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May 2, 2005

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 May 2, 2005 12:12 PM
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