A realignment of the Madison School District’s vision, strategy and investment is needed to avoid even larger future deficits.

Christina Gomez-Schmidt:

An essential duty of any school board is to help plan and approve the annual district budget. Like most budgets, household or business, the goal of a school district budget is to match revenue with expenses to produce a balanced budget. This goal ensures that school districts are managing local, state and federal taxpayer funds to operate public education in a responsible and sustainable way.

The Madison School District’s budget approved on Monday for next school year is neither balanced nor sustainable.

In providing maximum wage increases (8% plus an average 2% increase for experience and advanced degrees), over $26 million is added to every future budget. Increasing hourly custodial wages, unexpectedly changing health insurers and a new transportation contract added millions more.

For two years, the School Board has discussed the looming fiscal cliff once federal pandemic funding for education ends. Yet this budget makes the fiscal cliff even higher against the advice of the district’s own financial experts. One-time funding (the last year of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money as well as the district’s fund balance) is used to cover the operating deficit created. Expenses cannot sustainably continue to outpace revenues.

People are also reading…

As a result, significant cuts will be needed to balance the next budget cycle. This will most likely affect schools, classrooms and students directly.

An average 10% salary increase for Madison School District teachers and staff is an incredible boost for each individual staff member. This was another difficult school year, and everyone is challenged by the rising costs of inflation. Staffing shortages continue, and the pressure to address this reality is understandable.

Yet it is the responsibility of the board to consider how this increase affects future budgets in a system with over 4,000 employees and significant challenges ahead. These challenges include continued declining enrollment, guaranteed increases to health care insurance costs, and significant investments needed in instruction, strategic equity projects, maintenance for aging buildings and meeting the district’s 2040 renewable energy goals.

School districts face compounding budget challenges when enrollment declines, costs increase, students need greater support to learn, and cuts to spending are politically unpopular. All of these factors mean less funding, greater expenses, and pressure to not make changes to staffing or programs. A realignment of the Madison School District’s vision, strategy and investment is needed to avoid even larger future deficits.

We can lament the lack of adequate state investment for public education. We should collectively continue to advocate for stronger investment in our public schools. This year’s state budget provides a welcome increase in funding. But no matter what funding levels exist, every school district must still balance its budget as a primary responsibility to its local communities and to future students.

Budgets reflect priorities. Staff are a priority. But we have to acknowledge that the decision to overextend the budget to address one priority will likely limit the district’s future ability to address other priorities where investment is needed.

This should give every district stakeholder pause as we approach that fiscal cliff.

Gomez Schmidt served on the Madison School Board from 2020-2023. She is executive director of the nonprofit Galin Scholars.

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?