My Referendum and Budget Letter

April 19, 2007
Members of the MMSD Board of Education
545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53703

I am asking today that the Board of Education begin planning for an operating referendum to be held on February 19th, 2008 and pending the outcome of that referendum refrain from closing schools and eliminating programs that will be difficult to restart.

The budget recommendations presented by the administration are not unreasonable, but they are far from desirable. The broken state finance system has forced the consideration of many undesirable options. The consolidation plans and the elimination of strings would be difficult to undo and would cause long range harm to our community’s faith in and support for our schools. I believe that there are other, also undesirable but less irreparable ways to balance the 2007-2008 budget. A successful well-designed referendum would move the district’s budget discussions from trying to do the least harm to trying to do the most good.

Referenda are not easy; they require the board to have the courage to say there is no other way, they require hard work on the part of volunteer community members willing to educate the electorate on the good our schools do and the harm being done by the state finance system, they divide our communities and can reveal a loss of faith in our schools, or Board members and our administration. They are also the only tool we have to under the current system to assure that our children get the education they deserve and our community is allowed to support the schools as we wish. I sat through many of the Special Joint Committee on School Finance sessions in 2006. As district after district related heartbreaking stories of the cuts they had made due to the broken school funding system, they were told again and again by some committee members that best and only answer was to “go to referendum.” I don’t believe it is the only answer – I am one of many in Madison and statewide who are working to fix that system – but it is the only answer we have in the short term.

Many in Madison believe that a referendum is needed now or will at very least be needed for the 2008-2009 budget. School closings will make this referendum more difficult to pass.

Referenda are often called band-aids. There is some truth to this in that they do not provide a long-term cure to the ills of under funded schools. However, they do staunch the bleeding and buy time for a cure to be obtained. If your child were bleeding, you would use whatever was at hand to stop that bleeding before they suffered irreparable harm. That is what I am asking the board to do.

I am not alone in this. You will be receiving a letter with close to 150 signatures, asking the same thing. These signatories and those who collected them have demonstrated their willingness to do the work to educate the community and work for the passage of a referendum. Please have the courage give them that chance and give the voters of Madison the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Thomas J. Mertz

J.C. Wright Middle School Parent
2007-2008 Franklin-Randall Parent
Member MMSD Equity Task Force
Member Advocates for Madison Public Schools
Co-Chair Communities and Schools Together
Member Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools

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Filed under AMPS, Budget, Equity, Local News, Referenda, School Finance, Take Action

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