2009-2010 MMSD Budget

We passed the 2009-2010 Madison public school district budget last night. This was the second year in a row that we were able to reallocate to avoid ugly ugly cuts.
This was the first year that we moved to undo damage by reallocating money to put back beginning of the year “Ready Set Goal” parent-teacher conferences AND stop doubling up our art, music, gym, and computer classes through “class and a half.” Both items were cuts from past years that were absolute disasters for elementary students.
We expect to receive the strategic planning report in June, and it will inform planning for the 2010-11 budget as we move forward this coming year. In the meantime, we are waiting to hear how the state budget will impact school finance. And we are continuing work to modernize and refine the ways that we work with resources to find additional ways to strengthen our schools.

16 thoughts on “2009-2010 MMSD Budget”

  1. I appreciate the add-backs of the regular sized classes for elementary specials classes and ready-set-goal conferences. There’s always a huge fear in education that once something gets cut, it’s gone forever. It’s refreshing to see that’s not always the case!

  2. Glad to hear of the add back of Ready-Set-Goal Conferences and class size specials. This may be a silly question…but do these add backs apply district wide to all elementary schools? I sure hope so!

  3. The end of class and a half + the return of Ready Set Goal conferences apply to all MMSD elementary schools. No exceptions!

  4. When do the Ready Set Goal conferences happen? At Leopold Elementary (one of the NCLB SIFI schools), we have started class and I’ve yet to hear of them. Also, my child’s class appears to be having their specials classes as class and a half. I thought these programs were refunded/ended.
    Any updated information that I missed?

  5. I received an email from a reader on the Madison “Ready Set Go” conferences: The Madison Teacher’s Union (www.madisonteachers.org) apparently distributed a notice that these were cancelled due to “incomplete” contract negotiations. The Madison School District (www.mmsd.org) and Madison Teachers do not yet have an agreement on a new contract.

  6. Re the Ready, Set Goal issue: My understanding is that MTI had to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding in order for the Ready, Set, Goal conferences to take place this fall. While there is no significant disagreement about the terms of the MOU, MTI has declined to sign the MOU because there is not yet agreement on the overall contract.
    This is a disappointing situation. At the initial prompting of Lucy Mathiak, the School Board unanimously agreed that Ready, Set, Goal conferences are important for students, teachers and families and worked hard to get the conferences reinstated in an extremely challenging financial environment.
    MTI is certainly within its rights to proceed in the manner it has and surely does not need bargaining advice from me, but it seems to me that its approach to the Ready, Set, Goal issue is counterproductive and contrary to the best interests of students and their teachers.

  7. To Ed’s comments, I would add that the district will enthusiastically move forward with the conferences as soon as we have a signed MOU. In reinstating funds to pay for the conferences, the board recognized the importance that these conferences have held for all members of the school community and we hope for a speedy resolution to this disappointing turn of events.

  8. Lucy, thanks for your post. As a Midvale parent, I appreciate your efforts. We were very pleased to hear from the staff in June that the conferences would be included, and ‘class and a half’ would end for our excellent specials.
    We received a letter in our registration packet that they would not be held. Disappointing, to say the least. We provided our daughter with summer tutoring, as well as an update by her tutor against the teacher’s spring baseline, with this development in mind.
    What is the current status of the ‘class and a half’ situation? Is it affected by the negotiation process, too?
    Any additional information greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  9. The board has asked for a briefing on class and a half at Monday’s committee meetings. The briefing is slated for the Education and Achievement committee.
    It appears that the board vote to end class and a half may not have been fully implemented, but there is conflicting information on where the problems are. We are asking for information on how many schools are affected and when we can expect the 1:1 classes to be implemented in ALL elementary schools.

  10. I think it’s important for the School Board to follow up on key votes, and I appreciate that is being done on this decision. Thank you.
    When I looked at the new hires for Summer 2009 posted online, which goes through July 2009, I became concerned when I did not see a single music or art new hire. I thought this might be due to a delay in reporting new hires. I hope tomorrow’s briefing clears this up.
    In addition to checking the progress of fully implementing this change, I’m assuming when the School Board voted to end class and one half for the lower elementary grades, that did not mean class and one half, or some other fractional class configuration could be used for the arts, PE or REACH for the upper elementary grades. I’ve heard of this as an issue in one school, but I do not know if it has been resolved.
    I would like to see the School Board, as part of its discussion, clarify for the administration that 1:1 classes applies to all elementary grades.

  11. I listened to the brief update on class and one half tonight. I was pleased to hear there appears to be issues in only two schools and that those issues have been, or are, being resolved with 1:1 classes for K-5 music, art, PE and REACH classes being the expectation.
    Thank you to the district administration for ending class and one-half in a timely manner for the start of the 09-10 school year per the School Board’s decision. Thank you School Board for asking for an update on this important Board decision.

  12. I write this cautiously, and out of deep respect for folks like Lucy who spends hours on the difficult task of serving on school boards, and folks like Barb who make the effort to attend board meetings and stay informed on district issues.
    But I have to wonder if focusing intently in things like 1:1 staffing ratios is entirely misplaced. Much of the focus these days of school governance looks at outcomes, not inputs. Was there data that suggested class-and-a-half was not working, or educationally detrimental to children, or were folks just upset about X number of kids in a classroom, and thinking that was too many? Maybe it was looked at, and if so, I stand corrected. But most school governance doesn’t work that way; typically, school boards tend to be reactive when changes are proposed (be it increasing class sizes, closing schools, or increased bus times) that prompt public criticism.
    It’s an admittedly very tough issue. It’s easy for school boards (and by extension the public) to focus on inputs like this, because they are highly visible and tangible — they usually come with a dollar figure attached, and one can always make arguments for spending precious dollars in that area vs. this area (e.g., would money spent to get to 1:1 ratios in elementary art/music/et al be better spent on more college-prep courses at the high school level?) But I’d argue this intense focus on resource allocation obscures the more important debate that ought to be occuring, which is: Are we improving academic achievement among our students? Is every dollar we spend in the district focused on that one goal?
    In the end, I wish more school boards would focus on those questions, and worry less about specific dollar allocations to certain programs.

  13. Phil, I agree important questions are – “Are we improving academic achievement among our students? Is every dollar we spend in the district focused on that one goal?”
    Having said that, there have been instances in the past where the School Board has made decisions and given directions to the administration that are not followed and/or not implemented in the way the School Board wants, and in some cases, not implemented at all. So, irrespective of what the topic is, or the merit of the topic, I think it’s good for the School Board to ask for an update on decisions they have made and how they are being implemented. The update and discussion on this topic took less than a few minutes of Monday’s meeting.
    As to class and one half, the initial decision was strictly a financial decision – no consideration was given to children’s learning, how learning in the arts affects other areas of learning, what will be the effect of this change, etc. In the non-SAGE schools, there were “x” number of kids in the arts, physical education and REACH, so increasing the class size to “x” in the SAGE schools was assumed to be reasonable. The administration provided the information to support this decision.

  14. There was overwhelming testimony that class and a half was not working. We heard pointed commentaries from many perspectives: parents, teachers, principals, and community members. Simply put, interesting idea but detrimental to education. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or tons of university-led research to know that this practice was hurting our students and schools.
    The irony is that, had the board known that the assistant superintendent for elementary schools was holding the number of empty positions that she had under her control, we would have been able to prevent this ill-advised FINANCIAL scheme in the first place. A bunch of students and teachers and principals had a frustrating and wasted year as a result.
    And, had not parents and brave staff stepped forward, the same would have happened in a few of our schools and a few grade levels in our schools as a result.
    Simply put, as a board we make decisions based on the best information available. That information is not always complete or forthcoming, and that is how things like class and a half happen. This year, we are learning about several initiatives that are underway without ever having been brought forward to the board for approval.
    This is why processes like approval of the action steps for the strategic plan, staff responses to the various task forces, and other initiatives take so long. The admonition trust but verify has taken on new, and exasperating, meaning.

  15. “There was overwhelming testimony that class and a half was not working. We heard pointed commentaries from many perspectives: parents, teachers, principals, and community members. Simply put, interesting idea but detrimental to education. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or tons of university-led research to know that this practice was hurting our students and schools.”
    Testimony is not the same as data. No one is asking the board to be comprised solely of rocket scientists, or PhDs in educational theory. But well-informed board members (and I hasten to say the MMSD board members I know certainly more than qualify) can make decisions about what’s in the best interests of students, based on data, without farming it out to some branch of the local U. Demanding internally developed data systems that are understandable to the general public (who the board represents) and help guide decision-making ought to be one of the highest priorities of any board. Besides, it’s hardly surprising that parents, staff, principals and the community were upset; I have yet to meet anyone involved in public education who likes the idea of ever-increasing class sizes. And my point about data-driven decision-making doesn’t apply just to academic achievement data; were records kept of, say, increasing disciplinary issues related solely to class-and-a-half? Would those records, if kept, reveal different experiences across the spectrum of MMSD’s many elementary schools? The push for 1:1 staffing in ALL elementary schools suggests something other than the actual classroom experience of children is guiding this decision.
    “The irony is that, had the board known that the assistant superintendent for elementary schools was holding the number of empty positions that she had under her control, we would have been able to prevent this ill-advised FINANCIAL scheme in the first place.”
    With all due respect, I think this comment proves my point about focusing on the larger issue. School board members, individually and collectively, will never know as much about the day-to-day operations of running the district as do the people running the district. They should stop trying. Instead, they should demand strict accountability of student achievement. Instead, you demand strict accountability of staffing levels, with the presumption that with proper staffing levels, the results you want in the academic achievement of students will follow. I’ve found that’s usually not the case.
    Maybe that’s cutting too fine a hair to make a difference. But until boards start demanding that school board meetings and directives focus solely on student achievement, and not on issues like staffing levels of elementary schools, my guess is that you’ll continue to see this issue pop up again, dressed up in some other manner, e.g., elementary strings programs.

  16. The issue is not demanding to know minute details about what happens in each school each day. It is being asked to take steps that directly affect students by cutting or reorganizing programs to balance the budget. When the board is not informed and the budget background documents do not make visible the number of unallocated positions that are being held unfilled from year to year, it appears to the board that an undesirable decision is the only option based on the best available information at the time. It then is startling to see figures come forward six months later that point to a number of unallocated positions that could, in fact, have been used to avoid the class and a half strategy.
    As elected officials we are bound to listen to reasonable concerns brought forward by members of the community including district employees. The overwhelming feedback was that the process of splitting merging part of one class with another, splitting that portion of a class out and then re-constituting elementary classes for ‘specials’ was chaotic, time consuming, and disruptive to and wasteful of instructional time. The IS about student achievement at its most basic level: delivery of service across all of our schools. The loss was to regular classrooms as well as specials.
    As for the source of concern, I would note that if principals and staff are not adequate experts on what is happening in schools and how it is working, who is? Someone sitting in the Doyle building who doesn’t have to make class and a half work on a daily basis? Of course the board listens to parents, principals, and staff. Beyond it being sound practice, we are encouraged to and required to by board policy and state law.
    As for focusing solely on student achievement without considering staffing levels or curriculum, I am not sure how you do one without the other. State law and MMSD board policy recognize that how schools operate has everything to do with the ultimate goal of strong student achievement. That’s why we ask the questions and frame the agendas that we do. Because it is what we are required to do, and what most of our electors expect us to do.

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