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February 28, 2006

Are Administrators Golden?

Next year's projected operating budget shortfall is $8 million - projected expenses will exceed revenues by that amount. For 13 years the growth in expenses have exceeded what the district received and was allowed to receive from the a) state and federal government revenues and b) allowed growth in revenues from property taxes. Further, the state and federal governments do not pay for their promised share of expenses for mandates that local school districts are to provide special education and ELL, to name a few areas. The financing of public education is broken in WI and neither the Republicans nor Democrats are taking this issue on and working through toward viable solutions. One step we can all take is to write your legislators - local, state and federal. Tell our state legislators to stop twiddling their thumbs on financing of public schools, because the problem is "too tough for them to 'figure out.'"

At the same time, drastic financial times will continue to stress Madison's public schools and our School Board and administrative staff will have no choice but to think in different ways PLUS go to referendum. I'm a solid supporter of school referendums - I have voted yes each time. However, I feel the School Board needs to take a different, more proactive approach to how the School Board thinks about and addresses a number of issues, including administrative contracts. Not doing so, will only compound the difficulties and stresses of our current fiscal situation.

Lawrie Kobza pointed out last night that 2-year rolling administrative contracts may be important for some groups of administrators and that the School Board should consider that issue. Otherwise, if the annual pattern continues, extensions will occur in February before the School Board looks at the budget and makes their decisions about staffing. Even though the Superintendent has indicated what positions he proposes to eliminate for next year, when the School Board has additional information later in the budget year, they may want to make different decisions based upon various tradeoffs they believe are important for the entire district.

What might the School Board consider doing? Develop criteria to use to identify/rank your most "valuable" administrative positions (perhaps this already exists) and those positions where the district might be losing its competitive edge. Identify what the "at risk" issues are - wages, financial, gender/racial mix, location, student population mix. Or, start with prioritizing rolling two-year contracts for one of the more "important," basic administrative groups - principals. Provide the School Board with options re administrative contracts. School board members please ask for options for this group of contracts.

Ms. Kobza commented that making an extension of contracts in February for this group of staff could make these positions appear to be golden, untouchable. Leaving as is might not be well received in Madison by a large number of people, including the thousands of MMSD staff who are not administrators on rolling two-year contracts nor a Superintendent with a rolling contract (without a horizon, I think). The board might be told MMSD won't be able to attract talented administrators. I feel the School Board needs to publicly discuss the issues and risks to its entire talent pool.

Mr. Nadler reported that MMSD might be losing its edge in the area of administration. He gave one example where there more than a few applicants for an elementary school position (20 applicants); however, other districts, such as Sun Prairie, are attracting more applicants (more than 100). The communities surrounding Madison are becoming more attractive over time as places to live and to do business. If we don't recognize and try to understand the issues, beyond simply wages and benefits, the situation will continue to worsen. I feel the process in place needs to change in order to be a) more responseive to the issues, b) more flexible for the School Board in their decisionmaking processes, especially around budget time.

Last night the School Board discussed administrator contracts once again and made no decisions, only what appeared to me to be a vague recommendation. Mr. Nadler, Executive Director of Human Resources, made the following points in speaking to the School Board: a) wages in MMSD are higher than surrounding area but places such as Verona offer better total wage and benefit packages, b) MMSD is not attracting the same number of principals for an open elementary school position as Sun Prairie, and c) if MMSD does not offer two-year rolling contracts, our district will be out of line with the other school districts.

The issue was referred to the Human Resources Committee without much direction; but if I understood what was being said by MMSD administration, the administration has a policy to go ahead and extend the admin. contracts if the School Board does not make a decision. I hope they do not act now on that for all employees even though they feel they made need to do this.

I hope the administration considers adjusting its policy. This is not likely without School Board direction, and I don't blame administrators for staying the course given the existing policy. Also, though, these are their contracts, and it may be hard for administrators to step away and be "objective" about contracts directly affecting their jobs.

It is the School Board's responsibility, and for the past three budget cycles, I have not seen much change in practice, or thinking about how to go about a change in practice.

I understood Mr. Nadler's presentation to mean that we have to keep the present system in place if the district is to have any chance of remaining competitive with other districts. Also, a competive package is important in attracting minority and women administrators.

Posted by at February 28, 2006 9:44 AM
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