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May 31, 2005

Study spells out new evidence for roots of dyslexia

Study spells out new evidence for roots of dyslexia
(Posted by University Communications: 5/31/2005)

Report of newly released research by Mark Seidenberg and colleagues.

Addressing a persistent debate in the field of dyslexia research, scientists at UW-Madison and the University of Southern California (USC) have disproved the popular theory that deficits in certain visual processes cause the spelling and reading woes commonly suffered by people with dyslexia.

Rather, a more general problem in basic sensory perception may be at the root of the learning disorder, the scientists reported May 29 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The work suggests new ways to identify dyslexics and to assess the many unevaluated techniques teachers use to help dyslexics in the classroom.

For the full press release, go to:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 2:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age

John Seely Brown (Brown was Chief Scientist at Xerox PARC, where many of the technologies we use today, including, ethernet, Laser Printers and the GUI were invented):

My interest here today is in looking at the notions of learning, working and playing in the digital age and how today's kids—growing up digital—might actually be quite different from what we might first think. But, more particularly, how by stepping back and looking at the forces and trends underlying the digital world, we may have a chance to create a new kind of learning matrix, one that I will call a learning ecology.

I became interested in learning ecologies because of their systemic properties. We need to view higher education from a systemic perspective, one that takes into consideration all of the components—k-12, community colleges, state and private colleges and universities, community libraries, firms, etc.—that make up a region. This, in turn, raises additional questions about how we might create a regional advantage such as in the Research Triangle in North Carolina or in Silicon Valley. For example, is there a way to extend science parks, that typically surround universities, into also being learning parks and from there into being learning ecologies by combining the knowledge producing components of the region with the nearly infinite reach and access to information that the internet provides? And, if so, might this provide an additional use of the internet in learning—one besides just distance learning. But first, let's consider what the Web is and see how it might provide a new kind of information fabric in which learning, working and playing co-mingle. Following that we will then look at the notion of distributed intelligence which has a great deal to do with the social basis as well as the cognitive basis of learning, and how those fold together. Then we will look at the issue of how one might better capture and leverage naturally occurring knowledge assets, a topic as relevant to the campus as to the region or to the firm. Finally, we will come to the core topic of how all this folds together to lead to a new concept of a learning ecology.

Background on John Seely Brown: Clusty

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 30, 2005

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of other Blog Sites

Since the May 24th referenda, I began looking at other blog sites such as the post and the Isthmus “Daily Page.” Here are a few highlights of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

“I can't imagine a more worthy expenditure than public education. As a graduate of Madison's public schools that has gone on to college and work outside of Wisconsin, I am always amazed at the disparity between my secondary education and that of my peers from other cities. Unfortunately it appears that the people of Madison have become less and less appreciative of what made Madison a special place.”

The Bad

“Now I concur that students need sports programs, and band, and all the other fluff that makes school more than just a place for book learning, but I don't agree that it should be solely funded out of the public till. Back in my school days, students and parent organizations helped subsidize these things, and it should still be so. These are things you choose to do with your time. Math and English are things you need to make the future, as well as sanitary and structurally sound schools.”

“They also need to reevaluate extracurricular programs. The parents of the children need to shoulder more of the costs of these programs, not the taxpayers. Should the fourth and fifth grades have their beloved Strings program? It’s not really necessary for quality education. It’s just a nice thing to have. Make the parents pay a larger percentage of the cost to run those programs.”

The Ugly

“I was a public school student more than 53 years ago, in Chicago and in West Hollywood, California. Our classrooms then minimally had 30 kids per teacher. There was little or no staff, other than a principal, the office secretary, and maintenance personnel. The blackboards were actually used for teaching lessons, rather than wallspace to be festooned with all sorts of political correct but curriculum-irrelevant suggestions or rantings. All the classroom seat faced that blackboard, where the teacher did his or her work.”

“…a Madison resident who has no children, said she voted against all three referendums because she believes parents should be footing more of the bill for their children's education, especially when she sees public school students driving expensive cars, talking on cell phones, taking lavish vacations and living in large houses.”

“Kids in the 70's and 80's didn't walk around with their asses hanging out of their pants? I was at the Mobil station a few days ago and saw a kid literally waddling because his belt was around his shins and his legs couldn't get more than about 18 inches of separation…Ok, I changed my mind... just shut the schools down altogether.”

By looking at the Bad and Ugly, this school district is in serious trouble. I believe only God can help this school district. And because of district policy, he’s not allowed.

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DC Voucher Program Summary

Jay Matthews:

After a one-hour bus trip, including one transfer, they reached the private Nannie Helen Burroughs School in Northeast Washington, which the children began attending in the fall under the D.C. school voucher program. Then their mother took a 45-minute bus trip to her job as a store clerk in Pentagon City.

In the evening, she did the same bus commute in reverse, picked up her children from the school's day-care program at 6 p.m. and escorted them home. The next day, she would rise at 6:15 a.m. to do it all again.

Nine months into the experiment, it is too early to know how the nation's first federally funded voucher program is affecting the academic achievement of the hundreds of D.C. children who won the private school scholarships. But spending time with the Hammonds provides a glimpse of the benefits and the sacrifices that the program entails for one family.

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

Atlanta Parental School Lunch Monitoring System

Daniel Yee:

Health officials hope it will increase parents' involvement in what their kids eat at school. It's a concern because federal health data shows that up to 30 percent of U.S. children are either overweight or obese.

"My parents do care about what I eat. They try, like, to keep up with it," said Hughes, a 14-year-old student at Marietta Middle School.

Three school districts in the Atlanta area last week became the first in the country to offer the parental-monitoring option of an electronic lunch payment system called, created by Horizon Software International of Loganville, Ga

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

May 29, 2005

David Brooks on The Educated Class

David Brooks:

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class, where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:02 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Erosion of music instruction is the wrong direction, especially for non-traditional learners

The following letter was written by a parent of an East High Student to Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board. The writer expresses concerns over the Sherman Middle School proposal to place curriculum band and orchestra classes in afterschool and the layoff Thursday of 8.55 FTE music teachers.

Based upon my review of the 05-06 MMSD budget, financial issues do not support the recent music educator layoffs and the curriculum change proposal at Sherman Middle School. It's about values - community values for what our children learn in public school and what contributes positively to their achievement as learners.

I am writing to you as School Board President (and neighbor) because I am very disturbed about the impact on music education of several recent decisions affecting students of the MMSD . I write as the mother of an 11th grade student of color at East High for whom music performance education has been crucial. Without the solid, consistent music instruction and opportunities he has received for the last six years, I question where he would be right now.

I fear that music performance is sometimes viewed as an elite activity for already motivated students. For my son, it has been the primary area in which he could excel at school over the years while he struggled with regular academic classes. It was the break in the school day where he felt energized and motivated, part of a large team working toward excellence and specific identifiable goals. Over the years, band classes offered an opportunity to interact with a different group of highly motivated peers, to perform in public concerts that affirmed his sense of achievement, and to participate in challenging music trips. Because of his school day band experience, my son gets himself up and to school every Tuesday morn! ing at 6:30 a.m. to participate in Jazz Band before school starts. His band program is a source of joy, discipline, and motivation, as well as musical growth.

My only concern over the years has been the fact that there are not more students of color in the band and orchestra. If the School District is concerned about the achievement of students of color, it should look more closely at assuring that kids of color including ESL students get involved in band and orchestra during middle school or even earlier. Music performance offers such a different learning experience than traditional academic subjects, one that is needed for those students who struggle with traditional academics. Instead, MMSD seems to be ignoring the current and future value of music performance education. I am appalled that 8.55 strings and music teachers are being laid off. I am also baffled by Sherman Middle School’s plan to remove band and string performance education from the school day and make it an after-school activity through the so-called 8th hour plan. I can’t think of anything that will more quickly make music performance an activity of an elite set of students than removing it from the school day. It is my understanding that some middle schools are doing much better at recruiting students of color and ESL students for band than Sherman, yet it is my understanding that the Assistant District Superintendent has asserted that if Sherman’s experiment works, it will be the model for the District middle schools. I have to wonder where would our son be if he hadn’t had the refuge and challenge of band education throughout middle school. Finally, I note that Sherman’s 8th hour plan, especially if spread elsewhere in the District, appears to violate PI 8 and DPI’s Standard J Music requirements. “Music instruction including general music, vocal music, and instrumental music shall be available to all students in grades 7-12 and shall be taught by a licensed music teacher.” Per DPI materials, any student electing such a course may not be denied access. Reoving instrumental music instruction from the mandatory school day, and offering it as an after-school activity competing with a variety of clubs, tutoring programs, and possible family obligations does not constitute compliance with these requirements. It is my hope that the School Board will join the parents of current music students in viewing these issues as ones of major policy importance for the Board to re-evaluate. Carol Rubin
Posted by at 12:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Teacher Layoffs Target Elementary String Teachers

On Thursday, based upon Superintendent Rainwater's recommendation, the Madison School Board approved 20 FTEs for layoff. These layoffs included 60% of the elementary string staff - the largest percentage of one academic personnel group ever laid off in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District. How come a program that cost less than 1/10 of one percent of the $318 million budget resulted in nearly 50% of the teacher layoffs? Elementary string teacher are less than 3/10 of 1% of the total teacher population. What happeded? No evaluation of the music education curriculum, no planning (not exploring the allowed use of federal dollars for fine arts education for low income children) and some might say vindictiveness from top administrators and some Board members toward string teachers because of the community outcry in support of elementary strings - our community cannot tolerate the latter. Money is not the issue - data do not support money being the issue.

I don't think it was necessary for any of the 20 layoffs to take place. School Board members said they had no choice, because the operating referendum did not pass. I don't agree. We have had revenue caps for 10 years. Our School Board makes decisions piecemeal (labor contracts, maintenance, etc.) in isolation from the overall budget and an assessment of the impact of their decisions on children's learning. You simply cannot do this with revenue caps in place, because a board is always fighting against costs rising faster than revenue caps and board members end up making last minute drastic cuts to certain areas out of proportion to their percentage of the budget.

There was no professional evaluation and redesign of MMSD's music education curriculum prior to making recommendations to cut music this year. There are numerous studies that document the positive benefits of music education on children's learning and academic achievement. Cuts to music education should not be made until a detailed evaluation shows there is absolutely NO other option and a well thought out plan is put into place. MMSD administration has not taken this important step.

Cuts to music can still be avoided if the School Board decides to look hard at next year's budget and the grant dollars that come in over the next few months. Here's what is in the 05-06 budget and how many teachers' jobs this cost for examples:

Increase of $1.2 million in the administrative contract budget over two years - 23.76 teaching positions (14.6 teaching positions per year)

Extracurricular sports (not required for high school graduation) - $2 million plus ($1.4 million net of fees and gate receipts) - 29.7 teaching positions. The administration kept this budget out of the Board discussion and public view, giving more weight to HS sports than to academic areas and support for students.

Had the School Board considered increases to textbook/supply fees - each $10 increase would have generated about $180,000 - 3.56 teaching FTEs.

These examples are easy to find. There are other areas where savings would be possible that would protect a) children's learning and b) teachers' jobs. Children and teachers are being made to suffer the failed referendum and we need to do everything we can to minimize the impact on their learning!

Even the worst business managers do everything they can to protect their employees' careers and livelihoods, because that is what is best for the customers in order to remain competitive and in business. Madison is no longer competitive with the surrounding school district's music education program offerings - surrounding districts have stronger music education curriculums, because these school district's administrators support the curriculum.

Our children need and deserve better efforts on their behalf from our school district's leaders.

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May 28, 2005

Berkun: Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

Scott Berkun pens a useful read:

That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more open minded, creative, and courageous, a group is, the wider the pool of ideas they’ll be capable of exploring.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Matt Miller on Teacher Pay for Performance

Matt Miller:

This isn't to diminish the many great teachers who work their hearts out for poor kids in trying conditions. But it's these teachers who've told me with passion how mediocre many of their colleagues are. We're essentially relying on missionaries to staff schools in poor neighborhoods. How many more years have to pass before we admit that the missionary "plan" isn't working?

Yet the problem with most pay reforms (like Arnold's) is that they're all stick and no carrot. Or they offer such small bonuses (say, $2,000) that teachers have no reason to rethink their aversion to pay differentials based on anything but seniority.

The answer is to think bigger. Consider this "grand bargain." We'd raise salaries for teachers in poor schools by 50 percent. But this offer would be conditioned on two major reforms. First, the unions would have to abandon their lock-step pay scale so that we could raise the top half of performers (and those in shortage fields like math and science) another 50 percent. Second, the unions would have to make it much easier to fire the worst teachers, who are blighting the lives of countless kids.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NPR: Washington DC Jr. High Orchestra Teacher Interview

All Things Considered:

Sarah Henks is a first-year orchestra teacher at Kipp Academy in Washington, D.C. The Florida State University graduate says she had originally wanted to perform in an orchestra herself, but something kept pulling her towards kids, strings and the classroom.

For her it's been a year of highs and lows. Her junior high orchestra just performed its first big concert. We recently visited her class and asked her to tell us how the year went.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:47 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Goals for Achieving an Improved School District

I ran for the School Board, and voted No, No, No on the referenda because of my profound disagreement with how the School Board conducts itself and their lack of leadership and direction, and my strong sense of a deteriorating school system, not all to be blamed on draconian measures by Federal and State politicians.

Marshalling the ideas of other contributors to this site, ideas from the National School Board Association, other sources and my own ideas and goals, I have drafted a rough set of goals that I think the School Board and Madison citizens in general should address. It is meant as a possible starting point for discussions.

The document's basic purpose is to ensure a high level of student achievement through public accountability, honest and open assessment, transparent setting of priorities, and alignment of the budget with the priorities. It makes an initial attempt to distribute the goals across the BOE's committees, so they are working toward the same goals.

It is my strong sense that the Board views these committees as somehow dealing with issues that are orthogonal to each other; for example, there were arguments that the Long Range Planning committee must not concern themselves with the decisions of the Finance and Operations committee (which actually wasn't doing anything, anyway).

I certainly do not believe the current majority on the School Board is willing to make or is capable of making the necessary changes to how it conducts its business to set appropriate priorities and ensure their execution. Certainly comments made by supporters of the referenda after they were voted down indicated that they don't get it.

In any case, I would like comments and suggestions, agreement, disagreement on this document. Better ideas are welcome.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 2:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Post Referenda Comments

Tuesday's Madison Schools Referenda results continues to generate comments:

More here

Tracey Bietz:
Dear Editor: I was deeply disappointed by the defeat of the first two Madison school referendums. The cuts may force redistricting of my son's school, which may mean he attends a new school next year. I am happy with his current situation, and I am not pleased that he may have to change situations in September.

I would have voted "yes" on the first two referendums whether I had a son in the Madison schools or not. The case for a new school to avoid overcrowding at Leopold has been convincing to me. I care about education and want to see Madison schools continue their high nationwide rankings and reviews. I don't mind paying slightly higher property taxes to ensure a good education for the children around me. I hope when I'm 85 that I still live in Madison and that even if my grandchildren are being educated in some other state, I will still vote "yes" on a strong funding base for local schools.

Tracey Bietz

Published: 9:34 AM 5/28/05

James Nikora:
Dear Editor: I am a "liberal" citizen of Madison who supports education for both civic and selfish reasons. I believe education is essential to successful representative government and provides a better quality of life for the entire community. But I voted "no" on the school referendums and my reasons were not just about money. They are about our educational system, the people who run it, and the lack of ideas on the table.

Our current system of education was designed before the Industrial Revolution. We cannot compete in the 21st century using an 18th century model. We need to step outside of this obsolete box, engaging and challenging students with relevant material, while rethinking everything from our physical plants and schedules to teaching methods and systems.

I understand that the system is suffering societal pressure from the overall cuts to social programs at state and federal levels and the economic need families have to provide two incomes. Thirty years ago, in my high school, there was one principal, only one vice principal and two guidance counselors for 1,200 plus students. There were no social workers or psychologists and no executive athletic director. Our parents were biological - not provided by the school district. We need to remove this burden from our schools and make it, once again, their business to educate.

Perhaps I could have been persuaded to vote "yes" had it not been for the arrogance, distorted facts and dogmatic approach of the referendum supporters. I never once heard a proposal to cut administration before placing sacrificial lambs, like the strings program, on our altars. Even now, after defeat, they are looking only for teachers to cut. Their campaign claims of previous cuts to staff and budget were disingenuous and they vilified opponents as "anti-education."

I will continue to support education, first by advocating new leadership in the administration. The district would be better served by an administration that looks in earnest for solutions and seeks to unite the community, rather than divide it.

James Nikora

Arlene Silveira:

Dear Editor: I am dismayed at the expression of joy on the faces of the Vote No for Change group on the front page of the TCT on Wednesday. It is hard to fathom that people can celebrate the fact that teachers are losing their jobs, programs are being cut and a neighborhood school is being torn apart.

The referendums took place and people voted. Fair enough. However, to celebrate what will be the misfortunes of others is appalling. They continue to say they did this to help children. I sure hope they don't try to "help" my child anytime soon.

Arlene Silveira

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Summer vacation

Then and now...
The case of the changing summers
A comparison of father’s, son’s vacations


May 26, 2005
We all know times have changed. But a look at my son’s summer versus the
same period when I was a kid shows how much.

Here are a few examples of how James, 14, will spend the next few months,
compared with how I spent the summers when I was his age (and maybe a few
years younger).

Son: Be at basketball at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday.

Me: Get up when I wake up, or a neighbor comes over and rouses me out of
bed, or my mother starts vacuuming.

Son: Play in soccer and basketball leagues in the evenings.

Me: Play pickup baseball during the day. Maybe play more pickup baseball in
the evening.

Son: Hope I take him somewhere for custard. And, when ice cream truck comes
by, chase it like a madman so little brother gets a treat and James gets a
little something - for the effort.

Me: Buy a push-up from one of those guys on the huge tricycle with a cooler.
Stick your sweaty arm in the cooler when he’s distracted. Feels weird.

Son: Go swimming at the home of friend, who has a pool.

Me: Go to Buchner, which even had diving boards.

Son: Argue that you don’t need sunscreen when playing in soccer tournaments
on the weekend.

Me: Wear a T-shirt the first few days of summer, then take it off and get
fried once or twice and be good for the rest of the vacation.

Son: Kick back with a little television during downtime. Cable offers dozens
of options.

Me: Forget about watching television during the day unless "The Guiding
Light" and its brethren are your bag (to use the lingo of the time). "Cable"
is something that holds up bridges, so the options are limited. In the
evening, the viewing choices are the Watergate recap, "Perry Mason" and "The

Son: Rent a movie.

Me: See viewing choices listed above. If it’s a weekend they might throw a
bad "Tarzan" movie on after "Perry Mason." (In the interest of full
disclosure, I must point out we did have "Shock Theater," which was nice.)

Son: Play soccer in the evenings.

Me: Soccer is what you want to do when your sister mouths off.

Son: Usually get a ride to a destination because none are all that close.

Me: Take the bike - a Schwinn Sting-Ray and later a Schwinn Varsity - most
places. Like cable television, the bike helmet has not been invented. If a
ride from an adult is required, climb in the back seat (don’t put on a seat
belt unless you’re driving far away), roll down the window and stick your
head out. Then hear the story of how a kid - I think it was in California -
was decapitated by doing exactly what you’re doing. Leave head out anyway.

Son: Vacation at family cabin once owned by great grandfather. Sneak on
posted land to fish, hoping landowners don’t see you. Pretend you can’t read
or didn’t see "No Trespassing" sign that you tripped over on the way in.

Me: Landowners spot you fishing and confront you with this question: "How
are they biting?"

Son: Take annual trip to Great America.

Me: The summer highlight is the roller coaster at Dandelion Park. Eventually
the rickety thing is going to kill someone, which adds an element of drama
to the ride.

Son: Pray your father doesn’t make you go to a baseball game.

Me: Buy baseball cards whenever you have a spare dime; force yourself to
chew horrible cardboard gum; believe that someday cards will be worth a
fortune; lose cards, which doesn’t matter because you’d never throw them out
anyway. Instead, you would have given them to your son, who is busy praying
you don’t make him go to a baseball game.

Son: Shoot hoops in the driveway while wearing iPod.

Me: Shoot hoops in the driveway while annoying the neighbors with radio set
to WQFM, one of the few stations that doesn’t play "Captain and Tennille."

Son: Cool off in central air.

Me: Sweat all the time. When it’s really hot, sleep downstairs and watch
"Perry Mason" until you fall asleep. And vow you’ll never forgive Richard
Nixon because his screwup is taking over three network channels - 75 percent
of the viewing options. (No one counts Channel 10 as an option.) That leaves
you with one choice: Channel 18 - home of the human tranquilizer, "Perry

So who has it better? I guess that depends on your point of view. It seemed
like we had more freedom, but we also had more "Perry Mason" - if you know
what I mean.

Posted by at 10:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Adam Klawonn:

An honors program beset by ethnic tensions and strained relations between parents and administrators at Lincoln Middle School is being eliminated.

After three months of public debate, trustees for Vista Unified voted 4-1 late Monday to eliminate the Gifted and Talented Education program, which supporters said promoted Lincoln's brightest students. School administrators, however, said the GATE program was closed to most students.

The board's decision will open honors classes that have GATE students to everyone.

School and district officials said putting GATE students in classes with those of mixed abilities would help improve test scores.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 27, 2005

No Child Left Behind & The Minority Achievement Gap

Sam Dillon:

Spurred by President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, educators across the nation are putting extraordinary effort into improving the achievement of minority students, who lag so sharply that by 12th grade, the average black or Hispanic student can read and do arithmetic only as well as the average eighth-grade white student.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 26, 2005

Mertz on Teacher Layoffs

Reader Thomas J. Mertz emails:

I agree with Ruth Robarts that the Board should explore all options before laying off classroom personel and that revisting the ongoing MTI negotiations is the place to start.

I think that this issue is also linked to a key to the failure of two of the referenda -- the transparency of the process. Wages and benefits are by far the largest budget item, yet the negotiations with MTI are shrouded in mystery. I've looked through the newspapers, the MTI site and the MSMD site and can find very little information about the current negotiations. Perhaps this is a legal question and negotiations must be secret (does anyone know?). But if they can be public and publicized, they should be.

If, as many believe, the administration and the Board need to be tougher with MTI, then public scrutiny woulkd make this more likely. If the administration and the Board are already sufficiently tough with MTI (as many others believe), then public scrutiny would undermine the position of those who question the contracts.

I see many potential benefits and little if any harm coming from shining a light on the negotiations.

Thomas J. Mertz

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Post Referenda Notes, Comments & Interviews

Here's a brief roundup of post Referenda voter comments:

William Barnett Lewis:: Dear Editor: It was with a heavy heart that I voted against all three referendums on Tuesday. However, in the long term, this is simply what needed to be done. For too long the School Board has acted as a rubber stamp for the wishes and fantasies of the district's administration.

Perhaps now, in the wake of the defeat of two of the three referendums, the School Board will decide to actually do their job and provide oversight and require accountability of the district's administration. As it stands, Mr. Rainwater has not shown himself capable of anything other than wasting money on yet another unnecessary assistant superintendent while trying to gut important academic programs. Meanwhile, as reported in this paper on Tuesday, test scores are declining.

We need to put the administration on a diet and get the money back into academics where it really belongs. It is time for the School Board to wake up and do the job they have been elected to do - to lead the school district. If they are unwilling to do this, then we need new School Board members.

William Barnett-Lewis

Matt Brandrup: A letter to the editor
May 26, 2005

Dear Editor: In your paper Wednesday, you quoted School Board member Bill Keys stating to all of us who voted against two of the three school referendums: "I want everyone who voted no to walk up to a child tomorrow and say, 'I voted against you.' "

Not only is that one of the most insulting and inaccurate statements I have heard in a long time, it also is a prime example of how disconnected many of the School Board members are to the real world and to the public they supposedly represent.

If Mr. Keys was in tune with the general taxpaying public he was elected to represent, he would realize that those of us who voted down two of the three referendums were actually voting against the School Board's extreme mismanagement of educational priorities and finances and not the kids.

I do realize that there are not always easy answers when it comes to funding and to what programs/educational resources have priority. I do appreciate School Board members who volunteer much of their time and resources to trying to make our schools better. Many of the School Board members do a good job, and many times their effort is not appreciated by the public.

However, Mr. Keys' insulting comments do nothing but polarize people and frankly hurt the budgeting process Madison needs to implement to get out of the box the school district has painted itself into.

What will fix the problem is having the School Board and administrators start to use the large amount of resources they currently have in a much more efficient manner. Many times those are difficult, unpleasant decisions. However, those decisions can and must be made, and all of us who voted down the two referendums think these decisions can be made without impacting the quality of education the Madison School District offers.

Matt Brandrup

Dear Editor: Was I the only Madison resident sickened at the photo of Dorothy Borchardt and Brian Schimming celebrating with the Vote No for Change group after two of three referendum questions were shot down? I didn't think so.

It's certainly OK to have your beliefs that our current system requires some changes. Hey, I'm all for some changes! But would it be more responsible to have something else in place before the current system is shot down? Do we need to completely fail before we fix?

I'm so glad I was not captured on film with my arms waving wildly at celebrating the loss of good teachers and good classrooms. I would rather be captured on film talking to legislators and School Board members, smiling as I tried to fix the system. But that's just me.

Michelle Alswager

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MTI & The Madison School Board

Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.

He said MTI's policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.

The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year's salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers' salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.

"The young teachers are really hurting," Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.

Mr. Matthews states that young teachers are really hurting.  I assume by “young” he means “recently-hired.”  On a state-wide basis, the starting salary for Madison’s teachers ranks lower, relatively speaking, than its salaries for more experienced teachers.  Compared to other teacher pay scales in the state, Madison’s scale seems weighted relatively more toward the more-experienced teachers and less toward starting teachers.  This has to be a consequence of the union’s bargaining strategy – the union must have bargained over the years for more money at the top and less at the bottom, again relatively speaking.  The union is entitled to follow whatever strategy it wants, but it is disingenuous for Mr. Matthews to justify an apparent reluctance to consider different bargaining approaches on the basis of their possible impact on “young teachers.” 
            According to the article, Mr. Matthews also stated that “the district is having trouble attracting teachers because of its starting pay.”  Can this possibly be true?    Here’s an excerpt from Jason Shepard’s top-notch article in Isthmus last week, “Even with a UW degree, landing a job in Madison isn’t easy.  For every hire made by the Madison district, five applicants are rejected.  June Glennon, the district’s employment manager, says more than 1,200 people have applied for teaching jobs next year.” 
What’s more, one would think that the possibility of being laid off would be a far greater disincentive to a new teacher seeking work in Madison than a concern with the starting salary, particularly if your union is disinclined to try to avoid layoffs if the alternative is lower salary increases.
This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots. 

            Mr. Matthews is also quoted as saying that MTI's policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.  In other words, the union will pursue higher wages even if it requires the sacrifice of some of its newer members’ jobs.  Implicit in this is that the union will pursue higher wages even at the cost of a reduction in quality of the education offered in Madison’s schools.  What this highlights is that, in this regard, the interests of the union and the school board are directly adversarial.  Other things being equal, the union wants the district to spend more money for salaries and benefits per teacher, and the district wants to spend less.  This is the way the system is supposed to work.  The union certainly understands this.  But it seems that a majority of the school board members do not.  They do not appear interested in trying to drive a hard bargain, which – one would think – is their duty as the stewards of the community’s resources. 
            The WSJ article also states that “This year's salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million.”  So the school board, with all the budgetary problems it confronts, is apparently willing to pay for salaries and benefits an increase that is about twice as much as state law will permit the overall budget to rise next year, and $1.9 million more than the amount necessary to avoid arbitration.  (Using the same numbers, a 3.8% increase would be $6.57 million.) 
What could be the justification for this?  I understand that, as a practical matter, the increase has to be more than 3.8% in order for the district to obtain any sort of concessions.  (Across the state for 2004-2005, the average total package increase per teacher was 4.28%.)  Does anyone know if there are concessions on the table that might explain what seems to be an excessive increase in these difficult times?  Or what other justification for this level of increase there might be?
Bill Keys was quoted in yesterday’s Capital Times as saying “I want everyone who voted no to walk up to a child tomorrow and say, ‘I voted against you.’”  But many voters did not think they were voting against children, they thought they were voting against Bill Keys and the type of school board leadership he has come to represent.  If the school board continues blithely on its way to agreeing to a 4.9% increase in salaries and benefits, they will prove that they deserved the unmistakable vote of no confidence that the voters just delivered. (And I voted for the referenda.)

Posted by Ed Hughes at 12:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Needed: New Opportunities and Directions for the School District

On May 24th, the Madison School Board participated in the democratic process by involving local citizens in its budgetary process by putting forth a referendum. Regardless of how you voted, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the issues, weigh in on the debate and cast your ballot the way you saw fit.

I am not surprised at the outcome of the referenda votes. While I voted, Yes, Yes, Yes, and encouraged others to do the same, I can understand why someone voted No, No, No or any other combination. I am sympathetic to community concerns regarding higher property taxes and the uneasiness that leaves in the community’s sense of economic security. While I am disappointed in the outcome of the referenda for the district’s operating budget and building a new school at Leopold elementary, I do believe that these defeats allow for exploring creative opportunities to capitalize on in the future.

To capitalize such opportunities I believe that the board should revisit and change some of its policies, like those regarding business partnerships for instance. While I am not advocating advertising during the school day or privatizing schools, the fiscal reality that the district is in necessitates that viable options for funding educational activities be considered. I believe strongly that the district could bring in additional revenue that could be used to operate extracurricular activities that are most at-risk for future budget reductions.

The enrollment concerns at Leopold elementary school need further exploration as well. Many may question the proposal to build a new school while there are several schools currently under enrolled. However, these schools are located on opposite sides of town, which do not lend themselves easily to transferring young children long distances to disperse uneven enrollments. The vote not to build a new school on the current Leopold site only delays inevitable decisions that will eventually also have to be made for Madison’s far west and far east sides given the growth of housing developments. Most immediately, we will have to reconsider closing schools on Madison’s north side and the isthmus. The school board will have to make these difficult decisions as growth dictates and perhaps even sooner as the financial challenges warrant. We also will have to reconsider boundary change options.

To assist with these financial challenges, the district should also look to models of successful private and public partnerships such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the City of Madison. These successful partnerships have resulted in the first-rate athletic arena and newly approved public pool facilitated by Senator Herb Kohl and the Goodman brothers, respectively. In looking for partnerships, we should revisit Promega’s offer for the acquisition of free land they were prepared to give the school district for a middle school in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Rather than choosing the politically correct “person of color” after which to name a new school, why not look for an individual in the community who would like to make a sizable contribution to the district with naming rights? Politically correct is one thing, economically correct is another.

The Board should inform and consult the community in finding solutions to the difficult and complex fiscal crisis of the school district. The solution is not to pursue a “do over” by going to referendum again in November. This situation needs much further study; exploration and the development of more options. Not to do this in my humble opinion, would be a mistake.

As a Board member, my role is to represent the concerns of the people and to ensure that the Madison school district is accountable to them and to the students who rely on us to make good, sound policy to facilitate their successful education. The results of the referendum underscore the need for creating alternatives and seizing opportunities to solve long-standing, complex issues.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 11:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Middle School Band and Orchestra

Picked up the following flyer in our PTO box this morning......

Sherman Middle School Administration has taken upon themselves to move the Orchestra and Band Programs to an "exploratory" optional class that will be offered after the school day effective next school year. MMSD is looking at this as a pilot program at Sherman with idea of implementing these changes at all middle schools in Madison.

Please help us fight this change. Our students have rights to attend these classes during the school day.

You can help by writing to the school board and MMSD administration to voice your concerns before this becomes the norm in the Madison School District.

For more information you can contact Sheryl Trumbower at 243-1005 or 279-2117."
East High Band Parents Organization

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 10:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Study to focus on funding of Wisconsin schools

What does it cost to adequately fund K-12 education in Wisconsin? A nationally recognized expert in school finance at UW-Madison is leading an effort to address this critical question.

The Rockefeller Foundation of New York has awarded Allan R. Odden, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, $500,000 over two years to determine the costs of educational adequacy in Wisconsin.

Read more at UW news.

Posted by Ed Blume at 7:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Offshore Tutors

Anupreeta Das and Amanda Paulson:

Somit Basak's tutoring style is hardly unusual. The engineering graduate spices up lessons with games, offers rewards for excellent performance, and tries to keep his students' interest by linking the math formulas they struggle with to real-life examples they can relate to.
Unlike most tutors, however, Mr. Basak lives thousands of miles away from his students — he is a New Delhi resident who goes to work at 6 a.m. so that he can chat with American students doing their homework around dinnertime.
Via Joanne Jacobs

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Robarts Advocates a Delay in Teacher Layoffs

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts wants fellow board members to delay today's vote to lay off about 20 teachers next year in order to ask the Madison teachers union if it would agree to smaller wage and benefit increases to avoid the layoffs.
"Before you do something as severe as layoffs, I think you need to exhaust your alternatives," said Robarts, who estimated that keeping the 20 teachers positions would cost about $1 million.
Robarts article is here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 25, 2005

Referenda Local Media Summary

Yesterday's Madison School's Referenda generated quite a bit of local coverage. Check out these links:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Post mortem on Leopold referendum

Joan Knoebel offered her thoughts on how to win support for the operating referendum, and I whole-heartedly second them.

On the Leopold referendum, I'd ask the board and supporters to do two things:

1) Lay out three or four alternative locations and configurations for a new Westside school, draw possible boundaries, develop cost projections, and then debate which alterantive seems to be the most likely to achieve academic excellence on the West side.

2) Invite organizations or individuals to propose a charter school on the Westside. Several people suggested a charter or magnet school, so let's see whether one might emerge as the best option for providing excellent education in the area.

Current overcrowding is not an issue at Leopold. Leopold is overcrowded, but I'll vote no again on a second school at Leopold if its supporters rotely drone, "This is the only option. This is the only option. This is the only option."

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Post-mortem on referenda

Frankly, I was surprised by the referenda outcome. This was an election designed to win--a special date, a phalanx of support from community politcoes and newspapers, mulitple pieces of professionally designed mail-drop literature-- all favored an across-the-board yes vote.

I'd like to suggest that for some, and perhaps what amounted to the critical portion of the voting electorate, their vote was a message to the majority of the board. The message: we want a transparent budget process, we want the assumptions laid bare and we want all components of the budget on the table, including administrative staff positions and salaries as well as district health care costs. The board needs to mend its fences with the community. Stop the "Do as we say or the kids will suffer" approach.

I voted no because I believe there is still time to do this better. Thus I saw my vote as one for our children. And if I'm convinced, next fall I'll be one of the loudest advocates in support of the revised referenda.

Posted by at 12:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam

The headline is that MMSD students generally scored lower than last year on the state standardized tests at the same time as state performance either held steady or showed slight improvement. The data on individual Madison schools are available here

Posted by at 12:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Referendum Results by Ward

The County Clerk web site has referendum results, by ward, for people who are interested:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Board of Education Should Not Rush to Vote on Layoffs

In the aftermath of the votes on the May 24th Madison School referenda, it is critical that the Madison School Board not rush to vote on layoffs of teachers and other staff. Currently, the Board is scheduled to vote on layoffs at noon on Thursday, May 26. This deadline for layoff votes is self-imposed by the district and Madison Teachers Inc (MTI). State law sets a later deadline. The district and the union could change the May 26 date by mutual agreement. In 2003 the vote on layoffs following a referendum for the operating budget was scheduled for June 4.

Certainly our employees deserve for the district to put an end to the uncertainty in their job futures as soon as we reasonably can. Families counting on our programs also need an end to uncertainty about 2005-06. However, I hope that the Board will not vote on layoffs until it has considered asking MTI to look for mutually agreeable options to limit or avoid layoffs. We would be very late to start this discussion. On the other hand, there is precedent in recent Dane County history for local government and unions to avoid layoffs through negotiations. In October of 2003, County Executive Kathleen Falk and AFSCME union leaders did exactly that. County Executive Falk Announces No COLA / No Layoff Labor Union Agreements with County Workers

It is also important to remember that the Board of Education has not finalized the budget for 2005-06. That budget is the basis for the current list of $7.4M in staff and programs. A four-vote majority could make changes within the budget. That flexibility might be helpful to the negotiation process.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 24, 2005

Greater Madison Chamber Urges Members to Vote

Jennifer Alexander sent an email to local chamber members urging them to be informed and vote.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jennifer R Alexander
[mailto:jralexander at greatermadisonchamber dot_com]
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2005 5:25 PM
Subject: Voting Reminder - School Referenda!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Dear Valued GMCC Member:

The local education system has a tremendous impact on and an important role in shaping the future of this community, and the future of your business. Tomorrow, Tuesday, May 24th, there will be three school board referenda up for public vote, and I encourage you to get to the polls.

Civic involvement is key to creating a local government that truly
represents the interests and the voices of all people. I encourage you to get informed about the decisions being made about education in the Greater Madison area, and to cast your vote in the referenda. See below for the topics of the three referenda, and for voting information:

Question 1

The Board of Education has approved going to referendum for a second elementary school on the Leopold Elementary School site for up to $14.5 million, with a public vote on this referendum to be taken on May 24, 2005.

Question 2

The Board of Education has also approved going to referendum to allow the school district to exceed the revenue limits by up to $7.4 million on a recurring basis and to use for operating costs, with a public vote on this referendum to also be taken on May 24, 2005.

Question 3

The Board of Education has also approved going to referendum to support the maintenance of MMSD buildings and for technology and instructional equipment in the amount of $26.2 million over a five-year period, with a public vote on this referendum to also be taken on May 24, 2005.

What: Madison Metropolitan School Board Referenda

When: Tuesday, May 24th, 2005; 7:00a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Where: To find out where your polling place is located, click here

Thank You,

Jennifer Alexander

President, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

I Care, but I think too.

If I have to hear or read another article about how I don't CARE about Madison Schools or the kids because I think and analyze before I vote, I will scream. I voted today, thanks for the applause, and I voted No, Yes, Yes. So I guess I CARE 2/3 of the time right?

I CARE about the whole district and after careful analysis of the situation I am convinced the district needs another school, just not on the Leopold site. I feel a school located in a more general location that could accommodate students from the (higher income) west growth, (higher income)Leopold growth and perhaps be a home school for Allied Drive would be a more logical location for the whole district. Also I am concerned about the Ridgewood Apartments and the size of the proposed school if the numbers change due to that large complex.

I CARE enough that I volunteer twice a week at MMSD. I see first hand the struggles, but I also sometimes see the waste. I analyze that every year because I think the schools should be run efficiently. I CARE about how money is spent because if it were spent efficiently we would not have to say good-bye to no cut athletics and strings bi-weekly. I CARE when I see an aid at a Jr. High spend 1/2 the day reading books in the library because they do not want to cut her full time status yet she has no students in the afternoon. I CARE that every Monday afternoon's elementary inservice time for the teachers may not be used as contracted. I CARE that my son never received true TAG services because there is no money. I CARE that the legislation is not supporting S.E. and ESL and I write my state reps all the time. I CARE the state and federal government is spending less on education than they mandate and I write my congressman, senators, and I vote. I CARE so much that I volunteer on countless committees and give significant amounts of money to our schools. I CARE so much sometimes it hurts. But I do CARE if money is just thrown at a problem. Ever seen a spoiled child? Money doesn't cure them, discipline and love do. Throwing money without questioning the results is a classic educational method. My new high school 25 years ago was build with no divider walls to "Open up the educational experience ....several million dollars later we had to put up walls. Whole language was great, until you had to spell and take the SAT. Ideas are great, money is wonderful, enthusiasm helps, but lets not stop thinking when it comes to financing our kids education.

Why two yes votes? I like good roofs and I keep hoping MMSD might CARE enough about the computer age to join. And lastly, I wanted to vote no on the increase spending to send a message but since the budget is too overwhelming for me to comprehend (like how does the district say it cut so many positions but the number of staff has increased over the years) I am handing my vote and money to the district, just as I also hand them my three children everyday. And, I happen to CARE a lot about them. Is it a smart vote? Who knows but I thought hard and long because I CARE about the process and the outcome over time for all the kids.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 9:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Referenda Vote Today: Compare Ward results with the 4/5/2005 Election here

4/5/2005 Results

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State School Test Scores Released

Alan Borsuk:

The brightest spot in the tests statewide appeared to be reading for eighth- and 10th-graders. The results show that 85% of eighth-graders were proficient or better in reading, up six percentage points from a year ago, while 74% of 10th-graders cleared the proficiency bar, up five percentagepoints from a year ago.

But for fourth-graders, the percentage proficient or better went down in math and science, stayed the same in reading and language arts and went up one point in social studies.

And an eight-point jump in the percentage of eighth-graders who were at least proficient in math only reversed an eight-point drop among the eighth-graders in the prior year - a sign both of the way scores can change from year to year and of how little things have changed in recent years.

The gaps that leave low-income and minority students scoring far below other students remain large and in some instances were worse in this school year's testing. There have been some instances of the gaps shrinking, but it remains as much as 50 percentage points in some cases (78% of white 10th-graders and 28% of black 10th-graders were demonstrated proficient in math.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Partnership Committee - Citizen Members Sought

The MMSD School Board Partnership Committee has two openings for citizens members. Letters of interest, mailed to the School Board President, Carol Carstensen, are being sought. The deadline for applying is Friday, May 27, 2005.

The MMSD Partnership Committee, which will be chaired by Lawrie Kobza in the 2005-2006 school year, focuses on community partnerships and MSCR. The other two board members on the committee are Ruth Robarts and Johnny Winston, Jr. Information on application for appointment follows:

Excert from MMSD board Policy #1031:

5. Citizen Members; Application for Appointment. Any adult resident of the District or pupil in a District high school or alternative high school program is eligible to apply for appointment as a citizen member of any standing committee with citizen members. Applicants shall mail or deliver to the BOARD PRESIDENT a letter containing the applicant's name, address and telephone number and a statement not exceeding 500 words of the applicant's qualifications and interest in appointment to a specified committee. A person may apply, by separate letters, for appointment to more than one standing committee, or subcommittee of a standing committee, but shall not simultaneously serve as a citizen member of more than one committee. Letters of application may be submitted at any time and shall be kept on file for at least two years from the date of submission. Letters of application shall be open to public inspection and shall be reviewed by the BOARD PRESIDENT prior to nominating citizen members to any committee. District staff and BOARD members may encourage any person they deem qualified to apply for appointment as a citizen member of a standing committee. After consultation with the chairperson of each committee on which citizens serve, the Board President shall recommend to the Board the nomination of citizens to serve on each committee on which citizens serve. The Board shall vote to approve such nominations.
# Citizen Members; Terms. Citizen members of standing committees or subcommittees of a standing committee shall be appointed for two year terms, except as otherwise provided in this paragraph. If there is a vacancy in the office of a citizen member, a citizen shall be appointed to fill the unexpired term, but if the unexpired term is less than six (6) months, the person shall serve for the unexpired term plus one full term. Terms of citizen members shall commence June 1st and end May 31st. Citizen members shall serve staggered terms. High School pupils appointed to a standing committee or subcommittee of a standing committee may be appointed to either 1 or 2 year terms, as the BOARD PRESIDENT directs. No citizen member shall be eligible to serve more than two consecutive terms on the same standing committee.
# Citizen Members; Vacancy. If a citizen member resigns, establishes residence outside the District, becomes a member of the BOARD, or is removed by the BOARD, his or her office as a citizen member shall be deemed vacant. A citizen member may be removed by the BOARD upon motion by the chair of the standing committee on which the citizen member serves and a showing that the citizen member has failed to attend or otherwise perform his or her duties on a grievous and continuous basis, despite the chair's warning the member of the possibility of removal for such dereliction of duty.

Posted by at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 23, 2005

WKOW-TV: Botched Ballots Flagged Weeks Ago

WKOW-TV Madison:

Madison School District employees are unlockinging ballot boxes at polling places, and stocking them with reprinted ballots for the school district referendum election.

Normally, this would be a job for specifically trained city workers.

Assistant City Clerk Sharon Christensen says she does not have the staff to stock ballots this quickly, this close to an election.

She's also worried about handing off this job. "I'm a little uncomfortable."...

School district officials budgeted $90,000 for this election. Officials said they are still waiting for a cost estimate on the reprinting of 84,000 ballots, but said it could as much as $50,000. The ballot amount reflects an expected turnout of 21% of eligible, registered voters.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Traditional Madison Media Referenda Coverage

I took a quick tour around the websites of Madison's traditional media. These sites have a bit more than the usual coverage:

I've posted a set of links to those who support and oppose the Referenda questions here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Precipitous Drop in Computer Science Interest

Students once saw computer-science classes as their ticket to wealth. Now, as more technology jobs are outsourced to other countries, such classes are seen as a path to unemployment.

New data show students' interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.

Professors say the creation in the last five years of new degrees in information technology or information systems may also be offering more-attractive alternatives to computer science. Computer science focuses on how networks are engineered -- the theoretical aspects of computing -- and on writing software, while information technology focuses on applied work, such as building Web sites, adapting systems to a business's needs, and maintaining networks.

George Mason University started an information-technology program in the fall of 2002, and this year has 726 students in the program. The number keeps growing each year, with students particularly interested in computer-security courses, says Anne Marchant, an information-technology instructor at the university. Only 550 George Mason students are computer-science majors. A few years ago the department had about 800 students who majored in the field.

Ms. Marchant blames the shift partly on what she sees as students' deteriorating mathematics aptitude.

"Information technology is the right home for an awful lot of students who do not have the math skills and do not really have the interest in becoming programmers," she says.

Jesse J. Rangel, a senior at California State University at Bakersfield who is a computer-science major, says some of his classmates avoid computer science because it involves advanced mathematics and physics. "The sad fact is that many students are not up for the challenge," he says.

See the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 4:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Capital Times referendum articles and editorials

The Capital Times has posted consolidated links to its referendum coverage, editorials, and forum responses to editorials on the May 24 questions. The URL is:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 22, 2005

Goodbye Freshman No Cut Sports

The school district comments line ( for school board members has been getting several messages regarding the “Freshman No Cut Sports Program.” Regardless of what happens with the operating referendum on May 24th, this particular program will cease to exist. The Freshman No Cut Sports program has been a staple in the school district for over 20 years. This program is indeed another causality of the state imposed revenue caps. Unfortunately because of the school district’s severe budget constraints, I find it very difficult to justify the programs continuance in its current form.

This Freshman No Cut Sports guarantees 9th grade high school students the opportunity to participate in athletics. Primarily this program involves the creation of extra teams in boys and girls basketball and girls volleyball (and maybe soccer, too). For example, if there were 60 students who wanted to participate in a sport the district would create four teams (or 15 students per team – depending on the sport). Two of those teams would participate in a “high level competitive environment” by playing against other teams from the Big 8 conference such as other Madison schools, Middleton, Sun Prairie, Beloit and Janesville. These would be your more athletically gifted players. The other teams called “Metro” teams play an abbreviated schedule against other Madison schools and perhaps Middleton. Players on these teams would be considered “less athletically gifted.” Given that the school board increased the activity fee to $115 per sport, you have to ask yourself are those athletes getting their monies worth and can the taxpaying community support the perception of another “extra activity” for the school district?

Last fall, Superintendent Art Rainwater developed a task force of athletic directors, booster club members and coaches to make recommendations regarding the future of sports programming in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). One of their many recommendations was to eliminate the “Freshman No Cut Sports” program and replace it with an “extra-mural” program where students would have a limited schedule of playing against other students. This program would still have the same effect related to the district’s Educational Framework of Engagement, Learning and Relationships, however, it would be funded and conducted differently. At the same time, the MMSD will continue to honor its Big 8 conference contractual agreements to provide freshman and junior varsity teams in most sports when applicable.

I believe that MMSD staff, booster clubs and members of the school board are working diligently to continue to provide extracurricular activities for students of all ability levels. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to provide this experience to as many students as in the past in the same format. In the future, I will recommend a fee increase in some sports as well as admission prices. In addition, I believe that the school board will have to evaluate its policies related to business partnerships (advertising and program underwriting) to continue to support athletic programming and other extracurricular activities. Also, partnerships will have to be developed and strengthened with community organizations such as the YMCA, Little Leagues, neighborhood centers, and other community athletic organizations to augment school programs that the district doesn’t have the capacity or the fiscal budget to continue.

We are in a very difficult situation that doesn’t look to be getting any better soon. I agree that athletics plays a very important part in the lives of students. But so do many other academic and extracurricular activities. Sadly, I say goodbye to “Freshman No Cut Sports.” It provided many students the opportunity for not only athletic enjoyment but helped in developing social and team building skills as well. Just like strings, it was a program that made the MMSD special. It will be missed.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 4:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 21, 2005

Northside Planning Council Referenda Forum

Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes Thursday night's Madison Schools Referenda Forum:

Northside Planning Council's moderator, Vernon Blackwell, asked if further cuts were required, should the district commit to keeping small class sizes at schools with the greatest need even if it meant raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels.

Robarts and Kobza said yes, as did board member Carol Carstensen, but she started to say "Of course I'll do it --" before Blackwell said: "That's a yes."

Brant, Keys, board member Johnny Winston Jr. and Madison Cares leader Arlene Silveira said no. Rainwater said it wasn't his decision and stuck to that as Blackwell told him that "You can't abstain."

During the audience comments, Dorothy Borchardt said that she was dismayed that Rainwater wouldn't answer the question and said that it was no defense to say it was up to the board to decide. "The School Board is your rubber stamp," she said.

Apart from the referendums, the district's leaders were also challenged on why a $2 million federal reading program grant was declined and how they would handle class sizes if resources continued to dwindle.

Rainwater said that taking the money would have meant eventually teaching an unproven curriculum to all students at all schools and would have meant losing a program the administration believes is working.

But before he said that, Carstensen tried to explain it in the context of breakfast cereal.

"Let's say you're on a tight budget and someone is willing to give you $50 per month for food," Carstensen said. "But it can only be spent on Fruit Loops. Would you take it."

Several people in the back whispered: "Of course!"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 20, 2005

Ballot Mess Could Be Big Referenda Problem

"You're tax dollars are paying for printers to work overtime this weekend. 89,000 ballots for Madison school's May 24th referendum contain wrong information, and it has created quite a mess. . . ."

Story continues on the Web site of Channel 15.

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Export Licenses for Learning....

Cristi Hegranes:

Will we be more secure -- or just less competitive -- if the government forces hundreds of thousands of international science students to get export licenses simply to look through a microscope?

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Question Needs to Be: What Does It Cost to Educate a Child in Today's Society?

I am tired of legislators who look at the amount of money spent to educate a child today compared to prior years and then say: "Look at how much more we are spending to educate our children today. We have fewer children. We have more teachers. It's a whole lot of money."

Yes, public education costs a considerable amount of money. Yet, I never hear the legislature take up in a meaningful manner: "What do we need to educate our child in terms of standards, in terms of curriculum to have high school graduates who are well-educated and can compete in the modern workplace? What is this cost? What is the cost to society of not making this investment - in terms of number of crimes committed and prison costs, in terms of the attractiveness to businesses of our schools?"

There was the Governor's task force on education, and the issue of the cost to educate a child was raised, but the discussion did not go very far. Until you know how what is needed and what that costs, comparing current dollars spent on education to dollars spent before provides little information and no guidance for next steps, processes to follow, etc.

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State Rep. Lassee on Madison Schools

Representative Frank Lassee's May 19 weekly column focuses on school funding in Madison.

For Public Schools: $9.6 Billion:
Madison schools spend above average, nearly $13,000 per kid

To read the column, go to:

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IBM: Colleges: More Top Students Needed

Mindy B. Hagen:

With a critical shortage of Information Technology workers projected in the coming years, it's crucial that university computer science departments do all they can to attract top students to the field, a local IBM official said Tuesday.

At IBM University Day in Research Triangle Park on Tuesday, leading IBM officials and university professors from across the region gathered to discuss new ways of marketing computer careers to up-and-coming students.

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May 19, 2005

Kudos to Jim Zellmer in Isthmus

The 5/20/05 Isthmus editorial entitled "Teachable Moments" discusses their coverage of school issues, including this week's review of the referenda.

The editor then goes on to say, "Those who wish to wade deeper into the issues are directed to, an excellent cache of information on the district and the referendum questions. It is the work of Jim Zellmer, proprietor of who has received national notice for the site."

Thank you Jim for being the catalyst for getting School Information Systems up and running, for providing the community a forum for the open exchange of information and opinions on education issues.

And in a similar fashion, I am grateful for Isthmus, especially for its in-depth reporting on school topics. This week's letters to the editor on the Linda Falkenstein's TAG article were especially thoughtful and well-written.

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Community Educates MMSD

Click to view a larger aerial image
Crestwood elementary school has sat on top of a hill (aerial photo) for over 100 years. It's geography is cartoonish as it is on the top of a hill while the playground, or as the students call it, the "battlefield" lays far below a slopping grassy hill and the street in front of the school drops below quickly to Old Middleton Road. During our Wisconsin winters with ice and snow the students rarely enjoy the playground or the "battlefield" as it is too slippery to return to class and muddy when not slippery. Therefore, the students spend most of the year playing on a tar surface blacktop that doubles as a parking lot for large events. CAPT, Crestwood Ass. Parents And Teachers, has had an ongoing discussion with the district for 10 years to resurface the blacktop, which is cracked and falling apart, and add a playset for the winter months but have been discouraged by the $50,000 to $60,000 estimate quoted to solve this problem.

Doug Pearson, director of building services, came to a CAPT meeting at the beginning of the year to let us know that while we are on the list to have this corrected, other needs of the district and the cost of resurfacing the blacktop is so great that it "just ain't going to happen". CAPT has been collecting excess money from our budget for about 10 - 15 years and we have accumulated about $30,000 to pay for a new playset once the blacktop is resurfaced. After that meeting we were all discouraged by the $50 to $60,000 dollars we were again quoted to resurface the area, and it seemed this was not going to happen within the time our children attended elementary school.

But with the spunk and energy educated parents can bring to the schools, one of our own parents, Marisue Horton, was able to research the blacktop issue and discovered that it would not require the
$50,000 previously believed. Instead, a company based in Middleton called DSR Ltd., has developed a new process that uses a mixture of asphalt, polyester filament, and recycled rubber, and gave her a quote of $15,800. This new product is layed directly on top of the old blacktop which greatly reduces the cost and time it takes to renew the surface. To be fair the $15,000 quote only resurfaces the play area and the districts quote included a parking space also. This company has resurfaced areas at U.W. and even a business owned by a Crestwood parent.

Doug Pearson was contacted about this option. He investigated the company and the product and discovered what Ms. Horton had already figured out. This is a GREAT cost saving product for the district. While he gave "approval" for this product he pointed out that our blacktop is still several years away from being done by the district. Nor would the district reimburse us in the future if CAPT elected to pay DRS the $15,000.

To top it off due to the large amount of money being spent the district requires that we give them the check and they then bid the project out to companies.

Is it me or is this the most ludicrous waste of time and energy?

This man is paid to maintain our schools efficiently and effectively. Neither, might I add, has he done. He should be able to research companies, local ones especially, that can keep maintenance spending at our schools lower and more effective. Again, that is his job.

Ms. Horton found the new method, CAPT voted to have half of our savings spent to do this project, and yet we are "giving the district the check" to have them oversee the project! Please! Like MMSD can do this efficiently or timely. How many other projects throughout the district are done the same old way without knowledge of new methods or products that could save the district money? It is an interesting question to ask when they need more money for maintenance. While I will vote for the referendum, I am concerned my tax dollars are again not spent as carefully as say CAPT money. I dare say I will be amazed if my first grader gets the opportunity to play on that playground if the district is in charge. Wish us luck.

Aerial photo from DCI Map

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 4:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mischaracterized Mr. Winston Re Sports and Arts

In previous blogs I left the impression that Johnny was pro sports and dropping the ball on fine arts academic curriculum because there was a sports committee last year and not a fine arts committee.

The admin made that decision, not the school board. My apologies to Mr. Winston for assuming as Chair of the Partnership Committee that he had been involved in this decision.

I still believe we need a fine arts committee that includes parents, teachers, fine arts organizations, uw staff, etc., to discuss long-term issues facing MMSD's fine arts academic curriculum. I hope School Board members urge the administration to get this rolling rather than wait until next spring when it's too late.

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School Referenda

In order to clarify what I said to the reporter in the May 18 story entitled Mayor Urges Yes Vote for Schools, I sent the following letter to the CapTimes:

Dear Editors,

I was quoted as saying the "world wouldn't come to a screeching halt" if the referenda did not pass. Actually, what I said was there was plenty of time for the school board to prepare new referenda questions for a November election, when we would otherwise be voting. Thus, for those of us concerned that these items are not based on solid data, a 'no' vote now would not bring the district to its knees.

Why the rush, then? Because the outcome might change. For instance, by next fall, we might learn that the demographics in the district and Leopold neighborhood argue against a school there, perhaps that building there would mean certain school closures in the Isthmus area. Those following school issues know that another far West side elementary school is surely going to get built in addition to whatever happens at Leopold. Something's got to give.

And as to the operating and maintenance questions, we need a closer look at the teachers' contract and also the "untouchable" administrative staff arrangements. Actually, we need an overall transparent budget process. If the numbers are solid, let's see the justifications and assumptions. I am happy to support these requests when I can trust the numbers. Right now, I don't.

Joan M. Knoebel

I'd like to clarify that this post is not meant as a criticism of the reporting. This reporter does a terrific job of covering school issues, and doing so fairly. But I felt it was important to correct the misapprehension some had after reading the story that I believe the referenda are not important or that I don't care what happens to our schools. My point is that we have time to do this better, i.e., a "no" vote now won't shut down our schools. The board can bring these questions back to the public in November, hopefully after a more transparent look at all the numbers.

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The Leopold Referendum: No Due Diligence

I oppose the Leopold School referendum.

I oppose it not because I'm a Republican (I'm not), not because I'm a Democrat (I'm not, though the Mayor would have you believe that that would constitute an oxymoron -- a sad commentary on what it means to be a Democrat, seems to me), but because opposing the Leopold referendum is the responsible decision.

(My political leaning, if you must know: A left wing conservative! "Always do the right thing, leaving as much money as you can to do more right things.").

The Leopold referendum wastes $10M over 15 years.

The only real motivation for this blindness was "we promised the Leopold parents back in 2002", and great lobbying by the Leopold crowd -- to the potential detriment of other schools and kids in the district. Placing this promise in perspective, in 2002, when the promise was first made, the estimate for a new school at Leopold was $7M. In 2004, the initial estimate became $11M; the referendum now calls for $14.5M -- a 200% increase from 2002. Quite a jump!

The most responsible decision the Board could have made was to construct another addition to the Leopold school, borrowing up to $10M from the State Trust Fund (no referendum is required), as we did for the 2003 addition to Leopold. And we wouldn't have to pay for a new principal at this new school, at $100,000+ per year, because their wouldn't be a new school! Another savings. (Or maybe build the $7M school, originally promised?).

Our savings of $10M over the referendum is the difference between the 15-year cost of the referendum and the anticipated principle and interest payments back to the State on the $10M loan. Our 15-year cost is $23M, not the $14.5M, which is the money we get to keep. The $23M is this $14.5M plus the 60% increase Madison taxpayers are required to pay under the State's Equalization Forumla -- we're paying welfare to other school districts!

What could we do with the $10M not spent on the Leopold site? Make additions to southwest schools to accommodate expected growth (also limits growth at Leopold), and additions to schools on the east side: both will be needed anyway.

And this would have been the prudent thing to do, given the flux in the Ridgewood apartments area, which calls into question the growth estimates for Leopold.

The School Board failed to follow their own policy and consider an addition to Leopold as an alternative, instead jumping full speed ahead, without deliberation, to building a new school. In fact, the Long Range Planning citizen committee, that was charged with the initial deliberations, spent the majority of their time at meetings, practising their Leopold referendum campaign speeches, instead of deliberating over the substance. Their lack of even reasonable due diligence in the execution of their responsibilties leaves the voters to make emotional instead of logical and factual decisions.

Send the referendum back to them. Demand that do their job. When they've done their due diligence, then we can talk.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 8:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Referenda Views

Sandy Cullen talks with a number of local players, including Art Rainwater, Roger Price along with both supporters and opponents of the 5/24 Referenda vote.

Cullen also mentions the very high taxpayer cost for these initiatives, due to the State's equalization formula. For each $1.00 in new spending, the District must tax Madison homeowners $1.60! Essentially, as local spending exceeds state averages, the State reduces aid.

I find the support that Madison has shown for local education remarkable. Consider:

  • Madison spends an average of $13K per student, 25% more than the state average.
  • The District's annual budget has increased from roughly $193M 10 years ago to $319M this year while enrollment has remained flat (Demographics have changed, of course)
  • Madison has many active volunteers who devote their time to local education efforts.

This support is positive and rather unique. The debate, in my view, is when we collectively reach the (tipping) point where piling more and more on the property taxpayer effectively erodes this essential support. I also think the District could significantly improve the transparency of the budget process (one simple example: the implications on student programs and teacher staffing of contract decisions made months before the "annual spring cut/spending reduction list" discussions).

I think the Madison Education Community should create an initiative to change the way we fund local education. I don't believe a top down approach to school financing change will work. It may get passed at some point, but I doubt we'll like the outcome.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 18, 2005

For Immigrant Students, Math is One Road to Success

Michael Winerup:

So it was a surprise to see the photograph in the weekly paper, The Quincy Sun. There, on Page 7, was the Quincy High math club, and 17 of 18 members were Asian. Mathematically, it made no sense. Quincy High is 22 percent Asian; why is the math club 94.4 percent Asian?

Evelyn Ryan, the math department head, says that before the influx of Asian families began, there was one calculus class of 10 students; now there are two calculus classes totaling 40 students, 75 percent of them Asian.

I wanted to ask math club members why Asian students are so good in math. As I was to learn, it wasn't such a simple question.

Most Asians at Quincy High have been in America only a few years, from China, Vietnam and Thailand. Most know little English when they arrive and are placed in E.S.L. classes (English as a second language.) "When I was a freshman, half year in U.S., English is a big problem," said Chaoran Xie, a junior now. "I just know, 'Hello how are you?' History is a big problem. You don't openly express yourself because you don't know what to say and stuff. In history it's a simple idea, but you don't have the basic English."

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5/24 Referenda - Special Interest Money

The Madison City Clerk's office has posted Pre-Special Election Campaign Finance Information for the 5/24/2005 Referenda:

Lee Sensenbrenner follows the money.
Local Parent/Activist and Madison CARES supporter Arlene Silveira argues for a yes vote on all three questions.
Learn more about the referenda here.
UPDATE: Sandy Cullen has more on Referenda spending.

Arlene Silveira: Vote 'yes' on all three referendums

A letter to the editor
May 18, 2005

Dear Editor: Please vote YES, YES, YES on May 24.

YES to a second school on the Leopold campus. The attendance area continues to grow. The Leopold community wants to keep its diverse school together. Test scores show the school functions well. There is nowhere for the children to go without disrupting many other schools and boundaries. This is a community-driven plan that works. Keep a neighborhood school together. YES for Leopold!!

YES to exceeding revenue caps. Madison schools were recently ranked third in the country. There is a reason for this success - broad selection of programs, great teachers and top-notch curriculum. Our children are our future. Keeping Madison schools strong keeps our children and our future strong. YES to the future of our children!

YES to maintenance. The average building in the school district is 40+ years old. Each day the buildings are subjected to the wear and tear of hundreds of children. As in our homes, roofs and heating equipment need to be replaced on a regular cycle. Buildings need to be maintained to remain safe and positive learning environments for our children. We mustn't cut back on safety ... we wouldn't do it for our own homes. Pride in our school translates to pride in our community. YES to maintaining our schools!

Arlene Silveira

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 17, 2005

Fed Up With Lunch Waste

Don Behm:

"They never eat them all," Aubrey said, referring to chicken nuggets left on the trays of first-, second- and third-graders.

The pair saw only a small portion of a nationwide pile of school lunch waste.

Each year, about $600 million in food served by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program is thrown away by students, the department's Economic Research Service estimates in a report. That amounts to 12% of the food they are served.

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Joan Dissects Mayor Dave's Pitch for the Referenda

Joan Knoebel comments on the Mayor's campaign email list being used for a pro referenda message. Mayor Dave's permanent campaign site is here. Email your pro or con comments: mayor at cityofmadison dot com

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Board Debates 1.8M in a $319M Budget

Lee Sensenbrenner picks up much detail (great work!):

Later in the night, when the board was going back and forth over whether it might keep kindergarten art, music and computer class sizes from doubling next year - a move that would have saved around $270,000 - Robarts said she was struggling to understand how that discussion was taking place when the district next year will pay $21 million for health insurance.

"Excuse me, that's not germane," board member Bill Keys said. Earlier Monday, the board had been meeting in closed session about the teachers' contract currently under negotiation. No financial terms have been disclosed.

"OK, that's it. I'll shut up," Robarts said. "It just seems very backward."

Although board members were able to save several programs, particularly those that had become visible and controversial lately, several of them complained about the limited role they end up playing as the budget is determined.

Shwaw Vang, for example, proposed a $30,000 cut in the travel, conference and advertising fund as budget amendments were being prepared this month and requested that the administration find a way to do that. What he got back was a plan that said his proposed reduction would have to come out of the travel fund for the district's coordinator for minority recruitment. It would also drain the advertising account that's dedicated to drawing a diverse work force.

Vang said that was not what he had in mind, and other board members quickly said they felt the same frustrations.

Ruth Robarts, who unsuccessfully proposed several general cuts of varying amounts to the business services department, was told they would come by eliminating custodians and deferring maintenance.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I just don't find that very credible."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Others also demonize opponents

Beth Zurbuchen isn't the only pro-referenda advocate who cannot understand referenda opponents who support quality schools but will vote no to force the board and administration to consider better budgeting, management, and curriculum.

Bill Keys said, quoting a Cap Times article:

To school board member Bill Keys, "the people who have doubts about the referendum seem to belong to two camps."

One, he said, is composed of those who oppose additional school funding whenever the opportunity comes along. . . .

"These people are always against education," he contended. "That's their history, that's their life. They've made a career of being against education."

In the other camp are those, he said, who just don't want to engage in the complexities of the problem and study the real constraints that exist in school finance.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hard choices for Madison Voters

On May 24th, citizens in the Madison school district will vote on three referenda questions affecting whether to build an addition to Leopold School, exceed revenue caps, and renew the maintenance referendum.

For many people the answers are an easy yes or no vote. Others, like me, have wrestled with their choice for each question.

Why is the choice so difficult? It should be easy, right? Strong public education is a good thing. We want to support teachers and students in the district. We know that overcrowded schools all too often undermine education.

I can't speak for others, but I know that I have several barriers to an automatic yes vote. The issues are different for Leopold than for the operating and maintenance questions. For me, the issues come down to what I do - and do not - know about what the questions mean. I feel that my duty as a representative of the community is to make informed decisions on behalf of our children and not to commit to proposals that lack sound justifications.

In the case of Leopold School, my sticking points come down to:

1) We don't know how the Ridgewood Apartment complex redevelopment will affect enrollments at Leopold, although we know that the numbers of low income apartments near the school will drop soon.

2) We are fairly certain that significant future growth is more likely to happen farther west, making a new school at a site that would accommodate some Leopold students and students from the new growth areas, a more practical choice.

3) A 1,100 student K-5 school is unprecedented in the district and something that we haven't prepared for in terms of educational and safety challenges.

4) We know that we can accommodate the current enrollment for next year in the current building.

5) We know that we can borrow enough money, without going to referendum, to expand the building to serve the students in the attendance area if overcrowding remains a problem.

I struggle with the operating budget vote for other reasons:

1) The district has threatened cuts to teachers, staff, and programs that affect the daily school experience of our students; business services, discretionary spending, and administration are essentially held harmless if the question fails.

2) The budget was developed by using a formula based on last year's spending rather than on discussion and decisions about priorities, program effectiveness, or how funding choices affect district priorities.

3) Although the figures were set earlier this year, the board and the public did not receive anything close to a comprehensive 2005-2006 budget document until days before the referendum vote.

4) The Finance & Operations Committee met only three times this year and the board did not discuss the details of the operating budget question even though we knew that there was certain to be an operating budget referendum question.

5) We continue to spend huge amounts on health insurance choices for our employees at the expense of maintaining jobs and keeping programs for our children. For example, this year we will spend a total of $24 M on health insurance for Madison teachers, including $21 M for the WPS option, but eliminate $7.4 M in programs and staff if the budget referendum fails.

6) Because of the state’s equalization formula, we must tax more than $11 M to gain $7.4M each year for the operating budget. Paying such a high premium to fund operating expenses projects means that the budget priorities must be more carefully chosen than they have been.

Finally, I am unable to endorse the maintenance referendum without reservation because:

1) The only document outlining the maintenance referendum is an Excel spreadsheet (spreadsheet accuracy study link). There is no narrative that explains how the district will make choices if projects go over cost.

2) There has been no accounting for the district’s exhausting the maintenance budget this year with three months to go and zeroing out the reserve for contingencies to fix leaky plumbing and like projects.

3) The state’s equalization formula has the same impact on the maintenance budget as it does on the operating budget. To gain $5 M for maintenance projects, we must tax more than $7 M. Paying this premium should force us to choose the projects more carefully.

I wish I did have easy, automatic, answers to these questions that surely affect day to day operations for our schools. Unfortunately, no matter how much I value the general objectives of the three questions, I also am painfully aware that, as a board, we simply have not done the work that would assure voters that they will get the results that they expect by passing these questions on May 24.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 7:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 16, 2005

Casey Hoff on the Referenda

Case Hoff:

Referendum is a word that rolls off the tongue like a fiery expletive after you get your property tax bill in the mail every year. Why such lewd language? Probably because a referendum seems more common than a cold day in January and the Madison School Board is now asking you to approve not one, not two, but three referenda totaling over $48 million dollars. This includes a $7.4 million revenue cap raise, $26.2 million over five years for building maintenance, computer technology, and instructional materials, and $14.5 million for the Leopold Elementary School facelift.

You may be asking yourself, “Should I really vote ‘yes’ and just bite my lip as I tack on another $108 to my property tax bill?” You may be saying, “I strongly support funding for our wonderful public education system, but are they making all the cuts they can to clean up the budget?” Don’t tell Madison CARES Spokeswoman Beth Zurbuchen that you’re considering voting ‘no’ or you’ll be drug out in the mud and figuratively shot like a feral cat in the north woods of Wisconsin (oops, touchy subject, sorry).

Zurbuchen's quote can be found here.

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May 15, 2005

WKOW / FOX TV Followup on the Referenda

WKOW / FOX TV (WKOW produces the FOX 47 9:00p.m. newscast) ran a story today on yesterday's Referenda and the increased amount of local education information and conversation available online, including this site. 3.6MB Quicktime Video
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ed Hughes on the Madison School District Administration's Budget Process

Ed Hughes wrote this letter to the Isthmus Editor (5/12/2005 edition) 210K PDF. Jeff Henriques also comments about the Isthmus' recent Madison Schools coverage (5/12/2005 edition) 210K PDF.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent Rainwater: It doesn't matter what Johnny thinks

In Thursday’s Capital Times article titled "Strings program is still not safe" by Lee Sensenbrenner, the Superintendent said, “It doesn’t matter what Johnny thinks!” Mr. Winston responded strongly. “I would like to see the strings program continued somehow, some way," Winston added. "I think the community wants that. I think that's loud and clear."

Mr. Rainwater, it does matter to me what Johnny thinks. I, and I’m sure others, care about what the School Board is directing the superintendent to do, and we care deeply that the Superintendent is following through on directions from the majority of the School Board. Coming back one day later, declaring the charge is impossible, is puzzling following a presentation by the administration the night before of options.

Madison’s children need someone like Johnny, and a majority of the School Board, standing up for them. Elementary strings is part of our kids’ music education curriculum and does not merit a 100% cut in the budget – especially without any curriculum review process. Creative solutions/problem solving to make this work for our children and community is welcomed. Thank you, Mr. Winston.

There is no reason why the approach to music education should not be child-centered, focusing on what children are learning. That’s what the administration did for HS athletics. They need to do the same for elementary music education – an academic course. Put children’s learning and academic achievement first.

Posted by at 5:47 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carol Carstensen on Isthmus' Recent Madison Schools Coverage

This article, by Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen, appeared in Isthmus' May 12, 2005 edition:

Over the last two years, Isthmus' articles on the Madison school district, especially its approach to teaching reading, have reminded me of a favorite quote from Adlai Stevenson: "These are the conclusions upon which I base my facts."

The Madison school district has gotten a great deal of negative coverage from Isthmus, despite the fact that the district has seen continued improvement in the numbers and percent of children achieving at the two highest levels on the state's third-grade reading test.

This improvement comes at the same time as the district is ensuring that more students are tested, while the students themselves represent an increasingly diverse community. That is, more students in poverty, more students of color and more students whose first language is not English.

Here are some of the facts that Isthmus has ignored:

  • 4 Children learn, and learn to read, in many different ways.

  • The district's Balanced Literacy program is not one method but an approach in which teachers are trained in different strategies to meet the needs of individual children. This is why small class size at the primary level is so critical.

  • Many teachers throughout the district are trained in Direct Instruction, and they use it when it is appropriate for a specific student or group of students.

  • Reading Recovery is meant for the bottom 20% of the grade level, for the children who lag the most in learning to read. Of all the first-grade children who received Reading Recovery in 2002 and were still in the district two years later to take the third-grade reading test, 89% tested at grade level (66% scored proficient or advanced).

These are more appropriate figures for judging the program's effectiveness than
the one Isthmus prefers to emphasize, the 53% who "successfully complete" the program.

I am puzzled by the Isthmus focus on Lapham/Marquette. Let me state up front that I think these two schools are excellent; my children went to Marquette, and my granddaughter went to Lapham and Marquette. The Lapham/Marquette staff is outstanding. However, there are also excellent staff in many of the district's other schools.

In looking for outstanding performance on the third-grade reading test, Isthmus has ignored Schenk and Mendota elementary schools. Both have high levels of poverty. Schenk is at 49% this year, Mendota is at 74%, while Lapham/Marquette is 36%. Both Schenk and Mendota use Balanced Literacy as the core of their literacy programs, and their students have done extraordinarily well on the third-grade reading test. Looking just at low-income students, 85% at Marquette, 91% at Schenk and 83% at Mendota scored in the proficient or advanced range.

It is important for the community to have good information about the successes and failures of the school district. Good reporting, however, should reflect an objective look at all the data, not just selective data that supports a particular.

Original PDF version

Open Enrollment Denied

The May 2, 2005 Madison School Board meeting included a statement & discussion from a parent whose child was denied open enrollment in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. 9MB Video. More on open enrollment: Clusty | Google

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sensenbrenner: Madison School Board Members Bill Keys & Ruth Robarts on the May 24 Referenda

Lee Sensenbrenner provides a useful look at the different approaches to Madison School District spending taken by Board members Bill Keys & Ruth Robarts.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 14, 2005

Blocking Reform

Joanne Jacobs:

From the Huffington Post: Mike Piscal, founder of the very successful View Park Prep charter school in the low-income, minority Crenshaw District of LA names names in analyzing why 3,950 ninth graders at South LA's four major high schools turn into 1,600 graduates, 900 college freshmen and 258 college graduates. More here.
This is related: Shanghai Jiaotong University won the recent ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. The US hasn't won since 1997. The University of Illinois finished 17th, CalTech,Duke and MIT finished 29th while UW-Madison earned an honorable mention.

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

Ed Blume's Ideas and a Citizens' BOE

The National School Boards Association has written a Key Work of School Boards guidebook, detailing 8 key areas describing what School Boards should be doing, how they should be doing it, with action items, etc.

This is a wonderful site! Their ideas and the details well frames the issues and points in directions which many have been espousing for some time.

From the Forward to Key Works of School Boards:
"In an effort to help local school boards best fulfill their role, the National School Boards Association has created the Key Work of School Boards, a framework for raising student achievement through community engagement.... The framework is based on the premise that excellence in the classroom begins with excellence in the boardroom.... The guidebook provides a framework of eight "key" action areas that successful boards have focused their attention on: vision, standards, assessment, accountability, resource alignment, climate, collaboration, and continuous improvement."

Their presentation gives an overview.

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

May 13, 2005

Questions When Reviewing MMSD Financial & Enrollment History Analysis

Don, thank you for pulling together the historical data. When I reviewed the historical financial analysis a couple of thoughts came to mind:

Of the District administration's current budget, $40 million for special education and ESL currently comes from the operating budget. If the district received half of the amount of money to cover this unfunded mandate, revenues in 2002 - revenues would have been $318 million that year - the same amount as the 2005-2006 balanced budget.

Since 1993, the district's demographics have changed significantly. Since 1993, the district's low income population increased about 16% and the minority population increased 20%, many of our minority students are low-income and require support services to be successful in school.

While I am concerned about the total dollars, our revenue and expenditures are not out of line that much to cause me alarm. However, expenditures and revenues are tight with expenditures rising faster than revenues as our population demographics change. I am concerned about how the district moves forward - strategic financial planning, budget processes, curriculum assessments and greater public engagement in the decisionmaking process in a meaningful manner. I think the next five years are critical years that will determine the future direction of the district - we could easily go either up or down.

Posted by at 8:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 12, 2005

Unbelievable comments from Rainwater

In a Cap Times story on Thursday, May 12, the superintendent seems to be trying to:

1. Control the news by telling the paper how to report on board action.
2. Tell Johnny Winston, Jr. that what Johnny thinks is irrelevant to the superintendent.
3. Put the board in its place by telling it that he will cut strings if the referendum fails, no matter what resolution the board passes.

Fortunately, Johnny seems to be speaking up.

The newspaper reports, "But Wednesday, a day after the resolution passed, Rainwater wrote an e-mail to Winston and told The Capital Times that continuing strings while still keeping the $550,000 cut assigned to it would be impossible."

The newspaper story continues:

"But Rainwater, speaking to The Capital Times, said it was a mistake to say - as this newspaper reported Wednesday - that some form of stringed music will continue in Madison schools next year regardless of the May 24 referendums.

"There is absolutely no vote that has restored the strings program," Rainwater said. "It doesn't matter what Johnny thinks. It matters what the resolution says."

Rainwater said that even if the administration had come up with some way to continue strings, that proposal would again face board approval, so nothing the board has done so far has saved the program or some variation of it.

Winston said Wednesday that he was "disappointed" by Rainwater's e-mail.

"All I can do is make a motion and hope that the administration can carry it out," he said. "So far, it doesn't look like they can do that."

"I would like to see the strings program continued somehow, some way," Winston added. "I think the community wants that. I think that's loud and clear."

Posted by Ed Blume at 6:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sports vs. Fine Arts vs. Academics - Losing Battle for Kids

When I listened to the Board discussion on Monday, one Board member said that if you don't get it and vote for the referendum, Varsity sports will be on the chopping block to go next year. I cringed. I've been a fine arts education advocate, but I also lettered in three varsity sports in high school and know/experienced the importance of athletics. We need to vote yes in the referendum, but we also need to change the way we do our education business during the year.

I think we have to engage teachers, parents and the community year-round in a dialogue about what we our priorities in our school district for children's learning. We can't wait for tense discussions in the budget to do curriculum changes and threats of future cuts - we've got to be working all year long.

I'm voting for the referendum - we've lost too much for our kids already. My daughter's textbooks are dated, novels barely hold together, supplies are scarce, fewer teachers are at the middle school, at all schools, fewer subjects are being taught, etc.

But,our work cannot stop with a passing referendum. The School Board needs to identify keys academic,sport, technology etc., issues that need to be addressed and get the community engaged and collaboratively working together on what our community's priorities are for our children's education ASAP.

I'm the Treasurer of my school's PTO. We have not heard from the School Board nor has anyone on the School Board come to our PTO and met with our parents to ask us: a) what are your priorities for your children's education, b) what are your concerns, and c) what do we need to be doing now?

I'd like to have those discussions beginning in June, but for four years I've watched as the noise in the spring budget process builds to a crescendo, then fades in June and does not come up until next spring. I've worked on education/school election issues throughout the year. I've also been forced into "playing the advocacy game" for fine arts education, but I don't like it and I would like our Board leadership to begin a different process - starting ASAP.

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

Fine Arts vs Sports strange battle

The heated discussion between fine arts and sports is not helpful nor is it valid. This district seems to have a hard to financing both as part of the districts curriculum. For parents like myself that have children that love the arts AND athletics I do not favor eliminating one or the other.
My 4th grade daughter has art, music, and strings twice a week each. She also has P.E. three times a week. At the elementary level they reduced the amount of recess the students have which is an issue for my very busy 1st grade son. The current budget proposal is asking for elementary P.E. as well as music and art to increase the number of students in each class which will eliminate positions for all.
Madison is one of the only large school districts I know of that does not have school sponsored sports at the Jr. High Level. And the current proposal would move many of the 9-12 athletics to MSCR and not under the school districts budget. Perhaps the reason parents of athletics are not at the board meetings is because the options are to restructure the system so it will survive, whereas for elementary strings they are proposing elimination. That is why I am excited to see some discussions about other options for strings if the referendum fails.

My sixth grade son would curl up into a ball and cry if he didn't have his daily dose of sports, but he also loves his tuba, and my daughter would wilt in sadness without her daily dose of music,art and strings, but she is a mean swimmer and basketball player. Let's fight for a well rounded healthy curriculm that includes fine arts, music, athletics and the best 3 r's available. Is one more important than the other........I think that depends on the person(child), and I know for my children these are the reasons they excitedly get up and go to school everyday.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 9:10 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Low Cost Handhelds show results as Teaching Tools

Jim Kneiszel:

Foxview Intermediate School fifth-grader Meg Summerside becomes animated as she explains all the cool functions her personal digital assistant can perform.
Summerside excitedly rattles off a flurry of features that help her organize her life, write research papers and create simple animation in Becky Lee’s classroom.

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

Madison Schools Financial & Enrollment History Analysis

Active Citizens for Education has published an analysis of historical changes in the Madison School District's Enrollment, staffing and spending. Data was compiled from the Madison School District and the Wisconsin DPI website.
Please contact me with feedback or suggestions: email donleader at aol dot com or 608 577 0851
click to view the information
(55K pdf version)
Posted by Don Severson at 6:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 11, 2005

Madison Schools May 24, 2005 Referenda/Election Summary

I've posted a page with information, links and polling information (Fitchburg, Madison, Maple Bluff, Shorewood and the Town of Madison) regarding the May 24, 2005 Madison Schools Referenda. Please forward any additional links or notes to me: zellmer at mailbag dot com. Vote!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:47 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A 27 News Special Report: Worker's Comp at Schools

Wed 05/11/2005 -

27 News has uncovered an extraordinary amount of days missed by employees of the Madison School District because of worker's comp claims. These claims are far in excess of those filed by other similar sized Wisconsin school districts. And worker's comp claims in Madison are, in some cases, 14 times those of other districts. When added together, last year alone, Madison School District employees lost more than three and and a half years of work, because of on the job injuries.

When you think of school, you think of teachers, administrative staff, custodians, coaches -- you don't think of worker's comp. Here in Madison, you might want to start. 27 News has learned worker's comp claims by Madison School employees are costing taxpayers millions -- more than $3.3 million over the past the three years; last year - $1.25 million.

"The Madison school district's approach has been to reduce the losses, manage the claims, and then to also get people back to work as quickly as we possibly can," said Roger Price, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services at the Madison School District.

Last year, the Madison School District reported 144 injuries resulting in 1280 days missed. According to OSHA reports, A custodian at East High School lost 109 days because of a strained knee. And a teacher at Sennett Middle School broke an ankle. Instead of returning to work on light duty, that teacher missed 147 days.

Karen Townsend, worker's comp administrator for the Green Bay school district said she was very surprised at Madison's numbers. "We can accommodate anything," Townsend told 27 News. "I've rented wheelchairs for people who have broken their ankle, for example. We get people back to the job." Townsend says there's no reason why Madison can't bring the number of lost days down. Especially when virtually every district in the state is trying to find ways to trim costs.

Madison's Price said the district does a lot to bring employees back to the job. "We've been able to get employees back to work, which reduces the days out."

But the numbers don't bear that out: in our research, we found only one district comparable to Madison. The Racine school district reported 193 injuries last year, and lost just over 1,000 days.

But take a look at other similar sized districts: Green Bay is slightly smaller than Madison, but still fair to compare. Last year, Green Bay reported 219 injuries. But their days lost: 92; about 1,100 less than Madison.

Kenosha reported 428 injuries -- but only 520 days lost; less than half of what Madison School District employee's lost.

Even when presented with these numbers, Madison's Price maintained the Madison School District was in good shape. "When I look at the comparisons, I feel that our numbers look great, compared to some of the other districts that you had brought forward."

But Green Bay's Townsend says Madison can do better. In her 11 years at Green Bay, an aggressive approach in her district has brought injury claims and days lost down. What I just really instill is that these are really valuable people," Townsend said. "Even if they're just stilling in a chair with a presence -- in a classroom or you know, in the custodial area.

In Madison, it's the custodians who file the most claims. Madison custodians accounted for 56% of days lost last year -- they lost 716 days because of injuries. Price says those injuries were severe -- and like every claim, they're looked at on an individual basis. Isn't there more Madison could do to bring down those claims, like Green bay did? "There's always more we can do, and it takes an effort and staff to do that," Price said. "One of our budget cuts is our risk management position this year. Those duties will be consolidated with other individuals." And price says without that front line position, bringing the number of claims and lost days down will be even more difficult. "Budget cuts can actually impact your ability to be more affective."

But let's look for a second at the private sector: assembly lines, paper mills. Companies can go weeks and months without a single day missed because of an on the job injury. Madison's Price wouldn't comment. "You're in areas that I'm not familiar with their environment," Price said. "I'm not going to speculate on what happens in a different environment. I know what we do and what we're trying to accomplish is provide a safe workplace for employees."

Every year, the Madison School District is assigned a rating by the Wisconsin Compensation Rating Bureau. The rating determines how much the district pays for it's worker's comp insurance premiums; the lower the rating, the bigger the discount. Over the past three years, the Madison School District has seen improvements in it's rating: with a 1.26 rating in 2003 to a projected .99 rating this year. The district says that will save them $300,000 in their premium. 27 News found out, though, the rating system, doesn't extensively look at time lost -- it focuses on the number of injuries. And when you look at time lost in a school district, the costs multiply -- because not only are you paying for that employee, but you're also paying a substitute while that hurt employee is out.

Madison is the second largest school district in the state -- the school districts we compared to Madison were the three closest in size. Kenosha has virtually the same number of employees as Madison does. Green Bay is about 18% smaller.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 7:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Analyzing MMSD Spreadsheets

The report entitled What We Know About Spreadsheets by Professor Panko of the University of Hawaii analyzing the literature on accuracy of financial spreadsheets shows a truly appalling result -- significant errors, and furthermore, reliance on the accuracy, and denial of problems.

As I look at the spreadsheets for the budget and list of maintenance projects justifying the referenda, I'm overwhelmed by their complexity and my inability to feel comfortable with their calculations.

I'm no expert at using spreadsheets, relying instead on real databases and batch processing to handle such complex tasks. I have no doubt that MMSD Business Services folks are quite good at spreadsheet use, but spreadsheets are incapable of being maintained even if accurately created in the first place.

And spreadsheets are simply incapable to allowing the timely generation of multiple budget scenarios. The delay in pulling together the budget for this year (from multiple sources), a typically manually intensive process when using spreadsheets for financial and budgeting analysis, shows their inadequacy.

To make the budgeting and financial aspects of MMSD transparent, and analyzable by the public, and capable of generating multiple budget scenarios requires a drastically improved system. And my demands that contracts and decisions affecting the budget (such as cuts proposals) be handled only within the confines of a published set of budget scenarios, make the need to move away from spreadsheet use imperative.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 4:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sports, Music, Academics - Last Minute Proposals Stressful: Need Big Picture with all the Pieces

(The Capital Times, Strings to play on in city's schools by Lee Sensenbrenner) reported that I "...admitted to calling Winston "a jock," but said she meant the board was favoring athletics while it dealt with budget cuts.." Not exactly with the name-calling, but I have been critical of the District Administration’s handling of cuts to fine arts, and the School Board’s implicit support of this approach until hundreds of students, teachers, parents and other Madison residents rally, write letters and emails, or lobby board members. I believe the board needs to be working on any changes to an academic curriculum over the year and needs to engage teachers, parents and other professionals in the process. That has simply not been done with the fine arts, an academic curriculum, and I still believe the proposed cuts to the fine arts curriculum, especially in elementary school, are burdensome – 41% of the proposed elementary school budget cut is from elementary music education (general and strings classes) yet elementary music education makes up less than 3% of the elementary school budget. A 3% cut to elementary music education would have been $49,000 – reduction of 1 FTE rather than nearly 13 FTEs. We need to share the burden of cuts - I don't get cutting a high-demand (1,866), highly valued curriculum program 100% that just put in place a fee this year.

Since 2002, hundreds of teachers, parents and community members have asked the District administration and the School Board to look at fine arts education – what next steps need to be taken in light of our continuing financial challenges. In the absence of a fine arts coordinator, a committee of teachers was to be formed last summer to oversee te fine arts curriculum. This did not happen. Fine arts supporters specifically asked the board for their help last fall. The board did not form a fine arts task force. However, they did form a sports task force, which reported to the Partnership Committee that Mr. Winston chaired. One can’t help but wonder where priorities are being placed when planning decisions like these are made. I’d like to see the board look at the big picture all year long, and I think they need to do a better job of engaging teachers and the community in their planning process before major changes and decisions are proposed.

I do not support trading one group of teachers for another group of teachers. There are options that provide what’s good for students’ learning and there are approaches that can be taken that save money and do not result in playing one group of teachers against another group of teachers. But for that to happen, the School Board cannot wait each year until April to think about what to do.

Note: Both elementary strings and HS sports saw an increase in their fees this school year – elementary strings had a $50 participation fee for the first time, sports fees soared past $100 with special fees for more expensive sports. Cuts to HS athletics this year (mostly proposed transfer of dollars to fund 80) – about $213,700. Cuts to elementary music education - $150,000 and to elementary strings - $600,000 (staff and supplies).

HS athletics budget is about $2 million – about 20 to 25% is from fees/gate receipts. Board has not received any information at a board meeting on HS athletics budget, serving 4,200 participants (not students – there are students who participate in multiple sports)
Elementary strings budget is $500,000 (staff) and $100,000 supplies, serving 1,866 students

Posted by at 3:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 10, 2005

ACE Referenda Voter Information & Polling Costs

Active Citizens for Education has published several informational papers for the May 24, 2005 Madison Schools Referenda:

Posted by Don Severson at 9:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Citizens Advocating Responsible Education C.A.R.E

Click to view the charts in further detail
After an eight year absence from analyzing data from the Madison School District, C.A.R.E., Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, has returned to the local scene with updates to the data profiles which it prepared through 1997. Current reports include a Ten Year Profile, 1994 through 2004, of MMSD’s school enrollment, full time equivalency (fte) staffing history, student to staff ratios, annual operating budgets, annual pupil costs compared to the state average, and tax levies in excess of spending caps. The second report is a profile of the same items but in snapshot form in ten year increments since 1980. (300K PDF)

Virgil and Sarah Kidd began to study MMSD annual budgets and district profile data after attending their first school board meeting in June of 1990. After a public protest demonstration led by Virgil Kidd in July of 1990 a small group of concerned citizens came together to form the new group known as C.A.R.E., Citizens Advocating Responsible Education. Previous presidents of the feisty citizen group after Virgil Kidd’s initial term were well known community leaders John Alexander and former school board president Nancy Harper.

Sarah Kidd, Virgil Kidd’s widow, has decided to update the data that has been compiled by C.A.R.E. over the past years and make it available to citizens in Madison who value factual data and historical perspective when making important decisions concerning public education.

C.A.R.E. data sources: The 2004-05 Budget & District Profile Book, June 2004, MMSD and DPI Websites and Annual MMSD Budget Documents from the years described.
Contact: careinfo05 at yahoo dot com
Posted by at 9:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Vicki McKenna Interviews Lawrie Kobza

WIBA's Vicki McKenna interviewed Madison School's Board of Education member Lawrie Kobza today. MP3 Audio (17.4MB) - about 40 minutes into the segment.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Strings Program - A Response

I would like to be perfectly clear. I want a Madison Metropolitan School District strings program in elementary schools. I have been very clear about this since my first televised board meeting last year, where I exclaimed, “I want a strings program in the budget!” However, with unfunded mandates, revenue caps, additional academic testing requirements and possible annual referendums, it is very hard to continue to make that exclamation.

For the past several months, I have been in contact with many people that have given me insight on the 4th and 5th grade strings program. These people include:

Superintendent Art Rainwater
Assistant Superintendent Jane Belmore
Interim Fine Arts Coordinator Rita Applebaum
MSCR Arts Coordinator Cristine Reid
Retired MSCR Coordinator (and my campaign treasurer) Nan Gilbert Dwyer
Building Principals
Retired Principal Joe Cullen
Jane Peschel, Director of Instruction and Principal Prairie View Elementary in Oregon
Jack Young, Strings Teacher at Randall Elementary School
Rhonda Schilling, Music Teacher at Thoreau Elementary School
Mary Rasmussen, Music and Strings Teacher at Van Hise
Marie Breed, Executive Director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras
As well as many parents, teachers and community members.

My proposal of the 4th & 5th grade strings program is a combination of many proposals that were given to board members by the Administration in addition to conversations that I have had with the people listed above. My proposal would look at each individual elementary school schedule and fit the program to meet scheduling and budgetary requirements. For example, in some schools, students could choose between REACH and strings or General Music and strings or lunch and strings. Again, this would be a local school decision made by the local Principal and their staff. At the same time, it is very clear that we have students that are advanced in their talent and should be challenged. This is where a before school or after school program could be developed. This could be funded by community service funds (Fund 80), which are not effected by the state revenue cap. I believe that this is an appropriate way to utilize those funds. It is the community that benefits greatly from the strings programming. In addition, strategic partnerships could be developed with WYSO, MCCCA, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and others to strengthen the program.

My motion will be to direct administration to develop a 4th and 5th grade strings program that satisfies both the budget and scheduling requirements should the operating referendum not pass on May 24th. This program should encompass before school, during school and after school programming. Contents of the program and a presentation should be given to the board by Monday May 23rd.

Finally, I have to say, I take great exception to those who would like to characterize me as a “jock” that cares only about sports and not Fine Arts. Or those who believe my budgetary amendments demean and relegates the strings program to a mere “afterschool program” without as so much as to ask me to explain. These same people don’t even bother to ask the school district personnel who would have to live with the decision, “Can you do it?”

It was 15,683 adults in this community that elected me to serve as a member of the Board of Education with a student population of 24,710 not just 1,866. I was a participant in the 4th and 5th grade strings program at Lindbergh Elementary School. I know the first hand benefits of the program. Also, I played clarinet in the Lincoln Middle school orchestra and I remember the words of the teacher Lonnie Nofzsinger who would say, “Just because you’re playing the loudest note, doesn’t mean your playing the right note!”

If the Madison School Board doesn’t start working together like students in the 4th and 5th grade strings program. There will be silence. And that would be a shame.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 4:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

My Proposal for 4th & 5th Grade Strings

Tonight (May 10, 2005) the Board of Education will discuss proposed amendments to the budget. This discussion will include a discussion of the 4th & 5th grade strings programs.

I support offering students the opportunity to take strings in 4th and 5th grade. Currently, 4th and 5th grade students who elect to take strings have two different music classes each week: general music, and strings. General music has two 30 minute classes per week, and strings meets twice a week for 45 minutes each. The strings classes are pull-out classes, which means that the students taking strings are missing another class during the time that they are out for strings.

In the event the referendum fails, I support offering 4th and 5th grade students the option of taking either general music or strings. For students who select strings, strings would be their music class and would be held at the regular music time. Strings would not be a pull-out program. I also support extending the music time for 4th and 5th grade students to 45 minutes a day, twice a week.

While 4th and 5th grade students would have access to less music education in total under this proposal, this proposal would retain the strings program for 4th and 5th grade students who elect to take the program.

I would have preferred that the District had worked with the community, including parents, students, and teachers, to develop a proposal for the future direction of the strings program. That, however, did not happen. I am now put in the position of voting on $8.6 million of budget cuts, which includes the Administration's proposal to totally eliminate the 4th & 5th grade strings program. I cannot support that proposal. At the same time, however, I must deal with the reality of needing to cut $8.6 million. While the above proposal is by no means perfect, it does continue to give children the ability to learn and experience instrumental music (strings) in the 4th and 5th grade.

I understand that many people may be disappointed in this proposal, but even this proposal may not be acceptable to the majority of the members of the Board of Education. To date, four of the seven Board members have put the issue of 4th & 5th grade strings back on the discussion list - Ruth Robarts, Shwaw Vang, Johnny Winston, Jr., and me. However, there is not a consistent vision for the future of the program among us. Mr. Winston's proposal, for example, is to hold strings as an afterschool activity.

I urge you to stay involved in this budget process and do what you can to influence it. However, I also urge you to focus on what is possible. Right now, my personal view is that the 4th & 5th grade strings program will only continue if there are changes to the program. Thank you for your involvement and work on this issue.

Lawrie Kobza

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 12:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD plans more West side expansion

The MMSD Web site includes a map that shows a "future MMSD boundary" around Crestwood, Huegel, and Chavez.

The map raises many questions. Why would the MMSD want to expand its boundaries? When might the expansion occur? What are the figures on population growth in the areas to be included? Will the expansion require a referendum to build another school?

Can anyone provide any insight into the MMSD plans?

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 9, 2005

Newsweek: Top 1000 US High Schools

Newsweek ranks the top US High Schools. Madison Memorial is ranked #587. Here's the criteria.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mckenna interviews Sarah Kidd on the Referenda

WIBA's Vicki McKenna interviewed Sarah Kidd & Nancy Mistele today. Kidd relates quite a bit of data from the 1990's, including district size and administrative staff changes. 17MB MP3 audio file (48 minutes).

Kidd & Mistele also discussed 1990's Crestwood & Emerson expansions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stressed Out: Parental Pressure to Excel

Dave Murphy:

As the boy played behind the bushes at his Redwood City school, his obviously agitated mother grabbed him, abruptly escorting him to her car.

"She asked him what he thought he was doing and proceeded to tell him all in one breath that he would never get into a good university or have a good job if he spent all his time playing and goofing around," said Jim Dassise, a parent who watched the episode unfold. "He should be more like one of his friends, who spent his time studying and having good grades."

The boy was about 9 years old.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 8, 2005

Madison Schools Medicaid Reimbursements

Mike Johnson takes a look at a Medicaid reimbursement program that pumps about 700K into the Madison Schools annually. The article provides a useful look at the strange way (and the costs) in which the money finds its way to local districts.

"The reason Madison started in the Medicaid reimbursement program could be summed up in two words: revenue limits," said Joe Quick, the legislative liaison/communication specialist for the district. "Despite the somewhat cumbersome paperwork and a reimbursement formula where the state skims money off the top, the school district's efforts are financially worth the work."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How Does Staffing Compare from Year to Year?

The proposed 05-06 budget distributed on May 3, 2005 projects 70 less FTE for the next year. Once again, the comparison raises questions:

  • General Administration: 5 FTE increase
  • Elementary Education: no change in FTEs (so why such a big hit to elementary specials? - still not explained and continues to appear punitive in light of no planning over the past year - especially punitive to elementary music education, embarassing)
  • Secondary Education: 28 FTE cut
  • Business Services: 30FTE cut in non-food services? - but is the work model changing, because their budget numbers did not go down that much and in fact dollars increased for next year?
Questions, questions and more questions that could be addressed in a straightforward manner with a presentation to the School Board. What is this board waiting for?

Download file comparing staffing for 04-05 to budgeted for 05-06 Source for comparison is MMSD data - staffing history prepared by MMSD last fall and the current budget document released on May 3, 2005.

Posted by at 7:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comparing Budgets - Not that Hard to Do - Raises Important Questions that Would Be Answered in a Board presentation and Public discussion

MMSD says that you cannot compare the numbers for the 04-05 budget with the proposed 05-06 balanced budget because they were not developed at the same time and do not include all the grant money. Confused? Of course - any reasonable person would expect that the information presented side by side could be compared.

When comparing budgets from year to year, you need to be sure that you have budgets that were developed at the same time of year, or at least contain similar information. I've done the entry, which you can download and look at for your self. Here's a summary of key changes:

Increases from last year to next year:

Elementary Education - $2.3 million (so why is music education being cut 30% and 12-13 FTE's being laid off?

Educational Services - $1.9 million (increase in special education is $2.9 million)

Teaching and Learning - $427,000

Business Services - $7.7 million (CFO/COO is $6.9 million)

Human Resources - $1.9 million (not salary benefits - those expenses for staff are included in each department's budget)

General Administration - $500,000

Departments with cuts compared to last year:

Secondary Education - ($2.6 million)
Middle School - ($97,000)
High School - ($2.4 million)

The School Board members need to ask for a presentation of the budget - including a comparison to last year. Board members and the public deserve and want to know what is in the budget - how/what grants are outstanding, how will this affect the FTEs in administration, teaching - we need to hold on major cuts to programs, such as the mean spirited cut to elementary specials and elementary strings. The cut to elementary specials was made without any planning - adult centered decisions because the adults didn't get to it rather than child center decisions that focus on children's learning in music education and the positive impact on academic achievement from music education.

If the public is engaged in budget development and knows and understands what is going on Madison is more likely to get child centered decisions and have a healthier and robust decisionmaking process. Too much is hidden in this process.

I'm the Treasurer of the Hamilton PTO, and we have not been contacted by the board or the administration regarding budget/education issues at all this year. These parent teacher groups are one way to get feedback to the board on priorities, and the dialogue needs to be ongoing. I have spoken to other PTO officers and many feel the same way. Being contacted when there is a referendum is necessary but not sufficient.

Download Budget Comparison May budget 05-06 with May budget 04-05

Source: MMSD budget documents - May 2004 budget document and May 2005 budget document.

Posted by at 6:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Still Waiting for A Budget Presentation - Not a Rush to a Cut List

The MMSD board and the public need and deserve a presentation of the proposed budget for 05-06 including a comparison with the previous year. That's basic budget 101.

What was distributed publicly by the MMSD Administration were financial summaries without any text that would explain:

  • specific measurable goals for next year - by district by department
  • changes in spending by department
  • what grants are outstanding - how much and what departments would be affected by grants, are the administrative, teacher and other staff that are paid through grants included in this budget
  • what changes are anticipated in programming and staffing? For example there is not change in FTEs for elementary educ, but the Supt in proposing to eliminate 30% of the music education budget

The written material that supports the financial statements will be available later this week -

The public needs to ask Board members to ask for a presentation of the budget with comparisons to last year made so that the Board and the public can understand what is being proposed.

I've made comparisons of the FTEs and the budgets - I have the budget for 04-05 that was produced last May that can be compared to the May budget just released for 05-06, which I will be posting.

Posted by at 6:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Help me understand the "budget"

I don’t understand the only MMSD document posted on the district’s Web site for next year’s budget. Maybe someone can help me.

For instance, the document presents “2005-2006 Budgets by Department” for all departments including “Elementary Education.” The first set of figures for Elementary Education shows Salary and Benefits. Then three pages later the document repeats the summary for Salary and Benefits, but with different figures. In the first set, the document shows 2003-2004 expenditures as $64,469,982. The second set shows the expenditures as $63,430,723. Which number is the correct amount for 2003-2004 expenditures? I can understand that projections could vary depending on different assumptions, but how can spending from the past vary?

Speaking of projections, the first set of figures shows the “Proposed Budget” as $66,200,252. The second shows the “Proposed Budget” as $65,638,790. Were different assumptions used for the two projections? The document has no narrative so it’s not possible to know what assumptions were used for either projection or why the amount varies.

I have another question. In a page titled “Summary by Department” the document shows the proposed budget for “Public Info/Commun Development” as $949,506 and 11.25 FTE. I can’t find any listing for “Public Info/Commun Development” in the MMSD directory or on the MMSD Web site. So who or what is Public Info/Commun Development? What are its functions?

Another question. In just skimming the document, I found an entry in the Human Services summary for “Sub Teacher – Contractual.” The budget for 2004-2005 was $100,000. The “same service” budget is listed as $3,328,711. Something’s wrong here. Is it a typo? Are funds being shifted around? If so, where’d the funds come from and why were they shifted?

Finally, how do I find expenditures for various MMSD programs and projects? For example, the district wants to expand Read 180 for an additional $150,000. Is that money in the document? If so, where? How much does the district spend on Reading Recovery, and where do I find those expenditures? Where can I find how much the district spent on installing the Lawson Software system?

So many questions. So few answers in the document.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Happy Mother's Day!

Jon Carroll on "Our Mothers, Ourselves":

She learned to scuba dive. She was active in the League of Women Voters. When I was 28, she and my stepfather moved to Ethiopia. She worked for the World Health Organization, preparing educational materials that said, in essence, "Please do not defecate in the river."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 7, 2005

Madison Cares Update

Madison Cares, a group formed to support the May 24, 2005 Madison School Referendums has published an updated introductory letter that includes a list of supporters (32K PDF).

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Bill Keys & Thuy Pham-Remmele Discuss the Referendums

7MB MP3 audio file from their WTDY appearance. (last 20 minutes only - sorry). Bill Keys is a former teacher and current member of the Madison Board of Education. Thuy Pham-Remmele is a retired Madison schools teacher.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Koloen: School Board Should Question Health Care Costs

Jim Koloen (appeared in the Capital Times):

Dear Editor: It is perplexing that the Madison School Board can approve a labor contract without actually having read it except through a summary provided by the administration. Why bother with a board at all if it simply behaves as though the administration and the board are one and the same? The words "rubber stamp" come to mind.
Evidently another contract ( five year transportation) was approved on May 2 - without presentation of the full financial details. (9 minute video clip of the discussion - the award was approved 4 - 2 with Kobza & Robarts voting against it due to lack of information. Check out the video). Generally, I think a five year deal is not a bad idea, IF all of the costs & benefits are known.

My real question, however, pertains to the district's payment of $1,358 per month for families through WPS Health Insurance under the contract for the clerical and technical bargaining group. I hope board members will question this amount, which seems to me to be a very high figure, especially when compared to the $1,013 per month family plan payment assessed for the Dean Care HMO insurance under the state employee annuity system. The WPS premium is 34 percent higher than the Dean Care that I pay for, which, by the way, has no co-pays or deductibles for office visits or other medical services and only a small co-pay for drugs.

In short, I can't imagine what type of service the extra 34 percent in costs would represent. Could it be routine dental services? My family gets that. Could it be counseling services? We get that. Could it be eye exams? We get that. Could it be ... Well, I ask the board, what could it be?

That is not to say that Dean Care is even a particularly reasonably priced provider; rather I use it as an example because I have long experience with its system.

It is no wonder the board can't make ends meet and feels it is necessary to repeatedly bludgeon us with threats to the strings program, or increases in athletic fees, or just about anything except an actual decrease in costs.

In this way the board can once again foist upon the electorate a referendum cynically scheduled to minimize voter participation, and thus convince themselves they'll get a result that is favorable to the board and to the administration and to the teachers, although not likely to anyone else.

The problem will not be solved with this referendum any more than it was after the previous one. Throwing money at the problem, in fact, is part of the problem. Rather than scheduling referendums, what the board should be doing is scrutinizing costs such as health care, which I'm sure take up an increasingly large chunk of the overall budget, and then looking for alternative providers who even in my own limited personal experience seem to be able to offer just as much for much less.

Jim Koloen

Published: 8:17 AM 5/7/05

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May 6, 2005

Committees - Board Performance

Committee chairs build a record for the public -

  • a) by the agendas they set for the year,
  • b) by how those agendas relate to the key issues facing the board
  • c) by the thoroughness of the topics addressed in those meetings and
  • d) by the recommendations developed and decisions made
. We will be able to tell from the public record those board members who
  • 1) use meeting times well by the issues they address,
  • 2) are reaching out/engaging the public in meaningful ways,
  • 3) are listening and assessing different viewpoints,
  • 4) are seeking creative and innovative directions for the school district in these difficult, challenging financial times for our children's education, etc.
Based upon the record, we will have information that we can use to evaluate a board members' record as a committee chair during the next election cycle.

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Larger than committee assignments

I have every confidence that Ruth Robarts will make the best of this situation. I believe it's important, however, to also call out Carol Carstensen, like her predecessor Bill Keys, on their partisan, petty nonsense.

Making inappropriate committeee assignments is just one manifestation of a larger problem, the marginalization of those who do not march in lockstep with the administration as well as the teachers' union and their handpicked board members. The public needs to hold board members accountable every day, not just on election day.

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Lemonade from Lemons

I fail to see the cup half empty on the BOE selection of Ms. Roberts to the Legislative Committee, Ms. Kobza to the Partnership Committee, and Mr. Winston to the Financial and Operations Committee. What an opportunity to shake up the way we keep the "status quo" every year in this community. I agree with Ms. Carstensen that a committee is what you make of it. This is an opportunity to make Madison go in a new direction away from depending on the union and administration to make decisions for our kids education. Consider the current law suites against NCLB, the opportunity to fund strings and athletics in a new way, a revised budget reviewing process by the BOE. Maybe these committees are currently weak, but they could be strong. These three board members tend to be thoughtful of the communities concerns and could lead the district into a new direction with innovative leadership. Let's encourage them to be progressive and lead, not follow in their decision making and planning to educate Madison kids.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 12:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carstensen Committee Picks

Since the comments section is mostly closed, (thanks Viagra peddlers), I want to post a letter I sent to the board on this subject. I urge others to do the same. Ms. Carstensen must think she has some kind of mandate. It might help if she got some feedback.

Dear Ms Carstensen,

I read with dismay your transparent attempt to marginalize Ruth Robarts with an assignment to a committee of little import. From the community's standpoint, you are wasting Ms Robarts' talents; but of course that must mean little to you, determined as you and some of your fellow board members are to squash new ideas and independent thought.

Let me remind you what you seem to have forgotten: this is about the education of our children, not some petty political agenda. If you had any capacity for it, I'd say shame on you.


Joan Knoebel

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May 5, 2005

Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen's Committee Picks

Lee Sensenbrenner disects Carol Carstensen's committee assignments, including the "exiling" of Ruth Robarts to the Legislative Committee.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Principal Named at East High School

A message to school board members from Superintendent Art Rainwater:

I am pleased to inform you that I will recommend Allan Harris, currently the Principal of Blackhawk Middle School, to be the Principal of East High School for the 2005-06 school year.

Allan has a strong background in school administration at all levels. His career prior to joining the MMSD was in Clovis Calif. Allan served in numerous administrative roles in that District including Middle School Principal and Deputy Principal of a 3,000 student diverse high school.

Allan's familiarity with the East community and his commitment to it's success will make him an outstanding leader for the school.


Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 5:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Homeschooling & The World is Flat

I mentioned to a few friends recently that I think the Madison School's "same service" budgeting approach (year after year) needs to be replaced by a new, largely curriculum based process that recognizes globalization, changing demographics and the fact that we should not simply compare our performance and curricula with those of Racine, Green Bay or Ann Arbor. Rather the comparison should be with Helsinki, Bangalore, Shanghai, London, Nagoya and (insert your city here).

Parents have a growing number of choices these days (some don't realize that they have them - yet). Homeschooling appears to be the elephant in the room along with the slow rise of virtual schools.

Julie Leung sent a timely bolt of lightning to the blogosphere with her essay on education, including a discussion of her reasons for homeschooling:

Our desire to preserve our childrens' organic curiosity plays a large part in our desire to homeschool. Too often the school system crushes curiousity out of a kid. Kids have a natural desire to learn.
Read Doc's post for more background & links along with Gatto

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools 2005/2006 Budget?

I'm wondering if the MMSD's 2005/2006 budget is floating around... somewhere? I've heard that it was released to the BOE members earlier this week, but I've not seen any sign of it on the District's website. Stranger still, President Carol Carstensen required Board members to have their amendments in by noon today (5/5) - roughly 36 hours after receiving a budget, that, as far as I can tell, is not available to the public.

Ed Blume noted earlier that Milwaukee's proposed budget is online.

I find Carol's extremely short Board Member Amendment turnaround to be unusual, given a $320M budget.... Why?

The District's 2004/2005 budget is available here (8.6MB PDF).

UPDATE: Ed Blume emailed a link to this 82 page 2005/2006 budget summary - pdf file. FWIW, the previous budget document - link above was 368 pages.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Minnesota Increases State School Funding

Minnesota Public Radio:

The bill represents a $622 million (12.6 Billion Package) increase in state aid over the next two years, although not all schools would get an equal cut. Each district could count on having $284 added to their basic per-student allowances in two installments, raising it to $4,885 by the second year.

School districts in high poverty areas, those with low property tax bases and ones that shift to a new teacher pay system would be in line for greater funding boosts. Statewide, the schools will see an average of $665 more per child in fiscal years 2006-07.

My view is that we lose a great deal of influence as we rely on state/federal funds.

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

May 4, 2005

Cutting Elementary Strings Will Cost MMSD Millions - Not Save Money

I agree whole heartedly with Mr. Pay's comments to Johnny Winston Jr., that the MMSD School Board is not taking a long-term financial or educational look at elementary strings that shows increased numbers of middle and high school children taking orchestra and band will save money for the district while providing immeasurable personal and educational benefits to children.

However, there are two other reasons why this is a bad decision that come to mind - one is standards and the other is, in my mind, an even bigger economic impact than benefits from larger class sizes.

The long-term educational and financial fallout from cutting elementary strings will cost far more than the annual $500,000 cost of the program. I predict a decision to cut elementary strings will cost the district millions in the long-term.

I'm from NYC and I've seen the deterioration first hand of a public school system. If the District lowers its quality of course offerings, families who can will choose to put their children in other school districts when they move to this area. These children often are lower overhead (require less extra services). Madison will be left with higher overhead children and have even less money for their education - less money per child for their education. This cost will by far be a much bigger impact for our children and for our City, and my peeve is that because the School Board is not looking long-term, we are going down some very rocky roads that we do not have to at the present.

We have revenue cap issues, but that does not absolve our school board of looking and planning long term. Our Board can't afford not to do this type of planning and factoring these issues into their decisions. Not doing so will directly affect our neediest children the most.

Course Cost-Effectiveness
The entire K-12 music education program costs approximately $200 per participant - including elementary strings, which costs about $250 per child. We spend $600 per child on administrative costs. We spend over $300 per child on extracurricular sports.

Only 9.6 FTEs teach nearly 2,000 elementary school children in 30 elementary schools how to play strings - that's remarkable. In the Isthmus this week, the principal cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra commented that he is amazed at how much children are learning and impressed with the quality of their instruction from teachers who travel to several schools to teach.

The view on elementary strings is very short-sighted. This is a high value, high demand course that reaches ALL children, regardless of ability.

If the Board cuts elementary strings, they will not be meeting their standards for music education. They will be depriving more than 600-1000 low and moderate income children of the opportunity to have the well-documented personal and educational benefits from this course. Lowering of academic standards for any course, but especially one that is high demand and shown to have significant personal and academic benefits for children is unacceptable.

Macro-Financial Impact
Not only is elementary strings cost-effective, a high value to and for students, meets the district's board approved standards, this course is much-valued in this community and makes the school district attractive to parents who are moving into the area. That parent decision, about where to enroll your child, is worth thousands of dollars to Madison. Every time a parent chooses to put their child in another district, the MMSD loses those dollars that could be put toward educating all our children.

The district has felt the impact of the growing suburban communities since the mid-1990s. Since that time thousands of children were enrolled in districts surrounding Madison, costing MMSD millions of dollars per year.

Cutting elementary strings and other highly valued, high demand courses will continue to erode the academic quality of the district and cost millions.

There will be fallout in many ways from such decisions, but the impact on our low income and minority student population will be worse. In the case of strings, not only will low income/minority children not have the personal and economic benefits, their quality of education will suffer.

Our School Board can make better decisions if they would look long-term before deciding - elementary strings is a case in point of the potential educational and financial costs of short-sighted decisionmaking.

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

It's Not the Software that Matters - It's Educational Decisions

Last evening the Madison School Board received the proposed budget for the 2005-2006 school year - whoopee. A new software system was given as the reason for the delay. A new software system does not guarantee good long-term educational and financial decisions for the district. Software and hardware are tools through which you analyze assumptions. They are tools that facilitate a process. However, by the amount of time spent in board meetings talking about software and hardware, a person could easily come away assuming the box is the process.

Our School Board members believe now that we have the budget document, they are all set. Budget document, cut list. What more could the public ask for in a budget process - I mean, we have the outputs.

The Board's calendar for next steps includes making final decisions on a cut list on May 10th. Board members wanted to do this prior to the referendum so that the public would know what is being cut. I'm not convinced this is the best approach nor the best use of the Board's or the public's time.

Rather board members ought to take the time for a public presentation of the budget before any cut list is decided. The public needs to understand what is in this very complex budget, what are the priorities in the budget, how is the money being allocated to meet those priorities, what increased in the budget from the previous year and why. We need to understand these discussions and their decisions for next year and the impact of these decisions for the long-term educational and financial picture of MMSD. These public discussions have not taken place.

So, has our School Board been involved in discussions about educational policy, budgeting and long-term financial planning? No. As Ken Sykes said on Channel 27 last night, the public has had a cut list for two months - basically, what more do we need. Our School Board has not even discussed the cut list - it's basically been accepted as a given without assessment against priorities, long-term impacts, etc.

We need to be clear about the priorities and how the money is allocated so that when we go to vote for the referendum on May 24th we know what our school distsrict needs for our kids and why they need these resources.

Has the School Board had these discussions - no. Will the School Board have a presentation of the new budget - no. Will the School Board have a presentation of the new budget compared to last year's budget by department, major educational spending categories - no.

After receiving the budget last night, after having no previous presentations comparing last year's budget with this year's budget by major educational areas, Board members are supposed to submit amendments to the 05-06 cut list, not budget, by Thursday at noon.

The public needs to stop hearing about software and hardware problems. Businesses change systems all the time. The software and hardware are boxes/calculators - throughputs. What is important are the assumptions we make, the priorities we set for our children's education. We need to be talking about what our kids needs are for their education - now and in the long-term.

Our School Board needs to do this now - for our kids, for the future of Madison's public education.

Posted by at 8:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

District confirms overtime to make software work

Ken Syke, district spokesman, told Channel 27 News, "There have been a corps of people 10, 12, 15 people who have been working 16 hour days, 14 hour days for weeks -- not just working on the budget, but on this whole migration. We're changing our whole payroll system, we're changing a lot of our human resources."

How much did the district pay in overtime wages? How much has the district spent in total on the new Lawson Software? Read more.

Posted by Ed Blume at 6:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 3, 2005

Dying Institutions, Thriving Institutions

JennyD has a thought provoking article on General Motors, The Education Establishment and Journalism:

Most of the institutions in both of these fields are based on decades-old structures, with work structures and beliefs that are being battered everyday. Journalism is under enormous pressure, and newspeople feel it. They'd like to say it's not their fault (see this Tim Porter post on the mood of the newsroom for more on that) but as Porter points out, they are as responsible as everyone at GM is for their predicament. Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis write about this all the time...and offer criticism and alternative id

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

Monday Board Meeting Summary/East High Principal Search

Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes Monday's Madison Schools Board of Education Meeting.

Sensenbrenner also mentioned that one of the panelists on the East High School Search Committee was told that she cannot speak with the "press".

Finally, Superintendent Art Rainwater introduced the District's latest Strategic Plan (PDF here).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

UC System Struggles to Attract Minorities

Tanya Schevitz:

Ramine Cromartie-Thornton is just the kind of student that UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau wants to attract to his campus to increase ethnic diversity: She is African American, has a grade point average of about 4.2, a 1310 SAT score and plans to major in engineering.

But eight other universities want her, too, including Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania. In the end, UC Berkeley wasn't even in her top three.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 2, 2005

Madison Mother Wants in to Virtual Charter School


A Madison mother is threatening to go to court if necessary to get Madison schools to transfer two of her children to a virtual charter school.

The transfers were denied based on race, and the family says that's discriminatory, reported News 3's Linda Eggert.

Two years ago the Madison Metropolitan School District allowed the family's oldest boy to transfer to the virtual school open enrollment. Earlier this month, two of his younger brothers were denied the same kind of access.

interesting issue

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Classroom Clickers

Jeff Henrique, a Madison Schools Parent and a writer on this blog is featured in a UW Madison News Release regarding classroom clickers (personal response systems) as instant assessment tools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Principals named for 2 Madison schools

Read the story in the Capital Times online.


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Elementary Strings - It Doesn't Affect You Bill Keys Tells Student

An East High Student wrote Bill Keys, MMSD School Board president. In her letter she wrote:

"The reason I am involved in the high school orchestra today is
because I was able to participate in the elementary strings program
in elementary school....I am the oldest child of thirteen children. The youngest is about two months old today. All of my siblings following me up to the fifth grade play the violin in school. This was made possible because we were all given the chance to participate in the ever-wonderful Elementary Strings program that started in elementary school."

Mr. Keys' began his response, "First, to clarify: it is only at the 4th and 5th grade level that the strings program has been recommended bythe staff for cut should the referendum fail."

Mr. Keys, I think it is you who need the clarification.

I am a senior from Madison East High School and I play the violin in
East's Symphony Orchestra. I am concerned about the Elementary strings for the Madison public school district being cut.

The reason I am involved in the high school orchestra today is
because I was able to participate in the elementary strings program
in elementary school. I started playing the violin when I was in
fourth grade in Lindbergh Elementary school and Hawthorne Elementary. Then I continued orchestra at Black Hawk middle school where I found my true talent in playing the violin and decided to complete all four of my high school years by staying in orchestra, directed by the most wonderful teacher Ms. Jackie Dhoore Becker.

With this beautiful talent that I learned, I have had the chance to
be up on stage to perform and participate in Solo Ensemble events and win awards from it. I have been able to be a volunteer to play the violin at the Madison Free Will Baptist church as a solo for a few
years too.

Without the Elementary Strings Festival, I wouldn't have made any of
these accomplishments in my life that have made me become the great person that I am now. They say that music makes a student have an improved academic achievement. I believe that this saying is true. Learning music is like learning a new subject in school everyday.
You improve with the more practice time that you spend with your
instrument, along with that you learn more things that help with

I am the oldest child of thirteen children. The youngest is about
two months old today. All of my siblings following me up to the
fifth grade play the violin in school. This was made possible
because we were all given the chance to participate in the
ever-wonderful Elementary Strings program that started in elementary school.
I really hope that the much-loved and well-established strings
program will not be cut from the Madison School District. I would
want all the younger children including all my youngest siblings to
be able to participate in the strings program and have the beautiful
talent of performing like me.

I know that my e-mail will make a difference in the choices that the
School District will be making for my future, and the children's

Thank you for you time.

Bill Keyes response:

Thank you for your email. First, to clarify: it is only at the 4th
and 5th grade level that the strings program has been recommended bythe staff for cut should the referendum fail.
While I do understand your passion about music and the arts--I taught English for 36 years and always included the visual, performance, and musical arts in my teaching of literature--the reality is that programs are inevitably going to pitted against each other. At schools departments are fighting with other departments over reduced allocations. Regarding strings, my grandson will be entering 4th grade next year at Randall, so I realize that his opportunity to participate in the fine strings program there is in jeopardy. But there are no donors offering over $500K to continue the program. The recommendations of DPI do not bring in any money.

Given the state budget system, all programs are vulnerable except
those mandated by law. The WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL on March 31, 2005 in its editorial provides a fuller explanation of why neither the MMSD administration nor the Board is to blame.

For every program we save, however, we must cut other programs to stay within the revenue limits. We highly value each of the items
proposed for cutting--as do students and parents, not matter what
they are. But the fiscal reality is that we must cut $8.6 million in
order to stay within the state imposed revenue caps unless we can
pass the Board approved referenda.

We will have already cut $1.2 million by the time we approve the
operating referendum question. We will be looking for approval to
exceed the caps by $7.4 million. Without the passage of an
operations referendum this year, and then the next, and so on, any
program not mandated or central to our Board priorities is subject to be cut.
This is a statewide problem, and Madison is not exempt from the
pressures facing all districts, many of which are now near total
bankruptcy, and some of which are likely to close within a year.

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Open Letter to the Community Regarding Strings

Dear Community Members:

Thank you for your heartfelt comments regarding the 4th & 5th grade strings program. I know first hand about the program. I was a strings program participant at Lindbergh Elementary School in 1977. I know that strings are a very beloved program within our district. However, I don’t believe that our community understands the complexity of our budgetary challenges. This is not something you merely can “bake sale”, “brat fest” or write grants to solve.

Because of this, I feel compelled to write you and speak my truth about what is going on in the Madison Metropolitan School District. The school district has had a budget shortfall for many years. This is why you have seen 4th and 5th grade strings on a cut list for the past several years. This is why you’ll see many more programs that benefit our students on cut lists in the future. State revenue caps, unfunded federal mandates and rising costs associated with running a school district will contribute to funding gaps. This year, the district has an $8.6 million dollar gap. The Administration has proposed cutting 1.2 million, which doesn’t include the strings program. The majority of the school board has chosen to ask taxpayers via referendum to make up the difference for the $7.4 million dollar shortage. In addition to the strings program, also on the cut list are programs and positions such as specials teachers, stress challenge course, psychologists, social workers, coordinators, custodians, librarians, rising of class sizes, parent-teacher conferences and many other things that are in the best interests of our students no matter their race, ethnicity, family income status or ability.

Many people have written the board about the cost of the strings program in comparison to the budget. The cost of the strings program is around $500,000. That is not much when you consider the budget is 319 million dollars. However, priorities must be made. While suggestions of making small reductions to other parts of the budget sounds good in theory, it could have unintended consequences that could be disastrous to school district programming and curriculum. It also doesn’t speak to each individual board members budgetary priorities or preferences. In my opinion, all the people and programs in our district are important to the success of all of our students. Unfortunately, they’re not all equaled depending on you or your child’s best interests but all very important as I see them being a member of the Board of Education. This is why I’m choosing to support a referendum so that all the programs can be spared.

This is a very serious situation. This situation is not unique to Madison. This is a problem with many school districts across Wisconsin and the entire country. Unfortunately, there are not enough financial resources to go around. Even though this is the case, I am personally committed to having a strings program in the Madison Metropolitan School District. However, it must meet the budgetary requirements. Should a referendum not pass on May 24th, it is highly doubtful that the strings program that is currently implemented will exist unless someone donates a half million-dollars specifically targeting the strings program to the district. This person would have to make this commitment each and every year.

Even though the district’s financial outlook is bleak, I have been imploring school board members, Superintendent Rainwater, Central Administrative staff and the interim Fine Arts Coordinator to explore all available budgetary and scheduling options. I have also been taking suggestions from Principals and music and strings teachers. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can find creative solutions however, a referendum would give our district the best opportunity to continue wonderful programming that benefits all of our students.

I thank you for your passion of the strings program and hope that you will consider supporting the operating referendum on Tuesday May 24th and encourage others to do so as well.

Johnny Winston, Jr.
Madison School Board member

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

Read 180 Success Story from Manitowoc

Reading award given for language lessons learned
Jefferson student catches up to class with Read 180 By Amy Weaver, Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter

MANITOWOC — It’s hard to imagine that less than two years ago, Guadalupe Dominguez couldn’t speak a word of English, let alone read it.

She started at Jefferson Elementary School as a fourth-grader, but her reading ability was nowhere near her grade level. Last year, she felt as if she was reading like a first-grader or younger, but then Guadalupe found hope in a program called Read 180 as well as in herself.
the story.

The MMSD uses Read 180 in some Madison schools, as reported in the WSJ.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 1, 2005

String / Fine Arts Rally - May 2nd at 545 W. Dayton

What: Elementary Strings / Fine Arts Rally -
Where: Doyle Building - 545 W. Dayton Street
When: May 2nd, 7 p.m.

Why: 1,866 Nine- and Ten-Year Old Children Need Your Help Now! The entire 4th and 5th grade elementary strings program has been targeted for removal from the 2005-2006 budget. Further, since last year, the administration has not undertaken any curriculum assessment and review of fine arts education, needs, costs, etc. The administration has not done their homework. There is no justification for cutting 100% a program that costs 0.17% of the $328 million school budget and is a well-established, much-loved curriculum.

Download Information on String Rally

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Benefits of Strings More Than Music

Pat Kukes, MMSD teacher, wrote the following opinion piece that appeared in the WI State Journal on Friday, April 29, 2005:

Having already received my termination notice, I write this not as a teacher trying to save his job, but rather as an experienced educator who knows the value of a good educational system and who has seen firsthand how cutting a program like elementary strings can hurt a sound school district.

Before coming to Madison, I taught strings for 30 years in three western states. The reputation of the Madison string program has long been well known in the western states. It has been, in fact, considered a program that leads, not follows. The standards set here have often been modeled by other large orchestra programs in other cities and states.

When I began teaching, the diversity of students we now see was not present or as prominent, but as our country and the world change, so must our educational system. While language barriers were once uncommon, today there is hardly a school district that does not need or use an English-as-a-second-language program.

Music, however, is a universal language. A child who has not mastered English can still communicate through music. Learning to play an instrument and read music allows for quick success, leading to more self-confidence and self-drive, qualities that are certainly needed for success in the classroom. In addition, participation in music gives each child a sense of belonging to a group where most are learning at the same pace.

As far as music taking away from class time, it is important to remember that music teaches more than it appears. For one to read and play music, skills in comprehension, reading, and math, physical dexterity, and motor skills are necessary. The skills learned in music certainly carry over to the classroom.

And what about proficiency and excellence? If music does not teach those attributes, what does? If a child takes a 40-question test and misses one answer, the grade is still an A. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" has 40 notes. If it is played by a 10 or 15-member group, and each child makes only one mistake as it is played, that would certainly be a failing score.

I have taught in other large school districts where elementary strings have been cut for the sake of raising test scores and balancing the budget. I can honestly say that the results produced were hardly what was anticipated. Test scores did not go up dramatically, if at all. The quality of the string program in both districts deteriorated, largely because some children who would have played if they had started in fourth and fifth grade never played. By the time strings were offered in sixth grade, the interest was gone. I often wonder how many students missed the opportunity to enjoy or even excel in music simply because they never tried the program.

It is important, too, to remember that strings allows for more participation than many activities. Take, for instance, a varsity team where the 12 to 15 top athletes are allowed to play. Unless it is a select group such as a chamber orchestra, school string programs do not make cuts based on ability. All that is required is active participation in class and the responsibility of learning the pieces. Therefore, success and participation in music at a higher level are more apt to occur for more students than in other areas.

I urge the Madison community to continue supporting elementary strings, and I strongly urge the school board to reconsider its threat to cut the program. Elimination of such a successful program will do more harm than good. All of our children deserve the best education we can provide. We need to strive for continued excellence in Madison schools, not settle for the mediocrity many other school districts are choosing.

(Kukes teaches at Leopold, Chavez and Huegel schools in Madison.)
Return to story is operated by Capital Newspapers, publishers of the Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times, Agri-View and Apartment Showcase. All contents Copyright ©2005, Capital Newspapers. All rights reserved.

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$6 Million Software Can’t Produce MMSD Budget

Roger Price, MMSD Assistant Superintendent, watched intently as people drifted into the room for the hearing on the school budget at the Warner Park Community Center.

When he spotted school board members, Price quickly handed them a memo that read in part:

Our goal was to provide the total budget and district profile on April 29. We are very close to completing the written parts of that document. The fiscal and staffing sections that will be imported as part of the total report are not completed. This is not due to a lack of effort, but rather to the vast amount of inputs and the complexity of the work that occurs when implementing a new software system and putting in place a system that will sustain us into the future. . . . This work was completed in time to prepare the necessary reports had all of the internal technical working of the new system performed the first time. As you may know if you have been involved in implementing new systems, that is almost never the case. We have experienced some delays in the actual processing and marrying of the numerous data elements. (Complete PDF memo)

In other words, the new $6 million software package doesn’t work, even though implementation probably began in late 2003 or early 2004. (Motions in board minutes)

The MMSD administration cannot produce a budget document. By contrast the Milwaukee Public Schools, surely a larger and more complex district, has extensive and detailed budget documents on its Web site.

Apparently the MMSD shut down the Lawson Software system to all uses other than budgeting on Thursday (April 27) for an unspecified number of days; presumably giving the administration sole use will allow staff to generate a “complete budget profile within a week and a half.” See more in a story from the Wisconsin State Journal.

Unsubstantiated rumors say that the MMSD has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay to make the software system work.

Coupled with $275,000 spent on new time clocks, the total cost of the software project probably equals or surpasses the amount the board and administration want to raise in the operating referendum.

Is the referendum doing nothing more than paying for software, time clocks, and overtime while academic programs get chopped?

Ironically, we can’t know until the administration produces a budget that accurately compares this and previous years' spending with a budget for next year.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas