Guest Editorial to the Simpson Street Free Press

Dear Editor:
Thank you for your comments regarding the reductions in Madison Metropolitan School District’s 4th and 5th grade elementary strings program and other Fine Arts programs. I personally know the importance of the strings program. I played the violin many years ago as a student at Lindbergh Elementary School. I continue to support Fine Arts programming. My board motions, budget amendments and voting record reflect those priorities. However, given our budgetary challenges I cannot make a strong commitment to any program in the future.

The reason that I cannot make this commitment is the reason for the threats to fine arts and public education funding itself. The MMSD like every other district in this state has a very difficult challenge with the state imposed revenue limits, state and federal mandates and high community expectations. The state imposed revenue caps allow a district to increase spending by only 2.6% every year. The percentage of everything else needed to operate the school district such as salaries, benefits, equipment, textbooks and utilities continue to increase beyond 2.6%. This leaves a “gap” in the budget, which in order to make up means we have to cut services or ask local taxpayers to increase their taxes to exceed the revenue cap. This is why the majority of the members of the Madison School Board voted to ask the community via referendum on May 24th for additional money for operating expenses. Although, this referendum failed, members of the school board made budget amendments that kept the 4th and 5th grade elementary strings program continuing at least one day a week. Additionally, the board decided to make additional cuts to restore smaller class sizes in elementary school gym, music and art classes. Making these decisions were very difficult and probably even more difficult for the Madison community to understand.
In closing, I share your feelings of frustration regarding the reduction of services to our school children. This is a very complex problem that is not only happening in Madison but around the state. For instance, the Florence County School District decided to close due to fiscal limitations that made it impossible to continue to operate an effective school district. I assure you that service reductions are not just targeted toward Fine Arts although very vocal advocates continue to make that assumption. Reductions have also been made in sports, academic class sizes, special education, bilingual resources, library services, building custodians, administration and other departments to the total of around $8 million dollars this year. If state and federal school financing does not change, coupled with the non-passage of future operating referenda will force the school board to make even more difficult decisions that affect our school district.
Although, the circumstances of school finance make things difficult, I am committed to providing a quality educational experience for all 25,000 students in this district. As a member of the Board of Education, I will always be equitable in reductions of service and try to think of alternatives for the MMSD to continue having a quality Fine Arts program as well as other educational and extra-curricular activities for students to learn and enjoy.
Johnny Winston, Jr. was elected to the board of education in 2004. Mr. Winston is currently Vice President and chairperson of the Finance and Operations committee. He is employed as a firefighter for the City of Madison. He is the father of three daughters including two school district graduates.

2 thoughts on “Guest Editorial to the Simpson Street Free Press”

  1. Johnny,
    Thank you for sharing your post.
    Can you discuss or share with us the conversations leading to using the $640,000 for the Open Classroom and Elementary Specials rather than for maintaining Strings?
    Could the Open Classroom be maintained by shuffling allocations for that specific school?
    I thought Elementary Specials classes were ‘not’ going to be a true doubling of size (40-50 students/class)?
    Thanks for helping us with your perspective…

  2. Marisue:
    Listed below is the “conversation” reflected in board minutes on June 20, 2005.
    I can only speak for myself regarding using funds for OC and Specials. Simply put, those were my budgetary priorities. We continue to have Strings, although in a limited form. This year, Open Classroom will have to be looked at in its entirety. How its funded and allocated? Should it continue etc.?
    Your right about the specials classes. They weren’t going to double per se, they were going to increase in class size at SAGE schools.
    I hope this answers your questions. Listed below is the board dialogue.
    Proposed MMSD Budget for the 2005-06 School Year
    It was moved by Johnny Winston, Jr. and seconded by Shwaw Vang to take $50,000 from the $400,000 saved as a result of the lower-than-projected amount needed for teacher salaries and to take $25,000 from the Reserve for Contingencies to fund the 1.5 teacher allocations needed for the Open Classroom program.
    Art Rainwater noted it will require 2.0 allocations to restore the Open Classroom Program.
    Johnny Winston, Jr. amended his motion, with the approval of the seconder, to raise the amount taken from the Reserve for Contingencies to $51,400 and to change the teacher allocations needed to 2.0.
    Lawrie Kobza noted the availability of approximately $240,000 – the difference between the budgeted amount (2005-06) and projected premiums based on bid results for property, liability and Workers Compensation insurance. Roger Price stated he would be very uncomfortable about using any funds related to insurance until results of the audit are known in October. Art Rainwater reviewed action of the Joint Finance Committee and recommended that the $400,000 or any other amount not be allocated because of the potential of an additional $3.1 million cut to the 2005-06 budget.
    · There comes a point when across-the-board cuts are needed to accomplish what the Board wants to accomplish.
    · Lincoln could sustain the Open Classroom program using current allocation and raising class sizes to 25:1.
    · Could also use SIP Planner position funds to support Open Classroom.
    · No faith in legislature; should not restore given current fiscal situation.
    · Keep and expand successful educational models.
    · Referendum was a vote against the Open Classroom; should conform to voter mandate. Board and community are in denial – have serious financial problem.
    · There is potential for more cuts but will gamble and restore program.
    · Budgeting based on estimates and information at a point in time. Appears to be enough insurance money to restore funding for specials; appropriate to budget that.
    The motion as amended carried 6-1 with Bill Keys voting no. Student liaison advisory vote – Oliver Kiefer – no.
    It was moved by Lawrie Kobza and seconded by Ruth Robarts to take $240,000 out of the funds budgeted for projected premiums for property, liability and Workers Compensation insurance and apply those to reinstatement of specials to the same level as they were during the 2004-05 school year.
    Roger Price stated this motion may result in committing funds that may be needed for premiums. Art Rainwater added that it is not certain these funds will be available and should not be considered accurate until the results of the summer audit are known.
    · Prefer designating funds for program rather than allocating any surplus for business services.
    · Too many uncertainties; not sure of what will happen in the legislature.
    Lawrie Kobza amended the motion to change the amount to $200,000, accepted as friendly by the seconder. The motion as amended carried 4-3 with Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston, Jr. voting no. Student liaison advisory vote – Oliver Kiefer – no.
    It was moved by Juan Jose Lopez and seconded by Johnny Winston, Jr. to approve the use of $550,000 to restore specials allocations to the level they were in the 2004-05 budget. Motion carried 6-1 with Bill Keys voting no. Student Liaison advisory vote – Oliver Kiefer – no.
    It was moved by Juan Jose Lopez and seconded by Shwaw Vang to adopt the 2005-2006 budget reflecting the amendments made at this meeting in the amount of $319,752,922.
    · Delay action on Fund 80. Can change fees until tax levy is set. Should look prospectively at next budget rather than at the end of this one.
    · Parent Community Response was reduced from 17 staff members to 1.
    · Suggest reading statistics relative to achievement in the Open Classroom.
    · Hmong teachers are first to be surplussed; other districts cultivate them.
    · Budget was crafted together; joint effort; need to approve a budget.
    · Do not agree with all, but will support work of colleagues.
    · Thanked administration for meaningful work. Thanked Management Team.
    · Budget was a process, didn’t happen overnight. Support district work and openness with community.
    Motion carried 5-2 with Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang voting no. Student Liaison advisory vote – Oliver Kiefer – aye.

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