The following letter was written by a parent of an East High Student to Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board. The writer expresses concerns over the Sherman Middle School proposal to place curriculum band and orchestra classes in afterschool and the layoff Thursday of 8.55 FTE music teachers.
Based upon my review of the 05-06 MMSD budget, financial issues do not support the recent music educator layoffs and the curriculum change proposal at Sherman Middle School. It’s about values – community values for what our children learn in public school and what contributes positively to their achievement as learners.
I am writing to you as School Board President (and neighbor) because I am very disturbed about the impact on music education of several recent decisions affecting students of the MMSD . I write as the mother of an 11th grade student of color at East High for whom music performance education has been crucial. Without the solid, consistent music instruction and opportunities he has received for the last six years, I question where he would be right now.
I fear that music performance is sometimes viewed as an elite activity for already motivated students. For my son, it has been the primary area in which he could excel at school over the years while he struggled with regular academic classes. It was the break in the school day where he felt energized and motivated, part of a large team working toward excellence and specific identifiable goals. Over the years, band classes offered an opportunity to interact with a different group of highly motivated peers, to perform in public concerts that affirmed his sense of achievement, and to participate in challenging music trips. Because of his school day band experience, my son gets himself up and to school every Tuesday morn! ing at 6:30 a.m. to participate in Jazz Band before school starts. His band program is a source of joy, discipline, and motivation, as well as musical growth.
On Thursday, based upon Superintendent Rainwater’s recommendation, the Madison School Board approved 20 FTEs for layoff. These layoffs included 60% of the elementary string staff – the largest percentage of one academic personnel group ever laid off in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District. How come a program that cost less than 1/10 of one percent of the $318 million budget resulted in nearly 50% of the teacher layoffs? Elementary string teacher are less than 3/10 of 1% of the total teacher population. What happeded? No evaluation of the music education curriculum, no planning (not exploring the allowed use of federal dollars for fine arts education for low income children) and some might say vindictiveness from top administrators and some Board members toward string teachers because of the community outcry in support of elementary strings – our community cannot tolerate the latter. Money is not the issue – data do not support money being the issue.
Scott Berkun pens a useful read:
That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more open minded, creative, and courageous, a group is, the wider the pool of ideas they’ll be capable of exploring.
I ran for the School Board, and voted No, No, No on the referenda because of my profound disagreement with how the School Board conducts itself and their lack of leadership and direction, and my strong sense of a deteriorating school system, not all to be blamed on draconian measures by Federal and State politicians.
Marshalling the ideas of other contributors to this site, ideas from the National School Board Association, other sources and my own ideas and goals, I have drafted a rough set of goals that I think the School Board and Madison citizens in general should address. It is meant as a possible starting point for discussions.
The document’s basic purpose is to ensure a high level of student achievement through public accountability, honest and open assessment, transparent setting of priorities, and alignment of the budget with the priorities. It makes an initial attempt to distribute the goals across the BOE’s committees, so they are working toward the same goals.
It is my strong sense that the Board views these committees as somehow dealing with issues that are orthogonal to each other; for example, there were arguments that the Long Range Planning committee must not concern themselves with the decisions of the Finance and Operations committee (which actually wasn’t doing anything, anyway).
I certainly do not believe the current majority on the School Board is willing to make or is capable of making the necessary changes to how it conducts its business to set appropriate priorities and ensure their execution. Certainly comments made by supporters of the referenda after they were voted down indicated that they don’t get it.
In any case, I would like comments and suggestions, agreement, disagreement on this document. Better ideas are welcome.
Tuesday’s Madison Schools Referenda results continues to generate comments:
Then and now…
The case of the changing summers
A comparison of father’s, son’s vacations
By PETE KENNEDY
May 26, 2005
We all know times have changed. But a look at my son’s summer versus the
same period when I was a kid shows how much.
Here are a few examples of how James, 14, will spend the next few months,
compared with how I spent the summers when I was his age (and maybe a few
Son: Be at basketball at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
Me: Get up when I wake up, or a neighbor comes over and rouses me out of
bed, or my mother starts vacuuming.
Son: Play in soccer and basketball leagues in the evenings.
Reader Thomas J. Mertz emails:
I agree with Ruth Robarts that the Board should explore all options before laying off classroom personel and that revisting the ongoing MTI negotiations is the place to start.
I think that this issue is also linked to a key to the failure of two of the referenda — the transparency of the process. Wages and benefits are by far the largest budget item, yet the negotiations with MTI are shrouded in mystery. I’ve looked through the newspapers, the MTI site and the MSMD site and can find very little information about the current negotiations. Perhaps this is a legal question and negotiations must be secret (does anyone know?). But if they can be public and publicized, they should be.
If, as many believe, the administration and the Board need to be tougher with MTI, then public scrutiny woulkd make this more likely. If the administration and the Board are already sufficiently tough with MTI (as many others believe), then public scrutiny would undermine the position of those who question the contracts.
I see many potential benefits and little if any harm coming from shining a light on the negotiations.
Thomas J. Mertz
Here’s a brief roundup of post Referenda voter comments:
Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.
He said MTI’s policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.
The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year’s salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers’ salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.
“The young teachers are really hurting,” Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.
On May 24th, the Madison School Board participated in the democratic process by involving local citizens in its budgetary process by putting forth a referendum. Regardless of how you voted, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the issues, weigh in on the debate and cast your ballot the way you saw fit.
I am not surprised at the outcome of the referenda votes. While I voted, Yes, Yes, Yes, and encouraged others to do the same, I can understand why someone voted No, No, No or any other combination. I am sympathetic to community concerns regarding higher property taxes and the uneasiness that leaves in the community’s sense of economic security. While I am disappointed in the outcome of the referenda for the district’s operating budget and building a new school at Leopold elementary, I do believe that these defeats allow for exploring creative opportunities to capitalize on in the future.
Picked up the following flyer in our PTO box this morning……
“ATTENTION ALL PARENTS OF MIDDLE SCHOOL BAND & ORCHESTRA:
Sherman Middle School Administration has taken upon themselves to move the Orchestra and Band Programs to an “exploratory” optional class that will be offered after the school day effective next school year. MMSD is looking at this as a pilot program at Sherman with idea of implementing these changes at all middle schools in Madison.
Please help us fight this change. Our students have rights to attend these classes during the school day.
You can help by writing to the school board and MMSD administration to voice your concerns before this becomes the norm in the Madison School District.
For more information you can contact Sheryl Trumbower at 243-1005 or 279-2117.”
East High Band Parents Organization
What does it cost to adequately fund K-12 education in Wisconsin? A nationally recognized expert in school finance at UW-Madison is leading an effort to address this critical question.
The Rockefeller Foundation of New York has awarded Allan R. Odden, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, $500,000 over two years to determine the costs of educational adequacy in Wisconsin.
Read more at UW news.
Anupreeta Das and Amanda Paulson:
Somit Basak’s tutoring style is hardly unusual. The engineering graduate spices up lessons with games, offers rewards for excellent performance, and tries to keep his students’ interest by linking the math formulas they struggle with to real-life examples they can relate to.
Unlike most tutors, however, Mr. Basak lives thousands of miles away from his students — he is a New Delhi resident who goes to work at 6 a.m. so that he can chat with American students doing their homework around dinnertime.
Via Joanne Jacobs
Yesterday’s Madison School’s Referenda generated quite a bit of local coverage. Check out these links:
Joan Knoebel offered her thoughts on how to win support for the operating referendum, and I whole-heartedly second them.
On the Leopold referendum, I’d ask the board and supporters to do two things:
1) Lay out three or four alternative locations and configurations for a new Westside school, draw possible boundaries, develop cost projections, and then debate which alterantive seems to be the most likely to achieve academic excellence on the West side.
2) Invite organizations or individuals to propose a charter school on the Westside. Several people suggested a charter or magnet school, so let’s see whether one might emerge as the best option for providing excellent education in the area.
Current overcrowding is not an issue at Leopold. Leopold is overcrowded, but I’ll vote no again on a second school at Leopold if its supporters rotely drone, “This is the only option. This is the only option. This is the only option.”
Frankly, I was surprised by the referenda outcome. This was an election designed to win–a special date, a phalanx of support from community politcoes and newspapers, mulitple pieces of professionally designed mail-drop literature– all favored an across-the-board yes vote.
I’d like to suggest that for some, and perhaps what amounted to the critical portion of the voting electorate, their vote was a message to the majority of the board. The message: we want a transparent budget process, we want the assumptions laid bare and we want all components of the budget on the table, including administrative staff positions and salaries as well as district health care costs. The board needs to mend its fences with the community. Stop the “Do as we say or the kids will suffer” approach.
I voted no because I believe there is still time to do this better. Thus I saw my vote as one for our children. And if I’m convinced, next fall I’ll be one of the loudest advocates in support of the revised referenda.
The headline is that MMSD students generally scored lower than last year on the state standardized tests at the same time as state performance either held steady or showed slight improvement. The data on individual Madison schools are available here
The County Clerk web site has referendum results, by ward, for people who are interested:
In the aftermath of the votes on the May 24th Madison School referenda, it is critical that the Madison School Board not rush to vote on layoffs of teachers and other staff. Currently, the Board is scheduled to vote on layoffs at noon on Thursday, May 26. This deadline for layoff votes is self-imposed by the district and Madison Teachers Inc (MTI). State law sets a later deadline. The district and the union could change the May 26 date by mutual agreement. In 2003 the vote on layoffs following a referendum for the operating budget was scheduled for June 4.
Jennifer Alexander sent an email to local chamber members urging them to be informed and vote.
If I have to hear or read another article about how I don’t CARE about Madison Schools or the kids because I think and analyze before I vote, I will scream. I voted today, thanks for the applause, and I voted No, Yes, Yes. So I guess I CARE 2/3 of the time right?
I CARE about the whole district and after careful analysis of the situation I am convinced the district needs another school, just not on the Leopold site. I feel a school located in a more general location that could accommodate students from the (higher income) west growth, (higher income)Leopold growth and perhaps be a home school for Allied Drive would be a more logical location for the whole district. Also I am concerned about the Ridgewood Apartments and the size of the proposed school if the numbers change due to that large complex.
The MMSD School Board Partnership Committee has two openings for citizens members. Letters of interest, mailed to the School Board President, Carol Carstensen, are being sought. The deadline for applying is Friday, May 27, 2005.
The MMSD Partnership Committee, which will be chaired by Lawrie Kobza in the 2005-2006 school year, focuses on community partnerships and MSCR. The other two board members on the committee are Ruth Robarts and Johnny Winston, Jr. Information on application for appointment follows:
I took a quick tour around the websites of Madison’s traditional media. These sites have a bit more than the usual coverage:
I’ve posted a set of links to those who support and oppose the Referenda questions here.
Students once saw computer-science classes as their ticket to wealth. Now, as more technology jobs are outsourced to other countries, such classes are seen as a path to unemployment.
New data show students’ interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.
Professors say the creation in the last five years of new degrees in information technology or information systems may also be offering more-attractive alternatives to computer science. Computer science focuses on how networks are engineered — the theoretical aspects of computing — and on writing software, while information technology focuses on applied work, such as building Web sites, adapting systems to a business’s needs, and maintaining networks.
George Mason University started an information-technology program in the fall of 2002, and this year has 726 students in the program. The number keeps growing each year, with students particularly interested in computer-security courses, says Anne Marchant, an information-technology instructor at the university. Only 550 George Mason students are computer-science majors. A few years ago the department had about 800 students who majored in the field.
Ms. Marchant blames the shift partly on what she sees as students’ deteriorating mathematics aptitude.
“Information technology is the right home for an awful lot of students who do not have the math skills and do not really have the interest in becoming programmers,” she says.
Jesse J. Rangel, a senior at California State University at Bakersfield who is a computer-science major, says some of his classmates avoid computer science because it involves advanced mathematics and physics. “The sad fact is that many students are not up for the challenge,” he says.
See the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Capital Times has posted consolidated links to its referendum coverage, editorials, and forum responses to editorials on the May 24 questions. The URL is:
The school district comments line (email@example.com) for school board members has been getting several messages regarding the “Freshman No Cut Sports Program.” Regardless of what happens with the operating referendum on May 24th, this particular program will cease to exist. The Freshman No Cut Sports program has been a staple in the school district for over 20 years. This program is indeed another causality of the state imposed revenue caps. Unfortunately because of the school district’s severe budget constraints, I find it very difficult to justify the programs continuance in its current form.
Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes Thursday night’s Madison Schools Referenda Forum:
Northside Planning Council’s moderator, Vernon Blackwell, asked if further cuts were required, should the district commit to keeping small class sizes at schools with the greatest need even if it meant raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels.
Robarts and Kobza said yes, as did board member Carol Carstensen, but she started to say “Of course I’ll do it –” before Blackwell said: “That’s a yes.”
Brant, Keys, board member Johnny Winston Jr. and Madison Cares leader Arlene Silveira said no. Rainwater said it wasn’t his decision and stuck to that as Blackwell told him that “You can’t abstain.”
During the audience comments, Dorothy Borchardt said that she was dismayed that Rainwater wouldn’t answer the question and said that it was no defense to say it was up to the board to decide. “The School Board is your rubber stamp,” she said.
Apart from the referendums, the district’s leaders were also challenged on why a $2 million federal reading program grant was declined and how they would handle class sizes if resources continued to dwindle.
Rainwater said that taking the money would have meant eventually teaching an unproven curriculum to all students at all schools and would have meant losing a program the administration believes is working.
But before he said that, Carstensen tried to explain it in the context of breakfast cereal.
“Let’s say you’re on a tight budget and someone is willing to give you $50 per month for food,” Carstensen said. “But it can only be spent on Fruit Loops. Would you take it.”
Several people in the back whispered: “Of course!”
“You’re tax dollars are paying for printers to work overtime this weekend. 89,000 ballots for Madison school’s May 24th referendum contain wrong information, and it has created quite a mess. . . .”
Story continues on the Web site of Channel 15.
I am tired of legislators who look at the amount of money spent to educate a child today compared to prior years and then say: “Look at how much more we are spending to educate our children today. We have fewer children. We have more teachers. It’s a whole lot of money.”
Yes, public education costs a considerable amount of money. Yet, I never hear the legislature take up in a meaningful manner: “What do we need to educate our child in terms of standards, in terms of curriculum to have high school graduates who are well-educated and can compete in the modern workplace? What is this cost? What is the cost to society of not making this investment – in terms of number of crimes committed and prison costs, in terms of the attractiveness to businesses of our schools?”
There was the Governor’s task force on education, and the issue of the cost to educate a child was raised, but the discussion did not go very far. Until you know how what is needed and what that costs, comparing current dollars spent on education to dollars spent before provides little information and no guidance for next steps, processes to follow, etc.
Representative Frank Lassee’s May 19 weekly column focuses on school funding in Madison.
For Public Schools: $9.6 Billion:
Madison schools spend above average, nearly $13,000 per kid
To read the column, go to:
The 5/20/05 Isthmus editorial entitled “Teachable Moments” discusses their coverage of school issues, including this week’s review of the referenda.
The editor then goes on to say, “Those who wish to wade deeper into the issues are directed to www.zmetro.com/election/, an excellent cache of information on the district and the referendum questions. It is the work of Jim Zellmer, proprietor of zmetro.com who has received national notice for the site.”
Thank you Jim for being the catalyst for getting School Information Systems up and running, for providing the community a forum for the open exchange of information and opinions on education issues.
And in a similar fashion, I am grateful for Isthmus, especially for its in-depth reporting on school topics. This week’s letters to the editor on the Linda Falkenstein’s TAG article were especially thoughtful and well-written.
Click to view a larger aerial image
Crestwood elementary school has sat on top of a hill (aerial photo) for over 100 years. It’s geography is cartoonish as it is on the top of a hill while the playground, or as the students call it, the “battlefield” lays far below a slopping grassy hill and the street in front of the school drops below quickly to Old Middleton Road. During our Wisconsin winters with ice and snow the students rarely enjoy the playground or the “battlefield” as it is too slippery to return to class and muddy when not slippery. Therefore, the students spend most of the year playing on a tar surface blacktop that doubles as a parking lot for large events. CAPT, Crestwood Ass. Parents And Teachers, has had an ongoing discussion with the district for 10 years to resurface the blacktop, which is cracked and falling apart, and add a playset for the winter months but have been discouraged by the $50,000 to $60,000 estimate quoted to solve this problem.
In previous blogs I left the impression that Johnny was pro sports and dropping the ball on fine arts academic curriculum because there was a sports committee last year and not a fine arts committee.
The admin made that decision, not the school board. My apologies to Mr. Winston for assuming as Chair of the Partnership Committee that he had been involved in this decision.
I still believe we need a fine arts committee that includes parents, teachers, fine arts organizations, uw staff, etc., to discuss long-term issues facing MMSD’s fine arts academic curriculum. I hope School Board members urge the administration to get this rolling rather than wait until next spring when it’s too late.
In order to clarify what I said to the reporter in the May 18 story entitled Mayor Urges Yes Vote for Schools, I sent the following letter to the CapTimes:
I was quoted as saying the “world wouldn’t come to a screeching halt” if the referenda did not pass. Actually, what I said was there was plenty of time for the school board to prepare new referenda questions for a November election, when we would otherwise be voting. Thus, for those of us concerned that these items are not based on solid data, a ‘no’ vote now would not bring the district to its knees.
Why the rush, then? Because the outcome might change. For instance, by next fall, we might learn that the demographics in the district and Leopold neighborhood argue against a school there, perhaps that building there would mean certain school closures in the Isthmus area. Those following school issues know that another far West side elementary school is surely going to get built in addition to whatever happens at Leopold. Something’s got to give.
And as to the operating and maintenance questions, we need a closer look at the teachers’ contract and also the “untouchable” administrative staff arrangements. Actually, we need an overall transparent budget process. If the numbers are solid, let’s see the justifications and assumptions. I am happy to support these requests when I can trust the numbers. Right now, I don’t.
Joan M. Knoebel
I oppose the Leopold School referendum.
I oppose it not because I’m a Republican (I’m not), not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not, though the Mayor would have you believe that that would constitute an oxymoron — a sad commentary on what it means to be a Democrat, seems to me), but because opposing the Leopold referendum is the responsible decision.
(My political leaning, if you must know: A left wing conservative! “Always do the right thing, leaving as much money as you can to do more right things.”).
The Leopold referendum wastes $10M over 15 years.
The only real motivation for this blindness was “we promised the Leopold parents back in 2002”, and great lobbying by the Leopold crowd — to the potential detriment of other schools and kids in the district. Placing this promise in perspective, in 2002, when the promise was first made, the estimate for a new school at Leopold was $7M. In 2004, the initial estimate became $11M; the referendum now calls for $14.5M — a 200% increase from 2002. Quite a jump!
The most responsible decision the Board could have made was to construct another addition to the Leopold school, borrowing up to $10M from the State Trust Fund (no referendum is required), as we did for the 2003 addition to Leopold. And we wouldn’t have to pay for a new principal at this new school, at $100,000+ per year, because their wouldn’t be a new school! Another savings. (Or maybe build the $7M school, originally promised?).
Our savings of $10M over the referendum is the difference between the 15-year cost of the referendum and the anticipated principle and interest payments back to the State on the $10M loan. Our 15-year cost is $23M, not the $14.5M, which is the money we get to keep. The $23M is this $14.5M plus the 60% increase Madison taxpayers are required to pay under the State’s Equalization Forumla — we’re paying welfare to other school districts!
What could we do with the $10M not spent on the Leopold site? Make additions to southwest schools to accommodate expected growth (also limits growth at Leopold), and additions to schools on the east side: both will be needed anyway.
And this would have been the prudent thing to do, given the flux in the Ridgewood apartments area, which calls into question the growth estimates for Leopold.
The School Board failed to follow their own policy and consider an addition to Leopold as an alternative, instead jumping full speed ahead, without deliberation, to building a new school. In fact, the Long Range Planning citizen committee, that was charged with the initial deliberations, spent the majority of their time at meetings, practising their Leopold referendum campaign speeches, instead of deliberating over the substance. Their lack of even reasonable due diligence in the execution of their responsibilties leaves the voters to make emotional instead of logical and factual decisions.
Send the referendum back to them. Demand that do their job. When they’ve done their due diligence, then we can talk.
Sandy Cullen talks with a number of local players, including Art Rainwater, Roger Price along with both supporters and opponents of the 5/24 Referenda vote.
Cullen also mentions the very high taxpayer cost for these initiatives, due to the State’s equalization formula. For each $1.00 in new spending, the District must tax Madison homeowners $1.60! Essentially, as local spending exceeds state averages, the State reduces aid.
I find the support that Madison has shown for local education remarkable. Consider:
- Madison spends an average of $13K per student, 25% more than the state average.
- The District’s annual budget has increased from roughly $193M 10 years ago to $319M this year while enrollment has remained flat (Demographics have changed, of course)
- Madison has many active volunteers who devote their time to local education efforts.
This support is positive and rather unique. The debate, in my view, is when we collectively reach the (tipping) point where piling more and more on the property taxpayer effectively erodes this essential support. I also think the District could significantly improve the transparency of the budget process (one simple example: the implications on student programs and teacher staffing of contract decisions made months before the “annual spring cut/spending reduction list” discussions).
I think the Madison Education Community should create an initiative to change the way we fund local education. I don’t believe a top down approach to school financing change will work. It may get passed at some point, but I doubt we’ll like the outcome.
The Madison City Clerk’s office has posted Pre-Special Election Campaign Finance Information for the 5/24/2005 Referenda:
- Get Real PAC: $2,636.00 Raised < PDF>
- Madison Cares: 33,483.31 < PDF>; $15,580.31 Raised before the filing deadline + Late Contributions of $500 from Carstensen for School Board, $1,000 from Wisconsin Teachers Solidarity Fund, 1,500 from the Carpenters & Joiners Local no 314 $9,903 from Madison Teachers Inc < PDF> and $5,000 from WEAC
- Mad City Grumps $4,675 Raised < PDF>
- Vote No For Change: $1,500 Raised < PDF>
Lee Sensenbrenner follows the money.
Local Parent/Activist and Madison CARES supporter Arlene Silveira argues for a yes vote on all three questions.
Learn more about the referenda here.
UPDATE: Sandy Cullen has more on Referenda spending.
Joan Knoebel comments on the Mayor’s campaign email list being used for a pro referenda message. Mayor Dave’s permanent campaign site is here. Email your pro or con comments: mayor at cityofmadison dot com
Lee Sensenbrenner picks up much detail (great work!):
Later in the night, when the board was going back and forth over whether it might keep kindergarten art, music and computer class sizes from doubling next year – a move that would have saved around $270,000 – Robarts said she was struggling to understand how that discussion was taking place when the district next year will pay $21 million for health insurance.
“Excuse me, that’s not germane,” board member Bill Keys said. Earlier Monday, the board had been meeting in closed session about the teachers’ contract currently under negotiation. No financial terms have been disclosed.
“OK, that’s it. I’ll shut up,” Robarts said. “It just seems very backward.”
Beth Zurbuchen isn’t the only pro-referenda advocate who cannot understand referenda opponents who support quality schools but will vote no to force the board and administration to consider better budgeting, management, and curriculum.
Bill Keys said, quoting a Cap Times article:
To school board member Bill Keys, “the people who have doubts about the referendum seem to belong to two camps.”
One, he said, is composed of those who oppose additional school funding whenever the opportunity comes along. . . .
“These people are always against education,” he contended. “That’s their history, that’s their life. They’ve made a career of being against education.”
In the other camp are those, he said, who just don’t want to engage in the complexities of the problem and study the real constraints that exist in school finance.
On May 24th, citizens in the Madison school district will vote on three referenda questions affecting whether to build an addition to Leopold School, exceed revenue caps, and renew the maintenance referendum.
For many people the answers are an easy yes or no vote. Others, like me, have wrestled with their choice for each question.
Why is the choice so difficult? It should be easy, right? Strong public education is a good thing. We want to support teachers and students in the district. We know that overcrowded schools all too often undermine education.
I can’t speak for others, but I know that I have several barriers to an automatic yes vote. The issues are different for Leopold than for the operating and maintenance questions. For me, the issues come down to what I do – and do not – know about what the questions mean. I feel that my duty as a representative of the community is to make informed decisions on behalf of our children and not to commit to proposals that lack sound justifications.
Referendum is a word that rolls off the tongue like a fiery expletive after you get your property tax bill in the mail every year. Why such lewd language? Probably because a referendum seems more common than a cold day in January and the Madison School Board is now asking you to approve not one, not two, but three referenda totaling over $48 million dollars. This includes a $7.4 million revenue cap raise, $26.2 million over five years for building maintenance, computer technology, and instructional materials, and $14.5 million for the Leopold Elementary School facelift.
You may be asking yourself, “Should I really vote ‘yes’ and just bite my lip as I tack on another $108 to my property tax bill?” You may be saying, “I strongly support funding for our wonderful public education system, but are they making all the cuts they can to clean up the budget?” Don’t tell Madison CARES Spokeswoman Beth Zurbuchen that you’re considering voting ‘no’ or you’ll be drug out in the mud and figuratively shot like a feral cat in the north woods of Wisconsin (oops, touchy subject, sorry).
Zurbuchen’s quote can be found here.
Ed Hughes wrote this letter to the Isthmus Editor (5/12/2005 edition) 210K PDF. Jeff Henriques also comments about the Isthmus’ recent Madison Schools coverage (5/12/2005 edition) 210K PDF.
In Thursday’s Capital Times article titled “Strings program is still not safe” by Lee Sensenbrenner, the Superintendent said, “It doesn’t matter what Johnny thinks!” Mr. Winston responded strongly. “I would like to see the strings program continued somehow, some way,” Winston added. “I think the community wants that. I think that’s loud and clear.”
Mr. Rainwater, it does matter to me what Johnny thinks. I, and I’m sure others, care about what the School Board is directing the superintendent to do, and we care deeply that the Superintendent is following through on directions from the majority of the School Board. Coming back one day later, declaring the charge is impossible, is puzzling following a presentation by the administration the night before of options.
This article, by Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen, appeared in Isthmus‘ May 12, 2005 edition:
Over the last two years, Isthmus’ articles on the Madison school district, especially its approach to teaching reading, have reminded me of a favorite quote from Adlai Stevenson: “These are the conclusions upon which I base my facts.”
The Madison school district has gotten a great deal of negative coverage from Isthmus, despite the fact that the district has seen continued improvement in the numbers and percent of children achieving at the two highest levels on the state’s third-grade reading test.
The May 2, 2005 Madison School Board meeting included a statement & discussion from a parent whose child was denied open enrollment in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. 9MB Video. More on open enrollment: Clusty | Google
Lee Sensenbrenner provides a useful look at the different approaches to Madison School District spending taken by Board members Bill Keys & Ruth Robarts.
From the Huffington Post: Mike Piscal, founder of the very successful View Park Prep charter school in the low-income, minority Crenshaw District of LA names names in analyzing why 3,950 ninth graders at South LA’s four major high schools turn into 1,600 graduates, 900 college freshmen and 258 college graduates. More here.
This is related: Shanghai Jiaotong University won the recent ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. The US hasn’t won since 1997. The University of Illinois finished 17th, CalTech,Duke and MIT finished 29th while UW-Madison earned an honorable mention.
The National School Boards Association has written a Key Work of School Boards guidebook, detailing 8 key areas describing what School Boards should be doing, how they should be doing it, with action items, etc.
This is a wonderful site! Their ideas and the details well frames the issues and points in directions which many have been espousing for some time.
From the Forward to Key Works of School Boards:
“In an effort to help local school boards best fulfill their role, the National School Boards Association has created the Key Work of School Boards, a framework for raising student achievement through community engagement…. The framework is based on the premise that excellence in the classroom begins with excellence in the boardroom…. The guidebook provides a framework of eight “key” action areas that successful boards have focused their attention on: vision, standards, assessment, accountability, resource alignment, climate, collaboration, and continuous improvement.”
Their presentation gives an overview.
Don, thank you for pulling together the historical data. When I reviewed the historical financial analysis a couple of thoughts came to mind:
Of the District administration’s current budget, $40 million for special education and ESL currently comes from the operating budget. If the district received half of the amount of money to cover this unfunded mandate, revenues in 2002 – revenues would have been $318 million that year – the same amount as the 2005-2006 balanced budget.
In a Cap Times story on Thursday, May 12, the superintendent seems to be trying to:
1. Control the news by telling the paper how to report on board action.
2. Tell Johnny Winston, Jr. that what Johnny thinks is irrelevant to the superintendent.
3. Put the board in its place by telling it that he will cut strings if the referendum fails, no matter what resolution the board passes.
Fortunately, Johnny seems to be speaking up.
When I listened to the Board discussion on Monday, one Board member said that if you don’t get it and vote for the referendum, Varsity sports will be on the chopping block to go next year. I cringed. I’ve been a fine arts education advocate, but I also lettered in three varsity sports in high school and know/experienced the importance of athletics. We need to vote yes in the referendum, but we also need to change the way we do our education business during the year.
The heated discussion between fine arts and sports is not helpful nor is it valid. This district seems to have a hard to financing both as part of the districts curriculum. For parents like myself that have children that love the arts AND athletics I do not favor eliminating one or the other.
My 4th grade daughter has art, music, and strings twice a week each. She also has P.E. three times a week. At the elementary level they reduced the amount of recess the students have which is an issue for my very busy 1st grade son. The current budget proposal is asking for elementary P.E. as well as music and art to increase the number of students in each class which will eliminate positions for all.
Madison is one of the only large school districts I know of that does not have school sponsored sports at the Jr. High Level. And the current proposal would move many of the 9-12 athletics to MSCR and not under the school districts budget. Perhaps the reason parents of athletics are not at the board meetings is because the options are to restructure the system so it will survive, whereas for elementary strings they are proposing elimination. That is why I am excited to see some discussions about other options for strings if the referendum fails.
I’ve posted a page with information, links and polling information (Fitchburg, Madison, Maple Bluff, Shorewood and the Town of Madison) regarding the May 24, 2005 Madison Schools Referenda. Please forward any additional links or notes to me: zellmer at mailbag dot com. Vote!
The report entitled What We Know About Spreadsheets by Professor Panko of the University of Hawaii analyzing the literature on accuracy of financial spreadsheets shows a truly appalling result — significant errors, and furthermore, reliance on the accuracy, and denial of problems.
As I look at the spreadsheets for the budget and list of maintenance projects justifying the referenda, I’m overwhelmed by their complexity and my inability to feel comfortable with their calculations.
I’m no expert at using spreadsheets, relying instead on real databases and batch processing to handle such complex tasks. I have no doubt that MMSD Business Services folks are quite good at spreadsheet use, but spreadsheets are incapable of being maintained even if accurately created in the first place.
And spreadsheets are simply incapable to allowing the timely generation of multiple budget scenarios. The delay in pulling together the budget for this year (from multiple sources), a typically manually intensive process when using spreadsheets for financial and budgeting analysis, shows their inadequacy.
To make the budgeting and financial aspects of MMSD transparent, and analyzable by the public, and capable of generating multiple budget scenarios requires a drastically improved system. And my demands that contracts and decisions affecting the budget (such as cuts proposals) be handled only within the confines of a published set of budget scenarios, make the need to move away from spreadsheet use imperative.
(The Capital Times, Strings to play on in city’s schools by Lee Sensenbrenner) reported that I “…admitted to calling Winston “a jock,” but said she meant the board was favoring athletics while it dealt with budget cuts..” Not exactly with the name-calling, but I have been critical of the District Administration’s handling of cuts to fine arts, and the School Board’s implicit support of this approach until hundreds of students, teachers, parents and other Madison residents rally, write letters and emails, or lobby board members. I believe the board needs to be working on any changes to an academic curriculum over the year and needs to engage teachers, parents and other professionals in the process. That has simply not been done with the fine arts, an academic curriculum, and I still believe the proposed cuts to the fine arts curriculum, especially in elementary school, are burdensome – 41% of the proposed elementary school budget cut is from elementary music education (general and strings classes) yet elementary music education makes up less than 3% of the elementary school budget. A 3% cut to elementary music education would have been $49,000 – reduction of 1 FTE rather than nearly 13 FTEs. We need to share the burden of cuts – I don’t get cutting a high-demand (1,866), highly valued curriculum program 100% that just put in place a fee this year.
Active Citizens for Education has published several informational papers for the May 24, 2005 Madison Schools Referenda:
|Click to view the charts in further detail
After an eight year absence from analyzing data from the Madison School District, C.A.R.E., Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, has returned to the local scene with updates to the data profiles which it prepared through 1997. Current reports include a Ten Year Profile, 1994 through 2004, of MMSD’s school enrollment, full time equivalency (fte) staffing history, student to staff ratios, annual operating budgets, annual pupil costs compared to the state average, and tax levies in excess of spending caps. The second report is a profile of the same items but in snapshot form in ten year increments since 1980. (300K PDF)
WIBA’s Vicki McKenna interviewed Madison School’s Board of Education member Lawrie Kobza today. MP3 Audio (17.4MB) – about 40 minutes into the segment.
I would like to be perfectly clear. I want a Madison Metropolitan School District strings program in elementary schools. I have been very clear about this since my first televised board meeting last year, where I exclaimed, “I want a strings program in the budget!” However, with unfunded mandates, revenue caps, additional academic testing requirements and possible annual referendums, it is very hard to continue to make that exclamation.
Tonight (May 10, 2005) the Board of Education will discuss proposed amendments to the budget. This discussion will include a discussion of the 4th & 5th grade strings programs.
I support offering students the opportunity to take strings in 4th and 5th grade. Currently, 4th and 5th grade students who elect to take strings have two different music classes each week: general music, and strings. General music has two 30 minute classes per week, and strings meets twice a week for 45 minutes each. The strings classes are pull-out classes, which means that the students taking strings are missing another class during the time that they are out for strings.
The MMSD Web site includes a map that shows a “future MMSD boundary” around Crestwood, Huegel, and Chavez.
The map raises many questions. Why would the MMSD want to expand its boundaries? When might the expansion occur? What are the figures on population growth in the areas to be included? Will the expansion require a referendum to build another school?
Can anyone provide any insight into the MMSD plans?
Newsweek ranks the top US High Schools. Madison Memorial is ranked #587. Here’s the criteria.
WIBA’s Vicki McKenna interviewed Sarah Kidd & Nancy Mistele today. Kidd relates quite a bit of data from the 1990’s, including district size and administrative staff changes. 17MB MP3 audio file (48 minutes).
Kidd & Mistele also discussed 1990’s Crestwood & Emerson expansions.
Mike Johnson takes a look at a Medicaid reimbursement program that pumps about 700K into the Madison Schools annually. The article provides a useful look at the strange way (and the costs) in which the money finds its way to local districts.
“The reason Madison started in the Medicaid reimbursement program could be summed up in two words: revenue limits,” said Joe Quick, the legislative liaison/communication specialist for the district. “Despite the somewhat cumbersome paperwork and a reimbursement formula where the state skims money off the top, the school district’s efforts are financially worth the work.”
The proposed 05-06 budget distributed on May 3, 2005 projects 70 less FTE for the next year. Once again, the comparison raises questions:
- General Administration: 5 FTE increase
- Elementary Education: no change in FTEs (so why such a big hit to elementary specials? – still not explained and continues to appear punitive in light of no planning over the past year – especially punitive to elementary music education, embarassing)
- Secondary Education: 28 FTE cut
- Business Services: 30FTE cut in non-food services? – but is the work model changing, because their budget numbers did not go down that much and in fact dollars increased for next year?
Questions, questions and more questions that could be addressed in a straightforward manner with a presentation to the School Board. What is this board waiting for?
Download file comparing staffing for 04-05 to budgeted for 05-06 Source for comparison is MMSD data – staffing history prepared by MMSD last fall and the current budget document released on May 3, 2005.
MMSD says that you cannot compare the numbers for the 04-05 budget with the proposed 05-06 balanced budget because they were not developed at the same time and do not include all the grant money. Confused? Of course – any reasonable person would expect that the information presented side by side could be compared.
When comparing budgets from year to year, you need to be sure that you have budgets that were developed at the same time of year, or at least contain similar information. I’ve done the entry, which you can download and look at for your self. Here’s a summary of key changes:
The MMSD board and the public need and deserve a presentation of the proposed budget for 05-06 including a comparison with the previous year. That’s basic budget 101.
What was distributed publicly by the MMSD Administration were financial summaries without any text that would explain:
- specific measurable goals for next year – by district by department
- changes in spending by department
- what grants are outstanding – how much and what departments would be affected by grants, are the administrative, teacher and other staff that are paid through grants included in this budget
- what changes are anticipated in programming and staffing? For example there is not change in FTEs for elementary educ, but the Supt in proposing to eliminate 30% of the music education budget
The written material that supports the financial statements will be available later this week –
The public needs to ask Board members to ask for a presentation of the budget with comparisons to last year made so that the Board and the public can understand what is being proposed.
I’ve made comparisons of the FTEs and the budgets – I have the budget for 04-05 that was produced last May that can be compared to the May budget just released for 05-06, which I will be posting.
I don’t understand the only MMSD document posted on the district’s Web site for next year’s budget. Maybe someone can help me.
Jon Carroll on “Our Mothers, Ourselves“:
She learned to scuba dive. She was active in the League of Women Voters. When I was 28, she and my stepfather moved to Ethiopia. She worked for the World Health Organization, preparing educational materials that said, in essence, “Please do not defecate in the river.”
Madison Cares, a group formed to support the May 24, 2005 Madison School Referendums has published an updated introductory letter that includes a list of supporters (32K PDF).
7MB MP3 audio file from their WTDY appearance. (last 20 minutes only – sorry). Bill Keys is a former teacher and current member of the Madison Board of Education. Thuy Pham-Remmele is a retired Madison schools teacher.
Jim Koloen (appeared in the Capital Times):
Dear Editor: It is perplexing that the Madison School Board can approve a labor contract without actually having read it except through a summary provided by the administration. Why bother with a board at all if it simply behaves as though the administration and the board are one and the same? The words “rubber stamp” come to mind.
Evidently another contract ( five year transportation) was approved on May 2 – without presentation of the full financial details. (9 minute video clip of the discussion – the award was approved 4 – 2 with Kobza & Robarts voting against it due to lack of information. Check out the video). Generally, I think a five year deal is not a bad idea, IF all of the costs & benefits are known.
Committee chairs build a record for the public –
- a) by the agendas they set for the year,
- b) by how those agendas relate to the key issues facing the board
- c) by the thoroughness of the topics addressed in those meetings and
- d) by the recommendations developed and decisions made
. We will be able to tell from the public record those board members who
- 1) use meeting times well by the issues they address,
- 2) are reaching out/engaging the public in meaningful ways,
- 3) are listening and assessing different viewpoints,
- 4) are seeking creative and innovative directions for the school district in these difficult, challenging financial times for our children’s education, etc.
Based upon the record, we will have information that we can use to evaluate a board members’ record as a committee chair during the next election cycle.
I have every confidence that Ruth Robarts will make the best of this situation. I believe it’s important, however, to also call out Carol Carstensen, like her predecessor Bill Keys, on their partisan, petty nonsense.
Making inappropriate committeee assignments is just one manifestation of a larger problem, the marginalization of those who do not march in lockstep with the administration as well as the teachers’ union and their handpicked board members. The public needs to hold board members accountable every day, not just on election day.
I fail to see the cup half empty on the BOE selection of Ms. Roberts to the Legislative Committee, Ms. Kobza to the Partnership Committee, and Mr. Winston to the Financial and Operations Committee. What an opportunity to shake up the way we keep the “status quo” every year in this community. I agree with Ms. Carstensen that a committee is what you make of it. This is an opportunity to make Madison go in a new direction away from depending on the union and administration to make decisions for our kids education. Consider the current law suites against NCLB, the opportunity to fund strings and athletics in a new way, a revised budget reviewing process by the BOE. Maybe these committees are currently weak, but they could be strong. These three board members tend to be thoughtful of the communities concerns and could lead the district into a new direction with innovative leadership. Let’s encourage them to be progressive and lead, not follow in their decision making and planning to educate Madison kids.
Since the comments section is mostly closed, (thanks Viagra peddlers), I want to post a letter I sent to the board on this subject. I urge others to do the same. Ms. Carstensen must think she has some kind of mandate. It might help if she got some feedback.
Dear Ms Carstensen,
I read with dismay your transparent attempt to marginalize Ruth Robarts with an assignment to a committee of little import. From the community’s standpoint, you are wasting Ms Robarts’ talents; but of course that must mean little to you, determined as you and some of your fellow board members are to squash new ideas and independent thought.
Let me remind you what you seem to have forgotten: this is about the education of our children, not some petty political agenda. If you had any capacity for it, I’d say shame on you.
Lee Sensenbrenner disects Carol Carstensen’s committee assignments, including the “exiling” of Ruth Robarts to the Legislative Committee.
A message to school board members from Superintendent Art Rainwater:
I am pleased to inform you that I will recommend Allan Harris, currently the Principal of Blackhawk Middle School, to be the Principal of East High School for the 2005-06 school year.
Allan has a strong background in school administration at all levels. His career prior to joining the MMSD was in Clovis Calif. Allan served in numerous administrative roles in that District including Middle School Principal and Deputy Principal of a 3,000 student diverse high school.
Allan’s familiarity with the East community and his commitment to it’s success will make him an outstanding leader for the school.
I mentioned to a few friends recently that I think the Madison School’s “same service” budgeting approach (year after year) needs to be replaced by a new, largely curriculum based process that recognizes globalization, changing demographics and the fact that we should not simply compare our performance and curricula with those of Racine, Green Bay or Ann Arbor. Rather the comparison should be with Helsinki, Bangalore, Shanghai, London, Nagoya and (insert your city here).
Parents have a growing number of choices these days (some don’t realize that they have them – yet). Homeschooling appears to be the elephant in the room along with the slow rise of virtual schools.
Julie Leung sent a timely bolt of lightning to the blogosphere with her essay on education, including a discussion of her reasons for homeschooling:
Our desire to preserve our childrens’ organic curiosity plays a large part in our desire to homeschool. Too often the school system crushes curiousity out of a kid. Kids have a natural desire to learn.
Read Doc’s post for more background & links along with Gatto
I’m wondering if the MMSD’s 2005/2006 budget is floating around… somewhere? I’ve heard that it was released to the BOE members earlier this week, but I’ve not seen any sign of it on the District’s website. Stranger still, President Carol Carstensen required Board members to have their amendments in by noon today (5/5) – roughly 36 hours after receiving a budget, that, as far as I can tell, is not available to the public.
Ed Blume noted earlier that Milwaukee’s proposed budget is online.
I find Carol’s extremely short Board Member Amendment turnaround to be unusual, given a $320M budget…. Why?
The District’s 2004/2005 budget is available here (8.6MB PDF).
UPDATE: Ed Blume emailed a link to this 82 page 2005/2006 budget summary – pdf file. FWIW, the previous budget document – link above was 368 pages.
Minnesota Public Radio:
The bill represents a $622 million (12.6 Billion Package) increase in state aid over the next two years, although not all schools would get an equal cut. Each district could count on having $284 added to their basic per-student allowances in two installments, raising it to $4,885 by the second year.
School districts in high poverty areas, those with low property tax bases and ones that shift to a new teacher pay system would be in line for greater funding boosts. Statewide, the schools will see an average of $665 more per child in fiscal years 2006-07.
My view is that we lose a great deal of influence as we rely on state/federal funds.
I agree whole heartedly with Mr. Pay’s comments to Johnny Winston Jr., that the MMSD School Board is not taking a long-term financial or educational look at elementary strings that shows increased numbers of middle and high school children taking orchestra and band will save money for the district while providing immeasurable personal and educational benefits to children.
However, there are two other reasons why this is a bad decision that come to mind – one is standards and the other is, in my mind, an even bigger economic impact than benefits from larger class sizes.
The long-term educational and financial fallout from cutting elementary strings will cost far more than the annual $500,000 cost of the program. I predict a decision to cut elementary strings will cost the district millions in the long-term.
Last evening the Madison School Board received the proposed budget for the 2005-2006 school year – whoopee. A new software system was given as the reason for the delay. A new software system does not guarantee good long-term educational and financial decisions for the district. Software and hardware are tools through which you analyze assumptions. They are tools that facilitate a process. However, by the amount of time spent in board meetings talking about software and hardware, a person could easily come away assuming the box is the process.
Our School Board members believe now that we have the budget document, they are all set. Budget document, cut list. What more could the public ask for in a budget process – I mean, we have the outputs.