All posts by Maureen Rickman

An open letter to the School Board of Madison Metropolitan Schools

It’s about time that this community approached the budget process with the honesty and integrity that we homeowners are required to do. For the past several years, the Superintendent and his associates have made a projected budget by increasing all categories of the budget by a certain percentage (about 5%) whether costs in that area are going up or not. (This is a “cost-plus” approach for those econ majors among you.) Each year, the projected budget comes up short of what is available and the games begin. Cuts are made to beloved programs or high profile student services; the community is upset and the board calls for a referendum or reform of the state funding scheme.
How about budgeting the way I have to? My house, my car, my medical costs and my insurance eat up the majority of the household income. So it is with the district. Teacher’s salaries and benefits use up 85% of the budget and go up 4.7% each year. This is essentially a fixed cost that isn?t going to change much. We can complain about rising medical insurance costs or cut a few teachers from beloved “extras” like Strings, but those actions simply raise the ire of the community. I don?’t like that car costs jump up significantly over the several years that pass between purchases. My partner can complain about the mortgage, but we’re not moving out of the house.
The reality is that the remaining 15% of the budget IS where the cuts need to be made. When the pocket money in our household drops down during lean times, the morning latte and pastry are replaced by home-perked coffee and a 30-cent bagel. When the muffler blew at the same time as the back tire, we replaced them both and began setting aside money for a new car. How can it be that during the “lean years” of state-imposed constraints, we have had a computer program for budgeting written by consultants who over-ran their budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars? How did the Doyle building get re-furbished from floor tile to light fixture with nary a cough at the timing of it? Where did the money come from to install a district-wide phone system that will likely be outpaced by cellular technology within two or three years? How do we manage to come up with the funds to pay non-union electricians for work when our own full-time employees sit idle (and therefore on target for the chopping block)?
How is it that our district has a 20% “better” child to administrator ratio, (195 children/administrator in Madison vs. 242 children/administrator statewide) and yet we’ve only let a handful of positions go unfilled? How did Roger Price manage to OVERSPEND his consultant budget by a million dollars, but in his next breath recommend cutting $300,000 for Strings for little kids?
These kinds of budgetary abuses continue despite their being easily defined differences between “student contact” budgetary items (teachers, books, Strings, etc.) and non-student contact items (computer consultants, budgeting programs, etc.). In those years when things like building maintenance costs didn’t go up, or the need for consultants is not proven, why can’t those non-student contact items be subjected to a freeze?. As a board, I’m sure that your task of managing the “little things” is as difficult for you as it is for me to convince my partner of the virtues of DVD rentals over a night out on the town. But, when the pocket money for the week is frozen at $20, and the credit card is hidden, home-popped corn smells extra good. Perhaps it is time that you send the current budget recommendations back to Mr. Rainwater and Mr. Price with notification that all non-student contact budgetary items will be frozen for the coming year. I’m sure they can work out the details from there.
Thanks for supporting our children first.

An open letter to the Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan Schools

Dear Mr. Rainwater:
I just found out from the principal at my school that you cut the allocations for SAGE teachers and Strings teachers, but the budget hasn’t even been approved. Will you please stop playing politics with our children education? It?s time to think about your legacy.
As you step up to the chopping block for your last whack at the budget, please think carefully about how your tenure as our superintendent will be viewed a little more than a year from now when your position is filled by a forward-thinking problem-solver. (Our district will settle for no less.)
Do you want to be remembered as the Superintendent who increased class size as a first step when the budget got tight? Small class size repeatedly rises to the top as the best way to enhance student achievement at the elementary level. Why would you take away one of best protections against federal funding cuts mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act? Rather than increase pupil to teacher ratios, have you checked to see if the pupil to administrative staff ratio has been brought closer to the state-wide average? (In 2002, Madison Metropolitan schools were at 195 children per administrator; the rest of the state averaged 242 children per administrator.) Have the few administrative openings you?ve left unfilled over the past few years actually brought us into line with the rest of the state?

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