Another casualty of Wisconsin’s broken school funding system

I want to clarify the facts about the Madison School Board’s decision on private school busing.

This is a financial budget change with no hidden agenda. This is not about “us versus them.” This is not about Madison schools being “afraid of diversity.” We embrace diversity. Visit any of our schools and see for yourself. This is not about the board wanting the private school children to bring in $13,000 of additional funds per child (an inaccurate number, by the way). In our deliberations, the School Board never discussed any of these topics.

This is, sadly, a matter of a state budget system that does not allow school districts in Wisconsin to provide adequately for their students … across the board.

Due to state-imposed revenue caps, the Madison Metropolitan School District has made substantial budget cuts each year since 1993. We are at a point when no cut is good.
This year the board’s Finance and Operations Committee closely examined areas of our budget that have high dollar expenditures. Transportation was one of these areas. The cut to the private school transportation was recommended as were cuts to busing for some of our middle schools.

State law permits the district to offer Parent Contracts to the private schools (payments to parents) when the cost of busing is more than 1.5 times the district’s average cost of busing. The private school families will be reimbursed about $453 per child for driving their children to school. The public school families do not receive such reimbursement.

People state that we are unfairly targeting the private schools in our budget cuts. This is simply not true. This year we have cut special education services, student support services, and programs. We have increased class sizes at all levels. The list of cuts is quite lengthy. At a recent board meeting we had the horrible task of approving the layoff of teachers due to budgets cuts.

People state that we “owe them” because they pay property taxes. The public schools in Madison benefit the entire community. Good schools are the cornerstone of a thriving community. Providing options for children, developing a well educated work force and bringing new businesses to Madison are some of the benefits schools bring to all of us. In addition, good schools = good home values = good investment. Our schools benefit the MMSD community irrespective of whether or not your child attends one of our schools. It’s the big picture.

The MMSD administration has told the diocese of our willingness to work with them to lessen the impact of these changes. We have offered to manage bus routes and provide information necessary to make alternative plans. It would require the diocese to pay part of the costs. I hope they will consider this seriously.

There is not one of us who feels comfortable with the level of cuts we now have to make each year. As a community, we have to work together to convince our legislators that we need a new system to fund our schools.

Our children, irrespective of where they attend school, deserve adequate funding.

Arlene Silveira, president, Madison School Board

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Filed under AMPS, Budget, School Finance

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