I believe that our community strongly supports high quality schools. I know that the state and federal governments do not provide sufficient funding for the programs that we want. I am willing to pay higher property taxes to make up the difference when necessary. However, before I commit to higher taxes, I must have a high level of confidence in the decisions that put the matter on the ballot. I think that you do also.
Today I ask that you think about the qualities that you want in school board members as you prepare to vote on the May referendums, especially the referendum for the operating budget.
This referendum is a bail-out for our decisions on employee contracts. Because the Board refuses to see the connection between its budget shortfalls and total package increases of 4.2 to 5.9% per year for employee contracts on two-year contracts, we will be back next year with another referendum that doubles the price tag for this one. The only alternative will be major lay-offs of non-administrative employees.
Referendums are serious business. They are not about who�s for public education and who�s against. They are about persuading people whose property taxes are already high that the Board has spent its share of property taxes effectively and will spend the additional money wisely.
Successful referendums depend on accountability and openness in governance. In the past year, the Board has not met these standards. When employees have failed in their duties, the Board has permitted buyouts of their contracts without review. When an internal report on our expensive Reading Recovery program informed us that the program fails 43% of the children, the Board did not require changes in the program. When the superintendent rejected millions of federal dollars for improving the teaching of reading in schools where our low income students have low reading scores, the Board refused to discuss the matter and continued supporting the programs that fail these students. When it reviewed its strategic priorities, the Board did not include the public in the process or look for ways to measure whether we are truly providing a �diverse, up-to-date curriculum that is challenging for all children�. This happened, despite continuous complaints from parents that advanced course offerings are becoming too few.
Please think about these decisions when you vote next Tuesday. We must pass referendums in the very near future. Candidates who are likely to improve the accountability and openness of School Board decisions are also likely to bring you referendums that you can evaluate for yourselves and that you can wholeheartedly support.
This post is the text of comments that I made at the Downtown Rotary Club meeting on the Madison School Board races and referendums.