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March 17, 2005

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 March 17, 2005 8:29 AM
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