All posts by Lawrie Kobza

Statement on MMSD/MTI Tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement Vote

After much consideration, I have decided to vote against the tentative agreement negotiated by the District and the MTI teachers union. I will do so because the agreement fails to include significant health insurance changes, and as a result, unreasonably depresses the salary increases that can be provided to our teachers.
While the total salary and benefit increase to our teachers under the proposed agreement is 4.02%, our teachers will only receive a 1% increase in their salaries in each of the next two years. This is so even though we ask our teachers to do more and more each year given budget cuts and changes in our student demographics. The rest of the increase is eaten up by benefits, the vast majority of which is for health insurance.
I would like to see our teachers’ salaries increase by more than 1% per year. I believe a greater increase is well-deserved, and is needed to continue to keep and retain excellent teachers. I also believe a greater increase is needed so that the District’s starting salary for new teachers is competitive.
While money is obviously very tight, we could provide teachers with higher salaries if the District and the MTI teachers union – working together – would negotiate health insurance changes. The District’s initial proposal regarding health care insurance was to offer teachers the choice of three different HMO options or WPS. If a teacher chose one of the HMO options – Group Health Cooperative, Physicians Plus, or Dean Care– the District would pay the full cost of that HMO. If however a teacher chose coverage under WPS, which would still be available, the District would only pay the cost of the most expensive HMO, and the teacher would pay the rest of the cost of WPS. This proposal would have provided for a 2.81% salary increase for teachers for 2007-2008 – as opposed to a 1% increase.
The District and other employees groups have successfully worked together to revise health insurance coverages during this past year with the result that more money was available for employee wages to these groups. I was hopeful that similar results could be achieved for our teachers.
When I have raised this concern about how teacher salaries have been unreasonably depressed by the increasing cost of WPS, I have been told by some that it is none of the District’s business how MTI decides to split the negotiated salary and benefit package. I just cannot agree with this view.
While it is true that the total dollar impact to the District is the same regardless of how MTI splits the money between salary and benefits, I believe it is very important to the District how the money is spent. It is essential to the District that we have good, competitive teacher salaries and that our health insurance costs not drain money away from those salaries. It is essential that our teachers are paid fairly and equitably. It is not fair that a teacher who takes WPS insurance should receive $7,500 more in salary and benefits than a teacher who takes Group Health Cooperative. It is not fair that a majority of our teachers take Group Health Cooperative, yet they continue to have their compensation reduced to fund the benefits of others.
I am extremely disappointed that the District and MTI, working together, could not reach an agreement that puts more money into teachers salaries and less into health insurance costs. I truly believe that if the interests of the whole had been put first, this could have been done. Because we failed to take advantage of this opportunity, I feel I have no choice but to vote against the tentative agreement.

10 Reasons to Combine Lapham & Marquette

Here are 10 good reasons to put the paired elementary schools, Lapham and Marquette, into one building.

  1. The school would be a K-5 school, like most elementary schools in the District.
  2. Siblings in elementary school would go to school in the same building. They would not be split after 2nd grade.
  3. Students would have the benefit of having teachers from kindergarten through 5th grade in the same building, which should strengthen relationships between students and teachers.
  4. The teaching teams at Lapham and Marquette would be combined for the K-5 school, so strong teaching teams would not be split up.
  5. The combined K-5 school would have approximately 450 students, which is the size of six other MMSD elementary schools, and significantly smaller than two other MMSD elementary schools.
  6. The K-5 school would have full-time, or close to full-time, art, music and physical education teachers.
  7. All students would attend school close to their homes. Lapham and Marquette are only 1.06 miles away from each other.
  8. District schools would continue to exist and be operated in both the Lapham and Marquette neighborhoods.
  9. If the District’s growth projections for the area are too low, there is still plenty of space at neighboring Lowell and Emerson schools for students.
  10. Last but not least, combining the paired schools would save money, and would free up space to house programs currently located in rented space.

In my view, of almost all the budget items the School Board is looking at, this item has the fewest negative impacts on students. It will be a shame if the Board’s concerns about political pressure trump its concerns about what is best for students.

THOROUGH ANALYSIS SUPPORTS “YES” VOTE ON SCHOOL REFERENDUM

On November 7th, voters will be asked to approve a referendum allowing the Madison Metropolitan School District to build a new school and exceed its revenue cap. After very careful consideration, the Board of Education unanimously decided to ask the question. I fully support this referendum and urge you to vote yes.
Our community is committed to our children and our public schools. We want our children to be well-educated and prepared for the future. We engage in passionate discussions over how best to educate our students, and how to ensure that the community’s investment in education is sound. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we are continually looking for our schools to do better. The Board of Education shares this commitment. We take very seriously our responsibility to gather information, ask questions, and initiate actions to accomplish these goals.
We need to build a new elementary school on the far west side of Madison because there is simply not be enough room in our schools to accommodate the dramatic growth there. Projections, confirmed by student count information, are that elementary schools in the Memorial attendance in total will exceed capacity by 2007 and will be at 111% of capacity by 2010. Linden Park, a fast growing residential area about three miles from the nearest elementary school, is an excellent location for that school. It will service a large attendance area where many students will be able to walk to school, helping to control bussing costs.

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Indiana School District Deploys District-Wide Wireless Network

Government Technology:

New Castle School District of New Castle, Indiana, is deploying the Meru Networks Wireless LAN System across its district to enable its more than 4,000 students and 500 staff and faculty to access a broad range of wireless voice and data applications. When completed, the wireless deployment will span New Castle’s seven elementary schools, a middle school, high school and vocational school, the district’s administration building and its technology center.
With a wireless LAN and several mobile computer labs, New Castle could allow entire classrooms to use computing resources efficiently and cost-effectively. In addition, the district wanted a solution that could be used for both data and voice over IP, allowing staff to keep in touch as they move about the school’s campus during the workday.

PUTTING FUNDS FROM LEOPOLD REFINANCING INTO THE DISTRICT’S CONTINGENCY FUND IS A WISE MOVE

I would like to address the issue of how the $276,000 from the Leopold refinancing would be handled in the 06-07 school year if the referendum is passed.
The money for the debt service related to the Leopold construction is currently in the Business Services Budget for the District. If the referendum passes, the Board has committed to moving that $276,000 to the District’s contingency fund. Questions have been raised about the wisdom of moving the money to the contingency fund. I believe that is a wise move.
The Board has three options for the funds if the referendum is passed. It can either leave that money in the Business Services budget, it can decide to spend that money in another way, or it can decide to move the money to the contingency fund and potentially use it to soften the budget cuts that will be required for the 2007-08 budget period.
I believe the best course is to put the money in the contingency fund and use it to soften the budget cuts needed for 2007-08 if possible. I don’t believe it is wise to put something back into the 2006-07 budget now – after it was already cut – especially if it is likely that it would need to be cut again in 2007-08.
Putting money in the contingency fund does give the Board discretion on how to spend or not spend the money. Therefore, if 5 out of the 7 Board members believe that the contingency fund is needed in 2006-07 for some unexpected or unbudgeted item, the money could be used for that item. However, and I believe most importantly, the Board could decide not to spend that money at all and use it to address the cuts needed in the 2007-08 budget. If the Board instead determines now to spend that money in 2006-07, that money would not be available to cushion the blow in 2007-08.

SHOULD LEOPOLD EXPANSION BE PAID FOR OUT OF THE OPERATING BUDGET?

A proposal is before the Madison Metropolitan School Board to approve a $2.8 million addition to Leopold funded under the revenue caps. The Board may vote on this proposal on Monday, March 27. While the Leopold overcrowding is a serious problem that absolutely must be addressed, the question for the Board is whether this should be addressed by cutting an additional $343,000 (the yearly debt service on the $2.8 million loan) from programs and services from our operating budget.
What would we have to cut to pay for this? We don’t know yet, but examples of items that could be proposed for cuts include:

  • Elimination of the entire elementary strings programs (approx. $250,000)
  • Elimination of High School Hockey, Gymnastics, Golf, and Wrestling ($265,000)
  • Reduction of 4 Psychologists or Social Workers ($277,000)
  • Reduction of 7 Classroom Teachers ($350,000)

While no one wants to pit one educational need against another, that is what happens in the budgeting process when we are constrained by revenue caps. Paying for necessary physical improvements to Leopold now out of the operating budget means that other programs will be cut. On the other hand, failure to make those physical improvements now out of the operating budget means that either Leopold students will be required to deal with very overcrowded conditions without any assurance that a referendum to pay for a solution to the overcrowding will pass, or that boundary changes will have to be made that will affect many students in the West attendance area.
Difficult decisions must be made on what to fund out of our operating budget, and ultimately it comes down to a question of how we prioritize our District’s different educational needs. I would appreciate readers’ thoughts (click the comments below) on how to prioritize these needs and whether they believe the Leopold expansion should be paid for out of the operating budget.

Public Information and Tonight’s Land Purchase Vote

Tonight the Board of Education will vote on approving the purchase of land in the proposed plat of Linden Park located along Redan Road on the west side of Madison. The Board will vote on approving the purchase of 8.234 acres for the price of $535,258.83. One provision of the agreement requires the District to offer to sell the property back to the developer at the District’s original purchase price plus the cost of improvements plus 5% interest compounded daily, if the District determines not to build a school on the site and instead to sell the property.
The Offer to Purchase this property was signed by the developer on September 23, 2005, and was signed by Roger Price for the School District on September 26, 2005. The Offer is contingent upon Board approval.
Despite the fact that negotiations over this contract were completed at the end of September, this signed contract was not available for public review until last Friday, November 4, 2005. In fact, the signed contract was deliberately kept from public review before then. A Board meeting to discuss the signed contract was held in closed session on October 10, 2005 (Ruth Robarts and I voted against going into closed session on this matter), and an open records request by Jim Zellmer for a copy of the signed document was denied.

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SUPERINTENDENT’S EVALUATION A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Establishing Performance Goals Must Be Next
I ran for the Madison School Board because I believed the Board needed to change how it did business. The majority of voters agreed with me.
I have now been on the Board for five months, and it is fair to ask whether my election really will make a difference. Will it result in the change I called for?
I am hopeful it will.

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Going Online Keeps Students in Line

Tom Kertscher:

At the same time, a new system for disciplining students also helped reduce the number of Badger Middle School students sent to the dean’s office because of misbehavior, said first-year principal Ted Neitzke, 34. But the use of a daily “blog” – an adaptation of e-mails shared among teachers and other staff – was perhaps more important, Neitzke said. He had used the system a year earlier on his previous job as an assistant principal in Sheboygan.

The blog, Neitzke said, is a “positive, proactive communication tool.”

The West Bend School Board received annual reports from schools on progress they are making on individual improvement plans. Badger, the larger of West Bend’s two middle schools, said reducing behavioral problems was its “greatest achievement” in the school year that just ended.

My Proposal for 4th & 5th Grade Strings

Tonight (May 10, 2005) the Board of Education will discuss proposed amendments to the budget. This discussion will include a discussion of the 4th & 5th grade strings programs.
I support offering students the opportunity to take strings in 4th and 5th grade. Currently, 4th and 5th grade students who elect to take strings have two different music classes each week: general music, and strings. General music has two 30 minute classes per week, and strings meets twice a week for 45 minutes each. The strings classes are pull-out classes, which means that the students taking strings are missing another class during the time that they are out for strings.

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