All posts by Don Severson

Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks

We urge the Board of Education to approve and implement the initiatives and budget proposed for the school-wide literacy program [Public Appearance Remarks]. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District. These shortcomings are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the poor achievement performance of our students. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority.
Our thanks and compliments to the Board and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. However, the Board must take a greatly increased leadership role in demanding the vigorous evaluation and assessment all programs, services and personnel throughout the District. There must be demonstrable commitment and evidence of the systematic implementation of the strategic objective of the five-year District Strategic Plan to address the woefully inadequate and insufficient data upon which to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and performance of students and staff.
The Board must not give any support for an increase in property taxes in finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Nor, is there any justification for using any amount of “under-levy carry-over” if such authorization should be re-instated by the state. There is no evidence to support an increase in taxes. We must be able to prioritize the expenditure of revenues available within the limits established. The Board has already demonstrated it cannot effectively manage its allocations to areas of highest need to strengthen the impact on curriculum, instruction and performance affecting student learning. Until and unless the Board can demonstrate a higher and more effective level of leadership with its decisions and priorities it cannot be trusted with more money that will only get the same results.
We support an increase in allocations for maintenance and electrical infrastructure up-grades conditional upon 1) re-allocation of existing funds to these areas; 2) clear and enumerated priorities, established in advance, for maintenance projects that are specifically related to safety issues; and 3) electrical infrastructure up-grades specifically related to priorities established for improvements and expansion of technology as identified in the Technology Plan for use in student learning, instruction, business services and communications with the public.
The Board must not give approval to the proposed amendment for providing staff with year-end bonuses. This is absolutely the wrong message, for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. It cannot be justified in ‘rewarding’ those staff who wrongfully abdicated their responsibilities in the classroom to the students; by insulting those staff who did attempt to fulfill their responsibilities; as well as insulting the parents and students harmed by those detrimental actions. It would be far better to allocate the ‘savings funds’ to resources actively and directly impacting student learning. The Board must make a commitment to providing leadership toward academic improvements and to creating a working culture of mutual trust and collaboration with employees and taxpayers.
For further information contact: Don Severson, donleader@aol.com 577-0851

Comments on the Madison School District’s Literacy Initiative and Budget Proposal

First of all, our thanks and compliments to you and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. Thanks also to staff and outside advisors for their contributions to making the Report and Recommendations the most meaningful and significant direction for systemic change toward achieving measurable results in student achievement and staff performance in the District’s recent history.
We urge the Board of Education support of the Literacy Report AND adoption of the recommendations for implementation of the initiatives and for the budget proposed in the Superintendent’s Preliminary Budget for 2011-12. It is vital for the Board to support the direction of the initiatives for balanced literacy with integrity at all grades levels of the District. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District that are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the “achievement gap”. Finally, we have pro-active leadership from Dr. Sue Abplanalp, who has a full grasp of the organizational development and change processes critical and significant to the implementation and sustainability of difference- making strategies. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority. We urge you to get on with it. Thank you.
For further information contact: Don Severson, donleader@aol.com 577-0851
Print version: 222K PDF

Questions & Suggestions for the Madison School District’s Innovation & Alternative Programs

225K PDF: As a result of the presentations and discussion at the first Committee meeting I have some questions and suggestions I want to share with you.
1. Regarding the “Charge” for the Committee: Is the identification and planning for expansion limited to “programs and educational options”?
Recommended suggestions: Think beyond programs, services and projects for processes to affect ‘systemic’ changes.
Much more on the Madison School District’s Innovation & Alternative Programs Initiative, here.

Questions and Concerns Regarding the “Findings and Recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report

The following questions and concerns are submitted to you for your consideration regarding the “findings and recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report:
1. What findings and recommendations are there for ‘year-around’ literacy experiences to help mitigate ‘losses’ over the summer months in achievement gains during the traditional academic year?
Although “summer loss” was not a particular focus of discussion during the evaluation process, there are several ways in which the recommendations address reducing the impact of summer reading loss. These include:
Recommendation I – curricular consistency will provide for a more seamless connection with content and instruction in summer school, Saturday school (pending funding) and after school supports.
Recommendation II – more explicit instruction focused in early grades will allow students to read for enjoyment at earlier ages.
Recommendation III – a well-developed intervention plan will follow a student through summer school and into the following academic year

2. What are the findings and recommendations regarding parental (significant adults in student’s life) participation, training, evaluation and accountability in the literacy learning process?
Parental participation opportunities to support their children’s enjoyment and achievement in literacy include:
Family Literacy Nights at various elementary schools and in collaboration with Madison School and Community Recreation. Town Hall Meetings that provide opportunities for families to share pros and cons of literacy practices at school and home.
Literacy 24-7: Parent training for Spanish speaking families on how to promote literacy learning. Read Your Heart Out Day: This event builds positive family, community and school relationships with a literacy focus and supports both the family involvement and cultural relevance components of the Madison Metropolitan School District Strategic Plan.
Tera Fortune: Professional development for parents about the Dual Language Immersion Program with a focus on bi-literacy throughout the content areas. MALDEF Curriculum Training: Nine-week training covering a variety of topics to assist parents in sharing the responsibility of student success and how to communicate effectively in schools.
Regular column in Umoja Magazine: Forum to inform families and community members about educational issues through African American educators’ expertise. Several columns have focused on literacy learning at home.
Training is provided for parents on how to choose literature that:
Has positive images that leave lasting impressions
Has accurate, factual information that is enjoyable to read
Contains meaningful stories that reflect a range of cultural values and lifestyles
Has clear and positive perspective for people of color in the 21st century
Contains material that is self affirming Promotes positive literacy learning at home
Evaluations of the Read Your Heart Out and Family Literacy Night were conducted by requesting that participating parents, staff, students and community members complete a survey about the success of the event and the effects on student achievement.

3. What are the consequential and remediation strategies for non-performance in meeting established achievement/teaching/support standards for students, staff and parents? What are the accompanying evaluation/assessment criteria?
A District Framework is nearing completion. This Framework will provide clear and consistent expectations and rubrics for all instructional staff and administrators. Improvement will be addressed through processes that include the School Improvement Plans and staff and administrator evaluations processes.
4. Please clarify the future of the Reading Recovery program.
MMSD proposes to maintain Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders as an intervention at grade 1. There are currently two Reading Recovery teacher leaders participating in a two-year professional development required to become Reading Recovery teacher leaders. One of these positions will be certified to support English Language Learners. The modifications proposed include: 1) targeting these highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers to specific students across schools based on district-wide data for 2011-12 and 2) integrating the skills of Reading Recovery staff into a comprehensive intervention plan along with skilled interventionists resulting in all elementary schools benefiting from grade 1 reading intervention.
5. How will the literacy learning process be integrated with the identification and development of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students?
The development of a balanced, comprehensive assessment system will result in teachers having more frequent and accurate student data available to tailor instruction. K-12 alignment uses tools such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) are being implemented in Spring, 2011.
The Response to Intervention model is based on evidence-based instruction and responds to students who need additional challenge and/or support.

6. What will be the 2010-2011 budgetary priorities and strategies for undertaking the literacy program and resources recommendations outlined in the report?
PreK-12 literacy will be a priority for the 2011-12 budget process. In addition to the prioritization of funding within our budget parameters, MMSD is in the process of writing a major grant (Investing in Innovation – i3) to support the recommendations of the literacy evaluation as a key strategy to close achievement gaps and improve literacy for all students to be ready for college and/or careers.

MISSED ADJUSTMENTS and OPPORTUNITIES RATIFICATION OF Madison School District/Madison Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement 2011-2013

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and the Madison Teachers, Inc. ratified an expedited Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2011-2013. Several significant considerations were ignored for the negative impact and consequences on students, staff and taxpayers.
First and foremost, there was NO ‘urgent’ need (nor ANY need at all) to ‘negotiate’ a new contract. The current contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2011. Given the proposals regarding school finance and collective bargaining processes in the Budget Repair Bill before the legislature there were significant opportunities and expectations for educational, management and labor reforms. With such changes imminent, there was little value in ‘locking in’ the restrictive old provisions for conducting operations and relationships and shutting the door on different opportunities for increasing educational improvements and performances in the teaching and learning culture and costs of educating the students of the district.
A partial listing of the missed adjustments and opportunities with the ratification of the teacher collective bargaining agreement should be instructive.

  • Keeping the ‘step and advancement’ salary schedule locks in automatic salary increases; thereby establishing a new basis annually for salary adjustments. The schedule awards increases solely on tenure and educational attainment. This also significantly inhibits movement for development and implementation of ‘pay for performance’ and merit.
  • Continues the MOU agreement requiring 50% of teachers in 4-K programs (public and private sites combined) to be state certified and union members
  • Continues required union membership. There are 2700 total or 2400 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, numbers rounded. Full-time teachers pay $1100.00 (pro-rated for part-time) per year in automatic union dues deducted from paychecks and processed by the District. With 2400 FTE multiplied by $1100 equals $2,640,000 per year multiplied by two years of the collective bargaining unit equals $5,280,000 to be paid by teachers to their union (Madison Teachers Inc., for its union activities). These figures do not include staff members in the clerical and teacher assistant bargaining units who also pay union dues, but at a lower rate.
  • Continues to limit and delay processes for eliminating non-performing teachers Inhibits abilities of the District to determine the length and configuration of the school day, length and configuration of the school year calendar including professional development, breaks and summer school
  • Inhibits movement and placement of teachers where needed and best suited
  • Restricts adjustments to class sizes and teacher-pupil ratios
  • Continues very costly grievance options and procedures and litigation
  • Inhibits the District from developing attendance area level teacher/administrator councils for collaboration in problem-solving, built on trust and relationships in a non-confrontational environment
  • Continues costly extra-duties and extra-curricular agreements and processes
  • Restricts flexibility for teacher input and participation in professional development, curriculum selection and development and performance evaluation at the building level
  • Continues Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP), costing upwards to $3M per year
  • Does not require teacher sharing in costs of health insurance premiums
  • Did not immediately eliminate extremely expensive Preferred Provider (WPS) health insurance plan
  • Did not significantly address health insurance reforms
  • Does not allow for reviews and possible reforms of Sick Leave and Disability Leave policies
  • Continues to be the basis for establishing “me too” contract agreements with administrators for salaries and benefits. This has impacts on CBAs with other employee units, i.e., support staff, custodians, food service employees, etc.
  • Continues inflexibilities for moving staff and resources based on changes and interpretations of state and federal program supported mandates
  • Inhibits educational reforms related to reading and math and other core courses, as well as reforms in the high schools and alternative programs

Each and every one of the above items has a financial cost associated with it. These are the so-called ‘hidden costs’ of the collective bargaining process that contribute to the over-all costs of the District and to restrictions for undertaking reforms in the educational system and the District. These costs could have been eliminated, reduced, minimized and/ or re-allocated in order to support reforms and higher priorities with more direct impact on academic achievement and staff performance.
For further information and discussion contact:
Don Severson President
Active Citizens for Education
donleader@aol.com
608 577-0851
100k PDF version

Pre-K Can Work: Needy kids could benefit, but only if we use proven pedagogy and hold programs accountable.

Shephard Barbash:

The one approach that Follow Through found had worked, Direct Instruction, was created by Siegfried Engelmann, who has written more than 100 curricula for reading, spelling, math, science, and other subjects. Engelmann dates DI’s inception to an experiment he performed at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in the summer of 1964. He took two groups of three- to five-year-olds–one white and affluent, one black and poor–and tried to teach them “sophisticated patterns of reasoning. . . . things that Piaget said couldn’t be taught before the age of formal operations–around 11 or 12.” These things included concepts like relative direction (A is north of B but south of C) and the behavior of light entering and leaving a mirror. Both groups learned what Piaget said they couldn’t at their age. But to Engelmann’s consternation, the affluent kids learned faster. He traced the difference to a severe language deficit in the African-American group (the deficit that Hart and Risley later quantified) and resolved to figure out how to overcome it.
Engelmann and two colleagues, Carl Bereiter and Jean Osborn, went on to open a half-day preschool for poor children in Champaign-Urbana that dramatically accelerated learning even in the most verbally deprived four-year-olds. Children who entered the preschool not knowing the meaning of “under,” “over,” or “Stand up!” went into kindergarten reading and doing math at a second-grade level. Engelmann found (and others later confirmed) that the mean IQ for the group jumped from 96 to 121. In effect, the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool proved that efforts to close the achievement gap could begin years earlier than most educators had thought possible. The effects lasted, at a minimum, until second grade–and likely longer, though studies on the longer-term effects weren’t performed.

ACE Urges MMSD Board NO Vote on 4k and RttT

TO: MMSD Board of Education
FROM: Active Citizens for Education
RE: 4-year old Kindergarten
Race to the Top
I am Don Severson representing Active Citizens for Education.
The Board of Education is urged to vote NO on the proposal to implement 4-year old Kindergarten in the foreseeable future. In behalf of the public, we cite the following support for taking this action of reject the proposal:

  • The Board and Administration Has failed to conduct complete due diligence with respect to recognizing the community delivery of programs and services. There are existing bona fide entities, and potential future entities, with capacities to conduct these programs

  • Is not recognizing that the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Wisconsin authorizes the provision of public education for grades K-12, not including pre-K or 4-year old kindergarten
  • Has not demonstrated the district capacity, or the responsibility, to manage effectively the funding support that it has been getting for existing K-12 programs and services. The district does not meet existing K-12 needs and it cannot get different results by continuing to do business as usual, with the ‘same service’ budget year-after-year-after-year
  • Will abrogate your fiduciary responsibility by violating the public trust and promises made to refrain from starting new programs in exchange for support of the “community partnership” urged for passing the recent referendum to raise the revenue caps

To reiterate, vote NO for District implementation of 4-K.
The Board of Education is urged to vote NO to signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State of Wisconsin as part of an application for funding through the U.S. Department of Education ACT “Race to the Top” (RttT).
In behalf of the public we cite the following support for taking this action to reject the signing the RttT MOU: The Board and Administration

  • Does not have complete information as to the requirements, criteria, expectations and definitions of terms of the MOU or its material Exhibits; therefore, there has been serious inhibitors in time, effort and due diligence to examine, understand and discuss the significant implications and consequences of pursuing such funding
  • Does not have an understanding through the conduct of interactive discussions regarding the roles and relationships of the Board of Education, the Administration and the union regarding the requirements of the MOU as well as any subsequent implications for planning, implementation, evaluation and results for receiving the funding
  • Must understand that the Board of Education, and the Board alone by a majority vote, is the only authority which can bind the District in any action regarding the MOU and subsequent work plan. District participation cannot be authorized by the Board if such participation is contingent on actual or implied approval, now or in the future, of any other parties (i.e., District Administration and/or union)
  • Does not have an understanding of its personnel capacity or collective will to establish needs, priorities and accountabilities for undertaking such an enormous and complicated “sea change” in the ways in which the district conducts its business in the delivery of programs and services as appears to be expected for the use any RttT funding authorized for the District
  • Must also understand and be prepared for the penalties and reimbursements due to the state and federal governments for failure to comply with the provisions attached to any authorized funding, including expected results

To reiterate, vote NO for District approval for the MOU and application for funding through the RttT.

November 2008 Madison School District Referendum Watch List Report Card

Active Citizens for Education presents this “Watch List Report Card” as a means of reporting relevant information, facts and analyses on topics appropriate for consideration by taxpayers in voting on the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum question November 4, 2008. This document is dynamic in nature, thus it is updated on a regular basis with new information and data. Questions, analyses, clarifications and perspectives will be added to the entries as appropriate. Review Ratings will be applied to report the progress (or lack thereof) of the Board of Education and Administration in its plans, data, information, reports and communications related to the referendum.
Complete PDF Document. Madison School District Revenue Summary 2005-2011 PDF

ACE Update on the November 2008 Madison Referendum, Information Session Tonight

REMINDER: The MMSD district is holding its second of four “Information Sessions” regarding the referendum tonight (Thursday, October 16), 6:30 pm, Jefferson Middle School. You are urged to attend.
The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a ‘gap’ or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.
Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a “high quality education;”
Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state’s schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either “proficient” or “advanced” levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;
Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.
Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);
Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;
Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;
Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);
Whereas, the board explains the ‘budget gap’ between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers’ union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;
Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;
The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a ‘gap’ or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.
Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a “high quality education;”
Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state’s schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either “proficient” or “advanced” levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;
Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.
Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);
Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;
Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;
Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);
Whereas, the board explains the ‘budget gap’ between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers’ union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;
Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;

Continue reading ACE Update on the November 2008 Madison Referendum, Information Session Tonight

2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum – Key Issues

1. Mortgage on future property with permanent increase: Asking taxpayers to refinance/mortgage their futures and that of the school district with a permanent increase of $13 million yearly for the operations budget. It has been stated the district needs the money to help keep current programs in place. It is expected that even after 3 years of this referendum totaling $27 million, the Board is projecting a continued revenue gap and will be back asking for even more.
2. No evaluation nor analysis of programs and services: The Board will make budget cuts affecting program and services, whether or not this referendum passes. The cuts will be made with no assessment/evaluation process or strategy for objective analyses of educational or business programs and services to determine the most effective and efficient use of money they already have as well as for the additional money they are asking with this referendum.
3. Inflated criteria for property value growth: The dollar impact on property to be taxed is projected on an inflated criteria of 4% growth in property valuation assessment; therefore, reducing the cost projection for the property tax levy. The growth for property valuation in 2007 was 3.2% and for 2008 it was 1.0%. Given the state of the economy and the housing market, the growth rate is expected to further decline in 2009. [10/13 Update: The above references to property valuation assessment growth are cited from City of Madison Assessor data. See ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for State Department of Revenue citations for property valuation base and growth rate used for determination of MMSD property tax levy.]
4. No direct impact on student learning and classroom instruction: There is District acknowledgement of a serious achievement gap between low-income and minority student groups compared with others. There are no plans evident for changing how new or existing money will be spent differently in order to have an impact on improving student learning/achievement and instructional effectiveness.
5. Lack of verification of reduction in negative aid impact on taxes: District scenarios illustrating a drastic reduction in the negative impact on state aids from our property-rich district is unsubstantiated and unverified, as well as raising questions about unknown possible future unintended consequences. The illustrated reduction is from approximately 60% to 1% results by switching maintenance funds from the operations budget and 2005 referendum proceeds to a newly created “Capital Expansion Fund–Fund 41” account. [Update: 10/13: The reduction in the negative aid impact will take affect regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote. See the ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for details.]

Continue reading 2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum – Key Issues

DCPAC Dan Nerad Meeting Summary

A video tape of the entire presentation and discussion with Dr. Nerad may be viewed by visiting this internet link: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2008/09/ madison_superin_10.php

Dan Nerad opened his remarks by stating his commitment to efforts for always continuing change and improvement with the engagement of the community. He outlined four areas of focus on where we are going from here.

  1. Funding: must balance district needs and taxpayer needs. He mentioned the referendum to help keep current programs in place and it will not include “new” things.
  2. Strategic Plan: this initiative will formally begin in January 2009 and will involve a large community group process to develop as an ongoing activity.
  3. Meet people: going throughout the community to meet people on their own terms. He will carefully listen. He also has ideas.
  4. Teaching and learning mission: there are notable achievement gaps we need to face head-on. The “achievement gap” is serious. The broader mission not only includes workforce development but also helping students learn to be better people. We have a “tale of two school districts” – numbers of high achievers (including National Merit Scholars), but not doing well with a lot of other students. Low income and minority students are furtherest away from standards that must be met. Need to be more transparent with the journey to fix this problem and where we are not good. Must have the help of the community. The focus must be to improve learning for ALL kids, it is a “both/and” proposition with a need to reframe the issue to help all kids move forward from where they are. Must use best practices in contemporary assessment, curriculum, pedagogy and instructional methods.

Dr. Nerad discussed five areas about which he sees a need for community-wide conversations for how to meet needs in the district.

  1. Early learning opportunities: for pre-kindergarten children. A total community commitment is needed to prevent the ‘achievement gap’ from widening.
  2. High schools: How do we want high schools to be? Need to be more responsive. The curriculum needs to be more career oriented. Need to break down the ‘silos’ between high school, tech schools and colleges. Need to help students move through the opportunities differently. The Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded to the district for high schools and with the help of the community will aid the processes for changes in the high schools.
  3. School safety: there must be an on-going commitment for changes. Nerad cited three areas for change:

    a. A stronger curriculum helping people relate with other people, their differences and conflicts.

    b. A response system to safety. Schools must be the safest of sanctuaries for living, learning and development.

    c.Must make better use of research-based technology that makes sense.

  4. Math curriculum and instruction: Cited the recent Math Task Force Report

    a. Good news: several recommendations for curriculum, instruction and policies for change.

    b. Bad news: our students take less math than other urban schools in the state; there are notable differences in the achievement gap.

  5. Fine Arts: Cited recent Fine Arts Task Force Report. Fine arts curriculum and activities in the schools, once a strength, has been whittled away due to budget constraints. We must deal with the ‘hands of the clock’ going forward and develop a closer integration of the schools and community in this area.

Continue reading DCPAC Dan Nerad Meeting Summary

Madison 2008 Referendum: Watch List Report Card

10/6/2008 update
Active Citizens for Education presents this “Watch List Report Card” as a means of reporting relevant information, facts and analyses on topics appropriate for consideration by taxpayers in voting on the Madison Metropolitan School District referendum question November 4, 2008.
This document is dynamic in nature, thus it is updated on a regular basis with new information and data. Questions, analyses, clarifications and perspectives will be added to the entries as appropriate. Review Ratings will be applied to report the progress (or lack thereof) of the Board of Education and Administration in its plans, data, information, reports and communications related to the referendum.
The question which shall appear on the ballot is as follows:

“Shall the following Resolution be approved?
RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE SCHOOL DISTRICT BUDGET TO EXCEED REVENUE LIMIT FOR RECURRING PURPOSES
BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County, Wisconsin that the revenues included in the School District budget be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, for recurring purposes by: $5,000,000 beginning in the 2009-2010 school year; an additional $4,000,000 beginning in the 2010-2011 school year (for a total of $9,000,000); and an additional $4,000,000 beginning in the 2011-2012 school year (for a total of $13,000,000 in 2011-2012 and each year thereafter).”

(Source: MMSD Administration 09/15/08)
Continue reading here (277K PDF).

Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

Active Citizens for Education (ACE) calls for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to delay making specific decisions for the presentation of a recurring referendum to the taxpayers for a vote on the November election ballot.
Passage of a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would allow the board and school administration to permanently exceed the state mandated revenue spending caps. Such a move to fix a so-called current “budget gap” would allow the board and administration to exceed annual spending caps permanently, every year into the future. This would virtually give the board a “blank check” from district taxpayers to plug future budget gaps or shortfalls. It could prevent the board and administration from having to carefully and thoughtfully budget, like every taxpayer must do when their household budget faces tough economic times and shortfalls.
The plans and communications presented in recent weeks by the board and administration provide greater hope for more effective decision-making now and in the future. The recommendations for changes in policy and accountability options in community services, transportation, lease contracts, fund balances and capital expansion (maintenance) will have positive impacts on reducing the so-called “budget gap.”
The Board must earn the trust of the taxpayers by clearly showing that they can be “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars. Past experience has not earned that trust! If a referendum is ultimately required to fix upcoming budgets, it should be a non-recurring referendum, thereby preventing ‘mortgaging’ the future with year-after-year, permanent increases in spending authority.
The Board and administration must correct the absence of specific processes and strategies for analysis and evaluation of business and educational services, programs, practices and policies. Urgent and substantial investments of time and work are critical for these processes to evolve into hard evidence. This evidence is absolutely necessary to show the public that serious steps are under way to provide clear, concrete data and options for identifying the most effective and efficient results-oriented management of the financial resources of the district. It must be shown that the resources will be directly applied to improvements in student learning and achievement.

Continue reading Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

Madison School District’s Financial Situation: Memo to the School Board & Administration

Thank you for engaging the community in such a meaningful way with the forums this week. I believe the forums were successful in that the participating citizens had the opportunity to openly ask questions, seek information and give suggestions for consideration. The information provided by Dan and Erik was clear and helpful. We believe, that with the actions of the board and administration in recent weeks, there is a new openness, a willingness for exercising greater due-diligence, and an openness to examine more fully the opportunities and challenges with fresh insights and strategies.
There is a challenging road ahead with very heavy lifting to be done to continue to more fully communicate with and engage the public in the decision-making process regarding the future of the district in the educational, business and financial elements. These processes are absolutely critical to charting the course toward more effectivenss in student achievement results and business management. At this point in time, the plans and communications provide greater hope for more effective decision-making. However, time is critical for these processes to evolve with hard evidence to show the public that serious steps are actually underway and are producing information and results in order to provide for clearer future options and enlightened decision-making.
Given the critical values briefly outlined above, it is premature at this time to make recommendations or decisions on a course or courses of action to seek more spending authority as a solution regarding the financial needs of the district. The groundwork for decision-making and the development of improved levels of public confidence in the Board and administration have to continue to be proactively matured for both short- and long-term successes in the district. We urge you to proceed carefully, firmly and in a strategic and progressive manner.
I am available and willing at any time to engage in discussion regarding these statements and recommendations.
Sincerely,
Don Severson
President
Active Citizens for Education
577-0851

Madison Reading Conference: October 12 – 13, 2007

Blowing the Lid Off Reading Achievement: Putting All the Pieces Together [120K PDF Conference Program] [160K PDF Registration Form]
Alliant Energy Center, Exhibition Hall, Madison, WI [Map]
October 12-13, 2007
Conference Program
Friday, October 12, 2007________________________________________________________
9:00-12:00 Keynote Speakers:
Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia
Extraordinary progress in understanding the nature of reading and dyslexia, including their neural underpinnings, have direct implications for the earlier and more accurate identification and more effective treatment of dyslexia. This presentation focuses on these discoveries and their translation into clinical practices for overcoming dyslexia and for appreciating the sea of strengths associated with dyslexia.
12:00-1:30 Luncheon: Entertainment provided by Ervin Allen and the Walbridge Choir
2:45-3:45 Breakout Sessions

  1. Karin Chenowith from the Education Trust answers questions following her keynote address and provides a book signing opportunity.
  2. Fort Atkinson, WI Public School District, Principal of Barrie Elementary, Tony Bolz, and his staff outline their study and implementation of Overcoming Dyslexia and their overall K-12 reading plan.
  3. SRA/McGraw-Hill, Resources For Reaching Students With Disabilities The most proven and popular Direct Instruction Programs presented by professionals in this field.
  4. Project Read presenters share their research-based curriculum and instructional methodology for at-risk students in grades kindergarten through third grade and special education students.
  5. Wisconsin Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (WIBIDA) creates an awareness of what it is like to be dyslexic with simulations and a description of the association’s programs and services.
  6. Madison Reading and Learning Center Director, Janice Schreiber-Poznik, M.S., with staff, parents, and students, describe their remedial and enrichment programs of one-on-one tutoring for children and adults, which includes evidence based instruction, parent participation, and community partnerships.

Public Ed 101

Jonah Goldberg:

Here’s a good question for you: Why have public schools at all?
O.K., cue the marching music. We need public schools because blah blah blah and yada yada yada. We could say blah is common culture and yada is the government’s interest in promoting the general welfare. Or that children are the future. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Because we can’t leave any child behind.
The problem with all these bromides is that they leave out the simple fact that one of the surest ways to leave a kid “behind” is to hand him over to the government. Americans want universal education, just as they want universally safe food. But nobody believes that the government should run 90 percent of the restaurants, farms, and supermarkets. Why should it run 90 percent of the schools — particularly when it gets terrible results?

3 Simple Things: Conduct Board Business Differently

  1. Good Health Care at an Affordable Price: Reduce Costs by $12 Million
  2. Put a Lid on the Cookie Jar: Cut Taxes Over $9 Million
  3. Eliminate Chaos: Board Decisions; Priceless: Improve Student Achievement.

MADISON MARKET COMPARITIVE HEALTH CARE COSTS

The bargained contract between the Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Teachers, Inc. (representing teachers) stipulates health coverage from a ‘preferred provider’ (WPS) and a ‘health maintenance organization’ (GHC).

Bids have not been solicited from health care providers in many years. Comparative monthly premium costs for the employer and the employee in the Madison market:

Plan Single Coverage Family Coverage
Employer Employee Employer Employee
MMSD (WPS) $673.00 $75.00 $1,765.00 $196.00
MMSD (GHC) $365.00 $00.00 $974.00 $00.00
City (Dean) $406.00 $13.09 $1,010.00 $33.00
County (Phys Plus) $385.00 $00.00 $905.00 $33.00
State (Dean) $438.00 $22.00 $1.091.00 $55.00

VIDEO: watch the press conference here. Download the 823K PDF presentation materials.

SCHOOL BOARD WATCHDOG GROUP TO HOLD NEWS CONFERENCE TUESDAY at 12:15 pm

In reference to current talk about a referenda proposal by the Madison Metropolitan School Board (MMSD), Active Citizens for Education (ACE) will hold a news conference this coming Tuesday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m. at The Coliseum Bar, 232 East Olin Ave, Madison [map].
The group will advance three proposals that the School Board should adopt and initiate in the process of deciding whether or not to place any additional requests before the voters for taxpayer funds or exemptions from the state-imposed revenue caps. The proposal topics are:

  • GOOD HEALTH CARE AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE
  • PUT THE LID ON THE COOKIE JAR
  • ELIMINATE THE CHAOS OF BOARD DECISIONS

Speakers will include Don Severson, president of ACE, and former Madison Alder Dorothy Borchardt, an activist in school and community issues.
In addition to comments by Severson and Borchardt, there will be five display boards briefly outlining the proposals as well as duplicated handouts. The presentation part of the news conference will last 15 minutes, followed by questions.

MMSD Budget Proposal Documents: Active Citizens for Education

Linda Martin Files Suit Against the MMSD

COMPLAINT [67K PDF] HAS BEEN FILED AGAINST MADISON METROPOLITAN SCHOOL DISTRICT IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
Linda Martin, Plaintiff v. Madison Metropolitan School District and District officials Roger Price, Renee Bremer, Mary Teppo and Donna Williams, Defendants.
The District was Ms. Martin’s employer. Ms. Martin received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Allegations include “bid rigging;” discrimination during a hiring process; denial of free speech rights; harassment; wrongful discharge; and intentional violation of federal law.
Susan Troller: School District Sued for Harrassment.

Continue reading Linda Martin Files Suit Against the MMSD

Facts & Questions about the 2006 Madison School District Referendum

Questions:

What is the anticipated cost of equipping the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? Are those projected costs included in the referendum authorization or not?
What is the anticipated cost of operating the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? How will those costs be appropriated/budgeted (and in what years?) given that the Board expects to have to cut $6-8 million per year?
What are the “shared revenue” total costs for each of three parts of the referendum question? Are these costs included in the $29.20 estimated cost for a median assessed home-owner? Please provide the ‘working papers’ or calculations arriving at these costs. How can a home-owner figure the annual cost of this referendum for the assessed value of their home?
What information about the Ridgewood complex and projected enrollment was used to calculate the need for the Leopold addition?
Construction has already begun for the Leopold addition without voter/taxpayer approval. What is the current impact on the operations budget? What would be the future impact on the operations budget if the referendum fails?

Continue reading Facts & Questions about the 2006 Madison School District Referendum

MMSD Referendum Info

The attached document is copied from Vicki McKenna’s web site. Her comments are accurate from the conversations she and I have had and information she has reviewed. There still is a lot more critical information, questions and concerns about the referendum that needs exploration, analysis and ‘airing.’
Here is what I think is some significant additional data:
The District continues to refuse to tell the public (taxpayers) about the TRUE costs of the referendum. The District is only telling us to consider a $23.1 million referendum without telling us the FULL tax burden that includes the approximate 60% (Sixty) additional cost to taxpayers to satisfy the State Equalization (negative aids) obligation. That $23.1 million actually becomes an estimated $37.67 million. The three parts to the referendum question break out as follows:

  1. Linden Park Elementary: Basic of $17.7 million, plus 60% or $10.6 million equals $28.3 million total actual tax burden
  2. Leopold Elementary School Addition: Basic of $2.76 million, plus 60% or $1.65 million equals $4.41 million total actual tax burden
  3. Debt Refinance: Basic of $3.1 million, plus 60% or $1.86 million equals $4.96 million total actual tax burden

Items 2 and 3 are, in effect (back door approach), a referendum to raise the revenue cap by releasing over $800,000 per year from debt obligations in the operations budget to spend in whatever ways the Board of Education chooses. The Board has done no planning as to if, let alone how, this money will be spent on priorities for classroom, instruction and programs and services toward directly affecting student achievement.
I encourage you to share your insights, questions and suggestions.
An Active Citizens for Education (ACE) meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 5, 7:00 pm, Oakwood Village West. More details to follow. McKenna’s website.

Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

Following are remarks and attachments distributed to the MMSD Board of Education electronically and hard copy on Monday, June 6, 2005, by KJ Jakobson, who is a researcher working with Active Citizens for Education in matters related to health care benefits for school district employees.  Discussion and questions may be directed to KJ Jakobson directly and/or to Don Severson.:

Dear School Board,
In light of the referenda failures its time for the district to drive a hard bargain with the union concerning its intransigence with respect to health insurance carriers.
My research indicates there is a win/win solution for teachers, the district and students but WPS has a lot to lose (~8% of its group health business) and won’t give up easily. It is unclear whether, at this point in time, John Matthews is serving the teachers or serving WPS.  In any case,  I am certain WPS will not give up its favored and special access position at the bargaining table without a big fight. However it is time to face that battle head-on on behalf of teachers, students, taxpayers and most of all the children who are adversely affected when staffing is reduced and programs are cut.
I have attached the following documents:

which hopefully will be of assistance to you in driving a hard bargain on the subject of health care costs.

Continue reading Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

SB171 Hearing on School Referenda Timing


Click on this graph for a larger version
Following is a link to 2005 Senate Bill 171 relating to the scheduling of referenda to approve school district borrowing or exceed a school district’s revenue limit. A hearing is scheduled for the bill on Wednesday, April 20, 9:00 a.m., Room 400 SE, before the Committee on Labor and Election Process Reform of the Senate, Tom Reynolds, Chair. (74K PDF). Send your views on this to Senate President Alan Lasee
200K PDF
ACE Whitepapers:
1. Community Services Fund (Fund 80) [64K PDF]

2. Fund 80 Media Presentation [180K PDF]
Kanavas requests audit of Waukesha School District’s Community Service Funds.

Voter Fact Sheet: April 5, 2005 School Board Election

Consider the following facts and issues regarding the Madison school district to help determine whether you will vote for Board of Education candidates who will continue in the same direction as indicated; or, vote for candidates who will change the direction for the future of the District.

1. There is continuous dissemination of incomplete and misinformation, any of which are misleading to the public and self-serving of the Board and administration.

2. There is a continuous �cheerleading� approach to how great things are in terms of the education in the district and how awful things are financially due the state and federal governments and the economy.

3. There is a continuous approach to the absolution of and by the majority of the Board of Education for responsibility and accountability for actions, or lack thereof, in the leadership and management of the district and its educational and fiscal stewardship.

Voter Fact Sheet 150K PDF

What is Wrong with this Picture?

The Madison School Board of Education and the District administration are proposing nearly $50 million worth of referenda and are begging for the support of the taxpaying public to significantly raise taxes. At the same time, Superintendent Rainwater bashes the business community for not contributing more tax dollars to fund public education. By accusing businesses of “eating their own young” and “contributing to their own demise” he is creating a very divisive atmosphere that makes it very difficult for taxpayers to see the value in more and more spending for mediocre results.

Continue reading What is Wrong with this Picture?

Budget Time: Madison School District’s Credibility

The credibility of the Madison Metropolitan School District comes into serious question with the public when Board of Education members and district staff present erroneous information through the media to the public.
Recent examples include:

  • May, 2005 Special Election Costs:
    1. Bill Keys, President of the Board of Education, on the TV Channel 27 early morning news show, February 3, 2005, in referring to proposed referenda for a May 2005 vote stated that “it’s only $15,000 more ($90,000) to wait until May rather than go for the April election, which will only cost $75,000.” A vote on school referenda at the time of a regular countywide election incurs only a minor cost (less that $2000) to the District for graphics and ball space. Special balloting, such as that proposed for school referenda in May will incur more that $87,000 in expenses billed to the District by Dane County, the City of Madison and eight other involved municipalities with voters in the school district. A detailed report of these costs billed to the District for the June 2003 referendum ballot will be presented to the Board at its regular March 7, 2005 meeting.
  • Community Input:
    2. Carol Carstensen, Board of Education member, complains that critics of the Board aren’t really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions and is quoted in the “Talking Out of School” column in Isthmus, February 11, page 8, “I get a little concerned when people say, ‘You should be doing this,’ but then are unable to give me a better plan for how to achieve what they want.” As a representative of Active Citizens for Education we have presented the Board of Education and administration with more than 29 documents including recommendations, plans, proposals, reports and analyses on a variety of issues with which the Board is faced. A list of the documents, along with duplicate copies, will be presented to the Board at its next meeting to refresh memories.
  • Taxpayer Costs:
    3. Joe Quick, MMSD administration staff member, in discussing the proposed $26.2 million referendum for maintenance projects aired on the 10:00 p.m. TV Channel 27 newscast, February 28, stated that the request for revenue to support this referendum “would have no impact on taxes.” The fact of the matter is that if there is no referendum or if the referendum fails, property taxes will decrease due to the retirement of revenue bonds for previous capital indebtedness.

In order for the general public to understand the implications and consequences of financial decisions for which the public is requested to support, the Board of Education members and the administration must present accurate and complete information within the context of the total framework of the district’s budgeting, taxing authority and actions.
Don Severson
www.activecitizensforeducation.org
donleader at aol dot com