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March 14, 2013

Up, Down & Transparency: Madison Schools Received $11.8M more in State Tax Dollars last year, Local District Forecasts a Possible Reduction of $8.7M this Year

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District stands to lose millions of dollars in state aid under Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal, district officials said Wednesday.

The district is projecting an $8.7 million, 15 percent reduction in state aid, Superintendent Jane Belmore said in an interview.

She cautioned that the amount is a preliminary estimate based on the governor's 2013-15 budget proposal, which could undergo changes by the Legislature.

The district is preparing its 2013-14 budget, and it's unclear when a proposal will be finalized. School districts typically develop spending plans for the following year before knowing exactly how much money they'll get in state aid.

Walker's budget calls for a 1 percent increase in state aid, but Belmore said when district staff put the amount through the state's complicated funding formula it resulted in the reduction. State Department of Public Instruction officials couldn't verify the district's estimate.

This year's $394 million school budget included $249.3 million in property taxes, a 1.75 percent increase over the previous year.

One would hope that any budget article should include changes over time, which DeFour unfortunately neglects. Madison received an increase of $11.8M in redistributed state tax dollars last year.

In addition, DeFour mentions that the current budget is 394,000,000. The most recent number I have seen is $385,886,990. where has the additional $8,113,010 come from? where is it being spent? was there a public discussion? Per student spending is now $14,541.42.

Related: Ed Hughes on School District numbers in 2005: in 2005::

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker - and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member - believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at March 14, 2013 6:29 AM
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my email to Mr. DeFour along with several State Journal employees and the Madison School Board:

Hi all:

I hope you are well.

I write as a "digital subscriber" - the first time I've subscribed in years, perhaps a decade. I spent the money because I have seen a more assertive posture from your organization, one which I hope significantly expands. From looking at the Mayor's spending to the school District's superintendent selection process along with achievement issues, I am hopeful that the fourth estate will be far more assertive than the usual get along/go along.

That said, I was surprised by Mr. DeFour's single talking/data point article:

Ed Hughes' 2005 words on school related rhetoric, quoted in the above link, resonate today unfortunately.

The District received a substantial increase in redistributed state tax dollars last year, but the article did not mention that fact. Nor did it note that the most recent budget number is greater than that approved last fall. I remember a school board meeting where a similar budget increase occurred under the Rainwater regime. Ruth Robarts asked what happened to the money. "We spent it where it needed to be spent".... Note that property taxes still increased last year despite more state $'s. Perhaps local taxpayers might wonder where the additional $8M came from this year and where it is going before property taxes go up again.

This chart is worth contemplating:

Best wishes,



For those interested in a bit more local history. The lack of financial transparency led to Lawrie Kobza's Citizen's budget (now defunct):

The District has improved somewhat over the years in publishing more useful information, but it continues to lack longer term perspective on financial matters. It may be, in part, cultural. A prominent local politician told me over lunch several years ago that "one must always blame the state" for money problems.

Unfortunately, thin rhetoric sets the tone on so many other matters, particularly achievement data:

Posted by: Jim Zellmer at March 14, 2013 8:28 AM
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