Leopold Expansion: Ridgewood Gets New Management

Alliance Residential Management is reportedly now in charge of managing Fitchburg’s Ridgewood Apartments. Visit Alliance’s searchable apartment database here to check out the type of properties and prices they offer.
Mary Battaglia recently mentioned Fitchburg’s possible condemnation of the Ridgewood Apartments.
It seems change is in the wind at Ridgewood, with implications for the planned Leopold expansion (Learn more about the Leopold Referendum) Leopold is 0.20 miles from the Ridgewood Apartments (map).

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.

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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.

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Carstensen Responds to Robarts 3/15/2005 WSJ

In response to Ruth Robarts’ recent letter, stripped of its satire, she is suggesting that paying Madison’s school staff less would eliminate the budget gap. Her proposal is that school staff should receive a package of 2.35 percent for salary and benefits combined. There are three major problems with her proposal:

  • This would impose a pay cut on almost all employees, with the deepest cuts affecting the lowest paid staff (educational assistants and food service workers)
  • A 2.35 percent package would save the district about $4.6 millionthere would still be a budget gap of at least $4 million.
  • State law makes such an approach impossible. The qualified economic offer law essentially requires that districts offer at least a 3.8 percent annual increase for salary and benefits combined.

Be wary of last minute proposals that sound good and promise to solve the problem without painful cuts. As a community we need to face the fact that the budget gap we face is real; it is a direct consequence of the state laws and funding decisions that affect all Wisconsin school districts.

/Carol Carstensen, Madison School Board /

Failing the Wrong Grades (cont’d) – Needs Better High School Preparation

Diane Ravich
It makes no sense to blame the high schools for their ill-prepared incoming students. To really get at the problem, we have to make changes across our educational system. The most important is to stress the importance of academic achievement. Sorry to say, we have a long history of reforms by pedagogues to de-emphasize academic achievement and to make school more “relevant,” “fun” and like “real life.” These efforts have produced whole-language instruction, where phonics, grammar and spelling are abandoned in favor of “creativity,” and fuzzy math, where students are supposed to “construct” their own solutions to math problems instead of finding the right answers.
These are the exact same points Professor Seidenburg, UW Madison, made to the MMSD School Board earlier this year. He also critized the MMSD Superintendent for turning away $10+ million over several years of Reading First federal grant money.

Wisconsin is not Alone in Budget Crisis

I did a simple search on Google: State budget and school funding. I was not surprised to find Wisconsin sharing in their education funding crisis with many other states. On the first two pages of my search I discovered California, Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and New York have news articles about their educational funding “crisis”. Each state has it’s version of revenue caps, TABOR like situations, or tax restraints that cause their current problem. Some just never raise taxes and can’t figure out how to fund a state and local program without taxes. Also interesting to note is Ohio and Illinois legislation funds their local schools at 51% while Washington state legislation is suppose to pay 80%. None of these states actually fund their schools at their promised level just as our federal government fails to fund it’s many mandates at it’s required level. I find this interesting because each time I watch the “MMSD Budget Horse and Pony Show”, as I like to refer to this annually released performance, I am told how awful the state legislation is and that Wisconsin is backwards in its funding of education. While there may be some truth to that, it is comforting to know my state is not the only awful backwards state out there. That comfort however, does not solve the problem. The reason I went on this search is I have twice, maybe more, asked the board to “think outside the box”. I decided since the board wants the public to present them with solutions and not complaints that I would find out how other states and communities are financing schools and present these ideas to them before they develop another “sequel”.
One state that caught my attention was Virgina. To solve their school funding problem they instituted a half a cent sales tax through out the entire state. This idea was suggested by a think tank organized by Gov. Doyle in Wisconsin but it was quickly run out of Madison. The plan is something to think about,as Virgina just signed their budget that added an additional 759 million dollars to the governors original budget towards public education. I will continue this search and loft new ideas at this site. We need a new way, a creative way to fund education because we are all tired of fighting for our schools and very tired of watching “sequels” with no new plots or twist.
The Virginia link: Leesburg2day.com/current.cfm.catid=54&newsid=8927.

Failing the Wrong Grades

Diane Ravitch:

While the problems of low achievement and poor high-school graduation rates are clear, however, their solutions are not. The reformist governors, for example, want to require all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. These steps will very likely increase the dropout rate, not reduce it.
To understand why, you have to consider what the high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large numbers are ill prepared in mathematics, science and history.
It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students. If students start high school without the basic skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems, then the governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states’ junior high schools.
And that first year of high school is often the most important one – many students who eventually drop out do so after becoming discouraged when they can’t earn the credits to advance beyond ninth grade. Ninth grade is often referred to by educators as a “parking lot.” This is because social promotion – the endemic practice of moving students up to the next grade whether they have earned it or not – comes to a crashing halt in high school.

Gifted kids have special needs, too

The March 13, 2005 issue of the Appleton Post Crescent had the following column by Jennifer Edmondson. She writes:
Before I began researching the topic of �intellectual giftedness,� I thought it was a bunch of trendy education baloney.
During the past four years, my thinking has changed radically. I have read books, called organizations for gifted kids, talked to teachers and parents of gifted kids, and I have attended seminars.
Gifted kids really do exist. More importantly, gifted kids have special needs. If those needs aren�t met, not only is that child doomed, but so is our society.

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Biotech: Teachers Key in Setting Student on Biotech Path

“I don’t think you’re smart enough to be a doctor.”
Bernadette Tansey:

People sometimes look at Teresa Ramirez with wide eyes when they find out she comes from Compton.
The city south of Los Angeles is not the hometown that many expect to turn out a biotechnology fellowship winner who’s doing research at the National Cancer Institute before applying to medical school.
In Compton, Ramirez was grazed with a bullet when a junior high school classmate dropped a gun he had brought on campus. Some of her classmates joined gangs, and some have already died. She faced skepticism when she said she wanted to be a doctor.
“I came across people, even the priest at my church, who said, ‘I don’t think you’re smart enough to be a doctor.’ ”

Many are counting on biotech to drive Wisconsin’s economy (and provide the tax base for growing education demands…).

FOIA, Blogshine Sunday & Madison School Board Election

Freeculture.org sponsored blogshine Sunday, a day when news organizations run stories and editorials in support of public access to government information.
The internet has substantially improved citizen’s ability to see who is funding elected officials directly and indirectly.
The Madison City Clerk conveniently posts campaign finance information on their website. I took a quick look at PAC (political action committee) spending on school board races and found this:
Madison School Related PAC’s:

  • Citizens for investing in Madison Schools: apparently setup to support the June, 2003 referendum. Current Board Members Bill Keys and Bill Clingan’s campaigns contributed to this PAC (1000 and 800 respectively), as did Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) ($1500). This PAC raised and spent more than $30K in 2002/2003.
  • Get Real, a PAC that supported candidates who were not endorsed by Madison Teachers. Get Real raised and spent less than $1,000. Get Real made small donations to unsuccessful candidates Sam Johnson & Melania Alvarez. This organization’s campaign finance disclosure documents are signed by former Madison School Board member Nancy Harper.
  • Madison Teachers’s Madison Voters raised more than $40K in 2004 and spent about $34K on direct and indirect support of endorsed candidates (Johnny Winston, Jr., Shwaw Vang and Alix Olson – who lost to incumbent Ruth Robarts). MTI Voters July 20, 2004 report [pdf] showed cash on hand of $52K
  • Progressive Dane raised and spent less than $2,000 last year, including small contributions to Johnny Winston, Jr. and Shwaw Vang.

Every active member of the Madison School Board was endorsed by and received direct and indirect support from Madison Teachers, Inc. The only current exception is Ruth Robarts, who, while supported in the past by MTI, was opposed by MTI in her 2004 successful re-election campaign.

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Our School Board Needs a Budget: No Budget Yet We Have a Cut List that Harms Underprivileged Children’s Education and Divides Parent Groups

The inside, unsigned cover page of MMSD’s non-budget cut list that tells the public that the administration is protecting math and reading for young children. For $12,000+ per student, the administration will teach our kids to read and to do math – what happened to science and social studies? What happened to educating the whole child or the district’s educational framework – engagement, learning and relationships?
You don’t put a cut list before a budget – no family would do that with their own budgeting process. How does a board member know where the money is going and how can board members ask needed, important questions about policy and direction? Looking at the proposed cuts in the elementary school you can easily see these cuts harm the academics and academic support for underprivileged child the most � it’s hard to determine if consider educating the whole child.

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Axing the Arts: District (again) proposes cutting popular strings program

Jason Shephard, writing in the 3.11.2005 Isthmus:
Music teachers, parents and community activists are already agitating against Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater�s call to eliminate the elementary strings program, as part of a proposed slate of budget cuts.
�This creates a very disturbing environment in the community,� says Marie Breed, executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. �It�s particularly shocking for a strong arts community like Madison to dismiss elementary string education so easily, saying essentially, �We�re not going to support these children.��
By eliminating the fourth- and fifth-grade strings program, Rainwater says the district can cut nearly ten full-time equivalent positions, saving about $500,000 in salaries and another $100,000 in equipment, repairs and books. In all, the district needs to trim $8.6 million to comply with state-imposed revenue caps — or else secure referendum approval to exceed them.

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Lawrie Kobza Leads the School Board – Superintendent Art Rainwater’s goals

Good for Lawrie! She’s leading the School Board and showing Bill Clingan how a board member needs to lead.
At the Northside Planning Council candidates’ forum, Lawrie Kobza emphasized that she would have public discussions to set annual measurable goals and objectives for the Superintendent. The last time his goals were set with the School Board was in 2002!!!!!!
Guess what? All of a sudden the Human Resources Committee is meeting to discuss administrator goals – first the meeting was set for March 28th, now it’s set for March 14th. But, it’s a power point about the process for setting administrators’ goals – not their goals. AND, no Superintendent’s goals – AGAIN. What does it matter anyway – goals should start the school year, not end the year!!!!!
The Human Resources Committee, which Bill Clingan chairs, has not led the work of this committee, until Lawrie Kobza pointed out the work was not getting done. Mr. Clingan said he was ill with pneumonia last fall. Okay, but he’s been chair since last spring, and he has a MMSD staff person assigned to this committee to work with him to set the calendar.
Got to have time to toot your horn during the last few weeks of the campaign, Mr. Clingan! Too little for the district, too late for the public. We see this action for what it is – election year politics!!!!!! Play ball.
For disclosure: I’m Lawrie Kobza’s Treasurer

Zaleski: Schools Could use a Makeover

Rob Zaleski:

Among its many features:
Twelve students per class, each equipped with their own laptop computer.
Classes meet not in huge buildings but in small rented sites scattered throughout the area. “The idea of sending 400 – or 1,400 – kids to a central site, as we have now, is madness,” Parish told me back in ’92. “Especially in today’s society, where there are social behaviors that nobody really wants.” …..
You don’t improve schools by chopping their funding, he says. But he does think the money that schools receive could be better spent.
There’s no denying, for instance, that the Madison School District is top-heavy with administrators, he says, or that the schools themselves are run in an extremely inefficient manner.

I find this thinking interesting. We do need to take a look at the process, costs & benefits. Zaleski is incorrect about an “assault on their budgets”. Madison school spending has grown over the past 10 years from roughly 194M to 317M in annual spending (and will, according to Roger Price’s recent budget presentation, increase 10M in 2005/2006). One can argue about where the money goes, or that more should be spent, but we do indeed spend a great deal on public education (Madison spends 12.9K per student while the national average is 7,734).

3/7/2005 Madison School Board Meeting Budget Comments

Board Members and citizens discussed the Madison School District Administration’s proposed budget changes (reductions in the increase, cuts and program eliminations – see this post for details. The overall budget will go up, from 317M to 327.7M as it does annually.) this past Monday evening:

Reading, Writing, ROI

James Nevels on Philadelphia School Reform:

How did we–teachers, principals and our chief executive, Paul Vallas–do it? We defined the district’s “customers” exclusively as the 200,000 children we serve. Not interest groups. Not adult constituencies. We held adults accountable for results.
To start, we instituted businesslike systems. First came a standardized curriculum so that all students would learn what we agreed was most crucial for success and could easily transfer among schools.
Elementary school students now spend two hours a day on reading and 90 minutes on math, double what they spent before. We conduct benchmark testing every six weeks in elementary and middle schools and every four weeks in high schools. This helps teachers to either dedicate more time to a subject in which students are struggling or provide advanced instruction in subjects students have mastered.

Leopold Expansion: Fitchburg City Council Approves Possible Condemnation of Ridgewood Apartments


The Fitchburg city council unanimously approved a redevelopment resolution Tuesday night that calls for a possible condemnation of the Ridgewood Apartments, and may use tax increment financing to support improvements.

These are the apartments across the street from Leopold Elementary. The Board is basing much of its claim that the school will remain at a high capacity due to these low income apartments.
There may be several years until these apartments are full again and will the population and price of these apartments affect the population?

Vote in the April 5th School Board Election – Next Important Opportunity for Public’s Vote to Make a Positive Difference

The most important vote to me is the April 5th School Board election, and I will be voting to change the School Board by voting to elect Lawrie Kobza to Seat 6. If we don�t change the school board, current board members will continue to accept the administration�s recommendations for budget cuts year after year without asking to see the �priorities� that remain in the budget. We need transparency, not smoke and mirrors, and serious school board discussions and decisions at meetings. Download file April 5th Board Election Critical

LaFollette Student Writes About the Achievement Gap

The March issue of the Simpson Street Free Press included this article by Jazmin Jackson about fighting the achievement gap. Ms. Jackson is a 15 year old student at LaFollette High School. She wrote this piece for the paper’s Fresh Face section, and graciously consented to let me post her article here.
Don’t Be a Statistic: Fight the Achievement Gap
by Jazmin Jackson
So you think �it�s not gangsta, it�s not hot, it�s not cool� to get good grades. Well consider this: It�s the 1820�s. Millions of African Americans are enslaved. A young African American boy would give anything to be able to read, but it�s against the law.
Now, fast forward to the year 2005. A 15 year-old black boy decides to skip school so he can smoke a joint with his crew.
What I want to know is when did it become cool to not get good grades and to not take advantage of the opportunity to learn? In what year did some kids decide that grade point averages could be sacrificed for popularity?

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School Strings Cut Plan Blasted by Lee Sensenbrenner, The Capital Times

Strings Plucked: Once again, District administrators attack elementary music and art to the tune of nearly $800,000, including total elimination of the elementary string progam. Their pitch is off and their song is out of tune.
Keys and Carstensen have no plans to reach out to fine arts students and teachers for their support – aren’t annual threats of cut classes and lost livelihood enough? In his article Sensenbrenner writes “…School Board President Bill Keys said he hoped that strings supporters would help the district pass the spring referendums.
But neither he nor fellow board member Carol Carstensen said they had a ready plan to convince strings supporters – stung to see the whole program on the chopping block – to be a helping hand, not a pounding fist.”
Monday night Mr. Keys said that the Overture Center was not a metaphor for MMSD’s fine arts – however, the fine arts vision of those who brought Overture is what inspires.
Ms. Carstensen said she had tried to raise money throught the Founation for Madison Public Schools – I worked with her on those fundraisers. they were not designed to fund a fine arts curriculum but rather were meant to have an endowment for grants for creative projects for existing fine arts curriculum. further the foundation for Madison’s public schools, at the time, was not making grants for existing MMSD programs. That policy is now changing and may provide an opportunity to pursue.
If our leaders look at the glass as half empty that’s what we’ll get – a half empty glass. You never finish a painting unless you begin, you never get to the fourth movement of a symphony unless you start playing, etc. Failed expectations won’t get us where we need to go and it’s not up to two people – we need the community at the table.

Comments to School Board – Where Are You Putting Your Increased Revenue for Next Year, Why Do You Form Collaborations With Parents and the Community for Sports, Pets but after Four Years – Still Fail to Collaborate with the Community on Fine Arts?

Dear School Board Members,
Good evening. I plan to comment on the following � a) net reductions in classroom instruction budgets while the total budget grew this year, b) cutting elementary strings 100 % inequitably targets low income (minority) children and says you do not deserve what others in Madison have, c) limited options offered to the public and pursued by the board – fourth year that the board has not pursued with parents and the community ideas and possibilities for collaborations/partnerships for fine arts.
The budget discussion items document distributed last week is not a budget it�s only one option of cuts. The board needs to ask where the increased revenue dollars for next year will be spent and they need to ask for additional sets of budget cut options.
Annually advancing only one set of a seemingly random list of cuts out of context of where the money will be spent makes parents and voters skeptical about the board�s decisionmaking ability and this year public skepticism will threaten the passage of an operating referendum for instruction.
We may very well need money for instruction, but what do we need and what options can we pursue � referendum, private funds, grants for what Madison values. The current school board will not get people to vote for a referendum if what Madison values is threatened and important questions are not asked now. Voters will not have confidence in how and where the money is being spent and in how the board is protecting children�s learning and achievement through alternatives.
We cannot continue the path of current decisionmaking, because this board continues to lead us toward a narrow, conservative vision for public education bankrupting our children�s learning.
Download comments to School Board on Budget

Waukesha School District’s Virtual School Takes Off

Amy Hetzner:

Nearly 1,000 students statewide have applied to attend the Waukesha School District’s virtual high school, raising school administrators’ expectations that enrollment could hit 750 in the school’s second year.

I find this fascinating – a public district going for new business via the net (money follows the students). An education professional recently suggested to me that every student should be required to take one virtual class. Seems like a good idea. After all, we all learn a great deal online these days.

School Funding Update

I received the following email update from Tom Beebe (tbeebe@wisconsinsfuture.org) on school funding:
Exciting week for school-funding reform advocates
Florence High School is newest school to join Youth ROC
Baraboo brings WAES school district partnerships to 41
Two more school-funding forums held
WCCF analyzes Governor�s budget
Still not too late to tell the Governor to veto AB58

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Leopold Expansion – Trust but verify

There has been a good deal of debate over suggestions that the proposed plans to add a second building to the Leopold School site would create a “megaschool” of undesirable proportions. Arguing that ‘everyone’ knew that the physically linked (MMSD calls it ‘paired’) schools would have a combined enrollment of more than 1100 students, proponents of the administration’s plan are confident that a school this size would have no additional challenges or needs. The idea that the addition should be built but for a smaller number of students is considered heresy by those who fear critical assessment of administration ideas.
Anyone who is interested in the debate – pro, con, apathetic – will benefit from taking a close look at the schematics for the addition, which are available on-line at:
Of particular interest is the size/layout of the cafeteria(s) [one room separated by a folding divider], the number of ESL class rooms for a school that can be expected to have 250 – 300 ESL students, and the size/location of the playground space, parking lots, and school bus drop off/pick up locations.

New Building On Leopold School Site Referendum

Overseeing the building of a new school on the Leopold site is one of the responsibilities of the Long Range Planning committee, of which I am a member. On this committee, board and citizen members have voted to ask the public via referendum to build a school on the Leopold grounds. This has been part of a long-range plan for quite some time. In 1988, I worked at Leopold Elementary School as a Parent-Community Liaison. My supervisor was the late Don Stern who was Principal at the time. Mr. Stern always told me that Leopold was the biggest elementary school in the district and the Leopold community was going to get bigger. Despite Leopold being the biggest elementary school, he had no Assistant Principal. This was never a burden for him. He loved Leopold School. But he knew that eventually another school would be built on the property. He told me this, and this was in the late 80’s!
I’m not supporting this building referendum only because of Mr. Stern. I’m supporting this because it is the right thing to do. The Leopold neighborhood has grown by leaps and bounds as will the whole Westside of Madison. The increased enrollment dictates that something must be done to alleviate the overcrowding in the school. Building on the current grounds is a fiscally efficient thing to do. Building else where in the community would add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project. Building a smaller facility with a reduced capacity puts the community back in the same place it is now and will cause additional overcrowding at other west side schools. Not building a school on the Leopold site will increase the timetable for which another new school will have to be built on the far west side of Madison. One thing that is for certain, as these new developments are built and enrollments increase on the far west and far east sides of Madison, new schools will need to be built. The effect of this action will cause closing schools to be strongly considered on the north side and Isthmus. Future school boards will make these difficult decisions in five to ten years as growth dictates or perhaps even sooner as the financial challenges warrant.
The current school board receives many opinions regarding its lack of long range planning. In the case of Leopold, a great deal of planning has been done for the new school. The PTO, community leaders, parents, teachers and students have been heard loud and clear. This is what they want. If there are additional questions and concerns, they need to be addressed in the Long Range Planning committee. We have yet to have such concerns placed on the agenda. Anyone who has a dissenting opinion should use the Long Range Planning committee meetings as a forum to vent their concerns. Although, I am supportive of building a new building on the Leopold grounds, I want to hear from those who might question this logic or have concerns. Once these concerns are addressed, school board members can make an informed decision and be able to live with their decision and the decision of the voters on May 24th.

Leopold Referendum Forum 3/1/2005 Video Clips

These video clips were taken from the March 1, 2005 Long Range Planning Meeting on the proposed Leopold Referendum (arranged in discussion length order):

Mary Kay Battaglia 48.8MB Beth Zurbachen 47.3MB Arlene Silveira 23.5MB
Tony Dassler 23.4MB Lori Rinehart 10.6MB Mira Capella 6.2MB
Janet Morrow 6MB Judy Olson 5.7MB Chris Hammer 5.4MB
Kris Kolar 4.9MB Eric Wilcox 4.7MB Kristi 2.9MB
Meg Kates 1MB

I’d like to ask more about rejecting $2 million for reading

Barb Schrank started a discussion below about questions people would like to ask the board and superintendent during the MMSD’s budget deliberations. Here post actually hasn’t generated much discussion, so I’m re-posting the questions that I’d like to ask:
I’d like the Board and Superintendent to tell the community more about why the Superintendent choose not to use the Reading First funds ($2 million approximately) to expand Read 180 which is currently used and supported by the district.

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Failed Budget Governance: Start with Where Your Money Went this Year Compared to a Year Ago – Not with Cuts Out of Context

Our School Board is beginning a budget dialogue with the community using budget cut discussion items – wrong!
A first place for the Board to start budget discussions would be to look at where the money went last year (Download Comparison of 03-04 budget vs. 04-05 budget)
Where did the budget increase? Building Services, Student Services, Human Resources and Education Services – $18.3 million
Where was the budget cut? Elementary, Middle and High Schools took the biggest cuts – $2.1 million.
The MMSD School Board needs to start here, ask for an estimate of revenues for 05-06 and ask for scenarios with different allocations of these revenues. The School Board would then have a place to start a dialogue with the community.

Failed Governance: No budget, yet cuts

Last May, I wrote an opinion piece that was printed in The Capital Times. Since then, little has changed on the School Board and we are re-opening the “Spring Budget Drama” that continues to fail children’s learning and achievement. We are presented with no budget, but instead with budget discussion items and NO strategies.
What I wrote last May I feel is just as true today, sadly – very sadly.

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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.

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Upcoming Education Events

Our calendar is a useful place to checkout local education related events. There are several worthwhile events over the next few weeks (send yours in by clicking on the “Ideas” link at the top of our home page. We’ll post it).

  • School Board Candidate Diversity Forum (MAFAAC) 3/12/2005 @ Edgewood. 5:00p.m. Maps, links and information here.
  • Gregg Underheim, candidate for Wisconsin State DPI Superintendent is holding a Public Forum at the Lakeview Branch of the Madison Public Library Wednesday March 9th at 6:00p.m. [Maps & Driving Directions] note: we’ll of course post events for Underheim’s opponent, incumbent Libby Burmaster as well
  • Arlene Silveira emails that several westside PTO’s are sponsoring a Madison Schools Candidate Forum on Wednesday, March 16, 2005 at Cherokee Middle School [Map & Driving Directions] from 7 to 8:30p.m. [pdf flyer]

Madison Schools Budget Change Information/Links

The Madison School District’s Administration announced a series of 2005/2006 budget changes (eliminate some programs, reduce the increase in others, eliminate some positions). The overall budget will increase by about 10M+, from 316.8M in 2004/2005 to 327.7M in 2005/2006 (via Roger Price’s recent budget presentation. [slides pdf]).

Read the District’s introduction to the discussion items by clicking on the link below. This intro summarizes the priorities the Administration used to create the proposed budget changes (page 1 of the pdf link).

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Superintendent Art Rainwater Proposes to Decimate Fine Arts: Turns Back on Curriculum and Academic Achievement Benefits of Fine Arts Education – Fails to Work with the Community, Year After Year

Superintendent Art Rainwater proposes (2005-2006 Budget Discussion Items)to cut another $1 million in elementary music and art education once again this year without any prior curriculum review and assessment of impact on children’s learning and achievement – that would have involved teachers and the community.


Here’s the Information:
Superintendent’s Proposed Fine Arts Cuts – Released to MMSD Board of Education yesterday:
Eliminate elementary strings curriculum 9.8 FTEs $496,860
Double up Special classes in Grade 1 5-7.5 FTEs $253,500-$380,250
Total Impact on Fine Arts Curriculum 14.8-17.3 FTEs $750,367-$877,110

plus another $100,000 in instrument purchase and repair budget.
Total existing k-12 Fine Arts budget approximately $7 million
which is 2% of the total budget. Superintendent Art Rainwater’s proposed cut would eliminate 14% of the existing fine arts budget – 100% of the elementary string teachers who likely would be laid off as they are specialized and not easily transferred. They’re also not administrators, none of whom are at risk of layoff.
History of Holding Hostage a Community that Values Music and Art Education:

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Open Forum: Questions the Community Would Like to See the School Board Asking the Superintendent

I�m beginning a list of questions I�d like to see the School Board discuss and use to direct the Superintendent when the District�s budget is developed using this blog as a public forum. The state and federal governments are not holding up their end of school financing, yet our school board members need to develop a budget and to make preliminary operating decisions by June 30, 2005.
I�ve left the comments open for this blog and would like to hear what questions others might like to see the board discuss and provide further direction to the Superintendent during the budget process so that we develop a budget that puts children�s learning, academic excellence and achievement as the highest priority for our children this year and in succeeding years. I think our attention locally needs to be on how can we develop the best budget for these priorities so that we know what our funding challenges are for next year and will have better information for a referendum.

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New Partnership Between School District and UW

It is amazing what can be accomplished without a school board meeting! As chair of the partnership committee, I know the importance of developing partnerships with our community. This is the challenge of being elected to represent a school district that is getting increasingly diverse with more students of color and more students with fewer socio-economic resources. In addition, the entire school district has fewer financial resources due to state imposed revenue caps. For these reasons, different approaches need to be utilized to further resources and strengthen partnerships with organizations that have similar goals.
I am pleased to announce that the Madison Metropolitan School District and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have entered into a partnership that will strengthen recruitment efforts and solidify one years worth of funding for the Minority Services Coordinator (MSC) position. This position has been very vital to the School Board’s goal of closing the achievement gap by working with racial and ethnic minority students since 1973. The position was created and developed by the late Joe Thomas of West High School. Without this partnership, the MSC position would have fallen victim to budget cuts.
Superintendent Rainwater shared these remarks with the entire school board:
“We have entered into a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to share the services and funding of the Minority Services Coordinators in each of our high schools. This partnership will enable us to keep the Minority Services Coordinators in the schools and further enhance their ability to assist both us and the University with our minority students as they prepare to enter college.”
This partnership is made possible because of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s efforts to encourage post-secondary education for Wisconsin disadvantaged and minority students. The funding will come from the PEOPLE (Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) Program currently serving approximately 800 high school and middle school students from public schools in Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Menominee Nation.
The program emphasizes enrichment in math, science and writing, and incorporates technology as an integral part of the curriculum. Students build study skills and receive information on college preparation and testing, academic and career options, and other subjects to foster graduation from high school and success in college.
Those who complete the pre-college portion of the program and are accepted for admission to UW-Madison receive a tuition scholarship for up to five years. This program is designed for African-American, American Indian, Southeast Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino and disadvantaged students. The program was launched in 1999 as part of the UW-Madison’s Plan 2008 to enhance campus diversity.
This partnership between the district and University would not have happened without the leadership and foresight of Assistant Dean in the School of Education, Walter Lane; Special Assistant to the Chancellor, LaMarr Billups; Vice Chancellor for Administration, Darrell Bazzell; Chancellor John Wiley, Superintendent Rainwater and the Madison School Board.
While I’m very happy to announce this partnership, I am saddened about the $8.6 million dollars worth of budget cuts. Although I know there will be no partnerships to solve $8.6 million dollars worth of services, perhaps this is the beginning to having serious discussions to create more partnerships that will be mutually beneficial to the school district and other organizations dedicated to the same goal of educating our students.

Budget Process – Cuts and What Else is Next

Superintendent Art Rainwater’s proposed budget cuts to balance his estimated Same Service budget forecast to expected revenues are being released to the public today. Prior to this release, the only information the school board has received relative to the budget is a macro-forecast of revenue/expenditures – assumptions about salary and wage increases, percent increase assumption for all other services, and 4% increase for MSCR expenses, for example.

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School Board Candidates Respond to Questions About TAG Programming

The following was passed along by Kristin Meyer who attended the Northside candidates forum. Kristin asked the candidates about their position on supporting TAG services/support during ongoing budgetary shortfalls, and summarizes below the responses from each candidate. She reports that there was also a statement related to how the TAG program has already taken cuts and that, therefore, it seemed unable to adequately meet the needs of TAG students

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School Board Candidates’ Forum – March 1, 2005

On March 1, 2005, the Northside Planning Council held an excellent, well run and informative school board candidates’ forum at Warner Park in Madison, WI. Candidates for Seat 6 (Bill Clingan – incumbant and Lawrie Kobza) and Seat 7 (Carol Carstensen – incumbant and Larry Winkler) answered a wide variety of questions on many topics.
Following are videoclips from that forum. The format for the forum following opening statements by the candidates was in three parts: 1) 3 questions developed by the Northside Planning Council, 2) each candidate asked their opponent a question, and 3) written questions submitted from the floor.
I. Opening Statements Candidates’ Opening Statements
II. Part 1: Questions developed by Northside Planning Council
A. Question 1 – City-School District Relationship: What is already being done to promote collaboration between the city and the school district and what creative suggestions do you have to further it? Candidates’ Answers to Question 1: City-School Relationship

B. Question 2 – Parental Involvement: What would you do, as a School Board member, to insure that the District is getting direct feedback from parents of color and low-income parents? How would you overcome the barriers that keep them from participating?
Candidates’ Answers to Question 2: Parental Involvement
C. Question 3 – Changing & Developing District Policy: The District almost succeeded in eliminating or changing its current Equity Policy without substantial public dialogue. What measures would you implement to insure accountability, transparency, and meaningful public input into future District decision-making? Candidates’ Answers to Question 3: Changing & Developing District Policy
III. Candidates Ask Their Opponents A Question
A. Bill Clingan asks Lawrie Kobza about her position on building a second school to total 1100 K-5 students at Leopold Elementary School. Lawrie Kobza asks Bill Clingan why, as Chair of the Human Resources Committee, Superintendent Rainwater has not developed meassurable goals approved by the School Board since 2002. She noted that the Human Resources Committee has met only once since Mr. Clingan became chair. Clingan and Kobza Ask Each Other a Question – Leopold and Superintendent Goals
B. Carol Carstensen and Larry Winkler ask each other questions. Ms. Carstensen asked Mr. Winkler about a previous statement he made regarding revenue caps and Mr. Winkler asked Ms. Carstensen what she was most proud of during her 15 years as a school board members. Carol Carstensen and Larry Winkler Question Each Other

IV. Candidates Asked to Say How they Differ from Their Opponent
Candidates statements about how they differ from each other in qualifications for the job.

Madison Schools Budget Reductions

The Madison School District’s Administration will release their proposed budget reductions (reductions in the increase – see these posts) Thursday afternoon (unless it leaks earlier). There will be an afternoon press conference (apparently 2:30p.m.). We’ll link to the district’s site once the information is posted. Roger Price previewed the 2005/2006 budget recently (video/audio along with slides).

Eugene Parks

The last few days have been rather sad ones for me due to the recent death of Eugene Parks. I have always viewed Mr. Parks as a role model. I admire people who tell you how they feel without being “politically correct.” He was that type of person. He commanded your attention, not because of his “gruff tone” or “edginess” but because of his sincere knowledge of the topic on which he was speaking. Mr. Parks knew what he was talking about.
When I decided to run for Madison School Board, I made a list of people from whom I wanted to get endorsements. Eugene Parks was one of those people. As a made my way through the campaign, our paths finally crossed in a local restaurant. I was very excited to tell him about my candidacy. I exclaimed to him, “Mr. Parks, I’m running for Madison School Board!” He replied, “Why would you go and do a fool thing like that for?” Honestly, I was kind of stunned. Sensing this, he told me of his feelings about the Madison schools. He felt that schools were being set up. They were being asked to do everything but not adequately funded. He also told me that the school board was the only elected position that for every ONE friend you made; you made TEN enemies. Again, Mr. Parks knew what he was talking about.
After winning my election several months later, I was asked to do a radio interview on WORT. After my segment, Mr. Parks was the next guest. Once pleasantries were exchanged, I wished him luck in his interview; he wished me luck on the school board. While I was listening to interview, he told the interviewer how proud he was of me and that I represented young leadership that our community needed. I was very proud of that. He also questioned the priorities in the City of Madison where the community would build swimming pools but not support additional funding of public education (remember last year the School Board cut 10 million dollars from the budget). His comments were very profound.
I know I’ll never be like Eugene Parks. There will never be another Eugene Parks no matter how hard someone tries. Unfortunately, my personality is not like his. I am not as brave as he was to say exactly what was on my mind and tell everyone how I feel. However, every once in a while, the “Eugene Parks” in me comes out but I save it for special occasions and the settings in which media will not be around. The truest way to honor his memory is giving the Madison School Board the type of passion, effort and commitment that he gave to our Madison community. I will miss Eugene Parks.

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
donleader at aol dot com

U.S. Education Eroding World Technology Leadership

e-prairie discusses a number of recent comments from the technology community on our education problems:

The New York Times Editorial Page agrees with Bill Gates and takes the States to task for “embracing the lowest common denominator”.

State Aims to Remake High Schools

Brian Tumulty on the achievement gap:

Wisconsin needs to boost graduation rates among blacks and other minorities, the state superintendent of instruction said Sunday as a two-day national summit on the future of high schools ended here.
�We have an achievement gap and we need to ensure every child is graduating from high school,� Elizabeth Burmaster said. �That�s the issue.�
Although Wisconsin boasts one of the highest high school graduation rates in the nation � 92 percent overall in 2002-2003 � only 63 percent of blacks, 76 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of American Indians complete high school in four years.

Thoughts and Comments on MMSD School Fees Report

Last year, Bruce Kahn (parent) and I made a presentation to the School Board, meant as a supplement to the district administration’s report on school fees. We asked several questions and made several recommendations for School Board consideration, which we still feel need to be considered. Currently, fees are put in at the last minute in the budget process. No one “likes” fees, but discussion is needed before they are put into place.
Parents and the Community Need Complete Information & Big Picture
Why are there school fees today?
What are the costs of Extra-Curricular activities?
How do Extra-Curricular costs compare to instructional costs?
What happens when fees don�t cover costs?
What are some suggestions for your consideration?
Next Steps – Needed But Not Being Taken
Identify what is at risk.
Develop an equitable funding plan � operating funds, fees, fundraising, partnering/sponsorships, etc., where feasible and legal to do so.
What can the District afford to pay – what other funding sources/strategies are possible.
Form groups – task forces to move forward.
Begin meaningful discussions now. Parents, kids and the community can�t wait year after year for in depth discussions to begin.
hearings or surveys will not get the job done.
Download Thoughts and Comments on MMSD School Fees Report

No Child Left Behind –The Football Version

From a post on the atrios website:
No Child Left Behind – Football Version
1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held
2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.
3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in
football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like football.
4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.

School-Funding Update

Reform advocates need to take action … now!
In school, money really does matter
Support for TABOR in Wisconsin is questionable
School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan — a proposal for school-finance reform — is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.Download School Funding Reform Update

Ford Foundation K-12 Links (Winter Report)

Several interesting items from the Ford Foundation’s Winter 2005 K-12 Report:

  • Dallas public schools are boosting student achievement by integrating arts into the curriculum.
  • In West Virginia and across the country, rural communities are fighting the supersizing of public schools.
  • BOOK REVIEW: School Champion
    A consensus has grown over the last 20 years that for sustainable school reform to occur, the public?not just parents?must be engaged, as instigators of change and as watchdogs to ensure that reforms are put into practice.

Another interesting link: The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a statewide education advocacy organization. We work to improve education for all Kentuckians.


Believe it or not, I am a pretty regular reader of the schoolinforsystems website. I find it to be an excellent opportunity to read about other viewpoints and opinions that I don’t hear about in newspapers, radio, television and other media outlets. While I don’t always agree with “everything” that a prospective writer is saying, I do respect their point of view. At times the commentary makes me “think a little harder” or perhaps look at a situation “a little differently.” Maybe it makes me think more “outside the box.” However, I do want to caution that posting on the website should not detract from developing the relationships needed to have further discussion with the elected school board members. It also should not be used to circumvent the democratic processes.

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How Can Parents Be Assured that the MMSD Budget Process Reflects Their Educational Priorities?

Two years ago in February Jane Doughty, MMSD parent and I asked the School Board questions regarding the budget process and we made some suggestions. Some changes have been made, but I think we are still missing: a) budget before budget cuts, b) discussion among board members about allocation of scarce resources, c) dialogue with the community early in the process so that your key stakeholders have a clear understanding of the issues, to name a few
You may still find the following information useful as you think about the budget.
Will the School Board:
A. Develop a clearly detailed, publicly accessible budget process – When?
B. Separate policy and budget issues – How?
C. Involve the public throughout the budget process � How and When?

Suggestions Made to the School Board in January 2003

Work With Representatives From Key Parent / Public Groups To Organize Communication with Public.
Publish Finalized Budget Goals and Objectives, Criteria, Tasks, Timelines For The Full Board & Its Committees � Backpack Mail, MMSD Website.
Make Corrections to Virchow / Krause Document (Other Documents) Prior To Use in Budget Process.
Use A Variety Of Tools That Can Gather Meaningful Input In a Timely Manner � Focus Groups, Public Workshops.
Download How Can Parents Be Assured that the MMSD Budget Reflects Their Priorities
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School Budget – Here we go AGAIN?!

What to Look for in the Next Few Weeks? Based upon the single macro-forecast of a revenue gap of $8+ million, School Board members were told a list of budget cuts would be presented to the School Board on March 7th. Without benefit of a budget, the School Board will hold public hearings, not meetings, where parents/public have an opportunity to comment on the proposed cuts.
At no time can the public have meaningful comment on the overall budget by department or the allocation of next year’s revenue. Why? This information will not be presented to the School Board until May 2005, and there is only one hearing scheduled after this date. Because the cuts are distributed on March 3rd, the public will only be focusing on the cuts and not the overall budget, budget priorities, etc. This approach takes advantage of parent’s wanting to protect their child’s education first. Since parents are in panic mode, they cannot clearly see the bigger picture and often feel as if they are being held hostage without any alternatives or a chance to pursue/discuss alternatives.
What’s Driving this Timeline? The Superintendent has said in the past that the data are not available and that the teachers’ contract is another the main driver for the timeline. The teacher’s contract includes dates for notices for surplus and layoff. The teacher’s contract says nothing about the School Board’s budget decisionmaking process. Surplus notices are not due until July 1. Layoff notices are due 10 days before the end of the school year. If the School Board had a policy directive to the Superintendent of no teacher layoffs, as they implicitly do with Administrators, the backend timeline would not be as tight. This is apparently not the case – existing teachers can be laid off but not existing administrators. Even though the amount of administrators is smaller than teachers, the policy is not equitable across all employee groups. The Superintendent says licenses requirements differ, etc. This is noise – there is no equitable policy in place.
What have I observed? a) The public is not engaged at the start of the budget process. It’s February 28th and tonight the Board is taking up the discussions of communications with the PTOs. What?
Parents are only “scared into paying attention” when the cut list comes out, because we don’t pay attention the rest of the year. I see no backpack mail from the board to parents on the budget, next steps, what the board wants to hear from parents, etc.
Our ideas and comments are not solicited in meaningful ways or forums. That would have had to take place in the fall.
b) Allocation of new revenues is not discussed. A brief analysis done last fall for the Board said this would mean cuts to deep to non-instruction if all dollars were allocated to instruction as a first priority. End of discussion. A next step for the School Board would have been to come back with more specific impacts and to develop a dialog with the community and an iterative process that would put the School Board more in a leadership position with the direction of the budget – something that does not exist with the existing decisionmaking process.
What am I missing, and why is there only once choice? If I was reviewing my home budget, and I felt I could manage the cuts in my budget, I would think this current board budget decisionmaking process is just fine. My husband and daughter might complain about the changes but not for long.
If I looked at my home budget and saw I could’t buy all the food I needed or medicine or pay my mortgage, I would be in rapid action mode. As soon as I had an idea this was my budget problem, I would be doing something and fast. I wonder why our Superintendent, who says the district is facing this type of financial crunch, isn’t more actively using his school board and getting the public on board beginning last July.
Explicit budget details are not needed to have public discussions about the annual budget, financial planning, priorities, allocation of scarce resources and different models of funding children’s services that Madison values.
Yes, the feds and state are not holding up their end of the bargain – now, what are we going to do about this. Referendums are only one option, but more are needed – we are here again with only one option being presented as viable – oh yes, or cut educational services.

MMSD Budget – Parents Suggestions Over Time

Parent Presentations on the District’s Budget Decisionmaking Process: Since Spring 2002, other parents and I have spoken to the School Board on a number of issues related to the District’s budget decisionmaking promise. We often presented this information in a power point presentation in an easy-to-read and understand format. I’m now in the process of pulling together this information and will be uploading those previous presentations to the school board.

Information Contained in the Presentations:
Much of the information presented to the School Board is still relevant today. Topics include: a) How Can Parents be Assured that the Budget Process is Meeting our Educational Needs? b) Questions to Consider when Discussing Fees c) What are the Revenue Cap and QEO?

Importance of Sharing this Information Now:
We are entering the School Board’s active period with the school budget – cuts affecting children are made known even if the budget is not made known until much later. The budget timeline is the same and the decisionmaking process is the same as it has been for the past several years. The Superintendent’s recommended budget cuts will be presented on March 7th. School Board members say this is only the start of the process and that they want to hear from the community. In reality, very little changes from the time the budget cuts are presented until the Board approves the Budget sometime in June 2005.
Stay tuned…..


Hello, my name is Ben Moga and I’m running for Alder in District 5. I met with the school information system group today at Jim’s house and think it is an excellent organization. Real topics are discussed, the people are genuinely interested, and it serves as a great way to communicate. I see education as a top priority not just locally or nationally, but for the whole world.
I’m working on a project that is meant to address the issue of overweight children. It has become a topic even at the federal level and I’m working to get Badger Athletes out to elementary schools in coordination with the City’s Fitness Initiative. Anyone interested can check out the project and its progress on my blog orientated website.
I am definitely interested in addressing the educational issues that will face not only my district, but that of the whole city. Any comments you have will be greatly appreciated.

Bill Gates: US High Schools Obsolete

Bill Gates:

he most blunt assessment came from Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who has put more than $700 million into reducing the size of high school classes through the foundation formed by him and his wife, Melinda. He said high schools must be redesigned to prepare every student for college, with classes that are rigorous and relevant to kids and with supportive relationships for children.
“America’s high schools are obsolete,” Gates said. “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they’re broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they’re working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

I am no fan of Bill Gates. [Slashdot discussion] He does, however raise some useful points, including the biggest obstacle: political will.

Ford Foundation Funding Arts Infused Education – Supporting Partnerships

The Ford Foundation is one organization that is investing in efforts to integrate the arts into classroom instruction in urban schools. Read Ford Foundation: Deep In the Arts of Texas .
Madison Schools have a fine arts curriculum with standards and benchmarks in place. In addition to fine arts curricula, Madison’s public school children attend performances and there are artists-in-residences, for example. Many of these relationships were nurtured by the district’s fine arts coordinator, a position that has been vacant for nearly 9 months. Two arts issues require immediate attention:

  • First: Last fall, the District’s fine arts teachers asked that the Fine Arts Coordinator be reinstated (which the school board voted to do). These same teachers also asked for personnel to be hired that could help them out in the interim, which has not been done. This has left a void in the district’s relationship with the community’s arts organizations. The Fine Arts Coordinator had served on many local committees and boards to foster the relationship between the District and the community’s arts organizations. We need to get back on track with these relationships. This is an important first step.
  • Second: As a next step, I would like to see a collaborative effort form among the City, University, community arts organizations and the MMSD to explore models for strengthening an arts infused education that further supports learning in the classroom – and raises children’s test scores, especially for low income and minority children. Test scores from various parts of the country are showing the positive links between arts and test scores.

School Spending

The National Center for Education Statistics has released national K-12 student expenditure data per state. The national average is $7,734, of which $4,755 goes for instruction.
The Madison School District spends north of $12.9K (24,430 students in 2004/2005 per Roger Price’s recent budget presentation) per student per year. We’ll hear a great deal about the district’s 2005/2006 budget over the next few months. Regardless of referendums or new federal/state aids, the district budget will go up, from 316.8M in 2004/2005 to perhaps 327.7M in 2005/2006 (again, according to Price’s presentation). Via Joanne Jacobs.

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.

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More Leopold Expansion Discussion

The proposed Leopold Expansion discussion continues:

  • Visiting with some Leopold Parents at a recent event, a number of points were discussed:
    • Parking is currently a problem and will be worse as the school expands.
    • “We keep taking away their playground space. Where are all of the children going to play? They need space to run around.”
    • “Why can’t Madison build a school in Fitchburg (ie, closer to where all the homes are going in)? Verona has – Stoner Prairie, in Fitchburg [Map illustrating Leopold & Stoner Prairie]. Many homes are as far from Verona shools (in Fitchburg) as they are from Leopold.”
    • “Where are all of these children going to go after Leopold?” “Will they be bused over to a Memorial/Middle School combination?”
    • “I’m concerned about the (proposed) shared library and cafeteria. Will they be adequately staffed for a school this size? The previous addition did not address the lunch room and library needs.
    • “I don’t want to pay any more taxes, it seems like every year we have a budget crisis but my taxes continue to go up. Couldn’t they plan better?”
  • Arlene Silviera is puzzled about Ruth Robarts recent questions regarding the size of the proposed Leopold school.

Blog is good for democratic decision-making

I’m volunteering with a conservation group in Mexico, so I don’t have a lot of time to write a post. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to take a few minutes to respond to (Madson School Board Member) Juan Lopez who said of www.schoolinfosystem.org, “I think this kind of forum is destructive.” See the story in the Wisconsin State Journal
I respectfully disagree.
A healthy democracy requires healthy debate. The tradition dates back to the Roman forums where citizens debated freely, and support for the necessity of public debate runs through the writing of our country’s founders and our constitution.
Mr. Lopez and other board members might sense an unusual flurry of spirited commentary on this forum, because the board may not have provided a forum for the honest exchange of ideas. Suddenly, this blog provides the opportunity. Granted, the board holds public hearings, but they are rarely discussions. Instead, people speak and the board listens. It is most unusual from my experience when the board engages the speaker in a real discussion.
I encourage Mr. Lopez and the other members of the board to debate issues vigorously at board meetings, as well as post on this blog, which represents the best of what democracy offers for free and open debate.
Ulimately, the exchange of ideas on any pending school district decison will produce a better outcome than a decision without debate.
Ed Blume
The comments section is open on this post. Please feel free to agree or disagree. I welcome any comments.

Board Governance Lacking – No Timely Information on Taser Incident From Board President to Public: Chooses to Attack Robarts

Bill Keys, President of the MMSD School Board, chose to attack Ruth Robarts today in The Capital Times saying she was not the first board member to be concerned about the taser incident. Bill Keys’ letter seems to be unnecessarily spiteful and misses the point that was raised in The Capital Times’ editorial on February 15, 2005 . The editorial ended:
“Robarts is asking questions that need to be asked. And she is doing so in a thoughtful, forward-looking manner that invites the rest of the board and the community to join in a debate that needs to take place.”
There was no criticism of the School Board – just praise for raising questions publicly, which is what the School Board needs to do in a situation where children’s safety is an issue. The taser incident happened at Memorial High School on January 21, 2005. The incident was first reported in The Wisconsin State Journal on January 31, 2005, 10 days after the incident took place. In that article, Ruth Robarts commented that:
“School Board member Ruth Robarts said she was concerned that she didn’t hear about the incident until a reporter’s phone call.” I find this incredible that she would hear about an issue such as this nearly 10 days after it happened from the press.
In that same article “Member Bill Clingan said it’s appropriate that police authority trumps the school’s, and that the incident is a police issue. But as an individual, he doesn’t like to hear that a youth was subdued with a Taser.”
What’s missing – board governance. Neither Bill Keys, as president of the School Board, nor Bill Clingan, as vice president of the school board, did not appear to notify their colleagues about the incident in a timely manner; because, as it turns out, it’s not clear from public documents when they learned of the incident. How can that be? I would expect the first question Bill Keys might ask Superintendent Rainwater is: Why wasn’t the Board notified of this incident (at least before board members were contacted by the press) and what steps are you taking?
However, after learning about the incident, our School Board officers did not put the incident on a school board special session agenda so that they could 1) hear a public update about the incident from the Superintendent and what he was doing (such as, hiring an outside attorney to undertake an investigation), 2) provide the community with information about the incident that could be presented publicly and 3) have a public board discussion about next steps and what, if any, additional direction from the board to the Superintendent was needed. As an alternative, either school board officer could have written a letter to the paper about what the school board was doing to address the issue, complementing the questions raised by Ruth Robarts and letting the community know that this issue was of great concern to the board and that other board members were equally concerned as Ms. Robarts and were asking similar questions.
Instead, the public heard nothing from the school board president or vice president about an issue of importance to them (student safety) and what the school board would be doing. Rather than taking the opportunity to keep us updated, Mr. Keys decided more than one month after the taser incident to attack his colleague rather than thanking her for what she said, letting the public know what other board members were doing, and updating the public about what steps would be taken.

Rainwater pushes a new school: He’s told to prepare a contingency plan

Lee Sensenbrenner writing in The Capital Times on February 22, 2005:
“You’re manipulating my vote,” said Mary Kay Battaglia, who has children at Crestwood Elementary and Jefferson Middle School. “You’re giving me a choice to move my child and 1,100 others or to vote for a referendum I don’t think is necessary.”…
…Board member Bill Clingan said that the board was neither efficient nor intelligent enough to be manipulative…

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.

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The Crackers – a For Profit Version of NYC’s Yellow Gates

Leave it to New Yorkers to leave no sacred cows. Read on and enjoy the picture –
Gift to the City � is it Art or for the Birds? “The Crackers” is as much a public happening as it is a tasty snack, defying the domino theory. Peanut butter or cheddar cheese. They poured their hearts and souls into the project for over 26 minutes. It required three dozen crackers and spanned over nearly 23 inches along a footbridge in the park at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of $2.50. Is it art? You decide. The installation was completed with no permits or bureaucracy, and fed to the ducks after about a half hour. “The Crackers” is entirely for profit
View “The Crackers” and brighten your day

MMSD’s Kurt Keifer on the Administration’s Boundary Plans

Kurt Kiefer via email:

I’m writing in response to your questions from last week re: boundary change options. Tim Potter, research analyst on my staff who is handling all of the GIS work on the project, provided the details.
a) Leopold at 1040 students. I seem to recall the original plan was 800? (it’s now much less than that) Is this correct?
We are not sure how the 1040 figure is derived. Leopold with current boundaries is projected to have 750 students by 2010. Since the new developments are all within the Leopold attendance boundary they are incorporated in that projection. The McGaw Park development, for which there is no plat yet created, would not be included in the projection. Capacity at the Leopold site WITH a new school would be 1120. Students in Leopold in the various modules ranges from 582 to 875.
b) What are the implications of that growth on cherokee and west?
Depending on which plan you are referring to, yes, there could be an impact on Cherokee and West. Cherokee is currently projected to reach 100% capacity in 2010. The two new, platted developments (i.e., Swan Creek and Oak Meadow) are already in the Leopold attendance area so they are already in the projections. Thoreau already feeds into Cherokee and West so the return of those areas to Leopold would not have an impact at middle/high. The return of the area from Chavez could have an impact. On 3rd Friday, there were 31 and 33 middle high students in this area. On 3rd Friday, 21 of the middle school students were enrolled at Toki and 5 at Cherokee. Of the 33 high school students in this area, 11 attend West and 18 attend Memorial. Capacities at Cherokee and West are 648 and 2173 students, respectively.
c) What about Wright Middle School?
Wright is listed with a capacity of 324 and currently they have 207 students. Wright could alleviate any problems at Cherokee that might be caused by new developments.
d) Some wondered why Velma Hamilton was not affected by any of the

Any changes being made to the elementary schools which feed Hamilton would affect the latter. None of the plans affect Franklin, Randall, Shorewood Hills or Van Hise Elementary Schools. These schools are not experiencing significant changes in enrollments due to changing housing patterns or developments.
Let us know if you have any further questions.
Kurt Kiefer
Madison Metropolitan School District
Planning/Research & Evaluation
kkiefer at madison.k12.wi.us

Big props to the very active Kiefer’s – Kurt’s better half Jone’ is an excellent elementary school teacher while son Oliver is the student representative on the Board of Education.

Question for Ruth Robarts: Better fallback plan required, or new building?

Thanks, Ms. Robarts, for calling attention to the problems with MMSD’s fallback proposal for boundary changes on the west side, if a referendum to build a new elementary school should fail. You point out that under the fallback plan, too many kids would be coming and going from some schools, and that the boundary changes would disproportinately affect certain schools on the west side.
Do you know if anyone has come up with a better proposal to handle west side growth, in the event we can’t build a new school?

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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.

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Roger Price Budget Presentation

Roger Price, the Madison School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Services presented a look at the upcoming year’s district budget last Monday night (2.14.2005). Roger forwarded his powerpoint slides (260K pdf) and an excel spreadsheet on tax levies from 1993 to 2005 that he used in his presentation. You can view the presentation (or listen to an audio mp3 file) here.
Barb Schrank took a look at the video clip and has some comments below.

MMSD Budget Forecast – Board Asks Few Questions

Roger Price presented to the School Board a budget forecast (Roger Price Presentation – video/mp3 audio) for the next four years.
Watching the video I was surprised there was very limited discussion and few questions about the substance of the forecast. There was no discussion about or requests for the administration to develop alternative budget forecasts using different assumptions. There was no questions about the assumptions used. There was no discussion about setting a time to review directions to administration for making cuts – for example, what are the personnel policies? There will be no layoffs of administrators. Will that be the same for existing teachers? There was no discussion about when to discuss the financial impacts of programs that are not as effective as others and may be costing more than we can afford for the results. Examples of questions about curriculum – reading: what is being done to appeal federal $2 million, what is being done to review costs of reading and evaluating what is working best for most children, how is curriculum being evaluated at Lapham, how much are new contracts going to cost and relating this to personnel layoffs if referendums are not passed. what programs are not working, what do they costs, etc.
Basically, the majority of the school board assumed that was the gap – $29 million cumulatively over 4 years. No questions were asked about the assumptions used. This is the most important part of a forecast – what the assumptions are, what other assumptions could be considered. Unless you have a good understanding and confidence in the assumptions used, your forecast will be weakened.
The School Board received the information, said thank you and reviewed the dates needed to make a decision about going to a referendum for operating expenses. This is the first time the board has seen a budget forecast for 05-06 – no substantive discussion.
With the exception of the additional years in the budget forecast, which I was glad to see that an attempt had been made to go out several years, this presentation is the same process and discussions that I saw last year. The majority of the Board had no questions last year either – how can that be?
I think I would have lots of questions if I was facing a cumulative $29 million gap between revenues and expenditures in my budget.
Link to MMSD Budget Page

Budgeting and Financial Planning – What’s the Difference?

The Superintendent of a small Massachusetts School District, East Long Meadow, prepared a clear, concise document describing his perspective of differences between budgeting and financial planning ( East Long Meadow MA Financial Planning Overview Document). He described fiscal responsibility of the school district:
“School Committee members, superintendents, and business managers have two levels of fiscal responsibility. The first level is compliance with state and federal law. Compliance ensures that the budget meets state standards and that state funds are directed to legislated accounts and programs. Compliance does not ensure that funds are being used efficiently or effectively, however. The second, higher order of responsibility is that of fiscal stewardship, which goes well beyond compliance and ensures that funds are spent on programs that make a difference and move the district toward its vision. Fiscal stewardship avoids deficit spending and the need for drastic cuts that undermine education. It requires that policy and process are in place to ensure that funds are used effectively and wisely and that deficits are avoided.
How does a School Committee achieve effective fiscal stewardship? The answer is financial planning. You would never build a new house only to tear down part of it because you didn’t budget enough to finish the entire building. Unfortunately, that’s how some districts often handle funds. Some build a district vision for student success one year at a time and often end up spending so much on small projects that they don’t have enough for the programs that would really make a difference. But building a successful district requires a strategic plan, improvement goals, and a financial plan to support the vision–plus the fiscal stewardship to make sure tax dollars are being directed to the most effective programs and departments.”
As MMSD takes its first small, positive public steps developing a multi-year budget, there is valuable information in this budget that can provide guidance for questions to ask about multi-year financial planning and not simply the same budget with inflated expenses.
I sent a copy of this memo to Carol Carstensen earlier this month. I have been asking for a long term financial picture, as has Ruth Robarts and others in the community. I am encouraged to see that the District Administration has taken the first step in that direction on February 14th.

School Board Governance Weak – School Closings

I agree wholeheartedly with the Capital Times February 17, 2005, editorial statement ( Editorial – February 17, 2005that the Madison Metropolitan School district ��seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities�� The district administration�s proposed boundary changes and redistricting proposals presented to the board on February 14th was no �sweetheart proposal,� and once again demonstrated the lack of meaningful communication and collaboration between the school board and the public.
The Superintendent and his senior staff work in what appears to many as a heavy handed and an alienating manner, because the majority of the school board lets this happen. Do we want a board that allows the district administration present incomplete proposals and then drive the discussion with the board coming along for the ride? I know I don�t.
If Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Juan Jose Lopez and Shwaw Vang did not support closing schools, then this criterion needed to be communicated to the district administration clearly via a public meeting prior to the development of and release of a district administration report with options for easing overcrowding in schools.
As Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee last year, Mr. Clingan had the opportunity to put in place such an approach for addressing these big planning issues. As Lucy Mathiak wrote in two previous letters ( February 2, 2005, February 14, 2005 )to the Capital Times editor, ��he squandered his opportunity.� This is not a hind-sight comment. A long range planning committee needs to continually be looking long range and adjusting planning as needed.
As hard as the LRPC has worked this year (meeting bi-monthly) trying to meet fast-approaching deadlines, that committee and the public advisory committee has not had an opportunity to discuss strategically and to plan for new buildings, maintenance and redistricting as a package. All of these piecesare interrelated and need to be considered in the context of the impact of various options on decisions about building a new school, closing a school(s), maintenance, etc.
From here on out, I would recommend that board members direct the district administration to work closely with the community and the Long Range Planning Committee prior to releasing a detailed report with recommendations. At a minimum, the Chair of the Long Range Planning
Committee (Ruth Robarts this year) should not be receiving administration recommendations on the fly as they are being released to the public.
Emerson is now off the table for discussion, in part because of Capital Times editorial and public outcry. Also, Ruth Robarts directed the administration to take the option out, because a) there was no support for this option and b) further public discussions would be necessary before revisiting this option.

Cap Times: Don’t Close Emerson

From the editorial page:

The Madison Metropolitan School District administration, which seems to be determined to offend every supporter of public education in the city and surrounding communities, was recently forced to back off from a foolish proposal to close two east side elementary schools and a middle school. But the administration is still recommending that Emerson Elementary School be closed.

Isthmus: Talking out of School: Don Severson’s Letter to the Editor

Don Severson has written a letter to the Isthmus editor regarding Jason Shephard’s 2/10/2005 article: Talking out of School (Shephard looks at the upcoming school board races in this article). Here’s Severson’s letter to the editor:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen complains that critics of the Board aren’t really interested in seeking solutions to complex questions. She states that “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.” The significant issue here is that Ms. Carstensen is unwilling and unable to consider, discuss and evaluate other processes, approaches, criteria and recommendations for alternatives and solutions.

[PDF Version]

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