All posts by Ruth Robarts

Ridgewood building razed

FITCHBURG – A demolition crew on Monday began tearing down a fire-ruined apartment building at 2001 Post Road in the Ridgewood Country Club Apartments complex.
Though the work was the first visible activity in the 52-acre, 832 apartment subdivision since Madison developers E.J. Plesko & Associates bought the troubled property this summer, a spokesman said taking down the structure “is not a precursor to other actions” being planned there.
By Cliff Miller
Correspondent for The Capital Times
October 18, 2005

Continue reading Ridgewood building razed

Superintendent’s Evaluation: What’s Missing?

For the first time since 2002, the Madison School Board has produced a performance evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater. It’s a small step in the right direction. However, it’s important to understand how the evaluation fails to meet the requirements of the district’s employment contract with the superintendent.
The contract requires the Board to set specific, measurable goals for the superintendent by the first day of each school year. That did not happen.

Continue reading Superintendent’s Evaluation: What’s Missing?

Seidenberg’s Recent “Informal Talk on Reading Education”

University of Wisconsin Psychology Professor [Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab] Mark Seidenberg recently gave a lecture on reading education at the University Club:

Whole Language was a massive, uncontrolled experiment, with millions of children as unwitting subjects.
How it’s done: Someone gets an idea

  • Often a Guru. Many Gurus in reading instruction.
  • Guru has brilliant insight about how children learn, how to teach reading – Their own personal theory
  • The idea may be personally promoted by the guru, with direct appeals to teachers
  • The idea is implemented on a vast scale, based on intuitions that it is good.

860K PDF Version of the lecture.

Update: Mr. Mom’s Bus Company Contract with the Madison School District

As reported in The Capital Times, I recently questioned Superintendent Art Rainwater about the process that the district used to determine that Mr. Mom’s bus company was qualified to bid for contracts to transport our students in the years from 2005-06 through 2010-11. The process is known as the “pre-qualification evaluation”.
In a memo today, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Roger Price told the Board of Education that the pre-qualification evaluation for companies who wanted to bid on these six year transportation contracts was conducted in December of 2004. The process resulted in qualifying five companies to bid for the contracts. Mr. Price noted that “all vendors had some vehicles fail inspection” on the most recent inspections by the State Patrol.
His materials show very different failure rates for the companies.
Riteway: .5% failure rate (19 vehicles passed, 1 failed)
Badger Bus: 13% failure rate (13 vehicles passed, 2 failed)
First Student: 19% failure rate (21 vehicles passed, 5 failed)
Durham: 26% failure rate (23 passed, 8 failed)
Mr. Mom’s: 75% failure rate (2 passed, 8 failed)
When the Board of Education voted on the contracts, it did not receive this information.

Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Tests: Are our kids doing as well as we think?

A recent New York Times article, “One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier” by Michael Winerip (10/05/05) reported that changes in k-12 achievement tests are the reason for substantially improved scores. The reporter argues that easier tests–not improved reading–account for much of the improvements claimed.
The Education Trust, a national non-profit organization, has published a study that compares student scores on state-created achievement tests with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for each state. The most recent edition of the report covers 2003. The data support the conclusion that Wisconsin’s tests may be overstating our students’ achievement. For example, in Wisconsin 80% of students statewide scored at grade level or better (“Proficient or Advanced”) on the Grade 4 Overall Reading and English Language Arts tests. However, only 33% of the Wisconsin sample taking the NAEP test scored at this level.
http://www2.edtrust.org/edtrust/summaries2004/Wisconsin.pdf

Madison School Board Votes on Equity Policy On September 12: what’s at stake? what’s the rush?

On Monday, September 12, the Madison Board of Education will vote on proposed revisions to the district’s Equity Resource Policy. The revisions gut the current policy and replace it with an already existing formula for allocating staff to schools based on socioeconomic factors. The meeting is a Special Board meeting called by President Carol Carstensen. At the meeting administrators will recommend this change and the full Board will vote on the recommendation. Not much notice to the public, not much opportunity to hear public opinion and analysis, no analysis by any Board committee. Only very savvy people who closely watch the Board agendas will know that this vote is coming.

What’s at stake?

Continue reading Madison School Board Votes on Equity Policy On September 12: what’s at stake? what’s the rush?

Gorman Drops Ridgewood Plans

By mid-December of 2005, a task force appointed by the Madison School Board will make recommendations about future school construction and possible school boundary changes in the West and Memorial High School areas of the district. In the following article from The Capital Times, August 30, writer Cliff Miller reports that developer Gary Gorman has withdrawn from his role in the redevelopment of a large apartment complex adjacent to Leopold Elementary School. The complex—Ridgewood Country Club Estates—has housed low-income families whose children have attended Leopold and Chavez Elementary Schools. The nature of the new housing and the timing of the redevelopment could have significant implications for west side elementary school enrollments, particularly the future enrollment at Leopold School.

Continue reading Gorman Drops Ridgewood Plans

Conn. Files Long-Awaited Lawsuit Challenging No Child Left Behind Act

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has made good on his nearly 5-month-old threat to sue the U.S. Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act, making his state the first to take its objections about the law to the federal courts.
Filed Aug. 22 in U.S. District Court in Hartford, the state’s complaint in Connecticut v. Spellings argues that federal funding to the state for the No Child Left Behind law falls far short of what is needed to meet the law’s testing and accountability requirements. The suit contends the failure to fully fund the law violates a provision in the nearly 4-year-old education statute itself that says states will not be required “to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this act.”
From Education Week, August 22, 2005
By Jeff Archer

Continue reading Conn. Files Long-Awaited Lawsuit Challenging No Child Left Behind Act

Dallas Schools Require Some Principals To Learn Spanish

The Dallas School Board has approved a policy that will require some school administrators to learn Spanish. The new policy, approved by a 5-4 vote on Aug. 25, now requires that all elementary school principals who work in schools in which at least half of the students are English-language learners, or formerly carried that designation, must learn the native language of those students.
From Education Week, August 26, 2005
By Mary Ann Zehr

Continue reading Dallas Schools Require Some Principals To Learn Spanish

How Will the Madison School Board Evaluate the Superintendent? Stay tuned.

Since 1999, the Madison School Board has had a written employment contract with Superintendent Art Rainwater. It contains a job evaluation process that is fair to the superintendent and that requires the Board to perform its most important function, setting clear goals for the district.
Before the first day of each school year, the Board must set performance goals that are “measurable to the extent possible”. By July 30 of the next year, the Board must meet with the superintendent, review his progress toward meeting the performance goals, review his self-evaluation, and review confidential evaluations by other administrators in the district.
If the Board followed the contract, the superintendent and the public would know what’s expected of the most powerful employee in terms of “improvement in programs, projects and activities to be undertaken” during the upcoming year.
According to the MMSD Human Resources department, the last time the Board evaluated the superintendent was in 2002. It did not follow all of the requirements of the contract in that evaluation.
The first day of the school year is September 1. The Board has not set measurable performance goals for the superintendent for 2005-06, although it has had two discussions on the subject.
When the evaluation does occur, I suggest that we all compare the provisions of the contract with the evaluation. If the Board does not set measurable performance goals for the superintendent in 2005-06, it will again fail in its duty under the contract.It will again fail to inform the public about its priorities for our children and fail to hold the superintendent accoutable under the priorities.

Continue reading How Will the Madison School Board Evaluate the Superintendent? Stay tuned.

Why not target school ads at adults, not students?

No doubt that the Madison Schools would benefit from revenues that might come through increased advertising, as recently proposed by Johnny Winston Jr., chair of the Board of Education’s Finance and Operations Committee.
On the other hand, increasing advertising to our students is undesirable for many reasons. Schools should not treat students as consumers, but as learners. Our students already live in an environment saturated with encouragements to consume. In addition, many of the advertisers with strong incentives to advertise to young people sell food products that are not in the kids’ best interest.
My hope is that the Finance and Operations Committee will consider limiting any expansion of advertising opportunities to ads that target adults, not students.
Below is my proposal to this committee.

Continue reading Why not target school ads at adults, not students?

Update on Future of Ridgewood Apartments

One of the issues affecting decisions on attendance boundaries for Leopold Elementary School is whether the Ridgewood Country Club Apartments, located across the street from the school, will continue to house large numbers of low income families.
The following article from The Capital Times provides an update on the ownership and future plans for the apartment complex.

Continue reading Update on Future of Ridgewood Apartments

Collaboration or collusion: What should the public expect from MMSD-MTI Task Force on Health Insurance Costs?

In a recent letter to the editor of Isthmus, KJ Jakobson asks “whether the new joint district-union task force for investigating health insurance costs be a truly collaborative effort to solve a very costly problem? Or will it instead end up being a collusion to maintain the status quo?”
Here is the full text of the letter, published on August 10, 2005, and her challenge to the Madison School Board.

Continue reading Collaboration or collusion: What should the public expect from MMSD-MTI Task Force on Health Insurance Costs?

Junk Food Nation: Who’s to Blame for Childhood Obesity?

In recent months the major food companies have been trying hard to
convince Americans that they feel the pain of our expanding waistlines,
especially when it comes to kids. Kraft announced it would no longer
market Oreos to younger children, McDonald’s promoted itself as a salad
producer and Coca-Cola said it won’t advertise to kids under 12. But
behind the scenes it’s hardball as usual, with the junk food giants
pushing the Bush Administration to defend their interests. The recent
conflict over what America eats, and the way the government promotes
food, is a disturbing example of how in Bush’s America corporate
interests trump public health, public opinion and plain old common sense.
The latest salvo in the war on added sugar and fat came July 14- 15,
when the Federal Trade Commission held hearings on childhood obesity and
food marketing.
by Gary Ruskin and Juliet Schor
The Nation, August 29, 2005

Continue reading Junk Food Nation: Who’s to Blame for Childhood Obesity?

Ads in Madison Schools: Correction of Capital Times article

Thanks to Christina Daglas for her coverage of the Madison School Board’s “cautious” approach to increasing advertising in the schools. If there is serious business interest in more advertising, the Board must consider the possibilities and the public deserves advance notice that we may increase ads.
I am not, however, concerned “about businesses that, in (my) opinion, fail to advance positive messages in their advertisements, such as fast food companies”, as the article states.
I said that I will not support more advertising of products that undermine our curriculum. I gave Coca-Cola ads as an example because I believe that ads for soft drinks undermine the messages of our health curriculum. The Board should not increase advertising for products whose consumption contributes to demonstrated increases in childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We are already a venue for too many of these ads and products.

Planning for MMSD Legislative Committee for 2005-06

As chair of the MMSD School Board’s Legislative Committee for 2005-06, I post information about state and federal laws and legislative issues related to the Madison Schools on this blog under Hot Topics , Madison School Board Legislative Committee blog.
In June I asked MMSD staff for the committee, Joe Quick, for his ideas on future directions for the committee. My questions and his answers are available under as well as news reports and background materials.

Continue reading Planning for MMSD Legislative Committee for 2005-06

Capital Times Editorial: Board backs school quality

Newly elected Madison School Board member Lawrie Kobza was wise to move to use $240,000 in money made available by insurance savings to revive Lincoln Elementary School’s Open Classroom Program and to restore “specials” – music, art and gym classes at the elementary schools – to their regular sizes. And the board majority was right to back her move to maintain broadly accepted standards of quality in the city’s public schools.

Continue reading Capital Times Editorial: Board backs school quality

States Report Reading First Yielding Gains, Some Schools Getting Ousted for Quitting

Little solid evidence is available to gauge whether the federal government’s multibillion-dollar Reading First initiative is having an effect on student achievement, but many states are reporting anecdotally that they are seeing benefits for their schools.
Among those benefits are extensive professional development in practices deemed to be research-based, extra instructional resources, and ongoing support services, according to an Education Week analysis of state performance reports published June 8, 2005.

Continue reading States Report Reading First Yielding Gains, Some Schools Getting Ousted for Quitting

What’s the Future for Ads in the Madison Schools?

Johnny Winston Jr., chair of the Finance and Operations Committee of the Madison School Board, kicked off a new discussion of the possible role of business ads to raise money for our schools at the June 13 meeting of his committee. Committee member Lawrie Kobza asked the administration to bring back information about what other districts are doing beyond the advertisements in yearbooks, school newspapers and the like. Good ideas, both.
However, why stop there? Maybe there are products looking for School Board member endorsements.

Continue reading What’s the Future for Ads in the Madison Schools?

Teacher Health Insurance Costs: Why They Matter

Madison Teachers, Inc., the Madison teachers’ union, has recently ratified its collective bargaining agreement with the Madison school district for 2005-06 and 2006-07. Later this month, the Board of Education will have its chance to ratify the agreement, although the board gave preliminary assent on June 6.
On June 10, Isthmus writer Jason Shepard provided an excellent analysis of the ways that providing Wisconsin Physicians Service (WPS) to the teachers drives up the cost of each contract. The article also questions the relative quality of the WPS coverage. See “District ties to WPS prove costly”, available at many locations in Dane County.
The following graphs, based on data from MMSD, illustrate the impact of high cost WPS coverage on the cost of the two-year contract and the extent to which access to WPS coverage for roughly half of the teachers receiving health insurance through MMSD erodes wage gains.

Continue reading Teacher Health Insurance Costs: Why They Matter

Madison Board of Education Should Not Rush to Vote on Layoffs

In the aftermath of the votes on the May 24th Madison School referenda, it is critical that the Madison School Board not rush to vote on layoffs of teachers and other staff. Currently, the Board is scheduled to vote on layoffs at noon on Thursday, May 26. This deadline for layoff votes is self-imposed by the district and Madison Teachers Inc (MTI). State law sets a later deadline. The district and the union could change the May 26 date by mutual agreement. In 2003 the vote on layoffs following a referendum for the operating budget was scheduled for June 4.

Continue reading Madison Board of Education Should Not Rush to Vote on Layoffs

Hard choices for Madison Voters

On May 24th, citizens in the Madison school district will vote on three referenda questions affecting whether to build an addition to Leopold School, exceed revenue caps, and renew the maintenance referendum.
For many people the answers are an easy yes or no vote. Others, like me, have wrestled with their choice for each question.
Why is the choice so difficult? It should be easy, right? Strong public education is a good thing. We want to support teachers and students in the district. We know that overcrowded schools all too often undermine education.
I can’t speak for others, but I know that I have several barriers to an automatic yes vote. The issues are different for Leopold than for the operating and maintenance questions. For me, the issues come down to what I do – and do not – know about what the questions mean. I feel that my duty as a representative of the community is to make informed decisions on behalf of our children and not to commit to proposals that lack sound justifications.

Continue reading Hard choices for Madison Voters

The Rest of the Story

In her recent letter to the Wisconsin State Journal Chris Kolar, co-president of the Leopold Elementary School Parent Faculty Organization, criticizes me for my “early departure” from a Madison School Board meeting on April 25. She states that I “walked out of the board of education meeting at about the time Leopold was to be discussed”.
Please consider the facts that Ms. Kolar did not include in her letter.

Continue reading The Rest of the Story

Drastic Changes at Ridgewood Apartments Don’t Factor into School Board Plans for Leopold School

On Monday, April 25, the Madison School Board will hold a special session to vote on a plan that affects hundreds of west side families and six to eight elementary schools in the event that the May 24 referendum to build a second school on the Leopold site fails.
Options before the Board do not mention the drastic changes taking place in the Ridgewood apartment complex that is near Leopold Elementary School and home to many current Leopold students and their families. While it appears increasingly likely that the large low income community near Leopold will be displaced by changes in ownership of the apartment complex, the Board will be voting on plans that do not take this factor into account. Instead, at the insistence of Board member Carol Carstensen, the Board seems poised to lock into

Continue reading Drastic Changes at Ridgewood Apartments Don’t Factor into School Board Plans for Leopold School

National Survey on K-12 Salaries Released

A national survey of K-12 salaries appears in a recent issue of Education Week.. Among other things, the Educational Research Service that conducted the survey found that the gap between salaries of teachers and those of education professionals in higher paid positions–principals and superintendents–has steadily widened over the past decade.
Local point of interest—the salary paid to Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater in 2003-04( $153,150) exceeded the average for superintendents in the Great lakes states ($114, 026) and the average for superintendents nationally with the same years in office ($109,254) for 2004-05.

Continue reading National Survey on K-12 Salaries Released

MMSD Employee on Budget for 2005-06

TO: Madison School Board Members
FROM: School District Employee
RE: MMSD Budget Concerns/Questions
As a Madison taxpayer, parent, and employee of MMSD, I have a unique perspective on the workings of this school district. I also feel a great responsibility to write my concerns. The Board should address:
� How can food service/custodial/secretarial personnel be cut/surplused at the same time that more administrators are added and given substantial raises?

Continue reading MMSD Employee on Budget for 2005-06

5 Reasons Why the Madison School Board Should Continue the Elementary Strings Program

In the May 24 referendum for the operating budget, voters will determine whether the Madison schools will have an additional $7.4 million to spend next year and for all the years thereafter. Superintendent Art Rainwater and the management team issued a cut list in March. According to Rainwater, the board should cut the programs, staff and expenses on this list if the referendum fails. http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/budget/mmsd/0506/2005-06_Budget_Discussion_Items.pdf
Before the referendum election, the school board can take items off of the cut list. One of the items that should come off the list is the proposed elimination of the elementary strings program, a program that costs $500,000 within a budget of more than $350 million.

Continue reading 5 Reasons Why the Madison School Board Should Continue the Elementary Strings Program

Think about the School Board that you want, Vote on April 5

I believe that our community strongly supports high quality schools. I know that the state and federal governments do not provide sufficient funding for the programs that we want. I am willing to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference when necessary. However, before I commit to higher taxes, I must have a high level of confidence in the decisions that put the matter on the ballot. I think that you do also.
Today I ask that you think about the qualities that you want in school board members as you prepare to vote on the May referendums, especially the referendum for the operating budget.

Continue reading Think about the School Board that you want, Vote on April 5

News Flash: John Matthews Is Willing to Delay Negotiations for Teachers’ Wages Until After the April 5 School Board Elections

Despite a written agreement between Madison Teachers Incorporated and the Board of Education that aims at settling the teachers contract for 2005-07 by June 30, union executive director John Matthews and Superintendent Art Rainwater made a jovial � and unprecedented – announcement that they would delay discussion of wages and benefits until after the April 5 school board elections.
Delaying talk about pay and benefits for teachers is a puzzling step for union leader Matthews, especially given his March 17 comments that “No matter what the settlement is, it won’t be enough to reward the teachers,” Matthews said as the MTI proposal was presented Wednesday, “These are teachers, not priests and nuns who took a vow of poverty.”

Continue reading News Flash: John Matthews Is Willing to Delay Negotiations for Teachers’ Wages Until After the April 5 School Board Elections

No Point in Cutting MMSD Administrators, They Just Grow Back

In January of 2005 Superintendent Art Rainwater told the Madison Board of Education that two administrative positions would be eliminated for 2005-06. He would cut the positions of Risk Manager and Data Manager when the incumbents retired at the end of 2004-05.
Imagine my surprise on March 14, when the superintendent cut half of the position of Risk Manager for a second time.

Continue reading No Point in Cutting MMSD Administrators, They Just Grow Back

We need a new School Board

Carol Carstensen�s recent letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal (�Carstensen replies to Robarts�) illustrates the choices before the public in this spring�s school board elections. Many of these choices revolve around the core question of whether one can support progressive ideals and challenge the board�s go along and get along status quo.
I believe that it is not only possible but necessary for progressives to question the status quo � particularly if it results in serious board consideration of balance between employee wages and benefits as part of a comprehensive search for ways to preserve our current staff levels and programs in view of current funding realities.
In her letter, Carol Carstensen erroneously reduces my suggestions to one simplistic idea and then condemns the idea as anti-teacher and ill-informed. Perhaps it is easier to attack a straw-person concept, but it doesn�t move the community or the board closer to the honest problem-solving that is required at a time when we need all of the input and ideas that we can get.

Continue reading We need a new School Board

Annual Spring Four Act Play: Madison School’s Budget Process

Spring is definitely coming. On February 17, the Madison School Board performed Act 1 of the four-act play that is our annual school budget process.
Act 1 is the unveiling of the Budget Forecast. In this Act, the administration solemnly announces that the district faces-once again-“The Budget Gap”. The Budget Gap is the difference between what the Board wants to spend and what we can spend without a successful referendum to increase operating funds. It is not a gap caused by a drop in state funding.
To nobody’s surprise, the Budget Gap is big and ugly. Under current state law, revenues from property taxes will increase about 2.35% for next year. However, the administration’s “same service” budget requires a revenue increase of more than 4%. The Gap for next year is $8.6M.

Continue reading Annual Spring Four Act Play: Madison School’s Budget Process

My Views of the Proposed Leopold Expansion

On March 28, the Madison School Board will cast the final vote on the proposed referendum for $14.5M to build a second school on the Leopold Elementary School site. The proposed “paired” school will open its doors to students in September of 2007 and will house up to 550 Kindergarten through second grade students and another 550 third through fifth grade students. If the Leopold community’s current population mix holds, a school of 1100 or more will include 275 (25%) students for whom English is a second language and 121 (11%) who have Special Educational needs. Over half of the students will come from low income homes. Unlike other Madison paired schools that are on different sites, Leopold’s buildings will be on the same grounds and will be physically linked in an L-shape. Students from both schools will share lunch rooms and playground facilities. Students will have separate entrances, but will share buses to and from school.
My duty as a board member is to weigh the pros and cons of this recommendation from the administration. Although I see why current Leopold parents expect great positives from the new building, I believe that these are short-term gains for the school and community and that the negatives of creating an extremely large elementary school may outweigh the short-term advantages. I am particularly concerned that the short-term relief for overcrowding will be undermined when the building reaches full capacity and houses two schools, each of which is far bigger than any K-2 or 3-5 school today. It is my responsibility to ask whether we have the experience to make such a joint school work and what additional resources will be required to assure student success under such conditions.

Continue reading My Views of the Proposed Leopold Expansion

Truth-in-Advertising: The Proposed Paired Leopold School is a HUGE Elementary School

On February 21, the district administration presented its recommendations for resolving overcrowding problems at Leopold Elementary School and accommodating children from new and future housing developments on the west side of Madison to the Long Range Planning Committee.
During the discussion, I questioned the educational merit of creating a paired K-5 elementary school on the Leopold grounds that will house 1100 students. If the voters approve the proposed May referendum to spend $14.5M to construct a new school at the Leopold site, the school will hold 1100 students in two buildings joined in an L-shape.
Superintendent Art Rainwater dismissed my concern. According to the superintendent, the enrollment number for the proposed pair is a non-issue. The superintendent assured us that �you can find research that supports any size of elementary school from 250 to 650 students�. In other words, there is no optimal size for an elementary school. He pointed to current Madison K-5 schools as a standard.

Continue reading Truth-in-Advertising: The Proposed Paired Leopold School is a HUGE Elementary School

Why I Oppose the Administration’s Recommendation for School Boundary Changes if the Leopold School Referendum Fails

On Monday, February 21, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board will hear the administration�s explanation of five options for reducing overcrowding at Leopold School and providing seats for students from new housing developments on the west and southwest side of the district. Last Monday, after I asked the administration to withdraw options that it will not recommend, a set of nine options dropped to five. Of the remaining five options, the administration recommends only two choices. Option A (3A2 PDF) depends on passage of a referendum to build a second school building on the Leopold grounds. Option B (3D1 PDF) assumes that the referendum fails. Madison Schools Boundary Change web page.
I cannot support Option B, the fallback option in the event that the proposed Leopold referendum fails. There are important but unanswered questions about how the proposed school boundary changes would affect the middle and high schools on the west side. However, more compelling to me is that this option moves 1137 students to new elementary schools, including 516 low income students, and moves them in a way that will excessively disrupt many of the eleven affected schools.

Continue reading Why I Oppose the Administration’s Recommendation for School Boundary Changes if the Leopold School Referendum Fails

Madison School Administrators: What is the trend?

Before February 1 of each year, the Madison School Board must decide whether to renew its administrators’ contracts. If the Board plans to cut administrative positions, it must give the administrators notice that their employment contracts will not be renewed. Otherwise, the contracts automatically renew for one or two years.
Because continued shortfalls in state and federal aid for schools force budget reductions each year, the number of administrators and the total cost of their wages and benefits is a factor in the budget for the next year.
On January 24, 2005 Superintendent Art Rainwater used the following graph and table as evidence of a trend of reductions in the MMSD administrative staff.

Continue reading Madison School Administrators: What is the trend?

Comments on MMSD’s Buyout of East High Principal

Last spring four Board members �Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys and Juan Lopez�voted to authorize the superintendent to buyout problem employees and pay them up to five months in wages and benefits. Members Ray Allen, Shwaw Vang and I voted no. The decision was retroactive to cover deals with two teachers that the superintendent had already made.
Now we see the results of this bad policy decision,

Continue reading Comments on MMSD’s Buyout of East High Principal

A Mother’s View on MMSD Expansion’s of Safe Haven

On October 8, 2004, Isthmus newspaper ran a story about how the Madison Schools replaced two not-for-profit after school day care programs with its own “Safe Haven” programs run by the Madison School-Community Recreation department.
Jane Sekulski, a mother whose child was in a displaced program, provides her responses to the article. This letter is a longer version of a letter published in Isthmus on November 11.

Continue reading A Mother’s View on MMSD Expansion’s of Safe Haven

Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

Recently Governor Doyle directed state agencies to �examine all operations to bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to government�. As a result, the state has reduced the use of cell phones and saved thousands of dollars. The Department of Administration characterized the use of cell phones before this change as �part of the carelessness� that marked state spending under prior administrations.
Dane County and the City of Madison have written procedures that limit the assignment of cell phones to specific categories of employees. For example, the city permits assignment of a cell phone �where it is required that an employee be reachable at all times, or where an employee must be regularly able to make business telephone calls while in the field�.
In contrast, the Madison Metropolitan School District does not have a policy or an administrative procedure to restrict the use of cell phones at MMSD expense. Don�t expect that to change anytime soon, even though the annual cost of employee cell phones has increased 60% since 2001 from $51,225 to $82,259, including the monthly fee for each cell phone.
The majority of the Board does not favor budget targets for the superintendent or controls on how the administration spends the budget. The expanding use of cell phones by MMSD employees is just another example of this bias against fiscal controls.

Continue reading Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent’s Decision to Quit Federal “Reading First” Program

In a recent submission, I discussed three reasons why I believe that the Madison School Board should receive more information about Superintendent Rainwater’s decision to end participation of five elementary schools in the federal “Reading First” program. See “What the Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding”.
I remain unconvinced that Rainwater’s memo makes the case for declining $2M in federal reading assistance at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale schools. In particular, the Board should be concerned about the reading achievement gap at each of these schools between economically disadvantaged children and children who are not economically disadvantaged. The results on the reading test at fourth grade in 2003–part of the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Evaluation tests—show these gaps between the economically disadvantaged students scoring “proficient or advanced” and their peers.
Hawthorne: Econ. Disadvantaged = 57%
Not Disadvantaged = 77%
Glendale: Econ. Disadvantaged = 73%
Not Disadvantaged = 82%
Orchard Ridge: Econ Disadvantaged = 55%
Not Disadvantaged = 90%
Lincoln: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
For District elementary schools combined: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
However, President Bill Keys has polled the Board members and told me that they all agree that discussion is not necessary. Here is our exchange of e-mails.

Continue reading Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent’s Decision to Quit Federal “Reading First” Program

What the School Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding

According to John Dewey, the public school system “should want for every child what a good and wise parent wants for his child. Anything less is unlovely and undermines democracy”.
I think that this principle must guide the Madison Board of Education in deciding whether to permit Superintendent Rainwater to reject approximately $2M in federal funding for early reading programs at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Midvale/Lincoln Schools. Unless the superintendent can demonstrate that all families in these schools can expect better reading achievement from continuing the current reading curriculum than from adopting the curriculum required by the “Reading First” program, we should continue to participate in the program.
For me, key questions were not answered in the October 14, 2004 memo that the Board received from Mr. Rainwater.

Continue reading What the School Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding

Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

On Friday, October 15, Madison School Board members received an e-mail from Superintendent Art Rainwater announcing that the district will withdraw from a federal program known as Reading First.
In subsequent interviews with local newspapers, Rainwater estimated that the decision means forgoing approximately $2M in funds for materials to help students in the primary grades learn to read. The Cap Times
Wisconsin State Journal
Whenever the district qualifies for such federal grants, the Board votes to increase the budget to reflect the new revenues. To the best of my knowledge, the superintendent has not discussed this decision with the Performance & Achievement Committee. He has certainly not included the full Board in the decision to withdraw from Reading First.
The memo follows (click on the link below to view it or click here to view a 200K PDF):

Continue reading Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

Madison�s Accredited Early Educators Propose Solution for Four-Year Old Kindergarten

Several times in recent years, the Madison School Board has considered ways to create a four-year old kindergarten program for all Madison children. The goal of “universal” four-year old kindergarten is to assure that every child enters elementary school ready to learn. In the past, the administration’s proposals involved partnerships with private accredited daycare programs in Madison.
On Monday, October 18, the Performance & Achievement Committee of the Madison School Board will review a report from Superintendent Art Rainwater that recommends against going forward with four-year old kindergarten and rejects a July 2004 proposal from the Madison Area Association of Accredited Early Care and Education Providers.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Road. Below is a summary of the Association’s proposal in “question-and-answer” format.

Continue reading Madison�s Accredited Early Educators Propose Solution for Four-Year Old Kindergarten

Diary of an Advisory Committee: Long Range Planning Committee Awaits Recommendation for Referendum for New School

On October 11, the administration will recommend to the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board that the district go to referendum on April 5, 2005 seeking funds for construction of a second elementary school building on the grounds of Leopold Elementary School. The new school would house kindergarten through second grade and the current school would convert to third through fifth grade, if this plan succeeds.
The LRP will hold a public hearing on this recommendation on Monday, October 18, at 7 p.m. at Leopold School at 2602 Post Road in Madison.

Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: Long Range Planning Committee Awaits Recommendation for Referendum for New School

What’s Missing from the “Strategic Plan” for Madison Schools?

According to the National School Board Association, a school district’s Strategic Plan must include “student performance standards that clearly define what students are supposed to know and be able to do at each grade level”. Toward that goal, the Strategic Plan should clearly state the benchmarks for assessing yearly progress in student achievement.
On September 20, the Madison Board of Education revised its Strategic Plan. Conspiciously missing from our Strategic Priorities are benchmarks for most of our priorities.

Continue reading What’s Missing from the “Strategic Plan” for Madison Schools?

Ready for a $27M Maintenance Referendum?

On September 13, the administration for the Madison Metropolitan School District advised the Long Range Planning Committee of the Board of Education that the district needs $27M for maintenance projects between 2005 and 2010.
A referendum would be necessary to raise this amount, because the administration is seeking a total of $46M for maintenance over the five years. The $27M would be in addition to $19M that the Board will spend on maintenance if it continues to earmark $3.8M from each annual operating budget for maintenance.

Continue reading Ready for a $27M Maintenance Referendum?

Diary of an Advisory Committee: Switch from Maintenance to New Building Issues

On September 13, 2004, The Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board reviewed a recommendation from the MMSD administration that the district spend $46M for school maintenance projects from 2005 through 2010. Because the Board dedicates approximately $3.8M per year for maintenance from the operating budget (%19M over the next five years), the administration’s cost estimates amount to recommending referendum for $27M. In 2004-2005 the district will exhaust the $20M provided by the 1999 maintenance referendum. Some projects, however, remain to be done.
Citizen advisors asked many good questions to clarify the recommendation of the administration. The Committee will not, however, act on the administration’s recommendation in the next few months.

Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: Switch from Maintenance to New Building Issues

Who Runs the Madison Schools?

Understanding Superintendent Art Rainwater�s employment contract with the Madison Metropolitan School Board goes a long way toward answering a common question: �Who runs the Madison schools?�
Answer: Superintendent-for-Life Rainwater runs the Madison schools.
In January of 1999 the Board promoted Art Rainwater from Acting Superintendent to Superintendent. Voting for the contract were Carol Carstensen, Calvin Williams, Deborah Lawson, Joanne Elder and Juan Lopez. Ray Allen and I voted no.

Continue reading Who Runs the Madison Schools?

Long Range Planning Committee Advisory Members

On August 30, the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board met with its advisory members for the first time. Advisory members in attendance were Dawn Crim, Joan Eggert, Jill Jokela, Lucy Mathiak, Pat Mooney, and Jan Sternbach. Teresa Tellez-Giron (nominated by Board member Juan Lopez) withdrew before our initial meeting. LRP Committee members Carol Carstensen and Johnny Winston Jr. were present as were several other Board members.
The advisory members introduced themselves and asked questions about their role and the work of the committee. Unfortunately, the MMSD staff had not been able to get written materials to all of the citizen members. Lack of common materials limited our discussion.
We briefly discussed the role of the citizen advisors. In June the Board of Education unanimously approved a two-part strategy for seeking advice from the public. The motion read, in part:
The Long Range Planning Committee recognizes the importance of public participation in its review of demographic issues, long range facility planning, strategic planning and referendum issues. Therefore, the committee will seek advice and comment at public hearings at appropriate times during 2004-2005.

Continue reading Long Range Planning Committee Advisory Members

Diary of an Advisory Committee: Madison Board of Education Selects Citizen Advisors

On August 13, Madison Board President Bill Keys and I agreed to recommend nine citizens plus the two student School Board members to the 2004-05 Advisory Committee to the Long Range Planning Committee.
On August 30, the Board will vote on the nominations:
Hardin Coleman (nominated by Johnny Winston, Jr.)
Dawn Crim (nominated by Johnny Winston, Jr.)
Joan Eggert (nominated by Bill Keys)
Jill Jokela (nominated by Carol Carstensen)
Lucy Mathiak (nominated by Ruth Robarts)
Patrick Mooney (nominated by Bill Clingan)
Jan Sternbach (nominated by Juan Lopez)
Teresa Tellez-Giron (nominated by Juan Lopez) and
Xa Xiong (nominated by Shwaw Vang).
The student members are the students elected to serve on the Board for 2004-05: Oliver Kiefer and Lena Song (alternate).

Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: Madison Board of Education Selects Citizen Advisors

Diary of an Advisory Committee: the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board Reaches Out to Citizens

In the late spring of 2004, I had the idea that inviting a group of citizens to work with the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board might help the Committee ask better questions of the administration and explore more options during the next year. In 2004-05, the Committee will consider the possibility of another referendum to fund maintenance of the district’s buildings and try to solve overcrowding problems at Leopold Elementary School. It will also develope a 3-5 year long range plan for presentation to the Board by the end of the spring semester
In this log, I will relate our progress toward this goal.

Continue reading Diary of an Advisory Committee: the Long Range Planning Committee of the Madison School Board Reaches Out to Citizens

Madison Schools Need Strong Community Partners to Provide High Quality After School Care to All Children

This article is a Letter to the Editor submitted to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Thanks for the editorial, ?What?s going on after school?? Questioning the Madison School Board?s rush to replace private, non-profit after school day care providers with tax-supported Safe Haven programs operated through the Madison School Community Recreation program is a public service.
Last year we had 4,437 low-income children in our elementary schools. As a community, we should support all of them with high quality after school care. However, the district must continue to work with community providers to reach this goal. The scope of the problem is far beyond the district?s capacity.

Continue reading Madison Schools Need Strong Community Partners to Provide High Quality After School Care to All Children

Parent Responds to MSCR Editorial About Safe Haven Programs

Judy Sekulski is a parent at Midvale-Lincoln School in Madison. In this article she responds to the Madison district administration’s recent public statements about Safe Haven programs.
I am writing in response to Lucy Chaffin’s column on
July 12, 2004, (“Schools Offer Quality Childcare”),
about the Safe Haven after-school programs run by
MSCR. She states that, “The district doesn’t support
separate programs running side-by-side in elementary
schools (as was the case last year at Midvale) because
this results in segregation by income and race.”

Continue reading Parent Responds to MSCR Editorial About Safe Haven Programs

After School Child Care in Madison: Why the Madison Schools Should Continue Community Partnerships

On July 12, the Madison Board of Education will review proposals from Superintendent Rainwater that may mean the end of a long and successful collaboration between the district, the City of Madison and private child care providers to ensure quality after-school child care for elementary students. Apparently the superintendent plans to argue that MMSD can do a better job and can afford to expand into the after-school care business.

Continue reading After School Child Care in Madison: Why the Madison Schools Should Continue Community Partnerships

Home Delivery for Madison School Board – Your Tax Dollars at Work

Every Thursday before the Monday meetings of the Madison School Board, a school district employee driving a district vehicle pulls up at each of the seven homes of the board members to deliver a packet of information for the upcoming meeting. Sometimes the vehicle is a van. Sometimes it’s a diesel truck.

Continue reading Home Delivery for Madison School Board – Your Tax Dollars at Work

Need Your Ideas for 2005-06 Budget Process – Madison Schools

As the Madison School Board ends the 2003-04 school year, the Finance & Operations Committee is beginning to develope the budget for 2005-06. Committee Chair Carol Carstensen asked for Board suggestions. This memo gives my suggestions.
You can participate by sending your suggestions to the entire Board at comments@madison.k12.wi.us

Continue reading Need Your Ideas for 2005-06 Budget Process – Madison Schools

FAQ: “Community Service” Funds aka “Fund 80”

Q: What is ?Fund 80??
A: A property tax that school districts may levy for ?community programs and services.? Unlike property tax levies for school operations, Fund 80 property taxes are subject to less restrictive revenue limits.

Beginning in 1993, Wisconsin law has imposed limits on the increases in residential property taxes that school districts may levy to pay for the operations of the k-12 educational program. Unless a referendum passes, the districts may increase taxes only up to a limit determined by a legal formula.

Continue reading FAQ: “Community Service” Funds aka “Fund 80”

“Community Service” Funds: The Common Thread between Cutting the Fine Arts Coordinator, Displacing After School Programs and Buying More Computerized Time Clock Systems

On June 7, teachers, students, parents, and community representatives took the Madison Board of Education to task for its recent decision to eliminate the full-time district-level position of Fine Arts Coordinator. The same night, parents of children attending YMCA and After School, Inc. after-school programs at Midvale-Lincoln and Allis schools questioned the district?s unilateral imposition of a plan to replace those programs next year with ?Safe Haven?, a program operated by the district?s Madison School-Community Recreation department (MSCR). Later in the evening the Board voted 5-2 to spend more than $173,000 on a computerized time clock system for MSCR staff (YES: Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys, Juan Lopez, Shwaw Vang; NO: Johnny Winston Jr. and I).
On the surface the parent, staff, and community criticisms appear to have little relation to the decision to computerize time clocks for community program staff. But there is a common thread in terms of the district?s budget?something called ?Community Service? funds, or, ?Fund 80.?

Continue reading “Community Service” Funds: The Common Thread between Cutting the Fine Arts Coordinator, Displacing After School Programs and Buying More Computerized Time Clock Systems

Look before you leap: a good rule for public budget making?

The Madison School District owes strong support to its administrators, especially our building principals. Without the hard work and long hours of our administrators, we could not serve our children as well as we do. Nonetheless, in tough financial times, the School Board must not approve wage and benefit increases for administrators until it carefully considers the impact of the increases on future budgets. On May 17, the Madison Board violated this principle of good stewardship.

Continue reading Look before you leap: a good rule for public budget making?

A Priority Driven Budget

Model Cycle for Priority-Driven Budget
Purpose: Student achievement priorities drive budget allocations.

Administration uses specific, measurable goals to review student achievement inprior year according to district?s ?Strategic Priorities?. For example, it reviews reading, math, social studies, science curriculum for all student groups as well as programs aligned to district standards. Administration should ensure that suggestions for change come from the staff level that will implement the changes. Board committees, such as Performance & Achievement, monitor the review throughout the year.

Opportunities for public, staff input

Administration reviews facility, maintenance and non-instructional departments for prior year seeking efficiencies. Board committees, such as Budget & Finance and Long Range Planning, monitor the review throughout the year.

Opportunities for public, staff input

Before January, Administration recommends curriculum & program changes to improve student achievement. Appropriate committees review recommendations before sending them to full Board.

Opportunities for public, staff input

In January, Administration recommends budget for the next year allocating resources based on its analysis (connection between curriculum and programs and desired student achievement).

Opportunities for public, staff input

Where recommended budget exceeds revenue forecast for coming year, Administration presents funding alternatives including private partnerships or changes in fees.

Opportunities for public, staff input

Administration recommends modifications and cuts necessary to balance budget for coming year.

Opportunities for public, staff input

Board reviews recommendations for modifications and cuts, adopting or revising administrative recommendations.

Board approves budget for coming year. If budget exceeds revenues, Board considers referendum or further cuts.
Model based on recommendations in Team Leadership for Student Achievement, Ellen Henderson et al., National School Boards Association & American Association of School Administrators, 2001.
[40K PDF]