All posts by Ed Hughes

1 Moment

1 MomΣnt from Jackson Eagan on Vimeo.

This is a music video parody of Eminem’s award-winning song “Lose Yourself.” Instead of a depressed rapper, we have a troubled math student who tries to find his way into the math scene by engaging in tough algebra tests, breakdance battles, and nail-biting underground math competitions.
This project was started by East High’s math department; it was written by Daniel Torres. After a long recording session, four shoots, and countless hours editing, this is the end result.

I understand that the genesis of it is that last year Alan Harris told the different departments at East that they should have a theme song or something. This started out as the math department’s theme song (written by a teacher, based on an Eminem song) and then Jackson Eagan, an East senior, decided to produce a video for it, starring another East math teacher.

What’s Memorial Done Lately?

Madison Memorial has had a pretty good couple of weeks. Last night the boys basketball team won its sixth straight Big Eight conference championship in a rollicking and highly-entertaining showdown with conference runner-up Madison East. Last week, Memorial’s boys swimming team won the state championship. Today’s State Journal reports that Memorial senior Suvai Gunasekaran will be heading off to Washington as one of the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. And last week Memorial senior violinist Ben Seeger was the winner of the Steenbock Youth Music Award in the Bolz Young Artist Competition.
It’s also worth pointing out that Suvai will be joined by Gabriela Farfan of West at the Intel Science Talent Search (and so MMSD is supplying 5% of the nation’s finalists), and that Ben was joined in the Bolz Young Artists Competition finals by Alice Huang of West (the overall winner) and Ansel Norris of East (and so MMSD supplied 75% of the finalists in this statewide competition).
Madison schools – a diversity of excellence.

(Madison) School Referendum News

I have appreciated having the opportunity to talk about our schools with you and value your insights, so I wanted to let you know where matters stand on the possibility of a school spending referendum on the November ballot.
As you probably know, Superintendent Dan Nerad submitted his recommendations to the Board at a School Board meeting Monday night (1MB PDF, 3 year financial forecast PDF). In summary, the structural deficit the school funding law imposes on districts as well as increased fixed costs result in a projected budget deficit of $8.1 million for the 2009-2010 school year, $4.4 million for the 2010-2011 school year, and $4.3 million for the 2011-2012 school year, calculated on a same-service basis.
To meet these gaps, the superintendent recommends that the Board approve a referendum asking the voters to authorize the district to exceed our spending limits by $5 million next year, and $4 million in each of the following two years. This would be a recurring referendum, meaning that the authorization for the increased spending in the specified amounts would continue indefinitely.
The amount of extra spending authority we would seek is less than the projected budget gaps. The idea is that this a shared-sacrifice sort of proposal – we would be asking the community to permit us to erase some of the gap through additional taxes while we pledge to address the remainder through seeking out savings and efficiencies that will not have a detrimental impact on classroom learning. As is probably apparent, the referendum is not designed to allow us to restore in a significant way any of the painful cuts we have made in previous years.

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Dane County High School Rankings and ACT results

While the rankings of high schools in Madison Magazine (MM) have been out for awhile, they’ve continued to stick in my craw. That may have something to do with my involvement with the school that’s ranked 21st of 21. Top-ranked Edgewood, I’m sure, has a different take on the rankings, which it highlights on its website.
The magazine says it used average ACT scores as one of the two signifiers of academic achievement, which comprise 60% of its ranking formula. This week DPI released 2007 ACT scores for all the state’s public high schools. How do this year’s performances on the ACT by Dane County high schools compare with the MM rankings?

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Budget Cuts: The Dog that Didn’t Bark

Can anyone explain why the discussion of ways to meet the gap in next year?s school budget has not included any mention of the cost of teachers? salaries and benefits and how much they are expected to go up next year?
The district has projected a budget deficit for next year of $7.9 million. To arrive at this figure, the district has to make some assumption about the costs of salaries and benefits for next year, which necessarily implies an assumption about how much those costs will increase. There seems to be no information available from the district that explains that assumption.
In last week’s Isthmus, Jason Shepard wrote that salaries and benefits are slated to rise 4.7% next year. That figure comes from a five-year budget projection that is available on the district’s web site. However, I have been told that that figure is not accurate. The district’s contract with MTI for next year has not yet been negotiated (bargaining commences on April 25). I have been told that the district wants to keep its budget assumptions about salaries and benefits confidential for now, in order to avoid adversely affecting its bargaining position. The idea is to preserve the possibility that the district could do better in its bargaining than it is now assuming.
This explanation does not seem compelling to me, for a couple of reasons. First, call me a cynic, but I can’t imagine that the very competent folks at MTI cannot figure out what assumptions the district is utilizing, and so those the district is leaving in the dark include everyone except MTI. Second, once the district has gone through the agony of the current round of budget cuts, it will have very little incentive to try to do better in bargaining than the result that it has already planned for.
It seems to me that the cost of salaries and benefits is the dog that didn’t bark in the current discussion of budget cuts. The amount by which those costs will go up next year has a significant impact on the amount of cuts that will be required.

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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.

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