MMSD’s Proposed Private School Busing Reductions

Susan Troller:

Catholic school parents and administrators are upset by proposed Madison school district budget cuts that would eliminate the bus service they receive to get their kids to school.
But the school district is hoping to trim nearly $230,000 from its budget by offering more than $162,000 directly to parents to transport their children instead of providing yellow school bus service to five Catholic schools in the Madison district. Busing those students is projected to cost about $392,000 in 2007-08.
State statutes require public school districts to provide transportation for students in private schools as well as public schools, but Madison district officials say it costs them more than 50 percent more per pupil to bus the Catholic school students. Underlying the proposal is the need for the Madison School Board and administrators to find nearly $8 million to cut from next year’s budget to comply with state-imposed revenue caps.
There are 358 students who attend St. Dennis, St. James, Edgewood Campus School, St. Maria Goretti and Queen of Peace schools who would be affected by the policy change.

2006/2007 and 2007/2008 MMSD Citizen’s Budget.
Fascinating issue.

37 thoughts on “MMSD’s Proposed Private School Busing Reductions”

  1. At the Memorial public forum I attended and as I am told the East side forum, the #1 item brought to the attention of the board was how this was going to affect the working families that “choose” to send their students to private school. What I don’t understand is this, Middle school students that are bused to Queen of Peace etc…..receive free busing. Public school middle school student parents pay for the Metro bus to send their students.
    As I understand it busing is only for elementary students. The complaint expressed was I work, my mom works, my parents work……if the elementary students are being bused home to an empty house that’s a little weird, and if the middle school and high school students are being bused for free (while public school students pay for a metro pass) that is fascinating.
    I wondered as I attended the forum why parents of closing schools, parents of CC students, parents for SAGE were not there. Instead the $300,000 savings and lots of private school parents were there protesting. Strange indeed. I would suggest: have the private school pay more to bus all those small children home to empty houses so they can continue to choose to send them to private schools and make it so it does not cost us more than the state requires.

  2. It may be that MMSD doesn’t get any money on a per student basis for the MMSD-area private school students. But think what would happen if statewide all the private schools suddenly closed and all 135,000 of those children flooded the public schools. Suddenly the public schools would be collectively due about $1.3 billion more from the state from property tax, equalization aid, etc. Now where would that money be coming from? Maybe Art can’t trace that money he is missing from those private school kids into his coffers. But if he suddenly had all those kids in his grasp and was due all those extra dollars, along with all the other superintendents holding out their hands, what kind of a panic do you think would ensue in the statehouse? In fact, private school families do help subsidize public school education. If there were no private schools, taxes would need to be higher to raise the revenue to educate them in the public schools. Or am I somehow really misunderstanding?

  3. After reading the amendments to the budget I stand corrected. Spring Harbor and Wright do provide free transportation to middle school students, just not Jefferson, Toki, Hamilton, Black Hawk, O’Keefe, etc…..
    When I lived in another city where Charter schools were the norm (about 8 in all). Parents had to provide transportation to those schools if they were accepted. It is an interesting proposal to stop busing for SH and Wright but there would have to be some provision for low income families.

  4. Celeste wrote: “In fact, private school families do help subsidize public school education. If there were no private schools, taxes would need to be higher to raise the revenue to educate them in the public schools.”
    I believe this statement is too simplistic and probably not incorrect. (btw, I was at the budget forum last thursday night to speak about retaining small class size, and I was amazed at the parade private school parents who believe they are doing the district a financial favor by sending their kids to private school.)
    I am not an expert in school funding, but I do know a bit about economics. And economics says that, even if the “average” cost to educate a MMSD child is $12K, that is not the *incremental* cost for each additional child. In fact, most expenses are in upfront fixed costs (buildings, overhead, libraries, administration, fixed staffing — librarians, custodians, central Doyle consultants, etc).
    As additional children are added to the district, the incremental cost per child declines, as does the average cost per child of educating them. So in fact, when people opt out of public schools, the district loses the state aid for that child, and has to spread the fixed costs of operating a public school district across fewer children.

  5. Thanks for that very clear explanation, Donna. It doesn’t make sense that removing children from our public schools makes them better-funded. Let’s not forget that most private and parochial schools don’t provide services to students with significant special ed needs, who are more costly to educate.
    Our family spent $500 out of pocket this year to purchase metro bus passes for our two middle schoolers ($125 per semester pass), and we transport our elementary schooler ourselves at our expense since she is an intra-district transfer student. So no sympathy here for the parents choosing to pay almost $6000 in tuition at Edgewood who are going to be *paid* $453 to get their child to school. Times are tough.
    Kay Cahill

  6. I understand the ‘incremental’ argument. It is true that when a single child leaves the district, the district loses $10,000 and the only fixed costs that go down are for a few rolls of paper towels and packs of copy paper, as it is unlikely that that one loss will be the one that tips a school to combine classes and lay off a teacher.
    But I was looking at the macro picture. MMSD has about 4000 students at area private schools. There are 4600 students in area private schools, but a few hundred are from Verona, Oregon, etc. Instead, I am thinking about the effect of reincorporating all 4000 of those kids at one time. Would they even fit in all the MMSD buildings? Probably MMSD has been able to avoid building some schools over the years because of private schools. With 4000 more students, there would absolutely be a need for many more teachers and other staff, including ‘fixed staff.’ It’s true that these are mostly low cost kids, no IEPs, no ESL, etc. MMSD would be eligible for $40 million more from property taxes, state aids, etc. Probably it wouldn’t really cost $40 million more. If it really happened, the average cost per student would go down a bit, and then the allowable per student cost would also go down. But the total cost would definitely go up by a lot and that money would have to come from somewhere. That means some sort of taxes would need to be raised.
    Also, it is not true that fixed costs are the biggest costs. MMSD spends about $21 million per year on facilities. Teachers salaries are $175 million. That isn’t counting special ed assts., substitutes, or the ‘fixed staff’ like nurses, psychologists, custodians, etc. That is the single biggest cost, more than half the budget, and those costs go up with increased enrollment.

  7. Parents of children in Catholic schools do pay for transportation for middle school age children, as well. The only time that a parent is not asked to pay is if a child in the family is of elementary school age and takes the bus and the bus has space.
    Interestingly, the budget indicates that children in Fitchburg will continue to get busing because “they do not have access to Madison Metro”. Most parents of children who attend Catholic school that live in Fitchburg transport their children anyway because it’s an hour or more bus ride, and do NOT CURRENTLY ask for reimbursement that is provided by statute. I think that the district will be unpleasantly surprised on the requests for money for transportation that parents have not asked for in the past.
    Also, to Mary, who said “The complaint expressed was I work, my mom works, my parents work……if the elementary students are being bused home to an empty house that’s a little weird, and if the middle school and high school students are being bused for free (while public school students pay for a metro pass) that is fascinating.” I addressed the fact that middle school kids parents pay for busing with no funds from the district (and high school kids do not have access to busing to my knowledge). I feel that your comment about elementary kids being bused home to an empty house is a bit off base. I work, my husband works, but I have child care available, at my house, after school, just like many other parents who have children who ride the bus.
    Thank you Celeste, for bringing up the cost issue. It is my understanding that of our property taxes, some $2000 + goes to the MMSD. My children are not in the school so are not adding direct cost to the educational services. We do not add to the per pupil amount, but we do provide the district with money to use. I think it’s equitable to provide busing, which in the schools view, is $400 some per student per year.

  8. The district is saying it costs well *over* $450 per year to bus these students, which is why it is a savings to pay the parents the $450 directly. Perhaps the parochial school parents should consider getting together and asking their schools or diocese to help them pay the difference, and they could partner with MMSD to continue to have busing.
    I am troubled by the St. James principal’s comment that bus service to parochial school is the “only real benefit” these families get from their property taxes that support the public schools. I’m sorry that she doesn’t consider the education of one’s neighbors’ and fellow community members’ children a benefit. Having decent schools supports these families’ property values. It ensures that they will have future employees and their children will have educated colleagues and fellow students at the high school or university level. What she said speaks of a real opting out, as if going to parochial school disconnects you completely from the wider community. My friends with children in private or parochial school don’t share her view, I’m glad to say.
    Are there other states that require local districts to provide transportation for private schools? I was not aware of this in Minnesota, or in Massachusetts, where there are lots of private schools.
    Kay Cahill

  9. Elizabeth:
    Why, exactly, are taxpayers spending money to provide transportation for children who attend non-public schools?
    I haven’t used my local fire department at my house since…forever. Why am I paying for that? Nor do the police visit my neighborhood much; we all tend to get along pretty well, and watch out for each other’s kids and whatnot. I have three kids, so I use lots of water to do the laundry, and my kids too often leave the lights on, but I get billed for how much I use those services, so I’m assuming it works out in the end. I don’t commute to work, but my wife and neighbors do, and I’m grateful the county plows the Beltline in the winter so they can all get to work, even though it makes no difference to me.
    Since when, as a matter of public policy, did our use of public services have anything to do with the payment of taxes?

  10. Phil,
    You may not be using your fire dept. or police dept. services, but I assume you also aren’t spending a lot of money to hire private fire and police protection together as a group with your neighbors so that the city is able to staff fewer workers in these depts. and reduce their costs.
    Of course I am happy to pay to support public schools and consider this a good use of tax dollars. People who never have children of their own also pay property taxes and a portion of their income taxes to support the schools for their entire lifetimes and hopefully consider it money well spent. But the issue here is that if my argument is correct (I am not entirely certain about it,) then while a slow dribbling away of children from public to private schools may have a corrosive effect on public school finances in the short term, the long-term effect of the presence of a healthy network of private schools is a huge savings of money for the district and taxpayers. In that case, continuing a tradition of providing bussing to some of these children, which costs very little, relative to the amount of money the district saves by the existence of these schools, would be a wise goodwill gesture.
    Nobody is suggesting that they shouldn’t pay taxes to support public services. At least, I think not. But we are suggesting that the public service of providing bussing to these children is justified and at least part of that justification is cost-based.

  11. It’s a pretty bold move to turn your back on the public school district then whine about reductions in transportation subsidies when it should be painfully obvious to the entire metro population that MMSD is in dire financial straits. I pay for the bus that transports my middle schooler and my tax dollars actually go to the district.

  12. First is the obvious point that most of these private schools have a religious affiliation which public tax dollars are assisting–even if it’s legal, I don’t have to like it, especially given the dire budget straits MMSD is in, working to educate all students, not just a select population. (MMSD must rise to the challenge of educating everyone, special needs, disruptive students, students of poverty, students with costly needs private schools may chose to exclude, in other words.)
    Second, if MMSD middle schoolers have to pay their own city bus fares (or apply for assistance), how is it private middleschoolers have publicly funded school busses available to them?)
    Finally, I must disagree too that the existence of these private schools somehow aids the public schools. Not only are there lost state revenues per pupil for each student who would otherwise be in MMSD, but many of those students would be in the Isthmus public schools, the very ones in danger of being shuttered.

  13. I am very confused by all the amounts. My understanding is that the district pays an X amount to the parochial school which is closest to where the family lives. Let’s figure it runs $450 which was previously mentioned, but I do think may be low for some. So when the district figures out the group of students who will get onto the bus, wouldn’t it be wise to budget for more students on the bus then seats knowing a number of the students will end up with their own transportation? Buses usually hold approximately 66 students, (which is 2 per seat) there is no savings. Maybe they need to up their numbers a bit knowing that a number of families will transfer their children to school.
    Just because a family’s choice is to go to parochial school doesn’t mean that they may also qualify for free and reduce lunch. Many schools, if not all, have some sort of financial aid. There are families who would chose a religious school over private school because of their family values. Don’t assume anyone who attends a private school is financially capable. Do you assume that all kids in Milwaukee who attend private schools are affluent?
    I am more confused why the district pays for busing in areas like Fitchburg for middle and high school children for free, yet requires Madison middle and high school students to pay for their busing.
    My understanding is that a bus will cost $30,000 (which is approximately 67 students at $450), base on the Board members wanting to drop the one private school bus in Fitchburg. If the district charged the Fitchburg families $450 to take the buses to Cherokee and West, this would make the district approximately $120,000 for the 4 buses that go to those schools.
    The district does do some smart moves when it has K-8 Fitchburg students on Cherokee’s bus where it is only an extra mile or so to the Campus School, and the High School kids are on the bus with West (the bus goes right by Edgewood as it goes to West. It would be a financial shot in the foot for the district if they stopped this situation because of the number of families from Fitchburg who attend Edgewood Schools and would ask for the reimbursement. Madison has charged it’s students who live in the city for high school busing for over 30 years. This isn’t anything new. I am just concerned that those not having Madison Metro availability need to pay up their share also.
    The board does need to be careful on dropping private school busing. It could turn out to be more expensive to pay for all those who chose to drive their children plus those who are actually being bused.

  14. …to say nothing of the police, fire, ambulance/EMT, and other public services provided to private schools for free (really, they are) because they are exempt from the kind of taxation (property) designed to protect their property (meaning, in a broad sense, their buildings and those who occupy them).
    I don’t have any objections to private schools, their tax-exempt status, the role they play in educating children (which they often do very well), their role in spurring public school change (an often-overlooked virtue of private schools), or their support of many, many events that benefit communities beyond just those served by their school-aged children.
    I do find it fairly absurd that property tax dollars collected by public schools are used to bus (or make payments in lieu of bussing) children to private schools.

  15. Joan,
    Actually, there is a very large number in Fitchburg who are in private schools. This would really change Leopold, Cherokee and West if all these kids where in the public school system. It isn’t just the Isthmus where families chose private schools.
    What I believe was meant by private schools aiding public schools, is that if it were not for private schools, the district would have to invest in more schools, bigger classrooms, additional staff, etc. Your correct that there is some lost state revenues but the difference would not balance out for additional costs needed without private schools in the mix.

  16. I didn’t know until recently that MMSD paid for the transportation of private school kids. I frankly still don’t know enough of the details to have an informed opinion. At first glance, however, I can’t believe that MMSD would pay for the transportation. The families that attend private schools, do so willingly. I don’t understand why they should be entitled to have their transportation paid for. MMSD Middle and High School kids have to buy tickets or semester passes to ride the bus. The semester pass is around $100 for an unlimited ride pass. Also, the Catholic School kids have been mentioned, does MMSD pay for busing to all the other non-Catholic schools?

  17. According to DPI website, “According to Wisconsin law, a pupil attending a private elementary or secondary school in Wisconsin is entitled to transportation provided by the public school district in which the student resides, if certain criteria are met.” If MMSD would stop transporting students to private schools from the Fitchburg area for instance (which would affect elementary through high school), it could cost the district approximately $135,000 if the 300 or so families demanded their $450.

  18. You can find the relevant information in Wisconsin statutes 151.54-55. In case you look, the definition of ‘elementary grades’ is K-8. The statutes appear to be saying that if you live more than 2 miles from your closest eligible public school or your private school, the district is bound to provide either transportation or a contract payment to children of all grades. They may choose to provide transportation for other children but are not obliged to. I know my son bought those semester passes to bus to West High, but maybe we live a bit under 2 miles away. Or maybe I’m missing something in my reading of the statutes. Do the Fitchburg kids who attend Cherokee pay for their bus? That is more than 2 miles, isn’t it?
    Also, I haven’t kept up with any changes, but I read the original proposed bussing cut and I thought they were planning to keep transporting the Edgewood kids that ride the yellow Fitchburg buses that drop at Cherokee first. The reason was that the additional cost of driving from Cherokee to Edgewood was cheaper than the contract payments that they would need to offer those families. Has that been changed?

  19. No, Fitchburg kids don’t pay for transportation to either Cherokee or West. Out of the city families should be purchasing a pass just like the Madison kids have to do, in my mind. It looks like the secondary education transportation cost isn’t being covered under by bus passes. I don’t know why the Madison Metro would be charging more additional costs for transportation to the district unless the pass money doesn’t go directly to the bus company, but is billed.

  20. It’s pure conjecture to say that private school students save the district money without substantive evidence to back up that statement. I’d like to see the numbers on that. I have my private school neighbors voices ringing in my ears, “well, I’m saving the MMSD money.”
    As far as educating 4000 more kids, maybe if that number of additional kids were to enroll in one single year it might add a strain to the district but how likely is that ever to occur? Those kids would have been added over time and the district would have been planning for them and quite probably made different decisions based upon those enrollment projections.

  21. I think 4000 kids spread out over the district would hardly be noticed. They are at all different grades too. The whole “private schools are saving us money” argument seems contrived to make those who can afford to pay for private schools feel better about taking resources away from public school kids.

  22. I may surprise some with this post – as I’m a strong supporter of MMSD.
    I’m for maintaining busing supports to meet the spirit of the state rules, which were meant to provide safe transportation to all children (who needed it) enrolled in public or private school in a school district. This is what strong communities do.
    However, I’m also for the state providing better transportation funding in general. The state has not properly funded the rising costs of busing. It’s rather cruel, districts on the edge of major budget cuts, particularly rural schools with large busing demands, are finding they are hitting the revenue caps earlier than they would normally – a one major factor is rising fuel costs that are not properly supported by the state.
    Thinking proactively, why not think of long-term regional planning of a transportation system that was highly linked to school transportation needs? We could do some major projects, with some foresight and good planning, to save everyone time, money, CO2 emissions, and more.

  23. Jerry:
    A regional transportation authority is long overdue in the Madison metro area (something long stymied by former Mayor Soglin, who refused to give up an ounce of control over Madison Metro). One would hope if Mayor Dave is intent on building his long-sought commuter light-rail system (only tenable if suburban residents use it), that in exchange for doing so he’ll give up Madison Metro and the light-rail system to a true regional authority, with its own governing board and own taxing authority, serving the major communities of the Madison metro area.
    I’m still confused why public schools should provide transportation (or cash payments in lieu of…) to private schools. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t private schools pay public schools for every child who rides a public school bus to their private school? How would this differ — really — from the kinds of fee-based services offered by Madison Community Rec? MSCR decides what kinds of programs to offer, offers them up to the public (not just students or residents of the MMSD school district), figures out a break-even fee for them, and everyone goes home happy. If MMSD is essentially running a metro bus service for public and private students in the MMSD attendance area, can’t they reasonably ask those who are not attending MMSD schools (and who presumably MMSD would not be picking up and dropping off, absent the requirement of state law) to pay a fee for that service?
    I understand the state law; that doesn’t stop it from being a stupid law. (I actually think feeding children is more important than bussing them; should MMSD’s neighborhood schools open their doors for lunch to the local private school? Should private-school students be paid to eat lunch at MMSD cafeterias?)

  24. I see. Carol Carstensen, Lawrie Kobcza, and Beth Moss are sponsoring an amendment to also cut the private school students from Fitchburg buses, which would save another $30,000. So I was wrong about it being cheaper to continue them.
    Private school students do not save MMSD money. They save taxpayers money. Of course MMSD loses money with lost students. It isn’t like MMSD gets to keep that extra money for a rainy day or spread it around as it wants. Probably the parents you speak of are phrasing things rather loosely, or not correctly understanding.
    4000 students would surely have a huge impact. That’s another 15%. Many schools would be way over capacity, unless one increased class size and changed capacity definitions.
    I know at our elementary school there are no empty classrooms. They even had to turn a walk-in-closet size room into a kindergarten this year. There are a few open spaces in 4th grade, but 15% more 5th graders would force an extra hire and nowhere to put the classroom.
    No one said all the schools would close at once. It’s a thought experiment to understand what extra costs would be incurred with 4,000 more students, from whatever source, added to the system. Whether you absorb gradually with gradually increasing costs, or all at once with a big jump in costs, the costs will be there. You can’t just squeeze in 4000 more with no impact. I don’t think private school parents expect anyone to thank them for the taxpayer savings. There are negative effects because the students who opt out further upset the racial balance and remove many higher income participating parents, and more than a few good students from the system. But it’s not reasonable to suggest that 4,000 more students would incur no additional costs.

  25. Hello Celeste,
    I did a little calculation on the impact of adding 4000 kids back into the district. If you assume that they are added evenly across all schools, 4000 kids comes out to 7 kids per grade per school. I don’t know what that is per classroom but probably 1 or 2 kids. I assumed 47 schools and 12 grades. I know that in my East side neighborhood, where schools are not full, about 30% of the kids are in private schools. This number is from a survey done three years ago by parents. You are probably right about the west side being crowded but over here we’ll take all the kids we can get.

  26. Hello,
    I have some questions about the debate on the issue of MMSD paying for busing for private school kids. Regardless of what “should” or “should not” be done, the district is bound by laws regarding what it can or can’t do, and these laws hinge on a financial calculation. Therefore, I’m interested in understanding this calculation.
    My questions have to do with Wisconsin State Statutes 121.54 and 121.55, which govern School Finance, with respect to transportation. The exact text of these laws can be found here:
    A) Wisconsin State Statute 121.55 lays out *two* legal options for how the District can compensate families: 1) $5 per mile per pupil, or 2) the district’s average bussing cost per pupil. The *greater* of the two figures is what the law requires be used as compensation.
    Question 1) In order to calculate average busing cost, where can one find the the actual data about the District’s a) total expenditure on busing last year, and b) the number of students using buses last year?
    Question 2) The part about “$5 per mile” is uninterpretable. For example, if a kid lives 3 miles from their school, then according to the wording, they are entitled to $15 in compensation. Obviously that’s absurd, and is not what was intended. Nonetheless, that is what the law states. Assuming that the intent of the law was actually sane, the correct calculation would probably be $5 per mile times 2 (round trip) times the number of school days where transportation was required (i.e., $600 for 200 school days). So my question is: where can one obtain the statistics on how the District actually calculates the milage and cost per student?
    Question 3) The language suggests that if the mileage option is chosen, it applies individually to each pupil (i.e., each family would get compensated according to their distance from school) whereas MMSD has proposed a flat compensation for everyone. This suggests that they used the average cost option instead. However, in many cases, the mileage option would result in a larger amount, which according to the law, is what would have to be paid to certain individual families that live far away. Where can one find out which option the District used in the calculation, and how they came up with their numbers? Note: these numbers will decide whether the District is actually going to save money, or whether they will be legally bound to pay out *more* money in reimbursements that the law dictates.
    B) In the event that the District chooses to withdraw bussing, the law states that “the school board may fulfill its obligation…by offering to contract with the parent or guardian” (to give them specific compensation). First, I notice that the “obligation” of transporting students is explicit here. The school board is legally obliged to do this whether they are private or public school kids (as specified clearly elsewhere in the Statutes). Second, my understanding of the legal definition of “contract” is that it requires consent by both parties.
    Question 4) Do families have a legal right to decline this “offering a contract”?
    Question 5) If not (i.e., if both parties don’t agree) then in what sense is it legally a “contract”?
    Any clarification of these legal issues would be most helpful.
    Matt Jones

  27. Families who are transporting their children when their isn’t a bus available to their specific private school, has to fill out a form in order to request reimbursement. My understanding is that for a family who is transporting their child from say the East side to the West side religious affiliated school, would only get reimbursed the cost to get to the closest same religion based school ie. St. Dennis if it is a catholic school. If this family is transporting their child to say EAGLE, I think they would get reimbursement to the specific school.
    I also believe the amount per mile (and has to be over 2 miles), is similar to business reimbursements (about 32 cents per mile). The form can found on the DPI website. I found it by googling Wisconsin School Transportation Reimbursement. I am not sure where you came up with the $5 per mile.
    Many families don’t fill out the form, for a variety of reasons. Without a form filled out, the district doesn’t reimburse the family.
    Hope this helps.

  28. Momanonamous, I looked up the enrollment info for eastside schools and I was startled at how many schools are way below capacity. Now I begin to understand your point of view re private school. Your neighborhood includes Maple Bluff? 30% is so high.
    I have been corresponding with Renee Brumer in MMSD transportation. She has helped me understand the law and policies much better.
    According to the law, since Madison has public transportation, MMSD is not legally obligated to provide transportation or contracts for any K-12 students who live more than 2 miles from school, except in Fitchburg, where there is no bus service. There is also something in the law about hazardous areas, but I didn’t discuss this point with her. At any rate, there is a clause in the law which requires uniform treatment of public and private school children. MMSD policy is to freely choose to transport K-5 public school children who live more than 1.5 miles from school. So they have to do the same, or offer contracts, to K-5 private school children. If you attend a Catholic school, you will only be offered a contract if you live more than 1.5 miles away, you are K-5 (or K-12 in Fitchburg) AND you attend the Catholic school whose attendance area you live in. She said for example, if you live in St. Dennis attendance area but attend Queen of Peace, you will NOT be offered a contract. Just like if you live in Thoreau area but get into Shorewood through open enrollment, you receive no transportation assistance from MMSD. Catholic school attendance areas are required to be non-overlapping.
    In the past, MMSD only paid for Fitchburg area private school students above grade 5 to ride the bus.
    She sent me a copy of the contract to look at. There is a spot to fill in a per mile amount, but there is no guidance on how to decide the amount. She told me the parent has to decide how much it costs. I’m sure if the amount you fill in is too high they won’t pay it, but am not sure what the upper bound is. Maybe Edukation4U is right with .32 per mile? You are allowed to claim one round trip per day, not two, if you drive your child.

  29. Also, I forgot to add that the $450 or so is a maximum amount. Families don’t just get it to make up for losing the bus. They will be reimbursed for actual expenses up to $450 per child. If a family contracts privately with a bus company to transport their children, they will receive up to $450 per child. If they drive, they need to keep track of days driven and they will be reimbursed a per mile amount which may total less than $450 depending on distance and per mile amount claimed.

  30. Hello Celeste,
    We are not in Maple Bluff. We’re near Olbrich Park. Modest homes, frustrated parents. The thing is, when we presented our neighborhood survey to the district and board, they told us that 30% is the norm. That’s why 15% or 4000 kids sounded low to me. But we’re off topic and busing has been changed in this new budget. I sometimes wonder what the original intent of the private busing law was. Thanks for your informative posts.

  31. Thirty percent non-public school enrollment is hardly the norm, anywhere in Wisconsin.
    From the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance SchoolFacts book (2006 edition): Private school enrollment typically runs around 15 percent of public school enrollment in Wisconsin. If you take Milwaukee out of the equation (including MPS in any statewide view of education statistics tends to skew things, because of its sheer size relative to other districts), it runs about 14 percent. In Madison, it runs about 17 percent, up from 16 percent a decade ago. Private school enrollment tends to run higher in urban/suburban areas, in part because that’s where many of the state’s private schools are located.

  32. One reason East siders are so upset about the Lapham/Marquette consolidation is that the two schools were considered a great pair with great teaching teams. The school was pulling in a lot of internal transfers from all over the city. There would have been more internal transfers if the district had not stopped letting people leave other schools for the L/M pair. The reason given was that they didn’t want to change the poverty/racial balance. While that reason is valid, it seems wrong to change something that was a model of success for the entire school district. So, now I am afraid that more kids will leave the district in our neighborhoods. When someone says the BOE made hard choices and did the brave thing I want to barf. What they probably accomplished was to drive away those who can afford to leave, leaving even fewer middle and upper class kids in east side public schools and further endangering the success of East High. The only Board member who voted against the budget was Lucy Mathiak. She was the only brave one.

  33. I am not an econimist so I don’t fully understand/agree with some of the cost posts above. I have two children going to a private school. I am not affluent and work very hard to get the money to send them there. Sacrificing many things.
    What I do know is now I will be saving $6000 or so next year and MMSD will be picking up the cost (whatever amount that may be let’s go with $8,000 as opposed to the average of $12,000) of educating my children. Thus increasing their financial needs. (Regardless of state aid, I am sure they lose money in this situation)
    Does that make any sense to anyone?
    We talk about classes that have too many children, what in the world will this do if suddenly we add hundreds of kids to public schools and then need to add one more expense of paying an additional teacher or two or three.
    This makes no sense fiscally.

  34. Jim:
    Well, I’ll try to explain, briefly.
    Under the manner in which the state funds public schools, costs (many mandated by the state, the most obvious one being the QEO/mediation/arbitration salary law that all public schools must adhere to) for every single school district in the state — large, small, urban, suburban, rural, wealthy or poor — go up more than their revenue (derived from two sources — the state itself, and local property tax, the latter of which is capped at a level below that of the aforementioned costs). It’s a pretty simple economic equation — expenses always go up more than revenue, every year.
    There are, really, only two ways school districts can avoid continual budgets cuts to make their expenses match their revenues. They can ask the voters of their district for more money (a revenue cap exemption) or they can add enrollment. The former is obviously politically dicey; the latter is something school districts have little control over. (OK, there’s a third way; they can borrow from their budget reserves, but that’s just putting off the inevitable for another day.)
    So, from strictly a year-to-year budgetary standpoint, school districts anywhere in Wisconsin — not just Madison — would welcome increased enrollment. Without going to the voters for a referendum, it’s the only way districts can avoid the expense/revenue dilemma that is at the heart of the state’s current school financing system. Students bring in money, plain and simple, and the more the better. Strictly from a budgetary standpoint, districts don’t really care where the students come from — open enrollment, new subdivisions, folks moving from private to public schools. To a public school district in Wisconsin, a student comes with a bucket of cash that eases the budget difficulties brought on by the state’s financing system.
    Sure, there’s a tipping point — all of those students need to go somewhere, and you don’t have to go far (Sun Prairie, to name one district close by) to see districts engaged in fairly aggressive building programs brought on by increased enrollment.
    MMSD is in a particularly difficult situation, as it’s a big, urban district with few schools where much of its population growth is (west side, esp.), many schools where students are not (the Isthmus), and overall flat-to-declining enrollment. That’s why you find the school board in the somewhat odd position of asking voters to build a new school, close a school, and make millions of dollars in budget cuts, all in the space of a few months. And its budget-cutting is hitting all corners of the district — bus routes for parochial students, yes, but also golf coaches, teacher aides, and many other things that MMSD used to do and won’t anymore.
    It may be a crass oversimplification, but in the end, it’s really what public school financing and budgeting are like these days.

  35. In reference to an earlier post from Phil et al about private schools not being required to pax property taxes…I am aware of some churches and private schools who opt to voluntarily donate a portion of their share of taxes as a way of saying thank you to the community for providing police, fire dept. services, etc – and, yes, busing for private school students. Just another perspective from citizens who understand the value of choosing an education for their children in their community and the value of belonging to a community.

  36. SD:
    I’m sure local school districts — and by extension local units of government — are appreciative of any payments made in lieu of taxes by any non-profit/private entity normally exempt from taxation.
    But I think a critical difference in this debate is that such payments are voluntary. Public schools providing transportation to non-public school children is not; it’s compelled by state law. I would argue that, while transporting children to school is important, it’s less important (in making very difficult budget choices) than the actual instruction that goes on in those schools.
    It doesn’t really surprise me that a district like MMSD, faced with multi-million dollar deficits, chose to focus on its core mission (like, keeping math classes in schools with lots of poor kids down to 15 students) than non-core services like bussing. These really are Hobbesian choices being made here, but I can certainly understand a district choosing to put scarce dollars into classrooms instead of busses.

  37. I think that the root cause of the problem is that our school simply are not given enough money to provide all of the services that are neccesary for a good quality education. How to get more money into our schools without raising taxes is what needs to be addressed. I also believe that as MMSD is forced to make more and more cuts to programs, therefor lowering the quality of public schools, we will see more people opting for private schools to educate their children. Even without bus services,

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