powerful.

In the past, Carol Carstensen has admonished us to tell the board where to cut if we don�t like the choices that we�ve been presented. I do have some ideas, some of which involve cuts that should be reconsidered and others concerning missed opportunities to bring in revenue. I strongly agree with the comments presented by the Madison East Booster Club, so will turn my attention to simpler suggestions rather than repeating what they already have said.

1. Eliminate the practice of having district employees deliver documents to the private homes of board members. Surely these human resources could be put to better use in one of the areas that is currently slated to be cut. Ending this practice also would save on district printing and duplicating costs and would bring central administration and the school board into line with what other public and private agencies are doing to reduce costs. There are many ways that this could be done, including development of a passworded intranet, use of word processing and/or PDF e-mail attachments, etc. All of which would result in cost savings at the administrative levels.

2. Eliminate and/or reduce the number of curriculum specialists and other coordinators at the district level and put the emphasis back on site-based service. A large number of families would agree that TAG programming at the K-8 level has suffered since site-based TAG teachers were replaced with multi-school resource teachers and a district coordinator. At a minimum, eliminating the district coordinator position would eliminate what appears to function primarily as a bureaucratic hurdle rather than a true service to schools or teachers.

Similarly, having eight math specialists working in district administration with little or no classroom responsibility seems like an incredible luxury when the district is talking about increasing student to teacher ratios. It also is an insult to the many terrific math teachers who are in the schools and are perfectly capable of engaging, inspiring, and teaching our children without the benefit of the theoretical musings of the resource staff.

3. Bring parking fees behind the Doyle Building into alignment with fees charged for comparable convenience and access downtown and on the university campus (see attached). IF the district is charging fees to park next to the Doyle Building, and it doesn�t appear that that is the case, those fees need to be revisited. If the district were to create a parking permit fee structure that takes into account the convenience of parking next to one�s workplace, annual permits would be sold for $990 at the 2003-2004 rate. With c. 80 parking stalls available to MMSD in that lot, there is a potential to generate around $80,000 per year in revenue from this source. A policy to charge additional fees for reserved personal parking stalls, would further add to the revenue stream.

NOTE: UW-Madison�s relatively low rate for Lot 91 is related to its distance from employee work sites. Lots used primarily by administrators and located adjacent to campus buildings are at the top of the fee structure ($990/year in 2003-2004).

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 8:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

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

Carol Carstensen told me last night that I've been "angry" over elementary strings for the past four years. I learned many years ago never to "tell" people what they are feeling - 90% of the time you're wrong, and in this case Ms. Carstensen is dead wrong about me.

Her comment to me came after I asked her why the board would agree to a recommendation that puts the ENTIRE elementary strings program at risk if a referendum does not pass yet the board did not ask nor would it even consider a) reducing the administrative budget (increased $1.5 million over two years even with cut of 2 positions), b) reducing any of the services to high school children for extracurricular sports ($2 million budget) - which makes sense. They are paying 20% of the cost of the program, and, so are the elementary strings children. Plus, the board has an athletics committee - not a fine arts committee. Something wrong with this picture? Yes, very much so, and it's resulting in discrimination against underprivileged children who study instrumental music.

Elementary strings is not about me being angry - once again, Ms. Carstensen misses the point. This program is about 1800+ children all of whom are at the mercy of the referendum (more than 600 who are minority and more than 400 who are low income) - no other curriculum or course is put at such a risk nor affect as many children as this cut would. As a matter of fact, Ms. Carstensen, Mr. Clingan, Mr. Keys and Mr. Lopez took the budget cut document (not even a budget) and said - yep, this it, we can't do anything. It's a referendum, or you're done. They did this before even getting the budget.

Even though I have been one of the more visible advocates for strings, I am not the only person caring and asking questions about elementary strings. There have been hundreds of children, their parents and the community who have also been asking: why hasn't the administration and board come up with ways in which to make the program work and meet the curriculum standards and understand the performance results in other curricula that the fine arts contribute so significantly to?

On Monday, Mr. Rainwater said he has tried EVERYTHING and can't come up with anything, but what he is really saying is they won't come up with anything that he was not willing to involve teachers, principals, parents and the community to help us.

This is one more example of the "closed shop" our current School Board has become. The only way to change this is to change the board with new energy, new ideas and an openness to work meaningfully with the community - not to lecture the community about how right you are and how wrong I am - it's about kids' learning and achievement. We will need to do this to build public confidence in the board's ability to govern before referendums will pass. I'm afraid that is not there at the moment.

Maybe it was Ms. Carstensen who was mad when I also informed her that I had hoped to be able to vote for her, but based upon her under-management of the budget, recent decisions and her comments at the forum - we've done everything and if the referendum fails, maybe we can cobble something together for "those kids" at MSCR, that I would no longer be able to support her as a candidate for the MMSD School Board. I was sad about not being able to support her candidacy, not angry. But before I accused her of being angry, I would ask her.

We need a change - fresh, good old practical, progressive ideas. Referedums need to be one of a mix of options, not the only and we need a School Board that gets it by listening, not telling and threatening.

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March 16, 2005

Wiki's in Schools

Chris Jablonski:

Wikis have made their way into the classroom at Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon. Students working on writing projects are accessing their teacher's wiki from their Safari bookmark toolbar on their Macs via Apple's Rendezvous. The wiki is installed on the teacher's iBooks and is an adaptation of Instiki, which in combination with SchoolTool, an open souce management information system, streamlines the entire process. Apart from a couple of problems,--when the laptop is asleep or is outside the school the system breaks down--it gets the thumbs up from the students who use it. It takes away the burden of navigating file servers and word processor interfaces and lets the students focus on their writing.
I like wiki's - they seem quite useful for the classroom.

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Parents Question Math Strategies in Boston

Surely, the quote of the day:

''What's going to happen when they go into a store? Are they going to say, 'Do you happen to have 25 Cheerios so I can break it down?' " said Jacqueline Azulay of Roslindale, who sees her two daughters going to great lengths to break large numbers into manageable pieces. ''I think they need to teach basic math."
Vanessa Parks dives into the math wars with many interesting quotes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

WORT's In Our Backyard - March 15, 2005

Proposed Elementary Strings Program Elimination
Listen now: 3.5MB mp3 audio file. WORT

Madison School Board President Bill Keys, Strings Teacher Jack Young, Parent Michael McGuire and Activist Barb Schrank.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Leopold Expansion: Ridgewood Gets New Management

Alliance Residential Management is reportedly now in charge of managing Fitchburg's Ridgewood Apartments. Visit Alliance's searchable apartment database here to check out the type of properties and prices they offer.

Mary Battaglia recently mentioned Fitchburg's possible condemnation of the Ridgewood Apartments.

It seems change is in the wind at Ridgewood, with implications for the planned Leopold expansion (Learn more about the Leopold Referendum) Leopold is 0.20 miles from the Ridgewood Apartments (map).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

We need a new School Board

Carol Carstensen�s recent letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal (�Carstensen replies to Robarts�) illustrates the choices before the public in this spring�s school board elections. Many of these choices revolve around the core question of whether one can support progressive ideals and challenge the board�s go along and get along status quo.

I believe that it is not only possible but necessary for progressives to question the status quo � particularly if it results in serious board consideration of balance between employee wages and benefits as part of a comprehensive search for ways to preserve our current staff levels and programs in view of current funding realities.

In her letter, Carol Carstensen erroneously reduces my suggestions to one simplistic idea and then condemns the idea as anti-teacher and ill-informed. Perhaps it is easier to attack a straw-person concept, but it doesn�t move the community or the board closer to the honest problem-solving that is required at a time when we need all of the input and ideas that we can get.

To set the record straight, I did not recommend cutting teachers� wages and benefits. I did recommend looking for ways to keep their increases in line with the community�s ability to pay as part of a larger plan. I did not propose to hold teacher wages and benefits to any particular percentage or to roll back employee wages. I have not suggested that any or all of my ideas would eliminate the total budget gap for next year; I do believe that this is not a zero sum game and that any reduction in the gap is a step in the right direction, an idea that Carol dismisses in her letter.

The larger plan that I have promoted includes changes that Carol and others on the board have rejected: meaningful reductions in administrative staff, serious evaluations of whether we are getting a good return on our investments in educational programs such as reading and math, and reductions in purchasing contracted services.

If we are to solve the serious dilemmas facing our city and our schools, the board must engage in a serious discussion of facts, analyses, ideas, and clear proposals rather than posturing and labels. That is not happening with the current board. A board that calls itself pro-education, pro-teacher and progressive needs to do the serious work involved in keeping teachers and custodians in the buildings and with the kids. As a progressive member of the board, it is my right and my responsibility to continue to promote informed decision-making to make the best use of scarce resources for our schools and for our community.

Ruth Robarts
(see my article: Annual Spring Four Act Play: Madison School's Budget Process)
Member, Board of Education

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 7:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 15, 2005

What is Wrong with this Picture?

The Madison School Board of Education and the District administration are proposing nearly $50 million worth of referenda and are begging for the support of the taxpaying public to significantly raise taxes. At the same time, Superintendent Rainwater bashes the business community for not contributing more tax dollars to fund public education. By accusing businesses of "eating their own young" and "contributing to their own demise" he is creating a very divisive atmosphere that makes it very difficult for taxpayers to see the value in more and more spending for mediocre results.

Ditto for Board President Bill Keys and his remarks about State Legislators, referring to them as "bastards with no regard for human beings." One of the fundamentals for gaining financial support for any effort is to reach out through the development of positive relationships.

These charges leveled by Rainwater and Keys cannot be construed in any way, shape or form as contributing to the development of positive relationships.

Furthermore, the Board and administration are not showing good cause for the need, nor are they showing good stewardship of the increasing amounts of money the District has been receiving from the taxpayers over the past few years. More money does NOT equate with better quality education. Every business operating within the boundaries of the Madison school district pays property taxes to support this school district. Rainwater and the Board continue to put the support of the public school system at risk with their divisive, accusatory and demeaning remarks.

My March 9, 2005 Presentation to the Madison Board of Education [PDF]

Don Severson
Active Citizens for Education

Posted by Don Severson at 5:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carstensen Responds to Robarts 3/15/2005 WSJ

In response to Ruth Robarts' recent letter, stripped of its satire, she is suggesting that paying Madison's school staff less would eliminate the budget gap. Her proposal is that school staff should receive a package of 2.35 percent for salary and benefits combined. There are three major problems with her proposal:
  • This would impose a pay cut on almost all employees, with the deepest cuts affecting the lowest paid staff (educational assistants and food service workers)
  • A 2.35 percent package would save the district about $4.6 millionthere would still be a budget gap of at least $4 million.
  • State law makes such an approach impossible. The qualified economic offer law essentially requires that districts offer at least a 3.8 percent annual increase for salary and benefits combined.
Be wary of last minute proposals that sound good and promise to solve the problem without painful cuts. As a community we need to face the fact that the budget gap we face is real; it is a direct consequence of the state laws and funding decisions that affect all Wisconsin school districts.

/Carol Carstensen, Madison School Board /
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Failing the Wrong Grades (cont'd) - Needs Better High School Preparation

Diane Ravich
It makes no sense to blame the high schools for their ill-prepared incoming students. To really get at the problem, we have to make changes across our educational system. The most important is to stress the importance of academic achievement. Sorry to say, we have a long history of reforms by pedagogues to de-emphasize academic achievement and to make school more "relevant," "fun" and like "real life." These efforts have produced whole-language instruction, where phonics, grammar and spelling are abandoned in favor of "creativity," and fuzzy math, where students are supposed to "construct" their own solutions to math problems instead of finding the right answers.

These are the exact same points Professor Seidenburg, UW Madison, made to the MMSD School Board earlier this year. He also critized the MMSD Superintendent for turning away $10+ million over several years of Reading First federal grant money.

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Wisconsin is not Alone in Budget Crisis

I did a simple search on Google: State budget and school funding. I was not surprised to find Wisconsin sharing in their education funding crisis with many other states. On the first two pages of my search I discovered California, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and New York have news articles about their educational funding "crisis". Each state has it's version of revenue caps, TABOR like situations, or tax restraints that cause their current problem. Some just never raise taxes and can't figure out how to fund a state and local program without taxes. Also interesting to note is Ohio and Illinois legislation funds their local schools at 51% while Washington state legislation is suppose to pay 80%. None of these states actually fund their schools at their promised level just as our federal government fails to fund it's many mandates at it's required level. I find this interesting because each time I watch the "MMSD Budget Horse and Pony Show", as I like to refer to this annually released performance, I am told how awful the state legislation is and that Wisconsin is backwards in its funding of education. While there may be some truth to that, it is comforting to know my state is not the only awful backwards state out there. That comfort however, does not solve the problem. The reason I went on this search is I have twice, maybe more, asked the board to "think outside the box". I decided since the board wants the public to present them with solutions and not complaints that I would find out how other states and communities are financing schools and present these ideas to them before they develop another "sequel".

One state that caught my attention was Virgina. To solve their school funding problem they instituted a half a cent sales tax through out the entire state. This idea was suggested by a think tank organized by Gov. Doyle in Wisconsin but it was quickly run out of Madison. The plan is something to think about,as Virgina just signed their budget that added an additional 759 million dollars to the governors original budget towards public education. I will continue this search and loft new ideas at this site. We need a new way, a creative way to fund education because we are all tired of fighting for our schools and very tired of watching "sequels" with no new plots or twist.
The Virginia link:

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 12:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Failing the Wrong Grades

Diane Ravitch:

While the problems of low achievement and poor high-school graduation rates are clear, however, their solutions are not. The reformist governors, for example, want to require all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. These steps will very likely increase the dropout rate, not reduce it.

To understand why, you have to consider what the high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large numbers are ill prepared in mathematics, science and history.

It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students. If students start high school without the basic skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems, then the governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states' junior high schools.

And that first year of high school is often the most important one - many students who eventually drop out do so after becoming discouraged when they can't earn the credits to advance beyond ninth grade. Ninth grade is often referred to by educators as a "parking lot." This is because social promotion - the endemic practice of moving students up to the next grade whether they have earned it or not - comes to a crashing halt in high school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools Plan 3 Referendums for May

Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes last night's Madison School Board meeting where the board approved going forward with the third of three planned May referendums.

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Gifted kids have special needs, too

The March 13, 2005 issue of the Appleton Post Crescent had the following column by Jennifer Edmondson. She writes:

Before I began researching the topic of �intellectual giftedness,� I thought it was a bunch of trendy education baloney.

During the past four years, my thinking has changed radically. I have read books, called organizations for gifted kids, talked to teachers and parents of gifted kids, and I have attended seminars.

Gifted kids really do exist. More importantly, gifted kids have special needs. If those needs aren�t met, not only is that child doomed, but so is our society.

Let me share a tiny bit of what I have learned about the importance of meeting those needs.

Intellectually gifted is:

An unfortunate term: Every person has a special gift/ability. I wish there were a different term � �intellectually advanced� perhaps.

Being born with a very high IQ: Generally, a 130-135 IQ is considered moderately gifted, 160-plus is exceptionally gifted and 170-plus is extraordinarily gifted.

Usually a hard road: Gifted children tend to be extra sensitive to their environment � sight, sound, touch and smell. The small amount of violence depicted in films such as �Bambi� or �Dumbo� deeply affects some gifted children.

Many feel out of sync with same-aged kids. While they�re the same biological age as their classmates, their thinking processes aren�t. Their thought processes are more complex. They experience things more intensely. They often times are lonely because they don�t fit in.

Parents have the difficult task of trying to make sure their kids are being challenged appropriately. The average child generally is challenged in school. Most times, gifted kids aren�t being challenged. They�re in danger of tuning out and failing, or becoming behavior problems in the classroom.

Having needs similar to those of cognitively disabled kids. Strange but true. Consider a 17-year-old student with the intellect of a 9-year-old. Special educational accommodations are made for him. He needs to learn at his own pace. Any teaching beyond that student�s level is lost.

Now consider a 9-year-old child (in fourth grade) with the intellect of a 17-year-old. Does it make any sense to expect that 9-year-old to survive in fourth grade where she�s taught at a level eight years below her level and pace? We wouldn�t teach the cognitively disabled child at a level eight years above his actual level and pace.

How much would adults learn if they were forced to sit at training sessions taught at the level and pace of kindergarten?

Gifted is not:

The ability to fend for oneself: Gifted children are still children. They�re not born with the knowledge we adults accumulate during a lifetime. They need adults to teach and guide them.

Needing less teaching: Like their cognitively disabled counterparts, gifted kids need more attention, not less. They need instruction at their actual learning level and pace, which usually is not the same as kids their age. This makes more work for teachers, not less.

An elitist category: Some think that �gifted� is an elitist term, that all kids should be treated the same. Many parents and teachers of gifted kids feel that gifted kids are treated the way Cinderella was treated by her evil stepmother and stepsisters.

Consider this: A school forms a Gifted Kids Club. Participants get special outfits identifying them as members of this club. School funds help to pay for their expenses to academic tournaments around the Wisconsin and the U.S. They get paid advisors.

Is this club elitist? Objectionable? Unfair?

Now replace the terms �Gifted Kids Club� with �cheerleading squad,� �athletic team� or �marching band.� Replace �special outfits� with �uniforms.� Replace �advisors� with �coaches.�

Providing adequate programs and staff for cognitively disabled kids is considered necessary and good. Providing adequate programs and staff for sports or other extracurricular activities is considered necessary and good.

Providing adequate programs and staff for gifted kids must be included in what we consider necessary and good.

Jennifer Edmondson is an Appleton resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. She can be reached by e-mail at pcletters at

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March 14, 2005

Biotech: Teachers Key in Setting Student on Biotech Path

"I don't think you're smart enough to be a doctor."

Bernadette Tansey:

People sometimes look at Teresa Ramirez with wide eyes when they find out she comes from Compton.

The city south of Los Angeles is not the hometown that many expect to turn out a biotechnology fellowship winner who's doing research at the National Cancer Institute before applying to medical school.

In Compton, Ramirez was grazed with a bullet when a junior high school classmate dropped a gun he had brought on campus. Some of her classmates joined gangs, and some have already died. She faced skepticism when she said she wanted to be a doctor.

"I came across people, even the priest at my church, who said, 'I don't think you're smart enough to be a doctor.' ''

Many are counting on biotech to drive Wisconsin's economy (and provide the tax base for growing education demands...).

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March 13, 2005

FOIA, Blogshine Sunday & Madison School Board Election sponsored blogshine Sunday, a day when news organizations run stories and editorials in support of public access to government information.

The internet has substantially improved citizen's ability to see who is funding elected officials directly and indirectly.

The Madison City Clerk conveniently posts campaign finance information on their website. I took a quick look at PAC (political action committee) spending on school board races and found this:

Madison School Related PAC's:

  • Citizens for investing in Madison Schools: apparently setup to support the June, 2003 referendum. Current Board Members Bill Keys and Bill Clingan's campaigns contributed to this PAC (1000 and 800 respectively), as did Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) ($1500). This PAC raised and spent more than $30K in 2002/2003.

  • Get Real, a PAC that supported candidates who were not endorsed by Madison Teachers. Get Real raised and spent less than $1,000. Get Real made small donations to unsuccessful candidates Sam Johnson & Melania Alvarez. This organization's campaign finance disclosure documents are signed by former Madison School Board member Nancy Harper.

  • Madison Teachers's Madison Voters raised more than $40K in 2004 and spent about $34K on direct and indirect support of endorsed candidates (Johnny Winston, Jr., Shwaw Vang and Alix Olson - who lost to incumbent Ruth Robarts). MTI Voters July 20, 2004 report [pdf] showed cash on hand of $52K

  • Progressive Dane raised and spent less than $2,000 last year, including small contributions to Johnny Winston, Jr. and Shwaw Vang.
Every active member of the Madison School Board was endorsed by and received direct and indirect support from Madison Teachers, Inc. The only current exception is Ruth Robarts, who, while supported in the past by MTI, was opposed by MTI in her 2004 successful re-election campaign.

Wisconsin has a number of perspectives on this, from Feingold to Sensenbrenner to Doyle:

  • Russ Feingold generally refused 3rd party PAC money during his recent campaigns.
  • Milwaukee Area Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, operating from a safe seat, has taken great advantage of special interest money over the years, accepting 63% of his campaign funds from PAC's during the 2003/2004 cycle.
  • Current Governor Jim Doyle has raised more money faster than former Governor Tommy Thompson (Thompson was known for raising buckets of campaign cash).
  • Milwaukee's recent election difficulties were largely uncovered by Greg Borowski, who writes today about looming threats to our right to know.
What does this all mean? Perhaps nothing or everything. Sensenbrenner, a friend of Hollywood, accepts junkets to Hong Kong.

Closer to home, should Madison School Board candidates accept funds from special interests?

Current Board Member Bill Clingan (Candidate for Seat 6 in the April, 2005 election) chairs the Board's Human Resources Committee which is currently negotiating a new contract with Madison Teachers. This issue was discussed at the recent Northside PTA candidate forum. Carol Carstensen, when asked for a yes or no answer to whether Madison Teachers should spend thousands of dollars to protect incumbents, answered no according to Lee Sensenbrenner. In the same article, Bill Clingan endorsed the rights of PAC's and is proud to have their support. I did not find any PAC contributions to Lawrie Kobza's campaign (pdf); Bill Clingan's opponent or Larry Winkler (pdf) who is running against Carol Carstensen. I'll update this information as additional filings (later in March) occur.

Background Links:

The District has a policy on Board Member's public responsibilities (1540).

Excellent national campaign finance information:

State political information:

In closing, exercise your right to know. Check out these sites and most importantly, vote on April 5, 2005.

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

The inside, unsigned cover page of MMSD's non-budget cut list that tells the public that the administration is protecting math and reading for young children. For $12,000+ per student, the administration will teach our kids to read and to do math - what happened to science and social studies? What happened to educating the whole child or the district's educational framework - engagement, learning and relationships?

You don't put a cut list before a budget - no family would do that with their own budgeting process. How does a board member know where the money is going and how can board members ask needed, important questions about policy and direction? Looking at the proposed cuts in the elementary school you can easily see these cuts harm the academics and academic support for underprivileged child the most � it's hard to determine if consider educating the whole child.

As an example, District administration by proposing a 100% cut to elementary strings is creating an environment where �Underprivileged children will suffer the most,� says Davis in a March 10, 2005 Isthmus article, Axing the Arts. �It�s another way of letting only those who can afford it get the opportunities. The fear is that you�re going to have a very one-sided, warped community, where one world will have all of the exposure and sophistication, and the other world won�t.� There are many alternatives to a 100% cut.

The board needs to say no one group should bear such a burden, especially such young underprivileged children for whom access to opportunity is hard enough already. 100% of this academic curriculum will be cut if the board goes to referendum and the referendum fails.

Open classroom, TAG, fine arts, homeless support advocates are stunned by the cut list. They should be. The administration's proposed cut list has nothing to do with student achievement and everything to do with holding the community hostage and protecting turf. Our current board asks no questions, and they go along for the ride. It's a tiring tactic, and I'm feeling abused this year with the complete elimination of the elementary strings on the chopping block if a referendum fails.

What's on the cut list may be those courses or services that a) district administration does not support (or like, in the case of elementary fine arts) or b) district administration knows board members will put back into the budget, saving the moment, but missing the big picture - student achievement. Without the budget, it's hard for the school board to ask the questions they need to in order to understand where the dollars are being allocated and if these allocations make sense.

Further the cut list is developed could be seen to divide the parent groups, not bring them together. I know this from my experience with the fine arts curriculum. For four years, the administration has targeted this curriculum, in particular elementary strings, mercilessly, without equity in bearing the cuts. This year, the administration took their apparent hostility towards the academic elementary fine arts to a new level, cutting elementary fine arts $1 million (25% cut over the 25% cut last year - 100% of the elementary strings program) while hiding or protecting other areas. Administrators began telling teachers last fall their program was gone next year. Where is academics and children�s achievement in statements like this? Only 9.5 FTEs teach more than 1800+ students in 30 elementary schools.

District administration is keeping extracurricular activities ($2 million) not subject to the results of a referendum - and the administration can bury this information in the budget, because the budget will not be released until May 2005. In the meantime, the administration has everyone focused on the cut list and there is no budget. Board members are not asking questions about what�s in the budget.

What else? MMSD's administration is 25% higher than the state average of #students/administrator - that cost is $2 million. The District administration protects administrators from layoffs, but not teaching positions. Even with revenue caps and the QEO, staffing costs are likely to increase $8-10 million for teachers (an amount for this is already included in the budget gap). Where is the leadership Kathleen Falk demonstrates when presenting a budget - protect employees from layoffs, protect services. MMSD's district administration protects its administrators from layoffs, sacrificing teachers instead.

Is there more? Reading Recovery, which costs $1-2 million has not been discussed. Yet this program was shown to be no more effective than other reading strategies. The board needs to ask for alternatives � needs to see the data, needs to have a public discussion.

What does the District administration do? The public is continuously told that MMSD turned away up to $10+ million in federal funds for reading over several years, because we do it better. We get a seminar on why MMSD is better - no data to support this decision was presented.

Has MMSD done a great job to date? In some areas, you bet, and I believe a large part of that success is the tremendous public support behind the reading goal. But, the children who are challenged the most, are those children for whom the administration is proposing to stay the course, not even looking closely at Laphams' success. I find it hard to believe that MMSD administrators could not figure out a way to make this work. Board members need to tell the Superintendent to follow up with this

These items are only the tip of the iceberg. When the Board does not have the budget, board members cannot discuss the big picture when making decisions. There is no way to keep student achievement as a top priority. we need our board to have these discussions publicly. We need to know how much more mandates are costing, utilities, etc.

Public education is about student achievement - discussions of boundary changes, new schools, maintenance costs need to flow from that objective one would think that would make sense. The confusion is everywhere - boundary changes, new school - why didn't we start from instruction and build the budget out from there.

Our Superintendent says to our School Board, "Board, you have to make a suggestion to replace what's on the cut list. To the Superintendent and the School Board, I ask isn't that your job to provide a budget and alternatives for public discussion. With only one options and no meaningful discussion, there is room only for very limited public discussion, but lots of intimidation."

If we have the education vision, build the budget, down the road, won't we be better able to make our case to the state and to the citizens of Madison for a referendum? I value excellent education, music and art, but I don't trust a cut list that that puts one group of students at risk totally while protecting another group. More than 30% of the elementary strings program students come from underprivileged environments.

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March 12, 2005

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

Jason Shephard, writing in the 3.11.2005 Isthmus:

Music teachers, parents and community activists are already agitating against Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater�s call to eliminate the elementary strings program, as part of a proposed slate of budget cuts.

�This creates a very disturbing environment in the community,� says Marie Breed, executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. �It�s particularly shocking for a strong arts community like Madison to dismiss elementary string education so easily, saying essentially, �We�re not going to support these children.��

By eliminating the fourth- and fifth-grade strings program, Rainwater says the district can cut nearly ten full-time equivalent positions, saving about $500,000 in salaries and another $100,000 in equipment, repairs and books. In all, the district needs to trim $8.6 million to comply with state-imposed revenue caps -- or else secure referendum approval to exceed them.

Breed, a former classroom teacher, says the benefits of the strings program are many, as teachers and parents have attested in recent years of budget debates, in which this program has been a mainstay on the chopping block.

�The strings program is important because it teaches kids about art for the sake of art -� and that teaches humanity,� Breed says. �But it also helps kids work on life skills, on finding pride in accomplishments, and with self-esteem and time management.� She cites research showing a link between studying music and higher scores on academic achievement tests.

David Lovell, chairman of the youth symphony, says lasting damage may be done if the local arts community does not get more involved -� including searching for partnerships to keep programs alive in the school. �I don�t think speaking out on school budgets is traditionally our role,� he says. �But because of what�s been happening, there�s a growing willingness to get involved.�

Richard Davis, a UW-Madison emeritus professor of music and an internationally known bassist, has won dozens of awards in Madison and around the world for his work with young musicians. He worries that the elimination of the strings programs in Madison will be a blow to minority students.

�Underprivileged children will suffer the most,� says Davis. �It�s another way of letting only those who can afford it get the opportunities. The fear is that you�re going to have a very one-sided, warped community, where one world will have all of the exposure and sophistication, and the other world won�t.�

The strings program is just one of many flashpoints for the embattled fine-arts program in Madison schools. Teachers complain about increased class loads and the loss of music rooms. Last fall, a dozen arts teachers petitioned the school board to appoint a committee to craft a �vision� for a fine-arts curriculum; the board took no action.

This week, Rainwater announced that he will wait until the summer to hire a fine-arts coordinator. The position has been vacant since last fall, much to the chagrin of arts advocates.

�This community has clearly told the Madison school district that Madison values music and art,� says citizen activist Barb Schrank. �I�m not sure they�ve been responsive to the community.�

Rhonda Schilling, a music teacher at Thoreau Elementary, says fine-arts teachers are getting fed up with the barrage of budget attacks: �It seems to be year after year in which they are cutting the arts left and right. We�re getting very tired. Clearly our opinions are falling on deaf ears.�

Rainwater�s proposed cuts also include eliminating some athletics programs and reducing to half-time the district�s gay and lesbian outreach position. These cuts, too, are sure to prove controversial.

There are those -- including the two candidates challenging incumbents on the April 5 ballot -- who suggest the board hasn�t been proactive enough in prioritizing cuts. And the contention is sure to continue after the election, as voters will be asked to decide as many as three referendum questions to approve up to $50 million in additional spending.

A meeting Monday night turned ugly when citizen critic Don Severson accused the board of �irresponsible leadership� and slammed its president, Bill Keys, for suggesting in a TV interview that the cost to taxpayers to hold a special election in May, rather than the general election in April, is minimal. In fact, this special election will cost taxpayers about $90,000 extra. Keys angrily said he misspoke on TV based on sloppy notes, then proceeded to question and lecture Severson during what was supposed to be the public comment portion of the meeting.

Board members, at virtually every opportunity, blame the state Legislature for the district�s fiscal crisis. But with no legislative changes in sight, such cries begin to ring hollow.

Moreover, several board members continue to lob bombs at outsiders, while remaining particularly sensitive to criticism directed at them. In recent weeks, Keys has referred to lawmakers as �bastards,� and Juan Jose Lopez has called a local Web site devoted to school issues, open to everyone, �destructive.� On Monday, Lopez also criticized colleague Ruth Robarts for writing an op-ed column that questions the board�s budgeting process, saying Robarts shouldn�t be questioning the process just because she�s upset with the outcome.

In fact, what�s needed is more questioning, not less. Can it really be that there is no other way for the district to operate than to continually point a gun to the head of popular programs and demand of taxpayers, �Give us more money or else?�

Background Links: Strings | Budget Send your thoughts on this issue to the Madison School Board: comments at

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Lawrie Kobza Leads the School Board - Superintendent Art Rainwater's goals

Good for Lawrie! She's leading the School Board and showing Bill Clingan how a board member needs to lead.

At the Northside Planning Council candidates' forum, Lawrie Kobza emphasized that she would have public discussions to set annual measurable goals and objectives for the Superintendent. The last time his goals were set with the School Board was in 2002!!!!!!

Guess what? All of a sudden the Human Resources Committee is meeting to discuss administrator goals - first the meeting was set for March 28th, now it's set for March 14th. But, it's a power point about the process for setting administrators' goals - not their goals. AND, no Superintendent's goals - AGAIN. What does it matter anyway - goals should start the school year, not end the year!!!!!

The Human Resources Committee, which Bill Clingan chairs, has not led the work of this committee, until Lawrie Kobza pointed out the work was not getting done. Mr. Clingan said he was ill with pneumonia last fall. Okay, but he's been chair since last spring, and he has a MMSD staff person assigned to this committee to work with him to set the calendar.

Got to have time to toot your horn during the last few weeks of the campaign, Mr. Clingan! Too little for the district, too late for the public. We see this action for what it is - election year politics!!!!!! Play ball.

For disclosure: I'm Lawrie Kobza's Treasurer

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March 11, 2005

Zaleski: Schools Could use a Makeover

Rob Zaleski:

Among its many features:

Twelve students per class, each equipped with their own laptop computer.

Classes meet not in huge buildings but in small rented sites scattered throughout the area. "The idea of sending 400 - or 1,400 - kids to a central site, as we have now, is madness," Parish told me back in '92. "Especially in today's society, where there are social behaviors that nobody really wants." .....

You don't improve schools by chopping their funding, he says. But he does think the money that schools receive could be better spent.

There's no denying, for instance, that the Madison School District is top-heavy with administrators, he says, or that the schools themselves are run in an extremely inefficient manner.

I find this thinking interesting. We do need to take a look at the process, costs & benefits. Zaleski is incorrect about an "assault on their budgets". Madison school spending has grown over the past 10 years from roughly 194M to 317M in annual spending (and will, according to Roger Price's recent budget presentation, increase 10M in 2005/2006). One can argue about where the money goes, or that more should be spent, but we do indeed spend a great deal on public education (Madison spends 12.9K per student while the national average is 7,734).

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3/7/2005 Madison School Board Meeting Budget Comments

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

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Gladwell on Education

New Yorker writer and author (Blink & Tipping Point) Malcolm Gladwell spoke recently at the UW. He had two comments on education:

  • Students should wear uniforms
  • Math should be taught to each gender separately.
Video/audio clip and links here The clip is great as he provides a very useful example of inadvertent (or maybe not) gender bias.

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March 10, 2005

Reading, Writing, ROI

James Nevels on Philadelphia School Reform:

How did we--teachers, principals and our chief executive, Paul Vallas--do it? We defined the district's "customers" exclusively as the 200,000 children we serve. Not interest groups. Not adult constituencies. We held adults accountable for results.

To start, we instituted businesslike systems. First came a standardized curriculum so that all students would learn what we agreed was most crucial for success and could easily transfer among schools.

Elementary school students now spend two hours a day on reading and 90 minutes on math, double what they spent before. We conduct benchmark testing every six weeks in elementary and middle schools and every four weeks in high schools. This helps teachers to either dedicate more time to a subject in which students are struggling or provide advanced instruction in subjects students have mastered.

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Underheim's lonely visit to Madison

Anita Weier writes a great article on DPI Candidate Gregg Underheim's appearance at a Madison Public Library (The candidate interacts with a retired teacher). Regardless of where you stand on this race, I give Underheim credit for getting out and talking with voters.

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March 9, 2005

Low Turnout for MMSD Public Hearing - Channel 15 NBC Report

There was a small turnout Wednesday night for the first public hearing on whether to hold spring school referendums. NBC 15 MMSD Public Hearing

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Leopold Expansion: Fitchburg City Council Approves Possible Condemnation of Ridgewood Apartments


The Fitchburg city council unanimously approved a redevelopment resolution Tuesday night that calls for a possible condemnation of the Ridgewood Apartments, and may use tax increment financing to support improvements.
These are the apartments across the street from Leopold Elementary. The Board is basing much of its claim that the school will remain at a high capacity due to these low income apartments.

There may be several years until these apartments are full again and will the population and price of these apartments affect the population?

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Vote in the April 5th School Board Election - Next Important Opportunity for Public's Vote to Make a Positive Difference

The most important vote to me is the April 5th School Board election, and I will be voting to change the School Board by voting to elect Lawrie Kobza to Seat 6. If we don�t change the school board, current board members will continue to accept the administration�s recommendations for budget cuts year after year without asking to see the �priorities� that remain in the budget. We need transparency, not smoke and mirrors, and serious school board discussions and decisions at meetings. Download file April 5th Board Election Critical

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March 8, 2005

LaFollette Student Writes About the Achievement Gap

The March issue of the Simpson Street Free Press included this article by Jazmin Jackson about fighting the achievement gap. Ms. Jackson is a 15 year old student at LaFollette High School. She wrote this piece for the paper's Fresh Face section, and graciously consented to let me post her article here.

Don't Be a Statistic: Fight the Achievement Gap
by Jazmin Jackson

So you think �it�s not gangsta, it�s not hot, it�s not cool� to get good grades. Well consider this: It�s the 1820�s. Millions of African Americans are enslaved. A young African American boy would give anything to be able to read, but it�s against the law.

Now, fast forward to the year 2005. A 15 year-old black boy decides to skip school so he can smoke a joint with his crew.

What I want to know is when did it become cool to not get good grades and to not take advantage of the opportunity to learn? In what year did some kids decide that grade point averages could be sacrificed for popularity?

You may not realize it, but there is something called the �minority achievement gap.� If you don�t believe it, just attend a high school graduation ceremony. Count how many minority students are graduating with high honors or even honors. I can guarantee not one high school in Madison has more than 25 minority students graduating with high honors.

But why?

Well, because many African Americans, Asians, Mexicans, and other minority group members decided that it is way cooler to fail in school, become part of a gang, get high, get drunk or spend time souping up their car. It�s a real problem. What I want to know is what causes kids, especially teen minorities, to think this is OK.

You might want to think about life over the next few years. Think about the importance of grades. I know it may not seem like a big deal now, but putting off future plans and trying to earn good grades when you�re a junior and senior in high school just won�t work. Trust me, a 2.0 GPA won�t get you into a good college. The fact is, these days, you won�t go to college at all if you don�t have good grades.

But hey, look at the bright in a dirty, unheated apartment with no food or electricity and no job isn�t that bad, right? Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats having future plans for life.

Many high school students also think that being the top athlete in their school will earn them a free pass into college. Your natural born talents aren�t going to get you there. You�re not born being able to throw down baskets from the other side of the court, and even if you were, college is not going to accept you if you are failing high school.


It�s frustrating being forced into a category that is looked upon as the people who usually receive bad grades in school. Every time a minority student receives a bad grade, it doesn�t just affect that individual. It affects an entire group of students. For those that actually try in school, the difference we make is microscopic.

Come on guys!

The fact that a minority achievement gap even exists is ridiculous. If you�ve ever thought, �that kid only gets good grades because he�s white,� then you definitely need to step back and really look at the situation. Maybe that kid got good grades because he didn�t skip school to go have a cigarette or go to MacDonalds. Where did this peer pressure come from, that it isn�t cool to get good grades?

Today, the pressure to be like your friends, or do what you see on TV to fit in, can be exhausting. I mean come on, you can�t still wear the year old, once white but now gray, tennis shoes, it�s all about having the new G-unit sneakers. I understand, because I feel the pressure too. What I can�t understand though, is that this gap is made up largely by African Americans.

How can that be?

Blacks in America spent about 200 years in slavery. They weren�t allowed to learn to read and write, and if they could and were discovered, the consequences were cruel. Some were beaten, auctioned off, and some were killed. It is those people who suffered for the very thing that you now disrespect. You disrespect them every time you fail in school. Those people would have died--and did, for the chance to sit in the very desk you sleep in.

I can�t imagine what they think of us now.

We need to stop spending time glorifying things that aren�t glamorous: living in a rough neighborhood, not having a way to get to school, failing. These aren�t things to glorify. African American slaves did not walk around talking about how wonderful picking cotton in the blazing sun or getting whipped was. They couldn�t even let on if they knew how to read and write, which is something they took great pride in.

That�s something worth glorifying, and you have the chance to flaunt it, every time you sit in a classroom.

Here�s what I believe: Succeeding in school is cool. We�ve got to start reaching for more and expecting more from ourselves. The teacher doesn�t determine your grades. You do. Set high expectations for yourself.

Lastly, if you happen to be a gangster, have a nice car, like to party or are simply just someone who�s failing--it�s never too late. Just think, by doing something about your grades, you can help fight the so-called achievement gap.

And by the way, no one has to know you read this. You can still be cool. But fighting an achievement gap is just a bonus. Most of all, do it for yourself. Get those A�s for you.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 7:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Strings Cut Plan Blasted by Lee Sensenbrenner, The Capital Times

Strings Plucked: Once again, District administrators attack elementary music and art to the tune of nearly $800,000, including total elimination of the elementary string progam. Their pitch is off and their song is out of tune.

Keys and Carstensen have no plans to reach out to fine arts students and teachers for their support - aren't annual threats of cut classes and lost livelihood enough? In his article Sensenbrenner writes "...School Board President Bill Keys said he hoped that strings supporters would help the district pass the spring referendums.

But neither he nor fellow board member Carol Carstensen said they had a ready plan to convince strings supporters - stung to see the whole program on the chopping block - to be a helping hand, not a pounding fist."

Monday night Mr. Keys said that the Overture Center was not a metaphor for MMSD's fine arts - however, the fine arts vision of those who brought Overture is what inspires.

Ms. Carstensen said she had tried to raise money throught the Founation for Madison Public Schools - I worked with her on those fundraisers. they were not designed to fund a fine arts curriculum but rather were meant to have an endowment for grants for creative projects for existing fine arts curriculum. further the foundation for Madison's public schools, at the time, was not making grants for existing MMSD programs. That policy is now changing and may provide an opportunity to pursue.

If our leaders look at the glass as half empty that's what we'll get - a half empty glass. You never finish a painting unless you begin, you never get to the fourth movement of a symphony unless you start playing, etc. Failed expectations won't get us where we need to go and it's not up to two people - we need the community at the table.

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Comments to School Board - Where Are You Putting Your Increased Revenue for Next Year, Why Do You Form Collaborations With Parents and the Community for Sports, Pets but after Four Years - Still Fail to Collaborate with the Community on Fine Arts?

Dear School Board Members,

Good evening. I plan to comment on the following � a) net reductions in classroom instruction budgets while the total budget grew this year, b) cutting elementary strings 100 % inequitably targets low income (minority) children and says you do not deserve what others in Madison have, c) limited options offered to the public and pursued by the board - fourth year that the board has not pursued with parents and the community ideas and possibilities for collaborations/partnerships for fine arts.

The budget discussion items document distributed last week is not a budget it�s only one option of cuts. The board needs to ask where the increased revenue dollars for next year will be spent and they need to ask for additional sets of budget cut options.

Annually advancing only one set of a seemingly random list of cuts out of context of where the money will be spent makes parents and voters skeptical about the board�s decisionmaking ability and this year public skepticism will threaten the passage of an operating referendum for instruction.

We may very well need money for instruction, but what do we need and what options can we pursue � referendum, private funds, grants for what Madison values. The current school board will not get people to vote for a referendum if what Madison values is threatened and important questions are not asked now. Voters will not have confidence in how and where the money is being spent and in how the board is protecting children�s learning and achievement through alternatives.

We cannot continue the path of current decisionmaking, because this board continues to lead us toward a narrow, conservative vision for public education bankrupting our children�s learning.

Download comments to School Board on Budget

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March 7, 2005

Waukesha School District's Virtual School Takes Off

Amy Hetzner:

Nearly 1,000 students statewide have applied to attend the Waukesha School District's virtual high school, raising school administrators' expectations that enrollment could hit 750 in the school's second year.
I find this fascinating - a public district going for new business via the net (money follows the students). An education professional recently suggested to me that every student should be required to take one virtual class. Seems like a good idea. After all, we all learn a great deal online these days.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Funding Update

I received the following email update from Tom Beebe ( on school funding:

Exciting week for school-funding reform advocates
Florence High School is newest school to join Youth ROC
Baraboo brings WAES school district partnerships to 41
Two more school-funding forums held
WCCF analyzes Governor�s budget
Still not too late to tell the Governor to veto AB58

School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan -- a proposal for school-finance reform -- is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.
Exciting week for school-funding reform advocates

For those rooting for school-funding reform─especially as a partner in WAES─it�s been an exciting week.

Governor Jim Doyle has started to release more of his 2005-07 budget. In addition to $850 million in property tax relief � by increasing state aid to public schools � the governor also included $90 million in new money in the form of additional categorical aid. Although it accounts for only modest increases, they are significant and signal the need for more revenue.

Most recently, the Governor talked about $30.9 million in transportation aid over the next two years. If approved, it would be the first increase in 15 years. To see the press release and the increase for selected districts, go to To see the project transportation aid for all districts, go to .

Equally as exciting, 74th District Rep. Gary Sherman, a Port Wing Democrat, says he will be introducing a bill to radically change the way Wisconsin funds its public schools, starting with the cost-out recommended by WAES. According to Rep. Sherman�s press release (, �the bill requires a study of the costs of providing an adequate education under the widely varying circumstances throughout the state.�
Florence High School is newest school to join Youth ROC

After taking part on the losing side in a bitterly fought referendum to keep their school district running, Florence High School students have regrouped and stepped up their commitment to school-funding reform by joining Youth ROC.

Youth Reclaiming Our Communities─or Youth ROC─is a statewide program for high school students who are committed to building a youth movement around school-funding reform.

Florence, located in northeastern Wisconsin, is in danger of losing its schools because of the state funding system. �If our community loses its school,� said junior Sadie Wendt, we lose everything. People won�t want to move here anymore. Florence would turn into a ghost town.�

With the addition of Florence, the Youth ROC organizing team now numbers 51 students from nine schools in six districts, with dozens more involved in local school clubs. To join the student coalition or learn more, go to
Baraboo brings WAES school district partnerships to 41

The Baraboo School District in central Wisconsin is the newest partner in the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools. It becomes the 41st school district in the diverse, statewide, and broad-based coalition and the 89th organization. To see all of the WAES partners, go to

WAES partners believe in four core principles ( schools need additional resources; the new funding system needs to be a foundation system based on the needs of all students; local control must be maintained and expanded; and new revenue cannot come from property taxpayers.

Learn how you can join by going to
Two more school-funding forums held

Two more school-funding reform community forums were held recently, one in Kenosha on Feb. 19 and the second, March 3, in Stevens Point. The next forum will be held tonight, March 7, at Fall River High School.

Tonight's forum is being co-sponsored by the Columbia-Sauk County League of Women Voters the school districts of Beaver Dam, Columbus, Fall River, and Marshall; and the Columbus Education Association. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Fall River High School (150 Bradley Street). The agenda includes presentations from WAES, the Governor�s office, and the Department of Public Instruction, as well as a discussion by panel members including students, teachers, school administrators, and parents.

Over 100 people attended the March 3 forum at the Charles White Library in Stevens Point. It featured Dean Ryerson, superintendent of the Wisconsin Rapids School District and a member of the Governor�s Task Force on Educational Excellence ( Rep. John Lehman, Democrat from Racine and the 62nd Assembly District, and 22nd District Sen. Bob Wirch, a Democrat from Pleasant Prairie, headlined the Racine-Kenosha forum in late February. You can read more about both of them at .
WCCF analyzes Governor�s budget

Governor Jim Doyle�s budget has a significant impact on children and families, not just through public school-funding changes, but also through many other public school related issues.

The Wisconsin Council of Children and Families (WCCF) has done an excellent job of breaking the budget, now known as AB100, down and showing its impact in an understandable format. It can be found at

WCCF is nonprofit, multi-issue child and family advocacy agency.
Still not too late to tell the Governor to veto AB58

While Governor Jim Doyle�s budget protects public school funding, the majority party's answer, Assembly Bill 58, freezes taxes and could actually further reduce public school aid (see for a comparison of the two).

AB58, passed by the Assembly and the Senate, has not been sent to the Governor, yet. He said he will veto it, but, according to press accounts, the majority party is hoping a ground swell of opinion will convince him to sign the freeze legislation.

We can't afford to let that happen. Contact the Governor now and urge him to veto AB58. Supporters of the freeze are sending out mass answering machine messages. You need to do your part in countering this ploy.

You can e-mail Gov. Doyle at, call him at 608-266-1212, or fax him at 608-267-8963.
School-funding reform calendar
March 7 -- Columbus area "School-funding reform community forum" in the auditorium at Fall River High School (contact Ken Bates at or 920-623-5950)
Postponed ... March 10 -- School-funding reform presentation sponsored by Project ABC in Waukesha at 7 p.m.

March 11 -- School-funding reform presentation at Edgewood College in Madison
March 12 -- School-funding reform presentation at the AFT-Wisconsin conference in Superior
March 16 -- School-funding reform presentation in Wausau for Marian College education program
April 14 -- School-funding reform presentation in Baraboo

Please feel free to share your copy of the WAES school-funding update with anyone interested in school-finance reform. Contact Tom Beebe ( at 414-384-9094 for details.
Thomas S. Beebe, Education Outreach Specialist
Institute for Wisconsin's Future
1717 South 12th Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53204
414-384-9094 (voice)
414-384-9098 (fax)
920-650-0525 (cell)

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Leopold Expansion - Trust but verify

There has been a good deal of debate over suggestions that the proposed plans to add a second building to the Leopold School site would create a "megaschool" of undesirable proportions. Arguing that 'everyone' knew that the physically linked (MMSD calls it 'paired') schools would have a combined enrollment of more than 1100 students, proponents of the administration's plan are confident that a school this size would have no additional challenges or needs. The idea that the addition should be built but for a smaller number of students is considered heresy by those who fear critical assessment of administration ideas.

Anyone who is interested in the debate - pro, con, apathetic - will benefit from taking a close look at the schematics for the addition, which are available on-line at:

Of particular interest is the size/layout of the cafeteria(s) [one room separated by a folding divider], the number of ESL class rooms for a school that can be expected to have 250 - 300 ESL students, and the size/location of the playground space, parking lots, and school bus drop off/pick up locations.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kobza on Madison School Board Decision Making

Madison School Board Candidate and Sherman PTO President Lawrie Lobza on School Board decision making.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 6, 2005

New Building On Leopold School Site Referendum

Overseeing the building of a new school on the Leopold site is one of the responsibilities of the Long Range Planning committee, of which I am a member. On this committee, board and citizen members have voted to ask the public via referendum to build a school on the Leopold grounds. This has been part of a long-range plan for quite some time. In 1988, I worked at Leopold Elementary School as a Parent-Community Liaison. My supervisor was the late Don Stern who was Principal at the time. Mr. Stern always told me that Leopold was the biggest elementary school in the district and the Leopold community was going to get bigger. Despite Leopold being the biggest elementary school, he had no Assistant Principal. This was never a burden for him. He loved Leopold School. But he knew that eventually another school would be built on the property. He told me this, and this was in the late 80’s!

I’m not supporting this building referendum only because of Mr. Stern. I’m supporting this because it is the right thing to do. The Leopold neighborhood has grown by leaps and bounds as will the whole Westside of Madison. The increased enrollment dictates that something must be done to alleviate the overcrowding in the school. Building on the current grounds is a fiscally efficient thing to do. Building else where in the community would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project. Building a smaller facility with a reduced capacity puts the community back in the same place it is now and will cause additional overcrowding at other west side schools. Not building a school on the Leopold site will increase the timetable for which another new school will have to be built on the far west side of Madison. One thing that is for certain, as these new developments are built and enrollments increase on the far west and far east sides of Madison, new schools will need to be built. The effect of this action will cause closing schools to be strongly considered on the north side and Isthmus. Future school boards will make these difficult decisions in five to ten years as growth dictates or perhaps even sooner as the financial challenges warrant.

The current school board receives many opinions regarding its lack of long range planning. In the case of Leopold, a great deal of planning has been done for the new school. The PTO, community leaders, parents, teachers and students have been heard loud and clear. This is what they want. If there are additional questions and concerns, they need to be addressed in the Long Range Planning committee. We have yet to have such concerns placed on the agenda. Anyone who has a dissenting opinion should use the Long Range Planning committee meetings as a forum to vent their concerns. Although, I am supportive of building a new building on the Leopold grounds, I want to hear from those who might question this logic or have concerns. Once these concerns are addressed, school board members can make an informed decision and be able to live with their decision and the decision of the voters on May 24th.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 6:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Leopold Referendum Forum 3/1/2005 Video Clips

These video clips were taken from the March 1, 2005 Long Range Planning Meeting on the proposed Leopold Referendum (arranged in discussion length order):

Mary Kay Battaglia 48.8MBBeth Zurbachen 47.3MBArlene Silveira 23.5MB
Tony Dassler 23.4MBLori Rinehart 10.6MBMira Capella 6.2MB
Janet Morrow 6MBJudy Olson 5.7MBChris Hammer 5.4MB
Kris Kolar 4.9MBEric Wilcox 4.7MBKristi 2.9MB
Meg Kates 1MB

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 5, 2005

I'd like to ask more about rejecting $2 million for reading

Barb Schrank started a discussion below about questions people would like to ask the board and superintendent during the MMSD's budget deliberations. Here post actually hasn't generated much discussion, so I'm re-posting the questions that I'd like to ask:

I'd like the Board and Superintendent to tell the community more about why the Superintendent choose not to use the Reading First funds ($2 million approximately) to expand Read 180 which is currently used and supported by the district.

Here's what was reported in the newspaper about Read 180: "Read 180 has expanded from a pilot program at Wright Middle School in the 2001-02 school year to 15 schools serving 1,100 students, said Sharyn Stumpf, secondary language arts resource teacher. The district wants to add 150 more students and upgrade materials, which would cost about $154,400." You can read the full story here.

Read 180 is a highly scripted program, but the district said it didn't want the Reading First funds because they would have to be used for a highly scripted reading program. Read 180 is so highly scripted that the students work on a computer. What could be more scripted?

The district rejected the money because the scripted Reading First programs would take the teacher out of the learning process, so the Superintendent said. Yet, Read 180 takes the teacher completely out of the teaching process when the student works at a computer.

The Superintendent said the district didn't want the Reading First funds because the federal government has no place in directing the education of Madison children. If that's true, will the Superintendent and school board return ALL federal money that requires the district to meet certain standards or provide certain programs?

There have to be other reasons for why the Superintendent decided not to pursue $2 million in federal funds. What were the REAL reasons? There's more behind the decision than anyone has been told. I'd like parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers to press for answers.

Ed Blume

See the Web site for Read 180 here.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Failed Budget Governance: Start with Where Your Money Went this Year Compared to a Year Ago - Not with Cuts Out of Context

Our School Board is beginning a budget dialogue with the community using budget cut discussion items - wrong!

A first place for the Board to start budget discussions would be to look at where the money went last year (Download Comparison of 03-04 budget vs. 04-05 budget)

Where did the budget increase? Building Services, Student Services, Human Resources and Education Services - $18.3 million

Where was the budget cut? Elementary, Middle and High Schools took the biggest cuts - $2.1 million.

The MMSD School Board needs to start here, ask for an estimate of revenues for 05-06 and ask for scenarios with different allocations of these revenues. The School Board would then have a place to start a dialogue with the community.

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

Failed Governance: No budget, yet cuts

Last May, I wrote an opinion piece that was printed in The Capital Times. Since then, little has changed on the School Board and we are re-opening the "Spring Budget Drama" that continues to fail children's learning and achievement. We are presented with no budget, but instead with budget discussion items and NO strategies.

What I wrote last May I feel is just as true today, sadly - very sadly.

May 29, 2004 - The Capital times
Barbara Schrank: Madison School Board needs more thoughtful budget process

It's true, there isn't any windfall to be found in next year's Madison school budget. But small changes in the budget could have a major effect on Madison's families and direct educational services to our children.

The following opinion piece was published in The Capital Times on Saturday, May 29, 2004.

Barbara Schrank: Madison School Board needs more thoughtful budget process

By Barbara Schrank
May 29, 2004

It's true, there isn't any windfall to be found in next year's Madison school budget. But small changes in the budget could have a major effect on Madison's families and direct educational services to our children.

During the final 2004-05 school budget discussions May 17, Shwaw Vang recommended that the School Board more carefully examine purchased services, operations and miscellaneous budget categories that total millions of dollars before making final budget decisions, stating that to do otherwise would balance the budget on the backs of children. The board majority (Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys and Juan Jose Lopez) did not support his recommendation.

Johnny Winston suggested that the board prioritize its work before making any final decisions. He also received no support from the board majority.

Earlier in the evening, Ruth Robarts proposed tabling discussion of a $500,000 increase in the administrators' salary and benefits until board members knew the final cuts they would be facing. Her proposal was voted down without discussion.

Rather, the majority appeared to be in a rush to approve the 2004-05 budget. The board didn't need to finalize the budget until June 30; it needed to decide what, if any, layoffs there might be before May 24.

Board members need to know what the administration's measurable goals and objectives for next year's proposed expenditures by department will be. Yet the only descriptive writing included in the 2004-05 budget document stated that last year's budget figures could not be compared to the proposed budget figures, because a new accounting system had been put in place. How can the majority of the board feel comfortable with their decision without this information?

Board members need to know what major changes in expenditures are forecasted from year to year, and they should not have to ask for this basic budget information or piece it together from previous handouts and reports. How can the board decide whether to go to referendum without discussing proposed budget changes from year to year? How do board members expect to make this clear to the Madison community?

At no time during the past two months did I sit in on any meeting that included discussions of the entire budget for next year. During the past two months, the primary focus of board members was almost exclusively on the $10 million cut list, which is less than 5 percent of the $308 million budget. That's like examining one leaf on a tree in a national forest.

The only board discussion May 17 about new fees for next year lasted little more than an hour yet added nearly $400,000 to parents' budgets next September for textbook, athletic and music fees.

Prior to that meeting, the board had not invited the booster clubs, parents, community members and coaches to work out budget and funding strategies for extracurricular sports. Maybe changes in the budget allocations might have negated additional fees. Without discussions of this sort, it's hard to know.

Neither had the board during the past two years invited the music community or parents to develop strategies that would curtail the degradation in the music and art curriculums and would not result in fees that could prove to be a barrier to student participation in the popular elementary strings curriculum.

Along with others in the community, I have been asking the administration for these discussions for two years but to no avail. I can only assume the same is true for teachers, students and families facing reduced services in special education and in the schools.

These groups are strong backers of Madison's public schools, and their continued support and hard work will be needed to help the School Board pass any future referendum. Madison's School Board needs to include these groups in a meaningful way in future budget discussions right from the beginning.

The community should expect that the elected officials who oversee a $300 million-plus budget that affects nearly 25,000 children, several thousand employees and thousands of taxpayers would devote greater concentration and effort to their "final" budget discussions.

From my personal business experience and my recent immersion in the district's school budget process, I've learned there are no shortcuts to budgeting. It's critically important to have a vision, measurable goals and objectives, and specific strategies to reach your vision.

Madison's School Board has some of those pieces in place and has been making improvements to its budget process. However, I'm hoping that board members take the time this summer and next year to develop and refine their vision for the next three to five years and that they engage the community in developing that vision

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March 4, 2005

Annual Spring Four Act Play: Madison School's Budget Process

Spring is definitely coming. On February 17, the Madison School Board performed Act 1 of the four-act play that is our annual school budget process.

Act 1 is the unveiling of the Budget Forecast. In this Act, the administration solemnly announces that the district faces-once again-"The Budget Gap". The Budget Gap is the difference between what the Board wants to spend and what we can spend without a successful referendum to increase operating funds. It is not a gap caused by a drop in state funding.

To nobody's surprise, the Budget Gap is big and ugly. Under current state law, revenues from property taxes will increase about 2.35% for next year. However, the administration's "same service" budget requires a revenue increase of more than 4%. The Gap for next year is $8.6M.

Next will come a chorus of threats to slash programs and staff to "close the gap". District staff will come on stage bearing long lists of positions and programs cut in previous years to close the gap. The mood will be ominous when the curtain comes down on Act 1.

On March 7, Act 2 opens with the administration revealing--- with great reluctance--- the annual "Cut List". On the Cut List will be programs that motivate our kids to excel at school, such as fine arts, extracurricular sports, environmental field trips, and classes for students with special talent. Also on the list will be staff positions that assist kids with special problems, such as choosing classes and colleges, overcoming difficult home circumstances, learning job skills, or having special educational needs. School custodians may again appear on the Cut List, but not central administrators. "We have no choice" is the theme of Act 2.

Act 2 also involves hundreds of "extras"-parents, teachers and concerned citizens-who will line up to tell the Board why it must reject the proposed cuts. Sometimes the Madison teachers union joins the chorus to demand a referendum.

In Act 3, known as the "Board Amendments", the Board strives mightily to close the gap. Board members propose higher and higher fees to prevent the cuts, not telling the public that the fees don't actually go to help the threatened programs. They just help balance the budget until next year. Act 3 ends after Board members have faced off to "save" some programs or staff by hiking fees, increasing costs for textbooks or gutting the emergency reserve for the coming year. Act 3 is our version of "The Survivor".

Act 4 act requires audience participation. Having again watched the Board discover the Budget Gap, react to the Cut List and fight over the Budget Amendments, the public is finally drawn onto the stage for the grand finale, the Referendum. In Act 4 the community divides into camps in preparation for voting, an unfortunate ending to the play, but one predestined by the Board's willingness to stick with last year's script rather than write a new one.

Call me an optimist, but I believe that the Board of Education could write a new play. It would begin by changing its role. For starters, the Board could stop granting employee wage and benefit increases that exceed the increases going to district tax-payers. It could direct administration to cease budgeting on a "same service" basis. It could require that expensive programs be evaluated for effectiveness. It could tell administration not to reject millions of federal dollars without Board consultation. It could cut back on outside contracting and "buy outs" of staff contracts. It could direct administration to aggressively pursue partnerships with the community to shore up the fine arts and extracurricular sports programs.

We'd still be struggling to fund high quality, comprehensive programs in the face of inadequate state and federal funding and over-reliance on the residential property tax. However, we might have a better chance of getting the community to come on stage in Act 1 to help us decide which programs make the most sense for our children and how to combine private and tax dollars to fund those programs.

Ruth Robarts

Madison School Board Member

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 8:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Upcoming Education Events

Our calendar is a useful place to checkout local education related events. There are several worthwhile events over the next few weeks (send yours in by clicking on the "Ideas" link at the top of our home page. We'll post it).

  • School Board Candidate Diversity Forum (MAFAAC) 3/12/2005 @ Edgewood. 5:00p.m. Maps, links and information here.
  • Gregg Underheim, candidate for Wisconsin State DPI Superintendent is holding a Public Forum at the Lakeview Branch of the Madison Public Library Wednesday March 9th at 6:00p.m. [Maps & Driving Directions] note: we'll of course post events for Underheim's opponent, incumbent Libby Burmaster as well
  • Arlene Silveira emails that several westside PTO's are sponsoring a Madison Schools Candidate Forum on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 at Cherokee Middle School [Map & Driving Directions] from 7 to 8:30p.m. [pdf flyer]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools Budget Change Information/Links

The Madison School District's Administration announced a series of 2005/2006 budget changes (eliminate some programs, reduce the increase in others, eliminate some positions). The overall budget will increase by about 10M+, from 316.8M in 2004/2005 to 327.7M in 2005/2006 (via Roger Price's recent budget presentation. [slides pdf]).

Read the District's introduction to the discussion items by clicking on the link below. This intro summarizes the priorities the Administration used to create the proposed budget changes (page 1 of the pdf link).

After 10 years of continually reducing services to our children and community, putting this budget together has been a difficult and heart wrenching experience for the Administration. We are long past the time that we can solve our revenue cap problems by being more efficient or eliminating things that are �nice but not necessary.�

This year�s budget cuts include things that all of us value, believe in and which make our District one of the best in the country. Placing these services on the reduction list has been the most difficult decision that the Management Team members have ever faced. The Team has been guided throughout the process by the Board of Education�s directive to utilize the District�s strategic plan in making its decisions. In addition to using the Strategic Priorities delineated in the Strategic Plan we utilized the Board of Education�s three goals in determining its priorities for making the service reductions:

  • All students complete 3rd grade reading at grade level or beyond.
  • All students complete Algebra by the end of 9th grade and Geometry by the end of 10th grade.
  • The district-wide attendance rate is at least 94%.

In keeping with these goals, we have sought first to protect the reading and mathematics instruction in our primary grades. Every effort has been made to keep small class sizes and to keep reading interventions, mathematics instruction and staff development focused on these first critical grades.

Research shows that children who are successful at this early stage of their education are successful learners throughout their K-12 experience.

Our next priority was to protect classroom instruction and safety in our middle and high schools. Although it was necessary to make some reductions in staff in these schools, we have protected the fundamental instructional needs and supported the measures necessary to maintain safety at each level.

Our decision to place the highest priority on these programs meets the Board of Education�s direction to follow the Board�s priorities and goals in making our recommendations. By prioritizing our limited resources to assure that children can successfully meet the Board�s goals, many other very important things must be reduced or eliminated. We recognize their importance and value but realize we can no longer keep them a reality in our district.

Every year, all of our staff are called on to give more to keep our children�s education sound. This year will be no different. The Board of Education will weigh our recommendations and make the final decisions that it feels are in the best interest of our students and our community. We wish the situation were different, but it is our reality.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent Art Rainwater Proposes to Decimate Fine Arts: Turns Back on Curriculum and Academic Achievement Benefits of Fine Arts Education - Fails to Work with the Community, Year After Year

Superintendent Art Rainwater proposes (2005-2006 Budget Discussion Items)to cut another $1 million in elementary music and art education once again this year without any prior curriculum review and assessment of impact on children's learning and achievement - that would have involved teachers and the community.



Here's the Information:
Superintendent's Proposed Fine Arts Cuts - Released to MMSD Board of Education yesterday:

Eliminate elementary strings curriculum 9.8 FTEs $496,860
Double up Special classes in Grade 1 5-7.5 FTEs $253,500-$380,250
Total Impact on Fine Arts Curriculum 14.8-17.3 FTEs $750,367-$877,110

plus another $100,000 in instrument purchase and repair budget.

Total existing k-12 Fine Arts budget approximately $7 million which is 2% of the total budget. Superintendent Art Rainwater's proposed cut would eliminate 14% of the existing fine arts budget - 100% of the elementary string teachers who likely would be laid off as they are specialized and not easily transferred. They're also not administrators, none of whom are at risk of layoff.

History of Holding Hostage a Community that Values Music and Art Education:

Spring 2002 - Superintendent Art Rainwater proposes to cut 4th grade elementary strings course.
Community rallies - course reinstated.

Spring 2003 - - Superintendent Art Rainwater proposes to cut 4th grade string course if referendum fails unless fee imposed.
School Board approves all increases in fees if referendum fails EXCEPT the proposed fee for elementary string course.

Spring 2004 - Bill Keys explores $600 elementary string course fee, Bill Clingan proposes to cut Fine Arts Coordinator, Superintendent Rainwater increases elementary music and art section, Johnny Winston Jr. proposes $50 participation fee for elementary string course. Superintendent Rainwater cuts $70,000 instrument budget. All proposals passed.

Spring 2005 - Superintendent Art Rainwater proposes elimination of elementary strings course, elimination of string budget, elimination of instrument repair budget, doubling of class sizes for elementary music and art in grade 1.

Summary -
WI statutes set parameters for skill areas, but the statutes require the local School Board to approve curriculum. Our school board does not want to approve curriculum, saying we're not the experts. That's true but being an expert in a specific curriculum is not needed to ask the right "board appropriate" questions and to be sure that policies are followed and procedures are put in place to protect children's learning. Madison's school board has no written procedures for designing, implementing, evaluating and changing curriculum. Our school board, not the Superintendent, is responsible for overseeing what our children learn and the results of that learning.

Further, rather than listenting and responding to the community's value of fine arts education and researching the growing body of independent test results showing positive impacts on math and reading scores for low income children; our Superintendent, after another year of stonewalling requests from teachers and the community to form a working group to explore financial strategies; doesn't think that is necessary, yet wants us to believe he has to cut $8+ million and has no choice but to make the tough decisions. Hogwash. We want him to do the tough work - keep what contributes to academic achievement, madison values and what makes children's education worthwhile.

Posted by at 12:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 3, 2005

Open Forum: Questions the Community Would Like to See the School Board Asking the Superintendent

I�m beginning a list of questions I�d like to see the School Board discuss and use to direct the Superintendent when the District�s budget is developed using this blog as a public forum. The state and federal governments are not holding up their end of school financing, yet our school board members need to develop a budget and to make preliminary operating decisions by June 30, 2005.

I�ve left the comments open for this blog and would like to hear what questions others might like to see the board discuss and provide further direction to the Superintendent during the budget process so that we develop a budget that puts children�s learning, academic excellence and achievement as the highest priority for our children this year and in succeeding years. I think our attention locally needs to be on how can we develop the best budget for these priorities so that we know what our funding challenges are for next year and will have better information for a referendum.

"New Revenues"
What are the expected amounts of new revenues forecasted for next year from general state fund, property taxes, lowered salaries from retirees, special education � state and federal, English as a second language � state and federal, NCLB grant monies, etc.? How is the Superintendent proposing to allocate these resources? How does the board want these resources allocated?

Costs of School Board Priorities

What are the costs of the school board�s priorities � third grade reading, algebra 9th grade, 10th grade geometry, 94% attendance? How are those dollars allocated across all children and what dollars are spent on services for children who need help reaching these priorities and children who need resources, because they exceed these basic priorities.

Consider Alternative Planning/Budget Scenarios

What other budget scenarios make sense for the school board to review in the current fiscal situation so that children�s learning is not the Plan B that is put at risk? Let�s start by seeing a budget that puts all new revenue into elementary and secondary schools and the support for children � curriculum, special ed, English as a second language. Yes, this means the cuts will be deeper in other areas � but let�s have the specifics and let�s have an open, public discussion about our options/priorities for allocating resources.
Why Did the Superintendent Without Board Discussion Not Pursue Further Reading First - What Are Our Results With Kids at Risk Learning With Different Reading Curricula - What's Lapham Telling Us?
What was the process the administration and the school board went through to decide why the district did not need the Reading First money? What do our results show for our reading curricula for low income children at risk of not reaching the reading goal? What does this cost? Are we effectively reaching the children who need the most help? What results are we seeing with direct instruction at Lapham elementary school? What are the costs? Are more children at risk for reading reached more academically effectively and cost effectively with direct instruction ?

What Is the Board Doing About Developing Partnerships and Pursuing Alternative Funding Sources for the Arts and Extracurricular Sports?

What steps has the board taken to seek alternative approaches and to secure funding for what Madison values � sports, fine arts, ropes challenge, other? What has the board done to determine the costs of extracurricular activities and what the district can afford to pay?
What are Your Questions? Log onto Comments and share them.

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Board Members on the Referendums

Lee Sensenbrenner chats with current Madison School Board Members on the upcoming referendums.

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New Partnership Between School District and UW

It is amazing what can be accomplished without a school board meeting! As chair of the partnership committee, I know the importance of developing partnerships with our community. This is the challenge of being elected to represent a school district that is getting increasingly diverse with more students of color and more students with fewer socio-economic resources. In addition, the entire school district has fewer financial resources due to state imposed revenue caps. For these reasons, different approaches need to be utilized to further resources and strengthen partnerships with organizations that have similar goals.

I am pleased to announce that the Madison Metropolitan School District and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have entered into a partnership that will strengthen recruitment efforts and solidify one years worth of funding for the Minority Services Coordinator (MSC) position. This position has been very vital to the School Board’s goal of closing the achievement gap by working with racial and ethnic minority students since 1973. The position was created and developed by the late Joe Thomas of West High School. Without this partnership, the MSC position would have fallen victim to budget cuts.

Superintendent Rainwater shared these remarks with the entire school board:
“We have entered into a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to share the services and funding of the Minority Services Coordinators in each of our high schools. This partnership will enable us to keep the Minority Services Coordinators in the schools and further enhance their ability to assist both us and the University with our minority students as they prepare to enter college.”

This partnership is made possible because of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's efforts to encourage post-secondary education for Wisconsin disadvantaged and minority students. The funding will come from the PEOPLE (Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) Program currently serving approximately 800 high school and middle school students from public schools in Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Menominee Nation.

The program emphasizes enrichment in math, science and writing, and incorporates technology as an integral part of the curriculum. Students build study skills and receive information on college preparation and testing, academic and career options, and other subjects to foster graduation from high school and success in college.

Those who complete the pre-college portion of the program and are accepted for admission to UW-Madison receive a tuition scholarship for up to five years. This program is designed for African-American, American Indian, Southeast Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino and disadvantaged students. The program was launched in 1999 as part of the UW-Madison's Plan 2008 to enhance campus diversity.

This partnership between the district and University would not have happened without the leadership and foresight of Assistant Dean in the School of Education, Walter Lane; Special Assistant to the Chancellor, LaMarr Billups; Vice Chancellor for Administration, Darrell Bazzell; Chancellor John Wiley, Superintendent Rainwater and the Madison School Board.

While I’m very happy to announce this partnership, I am saddened about the $8.6 million dollars worth of budget cuts. Although I know there will be no partnerships to solve $8.6 million dollars worth of services, perhaps this is the beginning to having serious discussions to create more partnerships that will be mutually beneficial to the school district and other organizations dedicated to the same goal of educating our students.

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Budget Process - Cuts and What Else is Next

Superintendent Art Rainwater's proposed budget cuts to balance his estimated Same Service budget forecast to expected revenues are being released to the public today. Prior to this release, the only information the school board has received relative to the budget is a macro-forecast of revenue/expenditures - assumptions about salary and wage increases, percent increase assumption for all other services, and 4% increase for MSCR expenses, for example.

At the macro-level, basically, the admin. made assumptions about increases in salaries and benefits (all contracts finalized for the major staff categories except for the teachers (current contract expires in June 2005). If you assume a 4% increase for salary AND benefits (health costs are rising outrageously for all, the teacher contract cost will be about $9-10+ million in new funds for next year. All the other labor contracts cost less than $5 million in new money, because teachers are the largest labor force in any school district.

Between the time of the release of the macro-forecast that estimated an $8+ million revenue gap and the release of the Superintendent's proposed cuts, there have been no discussions of a) estimated revenues for next year, including revenue from lowered salaries for new employees due to retirement of employees, b) allocation of new revenue dollars by area, direction of priorities from the board to the administration - priority for certain areas, c) no evaluation of existing curricula to determine what's working/not working - with teacher and parent input - as well as what the curricula is costing. The Performance and Achievement Committee has met frequently, but as one of the candidates said at the candidate forum on Tuesday, March 1st - basically dog and pony shows with no meaningful results, costs or discussions of strengths/weaknesses of curriculum.

The budget process has remained the same for the past several years that I've been attending board meetings. Release of macro-forecast for a same service budget in February with revenue gap, release of a cut list in mid-March, release of administration allocation of budget dollars to departments and schools in late March/early April based upon the administration's macro-forecast and cut list. Finally, the budget of the detailed same service budget by department is released in May 2005 followed by at least one public hearing.

At no time, after the release the revenue gap or the budget cut list, does the board typically meet to discuss requesting the administration to develop different scenarios that present different allocation of resources with more specific board directed priorities. The board is resistant to seeing scenarios of a) across the board allocation of resources, b) allocating all increased revenue to instruction first, saying these do not let the administration use their expertise to determine the appropriate allocation of resources for the board to vote on.

What the board usually does following public hearings is have one, maybe two, meeting where board members proposed individual changes to certain items on the budget - any proposed addition to the budget has to be balanced with a proposed cut in another areas. This is a very specific process, affecting not much more than $10 million of a $310+ budget.

However, when you only look at an annual operating budget and do not do long-term financial planning (budget planning over several years), you get stuck in the "pick around the edges" mode, which pits parent group against parent group. This leaves the only option for the board to pursue is a referendum.

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March 2, 2005

School Board Candidates Respond to Questions About TAG Programming

The following was passed along by Kristin Meyer who attended the Northside candidates forum. Kristin asked the candidates about their position on supporting TAG services/support during ongoing budgetary shortfalls, and summarizes below the responses from each candidate. She reports that there was also a statement related to how the TAG program has already taken cuts and that, therefore, it seemed unable to adequately meet the needs of TAG students

Bill Clingan: Said that the erosion of TAG services/support is a big
problem for the district and he related this to the much bigger overall problem of how the revenue caps impact the budget for the MMSD (and all WI schools). He noted that he was the person to author the amendment to re-instate TAG positions during the last budget cut process. He stated his support for the idea that all students need to be challenged in the classroom. He said that what he really loses sleep over is the $2.4 million in cuts that have been made to Special Needs students. Again, he tied this to the revenue caps issue.

Lawrie Kozba: Stated that because of financial constraints/budget shortfalls, the district is being forced to provide for the "average" student and those at the low and high ends are forgotten about. She stated that there must be better management by the board of the budget we have, to make the most of what we do have so we can continue to support students (she had a strong message throughout the evening of needing better management and holding the school administration, particularly Art Rainwater, accountable). She said the district often talks about district scores or performances,
rather than individual groups of students or school performance, because that is more "comfortable". By that I took her to mean that it looks better to look at the district as a whole. She also mentioned sports and fine arts programs specifically as being an area that has also been cut.

Carol Carstensen: She also agreed this was an important issue. She gave some background on the change in delivery of TAG services from pull-out at the elementary level, to a now centralized model with support coming from downtown to the schools. She thought this was an improvement in theory, but clearly stated that they (TAG staff) do not have the resources to do all they should. She also made a statement of how all students should be challenged every day - with an emphasis on how this should be challenge within the classroom rather than having students pulled out.

Larry Winkler: He stated that more students should be in the TAG program and taking AP classes. He said students should be more prepared so they are able to take AP classes, and that there are not enough AP classes being offered. He noted that parents are making up for what they feel their children are not receiving at school, and that the district needs to ensure enough challenge for students.

Kristin also sent along this summary of the evening's debate:
The forum was set up with 3 questions they all answered, then each candidate got to ask his/her opponent a question and then had a chance to respond. Finally questions were taken from the audience - we wrote them down and they were read to the candidates.

The 3 questions related to: 1) the "city-school district relationship" and how to promote collaboration
2) "parental involvement" - particularly of low-income or parents of color
3) "changing and developing district policy" - the threat of elimination of the Equity Policy and how to get meaningful public input in district decision making

Summary of candidate responses/positions:

Bill Clingan:
* Said the district and city were attached at the hip and noted mobility (the 6000 moves of students during each school year) as an example of a city/district issue.
* Referenced his history as PTO president at Midvale/Lincoln - that he understands how to do outreach to parents that may not be easily included in dialogue
* Felt that the Equity Policy had been formulated long ago and that now the district (in practice) was already beyond what it says. He felt it should be back in committee for public input. Said the schools belong to the community.
* Clear supporter of a new school on Leopold site. Discussed class size, not size of the school as what is most relevant to learning. Felt that the district was pursuing a plan that the parents in this community want/need. Critical of Lawrie's support for keeping North and Eastside schools open (because it is what those communities want) but then opposing the Leopold school (which its parents clearly want)
* He accepts PAC money from Teacher's Union
* He was in support of maintaining the LGBTQ coordinator
* Repeatedly brought up issue of revenue caps and how substantially they impact the services the district can provide

Lawrie Kobza:
* Consistent message that the school board is not holding the administration (part. Art Rainwater) accountable - in terms of his evaluation, making sure the administration is doing what the board asks, that they are in charge of overseeing district policies.
* Repeated many times need for stronger management on the school board related to fiscal responsibility. She says she has a vision for the board and the management skills to carry it out.
* Sees herself as a strong, independent voice for the board. No PAC money. Supported by Ruth Robarts (in the front row with a Kobza pin on)
* Supporter of neighborhood schools - Opposed to any Mega-schools, including the proposed school on Leopold site. Open to real need of another neighborhood school on the West side
* Feels there is a lack of real parental input and accessibility to the school board for decision making
* Discussed concerns of administrative support/leadership for situation at East High School.
* Supportive of LGBTQ position

Carol Carstensen:
* Sees herself as a voice for parents/schools that don't always have access. An independent voice, common sense and level headed leader.
* Strong supporter of school/city partnerships - cited many examples from her tenure
* Has hosted listening sessions, trainings, goes to schools freq. to gather input from parents/teachers
* Proud of her role in district goal to reduce achievement gap (3 priorities 1)reading by grade level by 3rd grade 2) 94% attendance 3) Algebra and Geometry taken by 10th grade)
* Vocal in opposition to state revenue caps - said she will fight for
adequate funding
* Takes no PAC money
* Supports LGBTQ position
* Made statement that she will not support any cuts in the budget - we have cut enough

Larry Winkler:
* Sees many problems with board - wants simpler solutions, currently sees a lack of solutions being offered up, and a lack of planning for known budget problems. Tired of the "dog and pny" show he often sees at Board meetings.
* Sees our schools as being in decline and that there must be ways to find more solutions
* Hopeful that through simplifying there can be money found in existing budget to mainatin services
* Talked about need to help low income families specifically to be connected to school and in planning and collaboration with the city
* He said he "kind of" supports revenue caps. He feels there is to little way for the public to have input into the budget process/decisions, and at least revenue caps hold schools accountable to some degree.
* Very research based - formal in his decision making process. Wants more public accountability
* Not familiar with role of LGBTQ position
* No PAC money

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Krome: Girls Sexuality Overhyped

Margaret Krome on a middle school talent show.

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School Board Candidates' Forum - March 1, 2005

On March 1, 2005, the Northside Planning Council held an excellent, well run and informative school board candidates' forum at Warner Park in Madison, WI. Candidates for Seat 6 (Bill Clingan - incumbant and Lawrie Kobza) and Seat 7 (Carol Carstensen - incumbant and Larry Winkler) answered a wide variety of questions on many topics.

Following are videoclips from that forum. The format for the forum following opening statements by the candidates was in three parts: 1) 3 questions developed by the Northside Planning Council, 2) each candidate asked their opponent a question, and 3) written questions submitted from the floor.

I. Opening Statements Candidates' Opening Statements

II. Part 1: Questions developed by Northside Planning Council

A. Question 1 - City-School District Relationship: What is already being done to promote collaboration between the city and the school district and what creative suggestions do you have to further it? Candidates' Answers to Question 1: City-School Relationship

B. Question 2 - Parental Involvement: What would you do, as a School Board member, to insure that the District is getting direct feedback from parents of color and low-income parents? How would you overcome the barriers that keep them from participating?
Candidates' Answers to Question 2: Parental Involvement

C. Question 3 - Changing & Developing District Policy: The District almost succeeded in eliminating or changing its current Equity Policy without substantial public dialogue. What measures would you implement to insure accountability, transparency, and meaningful public input into future District decision-making? Candidates' Answers to Question 3: Changing & Developing District Policy

III. Candidates Ask Their Opponents A Question

A. Bill Clingan asks Lawrie Kobza about her position on building a second school to total 1100 K-5 students at Leopold Elementary School. Lawrie Kobza asks Bill Clingan why, as Chair of the Human Resources Committee, Superintendent Rainwater has not developed meassurable goals approved by the School Board since 2002. She noted that the Human Resources Committee has met only once since Mr. Clingan became chair. Clingan and Kobza Ask Each Other a Question - Leopold and Superintendent Goals

B. Carol Carstensen and Larry Winkler ask each other questions. Ms. Carstensen asked Mr. Winkler about a previous statement he made regarding revenue caps and Mr. Winkler asked Ms. Carstensen what she was most proud of during her 15 years as a school board members. Carol Carstensen and Larry Winkler Question Each Other

IV. Candidates Asked to Say How they Differ from Their Opponent
Candidates statements about how they differ from each other in qualifications for the job.

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Madison Schools Budget Reductions

The Madison School District's Administration will release their proposed budget reductions (reductions in the increase - see these posts) Thursday afternoon (unless it leaks earlier). There will be an afternoon press conference (apparently 2:30p.m.). We'll link to the district's site once the information is posted. Roger Price previewed the 2005/2006 budget recently (video/audio along with slides).

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Northside Madison School Board Candidate Forum

Lee Sensenbrenner on Tuesday night's northside candidate forum ("Forum ignites sparks").

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The Leopold Expansion

The 3/2/05 CapTimes includes an excellent op ed piece by Ruth Robarts detailing her concerns about creating a large K-5 elementary school.

Ruth Robarts: Better to rethink new school now than regret decision later

By Ruth Robarts
March 2, 2005

On March 28, the Madison School Board will cast the final vote on the proposed referendum for $14.5 million to build a second school on the Leopold Elementary School site.

The proposed "paired" school would open in September 2007 and house up to 550 kindergarten through second-grade students and another 550 third- through fifth-grade students. If the Leopold community's current population mix holds, a school of 1,100 or more would include 275 (25 percent) students for whom English is a second language and 121 (11 percent) with special educational needs. Over half of the students would come from low-income homes.

Unlike other Madison paired schools that are on different sites, Leopold's buildings would be on the same grounds and physically linked in an L shape. Students from both schools would share lunch rooms and playground facilities. Students would have separate entrances, but share buses to and from school.

My duty as a board member is to weigh the pros and cons of this recommendation from the administration. Although I see why current Leopold parents expect great positives from the new building, I believe that these are short-term gains for the school and community and that the negatives of creating an extremely large elementary school may outweigh the short-term advantages.

I am particularly concerned that the short-term relief for overcrowding would be undermined when the building reaches full capacity and houses two schools, each of which is far bigger than any K-2 or 3-5 school today. It is my responsibility to ask whether we have the experience to make such a joint school work and what additional resources would be required to assure student success under such conditions.

In the short term, the proposal meets some, but not all, of the needs of Leopold's current students. It would end the overcrowding. Because it would open at 75 percent of capacity, the students at the school in 2007 would have small classes in an oversized facility. On the other hand, in the interim there must be a plan to control enrollment size through such means as freezing enrollment, sending grades to other schools or changing school boundaries. So far the board has not seen the interim plan.

In the long term, it is difficult to imagine ways in which a very large paired school offers new educational benefits to our children, but easy to list the problems that likely would arise from turning away from our goal of keeping schools small. Madison's standard is consistent with national trends for school size that prefer small over large schools. Research and our experience link smaller schools with higher academic achievement (especially for low-income children), more engagement in school activities by students and families, and less truancy, discipline problems and need for special education services.

The Madison School District has remained true to this standard, even during difficult economic times. Currently, our largest elementary school - after Leopold - is Chavez School. Enrollment there is capped at 650. The biggest paired school is Franklin-Randall at 716 students. Even our largest middle school, Hamilton, has only 705 students. At the middle and high schools, we are working hard to break the schools into "smaller learning communities." Nationally, millions and millions of dollars are going into reducing the size of schools at all grade levels for the sake of improving the academic achievement of low-income and minority students.

I greatly regret that I underestimated the need to focus on the educational dimension of the question before us from the very beginning. I realize that it is late in the game to raise such questions. However, I learned a painful lesson when I did not question or oppose the board's decision to go ahead with construction of Chavez Elementary School, despite our doubts about the general contractor for the project.

The scenario was similar. We had overcrowding problems on the west side and urgently needed a solution. We voted yes to move the project ahead. The result was a poor construction job and a new school that opened and, within a few months, closed again due to serious problems. Despite our good intentions, our rush to resolve one problem created a new problem and disrupted the children, families and staff of seven schools for most of a school year.

Although my thinking disappoints proponents of a new building, I do not believe that I will have fulfilled my responsibilities if I fail to raise the issue. It is possible that the current proposal for a 1,100-student school will prove to be educationally sound. However, it is my goal to avoid creating additional problems for the Leopold community by thoroughly discussing plans before, rather than after, they are implemented.

Ruth Robarts serves on the Madison School Board and chairs the Long Range Planning Committee. E-mail:

Published: 7:37 AM 3/2/05

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Eugene Parks

The last few days have been rather sad ones for me due to the recent death of Eugene Parks. I have always viewed Mr. Parks as a role model. I admire people who tell you how they feel without being “politically correct.” He was that type of person. He commanded your attention, not because of his “gruff tone” or “edginess” but because of his sincere knowledge of the topic on which he was speaking. Mr. Parks knew what he was talking about.

When I decided to run for Madison School Board, I made a list of people from whom I wanted to get endorsements. Eugene Parks was one of those people. As a made my way through the campaign, our paths finally crossed in a local restaurant. I was very excited to tell him about my candidacy. I exclaimed to him, “Mr. Parks, I’m running for Madison School Board!” He replied, “Why would you go and do a fool thing like that for?” Honestly, I was kind of stunned. Sensing this, he told me of his feelings about the Madison schools. He felt that schools were being set up. They were being asked to do everything but not adequately funded. He also told me that the school board was the only elected position that for every ONE friend you made; you made TEN enemies. Again, Mr. Parks knew what he was talking about.

After winning my election several months later, I was asked to do a radio interview on WORT. After my segment, Mr. Parks was the next guest. Once pleasantries were exchanged, I wished him luck in his interview; he wished me luck on the school board. While I was listening to interview, he told the interviewer how proud he was of me and that I represented young leadership that our community needed. I was very proud of that. He also questioned the priorities in the City of Madison where the community would build swimming pools but not support additional funding of public education (remember last year the School Board cut 10 million dollars from the budget). His comments were very profound.

I know I’ll never be like Eugene Parks. There will never be another Eugene Parks no matter how hard someone tries. Unfortunately, my personality is not like his. I am not as brave as he was to say exactly what was on my mind and tell everyone how I feel. However, every once in a while, the “Eugene Parks” in me comes out but I save it for special occasions and the settings in which media will not be around. The truest way to honor his memory is giving the Madison School Board the type of passion, effort and commitment that he gave to our Madison community. I will miss Eugene Parks.

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March 1, 2005

Budget Time: Madison School District's Credibility

The credibility of the Madison Metropolitan School District comes into serious question with the public when Board of Education members and district staff present erroneous information through the media to the public.

Recent examples include:

  • May, 2005 Special Election Costs:
    1. Bill Keys, President of the Board of Education, on the TV Channel 27 early morning news show, February 3, 2005, in referring to proposed referenda for a May 2005 vote stated that "it's only $15,000 more ($90,000) to wait until May rather than go for the April election, which will only cost $75,000." A vote on school referenda at the time of a regular countywide election incurs only a minor cost (less that $2000) to the District for graphics and ball space. Special balloting, such as that proposed for school referenda in May will incur more that $87,000 in expenses billed to the District by Dane County, the City of Madison and eight other involved municipalities with voters in the school district. A detailed report of these costs billed to the District for the June 2003 referendum ballot will be presented to the Board at its regular March 7, 2005 meeting.

  • Community Input:
    2. Carol Carstensen, Board of Education member, complains that critics of the Board aren't really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions and is quoted in the "Talking Out of School" column in Isthmus, February 11, page 8, "I get a little concerned when people say, 'You should be doing this,' but then are unable to give me a better plan for how to achieve what they want." As a representative of Active Citizens for Education we have presented the Board of Education and administration with more than 29 documents including recommendations, plans, proposals, reports and analyses on a variety of issues with which the Board is faced. A list of the documents, along with duplicate copies, will be presented to the Board at its next meeting to refresh memories.

  • Taxpayer Costs:
    3. Joe Quick, MMSD administration staff member, in discussing the proposed $26.2 million referendum for maintenance projects aired on the 10:00 p.m. TV Channel 27 newscast, February 28, stated that the request for revenue to support this referendum "would have no impact on taxes." The fact of the matter is that if there is no referendum or if the referendum fails, property taxes will decrease due to the retirement of revenue bonds for previous capital indebtedness.
In order for the general public to understand the implications and consequences of financial decisions for which the public is requested to support, the Board of Education members and the administration must present accurate and complete information within the context of the total framework of the district's budgeting, taxing authority and actions.

Don Severson
donleader at aol dot com

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U.S. Education Eroding World Technology Leadership

e-prairie discusses a number of recent comments from the technology community on our education problems:

The New York Times Editorial Page agrees with Bill Gates and takes the States to task for "embracing the lowest common denominator".

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State Aims to Remake High Schools

Brian Tumulty on the achievement gap:

Wisconsin needs to boost graduation rates among blacks and other minorities, the state superintendent of instruction said Sunday as a two-day national summit on the future of high schools ended here.

�We have an achievement gap and we need to ensure every child is graduating from high school,� Elizabeth Burmaster said. �That�s the issue.�

Although Wisconsin boasts one of the highest high school graduation rates in the nation � 92 percent overall in 2002-2003 � only 63 percent of blacks, 76 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of American Indians complete high school in four years.

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