Don Severson has been doing all the heavy lifting trying to get the bottom of the district's claim that we need the latest school referendum proposal. Please check out both his site, Active Citizens for Education, and School Info System. You'll find a lot of detailed information.
The Madison MMSD BOE is up to its old tactics. First, the single referendum question on the November ballot actually consists of THREE spending proposals. The spring 2005 referenda supporters obviously learned from their past mistakes, and instead of offering three separate questions, will now attempt to baffle taxpayers in the ballot box, but rolling three questions into one.
Now, the three spending issues are as follows (from the MMSD webpage):
On November 7, voters in the Madison School District will consider a $23.5 million referendum. The single question on the ballot is composed of three parts.
Some things to consider about these questions:
- Build a new elementary school in Linden Park to alleviate overcrowding in schools on the rapidly-growing west side. $17.7 million construction costs will cost the owner of an average-priced home about $16.15 more per year for 20 years. Capacity will range from 583 to 729 students, depending on the type of programming decided for the school.
- Build an addition to Leopold School for a new cafeteria and kitchen, then convert the current cafeteria and kitchen into classroom space. Leopold is at 108% capacity, with enrollment increases projected. The whole project will cost $2.76 million, and will mean an increase of $3.17 per year for 16 years to the owner of an average-priced home.
- Refinance four loans with the state trust fund worth $3.1 million, in order to provide some relief under the revenue caps thus reducing the number of budget cuts necessary. This will cost the owner of an average-priced home $9.89 per year for 6 years.
1. Building on Leopold has already begun. That's right. The board didn't wait to start construction on the addition. It's counting on voters to approve the expenditure after the fact. If they don't, the BOE will, like always, take it out on the kids by threatening to cut popular programs, teaching positions, etc. Will they do anything about evaluating the overpriced Cadillac insurance plan offered through WPS, and negotiated by MTI? No. Will they consider re-prioritizing the administrative budgeting process? No. Have they looked into efficiencies of curricula, administration, maintenance and programs? No. Have they offered to cut back on the bloated FUND 80. Ha.
Have they even proposed what the increased operating budget will be after the addition? NO.
2. The new proposed elementary school is supposedly needed to alleviate capacity problems on the west side of the district. Have they identified the demographics trends of the west side? No, they guessed at them. Do they know if the population will be a stable, owner occupied housing population? No. Have they taken the Ridgewood neighborhood changes into account? No. Have they proposed an operating budget estimate for the new school? No. Do they know if the increased capacity is long term or short term? No. If we ultimately do need to build, does it have to begin in 2007? No one knows.
The school board, again, wants taxpayers to give them a blank check. Do you trust them to think of the taxpayers at the same time they're considering the pressure by the always spend-happy Madison Teacher's Union?
3. The board is proposing refinancing debt service. The refinance plan will provide the district with a "spare" 800k that they say they will put in a "contingency fund". Did the board ask if the refinancing will cost more or cost less? No. Do we even know how the district arrived at its conclusion that the refinancing won't increase the tax burden? No. Has the board been responsible with the "contingency fund" in the past? Laugh out loud!
More things to consider: the board hasn't even considered a demographic study of immigration trends in the MMSD, even though recent reports have suggested our "English as a Second Language" population has increased dramatically over the last decade. The board isn't telling you that these students are going to need more money to educate, as many are coming in at the bottom of the achievement scale. Will Talented and Gifted programs be cut again to satisfy the additional cost? Will the board approve more curricula changes that place talented kids with achievement-challenged kids to try to compensate for the low performance among low-income students? Who knows.
Has the board made a serious effort to reform its budgeting process, so we don't face the "rush to cut" every March and April? Not at all. The board budgets for the upcoming year by drafting a budget that maxes out spending. If state revenues fall short, it's a matter of threatening to cut popular programs to drive up outrage, then back to the taxpayers for more money. Not once has the board told the administration that it's time to see where the efficiencies are in the budget. Not once has the board told the administration that it will no longer approve and lock in their contracts before the costs of education for Madison students are covered. These are the difficult questions to ask, and the hard choices to make. The board majority is more interested in the quick fix, which is hitting the taxpayers up for more money. When will it end? Unless something changes, NEVER.