Carstensen opposes consolidation, seeks referendum

Carol Carstensen circulated the e-mail below and gave permission to post it here:

I am opposed to the proposal to close/consolidate schools on the east side – I am also opposed to increasing class size (eliminating SAGE classes) in the lower poverty elementary schools (which includes Lapham and Marquette) and I am opposed to increasing the class size for specials (art, music, phy ed and REACH). Those proposals account for about $3.1M of the $7.1M proposed cuts.
I do not think there are other areas to cut that I could support, therefore, I believe it is time to talk about a referendum to maintain schools and programs that enrich our community. I am working on a proposal that for a referendum that would:
1) provide 15:1 class sizes at the 7 schools where SAGE is to be cut and the 3 schools that don’t have SAGE;
2) retain the class sizes for specials
3) keep existing schools open
4) restore strings for 4th and 5th graders
5) a number of other items that I am still working on.
This would come to about $6 M – which would cost about $100 in increased taxes on a $250,000 house.
Honesty compels me to say that, as of this moment, I do not have support from other Board members on this.

25 thoughts on “Carstensen opposes consolidation, seeks referendum”

  1. Ms. Carstensen,
    While I appreciate your attempt to clarify your position on the proposed school closures and consolidation plan, I have many concerns regarding your proposal for an additional referendum.
    Specific to Point 1, does this item include retaining the current 20:1 ratio for Lincoln Elementary (Discussion C-4 in Supt. Rainwater’s document), and a move away from the proposed increase in the ratio to 25:1?
    This point was briefly mentioned in a Cap Times bulletin on the day of the release, and then seemed to be eliminated from additional Madison Newspapers coverage of the proposed changes. The budget document indicated that the initial five-year period has lapsed, therefore, the ratio will be increased to ‘align’ with other elementary schools.
    I am a Midvale-Linclon parent with a three year-old child, and live in the Midvale attendence area. I have supported all maintenance and improvement referenda in the past, but did not support the Leopold referendum, as it was presented. I am aware of the challenges unique to our attendance area that are not prevalent in some of the other attendance areas.
    My support of additional funding for MMSD schools will not likely lapse, unless I take my family out of the district. But my patience for politicking has worn very, very thin, and leaving the district looks more likely everyday.
    I would like to believe that your post is a sincere, apolitcal attempt to present the idea of an additional referendum to help save the District, but I can’t count on that.
    MMSD board and administration behavior has, especially in recent years, attempted to criticize, stifle and suppress dissent, and acted in bullying and secretive ways. So, I am left to use politics in return.
    This is your oppportunity to win my vote. My vote and my support as a taxpayer will now largely depend on District and Board behavior that is open, responsible and democratic.
    Your response is appreciated, and thank you for your time.

  2. Kathleen – There are challenges all over in this district. The elimination of the 20:1 student-teacher ratio for Lincoln 4/5 classrooms is really a matter of equity. Lincoln is the only school that currently gets that extra allocation when there are other schools with equal or higher poverty rates and just as many needs. Even if a referendum were to pass, it’s hard to justify giving Lincoln special treatment if that same special treatment isn’t being extended to other similar schools.

  3. Dear Carol,
    Gas prices are going up, the stock market is going down. Real estate is stagnant and my property taxes are approaching $10,000 per year. I’m not real confident that I’m going to be feeling very charitable when I go to vote on that referendum.
    Retooling, switch in paradigm, restructuring…..whatever you want to call it. This community has the answers if the BoE will listen and I don’t think a referedum is on that list.

  4. Jill,
    For the record, I am not in favor of increased ratios, program cuts or school closures at any of our schools. I find it frustrating and angering that media ‘play’ focuses on schools which are (or are perceived as) in wealthier attendance areas.
    Lincoln was conspicuous by its absence in the list of schools with ratio changes in most news reports, and its ratio change was presented as its own discussion point in Supt. Rainwater’s document. For this reason, I wanted to know if it was included in the statement made in Item 1 of Ms. Cartensen’s letter.
    I realize that the proposed change to Lincoln’s student to teacher ratio would match the other elementary schools, some of which also have high rates of poverty. In my opinion, higher ratios, especially in any attendance area with high poverty, high special education needs or sub-par test results should be off the table.
    For example, I live on the near West side, and my daughter’s school (Midvale-Lincoln pairing) has test scores significantly lower than those of school attendance areas within blocks of our home (Shorewood, Van Hise, Franklin/Randall). Higher ratios eliminate a key strategy for success in high-poverty schools. This step sets any MMSD school up for failure under the No Child Left Behind Act, and high-poverty schools more than most.
    Lincoln, along with Sandburg, will also lose much needed ESL resources. There are also proposed cuts to ESL-related resources at the middle and high school level.
    The task forces worked hard to find solutions to some of the long-range issues facing our District. It seems, however, that ideas for interim changes in administration structure or function have completely slipped off the page.
    Perhaps other options available to the District need to come out for discussion again, and they should not be stifled by the Board and Administration this time:
    Moving MSCR and administrative staff from Hoyt and Doyle to a Near East side school with available space (and a broader constituency), and either selling the properties or repurposing the facilities to the benefit of the District’s children
    Allieviating transportation costs and disruptions to families and neighboorhoods by minimizing busing.
    Deconstructing the Midvale/Lincoln pairing in favor of a pairing of Lincoln with Leopold (whose campuses are two miles apart, and whose attendance areas are adjacent to one another), and creating a collaboration with the City that actually results in rebuilding South Madison and the former Town of Madison.
    Adopting a policy of school pairing only when absolutely necessary, and then only based on proximity, or some other specific strategic advantage or initiative (such as an emphasis on Math, Science or the Arts)
    Using savings from property sale or repurposing, administrative restructuring and transportation costs to increase funding to high-poverty schools, keep current schools open, and retain high-quality teaching and para-professional staff!
    To date, busing kids all over the city has been the answer. It wastes money, and devalues neighborhoods. We need to build strong neighborhoods, and schools are essential to building neighborhoods.

  5. This was interesting reading.
    I’m thankful for Carol Carstensen’s stance on the budget. She has spoken clearly in a time of great uncertainty. We must remember that, while we throw up our hands in angst over less than 5% of the budget, we’re sacraficing a lot of time that could be spent on more effective administration of the district. Grover Norquist is smiling. Carol is right to hold up some educational standards regarding the budget – what programs need to be restored rather than cut. I’d say, as we are hard pressed to find the funds, we’re missing out on the better education that our board and administration could direct. Don’t you think, with a clear mandate for excellence, we can make good use of that 5%? What proactive educational measures are lost as a result of this annual budget mess? To me, if we were to put forward a real tally of the costs of these exercises, we’d simply chip in more (realizing that we’d all have to work harder, more effectively to make ends meet) with some conviction that solid educational funding is worthwhile for our community.
    As for the increased class sizes at Lincoln 4/5 – that was not supported by the board (low class size support for Lincoln was restored by the board last spring), but, during the summer, the Lincoln principal GAVE AWAY the allocations back to the district. This is just one of many inefficiencies that surrounds the district in times of a tight budget. We took it on the chin and we’re moving on – but we are still very much in support of small class sizes where there are demonstrated, higher educational needs.

  6. Jerry,
    Regarding the Lincoln allocation giveback you mentioned, I will admit you have me intrigued. If you could express the details surrounding the situation in more detail, I would appreciate it. I would also like to know what recourse is available under this condition. Was it sought to resolve the situation? If so, why did it fail? If not, why not?
    I certainly understand you if decline to discuss any other details online, or opt to exclude them from this string. I thought this situation might be useful to folks in other attendance areas who don’t want to see the same thing happen at their school.
    Please feel free to contact me by the email address submitted with my post, if you wish. Thanks.
    Indeed, it would be a wonderful thing to move beyond the recurring budget mess, replete with cuts to arts (i.e., Strings) and language programs (i.e., ESL and reading), as well as TAG, SAGE and special education funding. I’ve lived in the City for 16 years. The same stuff is trotted out every time.
    This mess is always followed by the inevitable dangling of the referendum carrot (although we know that if it fails, there are still ways that funds will be raised for specific projects, counter to the voice of the voting public).
    While I appreciate Ms. Cartensen’s letter, until she vacates her Board seat, it is her JOB to speak up. She offered an email to someone else to post. The email offers some limited details. The last line sort of says it all. It pokes at other Board members in a way that uncalled for and counter-productive.
    No response as of yet with more details to the points outlined, nor her additional ideas or thoughts. Dramatic? Yes. Typical? Yes. Reality-altering? Unlikely. ‘Straight to referendum’ politics as usual? Absolutely.
    It’s a dance of distraction that skirts the larger issues regarding how the Board, Administration, MTI and the community will continue to maintain and support the District. Maybe the community would be more receptive to an approach where the usual suspects are not presented for cuts; heck, maybe there’s even a stated policy where the usual suspects are off the table.
    I would gladly pay higher taxes to keep funding at sufficient levels to provide effective functioning of the District (even sans referenda) provided there is open, responsible, accountable government involved, and the Board and Administration eliminate the accompanying drama. It’s dramatic enough already.

  7. Kathleen,
    I’ll back-pedal a bit by saying that fair review of the budget comes first. We knew the cuts would be particularly severe this year (this one is not normal). And, the early call for referendum (while possibly premature) is not an unreasonable, ill-prepared response. Carol Carstensen has a very good understanding of the budget and the funding situation. With her level of experience, diligence, and knowledge, simply having her on the board is a treasure. However, I’ll agree that there is time to reflect on just how horrible these cuts will be – or to rationalize how, if we were more efficient, that this wouldn’t be such a problem.
    While we do the necessary review of the budget, Carol gives us another, fresh option. Look how clearly stated and uncomplicated her proposal is.
    It is not just a what-the-hell, let’s go for another referendum proposal. It spells out defending educational priorities that the community can support. She and other advocates can easily explain the primary forces behind the budget crunch.
    One of the critical flaws of revenue caps as public policy is that they do not achieve one of the main objectives – to force districts to be more efficient. We have greatly reduced overhead – but we have also added workload to hundreds of teachers and administrators. Now, these teachers and administrators, in addition to the extra time they are devoting to solving minor and major budget gaps, have even less time to provide effective, adaptive strategies to meet the needs at the schools. This is clearly inefficiency in my book – and it has spread throughout Wisconsin.
    Take a look at the budget of any public school district the size of Madison and you will see a dizzying array of programs, funds transfers, bonds, complex formulae for state and federal revenue, alternative revenue sources, irregular expenses and employee compensation formulae, and more. You can have transparency – but it won’t necessarily be easy to follow. Great efforts for transparency are often met with claims that the district’s intent is to obfuscate.
    We can do some very simple things to meet the current budget – increase class size, reduce the number of administrators, cut “extras” like art and music, and increase the loads of special ed teachers. However, we don’t get efficiency.
    I think Carol’s plan, which restores funding, also doesn’t go far enough to get an increase in efficiency (although it greatly reduces losses).
    To get efficiency, you actually have to increase overhead for awhile – you have to set up better strategies for formative and summative assessment, you may have to boldly spend and put managers in charge of portions of the budget, you have to empower the district to try new things.
    Spend an additional $1-2 million over 2-3 years for the purposes of efficiency, and we might see some amazing results in management (I would predict a 3-5x return on the investment).
    The ultimate measure of improvements has to be on the assessment of learning and broader community impacts. We can’t simply let this be a cost per pupil thing. If we do – all that we’ll see is what we already know. Running schools is increasingly more expensive because of rising health care and energy costs, unfunded mandates, unmet societal needs expressed on the schools, lost cost controls over educational supplies, and more.
    – Jerry
    P.S. Sorry I got off track and didn’t answer the Lincoln 4/5 question. There’s not much more to say.

  8. Jerry,
    Thanks for your additional comments. Personally, I didn’t find Ms. Cartensen’s email to be all that clear. I know she has served on the Board for a long time, and is well acquainted with the budget and funding issues. As you can see, since your last post, she has posted some additional material. I look forward to reading it.
    The current funding formulas create a nightmare for many districts in our state, but other districts benefit. NCLB is just bad public policy. That being said, do we really see our nightmare disappearing anytime soon? People need to read, ask questions, and push government officials to affect change.
    Meanwhile, an effective District is a basic need, and an efficient one is a goal. It would be great to have a efficient District. But we’ve got to walk before we can run. Right now, MMSD needs to be effective. The District needs to start interacting with the public in an open manner, and be willing to move beyond their comfort zone.
    The public needs to ask questions, push to have them answered in a public and unbiased manner, and, most importantly, vote! The last primary turnout was shameful.
    Ms. Carstensen,
    Thanks for posting the additional information, and your offer to communicate directly by email. I have only skimmed the post, but look forward to reading it in more detail.
    I have two questions for which answers might interest readers other than myself, so I will ask them now.
    1) Which schools are in the ‘small class size’ group?
    2) Would any aspect of your Pre-K provision be affected by the outcome of Gov. Doyle’s budget proposal? If so, how?

  9. Here is the more detailed proposal that I have sent to the Board:
    I propose that the Board at least consider a 3-year referendum which would increase the revenue limits permanently for the following amounts:
    2007-08 $6 million (to forgo many cuts and restore some earlier ones)
    2008-09 $5 million (based on the budget forecast, to continue our programs as is)
    2009-10 $6 million (based on the budget forecast – and adding $4 million for 4-year-old Kindergarten)
    I arrived at these numbers by identifying the proposed cuts I felt most concern about – along with some restorations in areas that I feel are important. Below is my list and estimated costs:
    Small class size (10 schools) $1,609,279.00
    Maintain Specials $860,548.00
    Maintain staffing – middle & high $384,468.00
    No school closings $769,450.00
    Support staff – TEP & Alternatives $52,734.00
    Student Services – ESL/Spec. Ed $600,000.00
    Increase LMC Support – 5 FTE $283,060.00
    TAG – 4.0 FTE $226,448.00
    Strings 4th & 5th $575,066.00
    Middle & High Supplemental – 10 FTE $566,120.00
    Total: $5,927,173.00
    I am also proposing that the third year of the referendum include the amount necessary to implement 4-year-old Kindergarten.
    I did not intend the final words of my earlier email to be seen as a jab at other Board members – but as information that I am the only one, at this point, supporting this.
    To KATHLEEN FISH – please email me at: and I will try to answer your questions directly.

  10. I think operating referendums for Madison schools are in our future, and I will support them, but I think the School Board needs to have some further budget discussions as a next step. For example,
    The forecast earlier this year was for a $10.5 million revenue gap, which was updated and lowered to a $7.5 million revenue gap. That’s good. Based upon the Supterindent’s cover letter with the cuts, I don’t think the changes in the forecasted revenue gap included what’s in the governor’s budget. I’d like to hear more about the timing of some of the recommendations and how/when that would affect the district’s budget planning and staffing. I know we’re working with a July 1 date, but what else might occur prior to that date.
    Also, the proposed cuts are only the administration’s proposal based upon the School Board’s priorities. My question for the School Board is how could the District administration exclude the approximately $1.8-$2 million for extracurricular activities from the cut list and increase class sizes IF class sizes are one of the most important priorities for the School Board for closing the achievement gap?
    I don’t think they can and get support for a referendum from the Madison community. I want extracurricular activities in our schools, and I want arts education in our schools. However, with NCLB, revenue caps, achievement gap, we will need to transition to different funding models, because these valued areas will otherwise be chipped away at and whither away. Will we go to referendum for these dollars, will we seek partnerships/grants for these options – other? I feel we need to be planning longer term, and I feel we need to consider transitions to different funding models because this takes time to put into place.
    Personally, I do not support putting class sizes at risk for our young children while holding extracurricular activities “safe” if the School Board went to a referendum. I don’t think it’s responsible, and I don’t think it’s sustainable. Without longer term planning, we will continue to be in the annual budget fight, which angers the community and does not help us move forward as a community – together.
    Lastly, even though I’ve worked on campaigns, budget issues, etc., I’ve got the tag of the strings lady, and I have a comment about the Superintendent’s proposed cut. I am appalled that Grade 5 strings is on the cut list for the sixth year after cuts for the two previous years have reduced the low-income enrollment from about 700 (total enrollment high of about 2,000) to 200 children and raised fees. I’m really appalled because this year’s cut was done at the same time the School Board put in place a Community Fine Arts Task Force that has as one of its charges funding options. We need the School Board’s support to do our work, and we need the next year to explore the community’s priorities for arts education and its funding.
    And, quite frankly, I think we need to get going in other areas, starting with extracurricular sports. This may be really hoping – we need to work across the groups supporting fine arts, sports, etc. I’ll be working on fine arts and am willing to coordinate with other groups doing similar work.

  11. Another thought. Paul Soglin had this on his blog – “Basically it all boils down to the original premise and law. Every kid in the USA has the right to a free and appropriate education no matter what their ability or economic status. Some children will cost more to educate than others. All children are our future for better or for worse. We, as the current adults in this society, have a duty to provide the funding for this education. It’s time we hold federal, state and local feet to the fire. Education is costly any way you slice it, but so is any worthwhile investment.”
    I wholeheartedly concur with this statement – at the local level, we need to understand what that means and what is included. If the community wants that to include sports, arts, as well as the three Rs, then we need to step up to the plate and decide how we will pay for this and start planning for it all the while holding the feds, state and local officials feet to the fire.

  12. I really appreciated Barb S’s comments, along with a few others who have recently posted. Too often, posts reflect a lack of understanding that this community actually can afford to support its schools. $100 a year on a $250,000 house is asking families who can afford to live in $250,000 houses (and who, in my opinion, really ought to have some sense of how fortunate that means they are), to give up…what? A pizza delivery each month? For those whose property taxes are in the higher range, (due to their even greater fortune), perhaps it is 2 pizzas a month….or one less wanted but uneeded item of clothing? Large property tax bills are a function, first and foremost, of the amount or value of the property we own. Some of the tax bills that have been mentioned are equivalent to the amount of money many families in the district gross in a six month period. When we talk about what we can “afford”, we should be talking about what it costs to put healthy food on the table, get to and from work, to access medical care, to put clothes on our bodies, and roofs over our heads. As soon as we are talking in terms of how big our roof is, how many designer labels, pair of shoes, vacations, or brand new vehichles we can buy, we have moved from what we can afford to what we want to afford. Many families in this community would love to have the problem of deciding which unneccesary purchase to forgo in order to protect the quality of education for all children in our community. Those of us who have that “problem” ought to recognize our privilege and act accordingly. Cutting programs and raising class sizes will not serve children coming from privileged families any better than it will serve children coming from poverty. More students per teacher is less teacher time per child no matter how you look at it–and fewer services to support the needs we see in our schools, or to support continuing development of teaching skills, is less service for each child as well.

  13. TeacherL, You don’t know me and you have NO IDEA the blood, sweat and tears I’ve paid along the way. I didn’t go to bed broke one day and wake up the next with money. What my husband and I have accomplished has little to do with luck or good fortune and more to do with personal responsibility, determination and hard work. We know that we are ultimately responsible for our successes or failures and we hold no one else accountable. And it’s for that very reason that we get to decide how and where we spend our money and why it’s none of your business. Your presumption that I’m concerned with “designer labels, pairs of shoes, vacations or brand new vehicles” is offensive.
    I would gladly write a personal check to the school district if the BoE showed even the faintest hope of doing what so many, on this blog and among discussions everywhere, are calling for. You missed my point entirely and shame on you for your prejudice. I hope you aren’t teaching my kids.

  14. TeacherL misses the point big time. It’s not about money and never has been.
    I can afford to spend $10 for a steak but I would never spend $10 for a hot dog. It’s about value.
    What do we value? I value my kid’s future and the future of the other kids in the district, since education is the key to that future.
    It’s an issue of integrity. Integrity is the character trait that says I will conform reality to my promises. We, as a nation, have made a promise to all our children that they will given a high quality education. Integrity demands that we deliver on that promise.
    But, the data, inadequate as it is, strongly suggest that we are not delivering on that promise for a significant number of our kids.
    We, as citizens, are just consumers of educational resources, developed and executed by large institutions: public school systems, like MMSD; private schools, governments, corporations. Like all institutions, citizens have no control, and for the most part, very little influence.
    As parents, we have some control, if we happen to have sufficient means. Home schooling, tutoring, school choice are options. For too many parents, if for their kids, the schools are not delivering on the promise, there is much less choice available.
    But, MMSD, like many if not most school districts and other corporations, is a closed system, where outsiders and intervenors are not welcome. For most citizens, about 70% in Madison, the power of the purse string is the only power they can exercise to influence schools to actually deliver on the promises — that is, to demonstrate integrity.
    I don’t believe the Madison community would have a problem paying additional taxes for good public schools. But, I don’t believe the majority of the public believes the money we are spending is buying us the value.

  15. Teacher L,
    You must be young, because my house value has tripled in the 18 years I have lived here. Could I afford this house today if I were to purchase it at these prices, probably not. My father, who has lived in his house for 56 years, has increase one thousand percent over those years. He is on social security and medicare. At one time everyone had thought that social security was going to support the elderly to a good life. Are you willing to tell him or those like him to move? It isn’t like they live in anything fancy. There are lots of elderly people who are in similar situations. They feel committed to their city, but they are also being stretch very thin as it is.
    Maybe, we should tell everyone who uses the schools (whether they are employees, or student families) that they should pay for what they use. Granted this isn’t realistic, but neither is the assumption that everyone who owns a home can afford to pay more in taxes to a school district that they don’t use.
    Teachers 30+ years ago, were paid very little and thanks to John Matthews over the years not only has their pay come into line with other jobs, but also their benefits have gotten unbelievable. Back then I had class sizes of up to 32 students per class. A teacher with a dependent, having family medical, dental and retirement fund costs the district approximately $53,391 as a brand new teacher, with the teacher paying approximately $2000 for dental and health insurance per year, and about $1750 out of their pocket into a retirement fund. As they increase their years of experience and education (which is required since approx 1980), their pay becomes higher as does their retirement fund. It isn’t uncommon for teachers to be making approximately $100,000 (including family medical, dental insurance and putting money into a retirement fund) They can retire with a pension as early as 55. They can be away from the classroom for up to 18 days (10 sick days, 5 personal days, 2 legal days, one visitation day), with the 5 personal days not paid per year. They can take a sabatical for a full semester for full pay or year long and 1/2 pay. This cost to the district doesn’t include sub costs. (All this info is on the MMSD website)
    Before we start asking the people strapped for money, maybe we should ask the MMSD teachers and administrators, how much they are willing to give up, whether it is a cheaper insurance or pay more for the insurance they want.
    I think that if the district is really looking at alternatives, ask for donations from companies. There are a number of homes within the city which are paying for school taxes and don’t even have children attending MMSD. It has been what 4 months since a referendum was just past? I can’t believe that Carol is already talking about another one already. It makes her and the rest of the board look like they can’t plan ahead at all. I am happy to hear that Carol doesn’t have the boards approval at this stage of the game.

  16. Larry’s right – we need to demonstrate to the community that MMSD is “buying us the value.” However, I think at least a fair share of that burden to demonstrate value rests with the larger community (us), not so much the administration. If folks want more info on advocacy of our public schools, go the AMPS website (
    I also appreciate Larry’s call for integrity and its demonstration. I think we can be proud of the demonstrated integrity of MMSD administration and board members. They are not indifferent to taxpayers – and they did not set up the system that continually pits property taxpayers against the schools. The pressure for MMSD to cut internally is obvious.
    Many of us maintain that MMSD remains a high value for students and the community at large. This community has a high level of interest in the success of public education, and there will continue to be some level of proactive response to public education no matter what happens. It’s hard to tell whether the next referendum would pass, but many voters understand the main trends, the timing, and remain sympathetic to meeting the current funding gaps for public education.
    If the board does approve going to referendum, it’s fair game. A referendum is simply a carefully phrased question – not a demand or assault on the public – and approval or disapproval rests with the voters.
    – Jerry
    P.S. I’m not in favor of attacks on a teacher who may post on the site – we should allow active teachers to comment on civic matters without fear of attack on their profession or their ability in the classroom (“I hope you aren’t teaching my kids”). If you disagree with me, does that mean I’m a lousy engineer? Let’s address the ideas. Similarly, we shouldn’t assume that people against increasing school taxes are against teachers and public education.

  17. I’d just like to reiterate, the School Board has not even begun to have in-depth budget discussions. All that has happened is the Superintendent a) updated his staff’s revenue gap forecast – thankfully lowered to $7+ million from $10+ million and b) provided the School Board with a list of administration recommendations for cuts. Next step, prior to motions for a referendum, would seem to be a) Board level discussions about next year’s budget and planning several years out, b) Board level review of their priorities and the administration’s proposed cuts – raises the question about nearly $2 million for extracurricular activities still in next year’s budget, and c) public hearings.
    Until these steps are taken, and perhaps more, a motion for a referendum is premature, and I think hurts the School Board’s credibility with the community and hurts the chances a referendum will pass. And, if we all agree that the cuts can be no further and that additional money is needed, then we need to pass a referendum – for the kids.
    I’m sure some of the thinking is that it takes awhile to plan for a referendum, but I don’t think the community will buy a motion to go to a referendum unless some of the above steps are taken first. That worries me.

  18. I must speak about the “extra-curricular activities” that are a thorn in the budget. I see where 2 million is high, but we are talking about 4 high schools where two are over 2000 students.
    While coaching my son’s tri-county basketball team this season, I was constantly amazed at the quality and fabulous schools we played basketball against in: Lodi, McFarland, Sun Prairie, Middleton, Verona, Oregon…….they were beautiful facilities in the elementary and Jr. High schools and it made Jefferson and Crestwood (my equivilants) look like dumps.
    Why were these schools in such new and great shape? Because parents have moved at a high rate to these communities and these communities have benefited by their entrance into their tax base and MMSD has suffered. Sorry but I don’t believe moving out the “extras” is a good long term plan. Memorial has 400 kids that show up for their basketball games to cheer and enjoy community support, there are gymnist, swimmers, basketball players, cross country……..and they all have an interest in participating in their community school. There are many students, many of my basketball boys included, that go to school to participate in these activities, just as my daughter so enjoys her chorus and dance.
    These extra curricullar are after school,not in school time, and parents pay ALOT for them to participate. I did not pay one dime for my daughter to sing and I paid very little for my son to play the tuba but they are included in the school day, in the budget and are valued. I know athletics and extras are not valued by many, but our school district has so little to make it a desirable community school. Why take the only community building asset and eliminate it? There are NO JR HIGH sports in this district, most extras are taught by parents willing to give their time and money and the district plays very little part in that roll. The High School level seems to be piece-mealed together by a string and more volunteers and some paid coaches at each level. Lots of High School students participate through MSCR and that requires more parent volunteers.
    Perhaps where the 2 million is spent could be discussed. I am sure having a couple of football fields, baseball fields, and soccer fields can cost money and perhaps that is not managed well. I know East does not have a Gym or a field of its own and West uses the Memorial field, so its not like Texas where 17 million dollar referendums are passed to build stadiums for one school, so perhaps we are spending too much in the extra curricula area. I just think we will see more families leave that want there children to experience that wonderful school community experience if we cut the extras out. And then we will have even more budgetary problems.

  19. Mary,
    I hope that you’ll speak directly to the board members and ask them to have the discussion that you’re suggesting. That would be great.

  20. Well, I certainly seem to have touched a nerve here. I would like to point out that nowhere did I suggest that people shouldn’t question how money is used–I questioned whether or not our taxes were too high. I do recognize that for people who bought their homes years ago and have now retired, property taxes are a different problem (and one that I believe is deserving of some attention). However, I also stand by my assertion that this community can afford to support its schools (and many other services as well). For a large number of families in this community, the standard of living is very high. Despite the fact that some choose to take my comments personally, this is a long standing view of mine and one that I have expressed in other strands on this blog over the 6 or 7 months that I have been part of the conversations. I am not just a teacher, I am also a community member (and have been for over 30 years), a parent, and a taxpayer. I am grateful to have enough money to own a home (mortgage not withstanding 🙂 ); to eat out when none of us feel like cooking; to take small vacations; and to be able sign my children up for gymnastics or dance or other activities in which they choose to participate. We do not have the financial freedom to do everything we would like–not by a long shot. However, unlike may of the families I work with (who are also working long days in exhausting jobs) we lack for nothing that we truly NEED. Am I “missing the point”? Only if it is assumed that there is only one point to be considered in the discussion of Carol’s proposal. Again, I am not suggesting that the community is not entitled to its diverse opinions about how money is spent in the district. I am simply suggesting that we are a community with the ABILITY to afford quality schools. Whether we CHOOSE to do so is an entirely separate matter.

  21. The issue to me is putting everything on the table and working together to figure out how we pay for that – referendums, grants, private funding, for example. I do not see sports, or extracurricular activities, as a “thorn” in the budget. I just cannot support putting curriculum courses/classes to a referendum when extracurricular activities are not on the table. If we are going to referendum, it should be for the extracurricular activities, if the community does not want to set up different funding models. I just don’t get how we can put class size and courses at risk on a referendum first.
    Mary, fyi, the singing your daughter does or tuba your son plays are required by state law to be offered to children during the day as are art, physical education, health classes, math, reading, etc. Additionally, parents pay a lot for lots of things for their kids – private lessons for music can easily be $2,000 per year.

  22. While it is true I can spend a lot for my daughter to take private singing lessons outside of the school, she still receives credit for the chorus she takes during school hours. She will not, on the other hand receive one credit for the hours she spends swimming before and after school, because the district does not count that as PE credit. While parents have asked for an “athletic” course to count as PE in their curricula it has been refused, so I therefore as a parent have to arrange time for the activities for my child as they are not credited by the district. Most school districts count athletics as a part of the students PE, as they count chorus and strings as a part of their fine arts curricula. For our athletes “Extras” we not only pay in money we pay in time, yet it is considered and paid in part by the schools. I love the fine arts and walk a fine balance between the two as I have a strange household of kids that love both, but compared to the rest of the US, Madison is NOT spending too much on athletics and extras by any means. I am saying lets look at the spending being done by the district, but as a participant and an observer, this districts investment and attention to extras is way below the norm.

  23. I’m stepping back further and trying to look at the entire picture. What is the district’s total budget – forecasted expenditures and revenue. What is the revenue gap – $7.5 million at this point.
    The question to me is not sports vs. art, not whether we’re spending more/less than the rest of the U.S. on sports or any activity, but given the district’s budget and what has to be cut, what are the board’s priorities for the district? I’m only saying class size would seem to me to be higher than expenditures for extracurriculars – sports, drama, jazz band – since all children’s learning is affected by class size. If you agree with Carol’s idea of going to a referendum, wouldn’t it be for the extracurriculars vs. class size? Why would the School Board and/or the community want to risk class size?
    However, I believe the School Board is not at the point to decide referendum. More discussions need to take place and more options need to be discussed with the community, and not simply via hearings. What buildings can be sold, for example? I think discussions of a referendum have taken the School Board away from more meaningful discussions about the budget. When the Supt. presents his cut list, it is not the board’s recommendation, and it is at the beginning of the budget discussions, not the end of them.
    I also believe to keep the arts, sports, technology, other strong and build them up over time, we need to look at a mix of funding – taxpayer, private, grants, etc., and the board ought to talk about this, learn what it takes to do this and how much time. As part of my work on the board’s fine arts task force I hope to do that.

  24. I agree! The talk of a referendum, while I understand its benefit to prevent cutting even more from our schools current programs, just side steps the tougher and bigger problem. It seems we continue to bandaid the states current system of financing the schools and I dare say it will not change if the bandaids work. But on the other hand, if we allow all the programs to leave the district to remove the band aid, so too will go the kids and even more funding. Many articles have been written about how fundraisers and PTO’s support their schools and the district comes to depend on those sources of income. (I have a whole blog on that) While outside funding is a good idea it too does not solve the problem nor is it a long term solution unless the outside sources are willing to pledge longterm support. I think unless people are willing to pay more, either through taxes of individuals or businesses, we will have this problem for a while. The sad part is the whole country is in a similar situation and this “education president” has done little to help.

  25. I thought we agreed:)
    I absolutely do not want to put increased burden on parents, PTOs, etc., by simply saying – you pay for it, or it is cut, but we have to look at the big picture and over time. I’m going to post this separately, but I asked the School Board in February to look out over several years; and, if areas like the arts, sports, continue to be threatened given the school financing structure we’re dealing with, what funding options are possible and please work with the community to make transitions.
    One of the tasks of the School Board’s Community Fine Arts Task Force is to identify funding priorities/options for the School Board and to report back to the School Board next March. By recommending the elimination of Grade 5 strings, the Superintendent has not given the School Board’s Arts Task Force the chance to get input from the community, teachers, parents, students, on this and other arts courses and programs and, in effect, has undercut the task force’s charge from the School Board.

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