In the State Journal Andy Hall set the table with a report over the weekend and followed up with a story on Monday. Tamara Madsen of the Cap Times had the story on Tuesday. With the exception of Johnny Winston Jr. — who Andy Hall quotes as saying ” “Gotta have it…We can’t wait for the state to help us out” — all the other Board Members seem to be playing things close to the vest (to one degree or another). I think Johnny Winston Jr, is right. The dollar figure might not be settled and the case has to be taken to the people, but as Board Members who have extensive knowledge of the the district’s finances it should be clear to one and all that some operating referendum is the right thing to do. The longer it takes them to come out and say that, the less time we all have to convince those who don’t know as much about the situation and the harder that job becomes. Let’s move beyond the “if” and get to the “how” the “how much” and the “for what.”
The Monday, August 4, 2008 Madison Board of Education meeting was mostly devoted to further presentations by Supt. Dan Nerad and Eric Kass on the past, present and future. The materials from these presentations and information on the next week’s public forums have been posted on the MMSD site under the heading “Current Financial Condition.” I’m going to highlight some of the things there.
The “Current Options to Address Fiscal Situation” is the “master narrative document,” with the others mostly expanding on things outlined there. It gives the big story, and the details are in the accompanying documents. It moves from the state finance system, to what Madison has done in the way of savings and cuts, to the possibilities of further cuts and savings and referendum options. One thing I liked is that in this document (and the one from the previous week) Supt. Nerad began with an introductory quote from the Vincent v. Voight school finance decision:
Wisconsin students have a fundamental right to an equal opportunity for a sound basic education. An equal opportunity for a sound basic education is one that will equip students for their roles as citizens and enable them to succeed economically and personally.
A not-so-subtle reminder that that school finance in this state violates the spirit and maybe the letter of the law.
The “Effects of Reduction” is a partial assessment of the impact that previous program and service cuts have had on the education of our children and the functioning of the district. More detailed budget line listings are in the Historical Budget Reductions 1993-2008 by Category and Historical Budget Reductions 1993-2008 documents. As a friend pointed out in an email to me today many “important existing and proven successful programs and personnel” have been cut over the years and that as we talk about a referendum it makes sense to look toward not only preserving what we have, but also to restoring what we have given up (I’d add expanding in new directions too). The class and a half arrangements for specials and the general loss of locally funded class size reduction is a recent cut that appears to be putting a strain on teachers and students. Three other things really jumped out at me from this document. First is the “Ready, Set Goals” conferences. Every teacher and parent I’ve talked to found these valuable and at $84,000 it seems like something we should be able to afford. The second is the loss of 32 FTE positions in Student Services and Alternative Programs (psychologists, social workers, nurses…). Last, I’d note the cuts of 157 FTE (teachers and SEAs in Special Education).
The “Effects” document also addresses the gutting of the work in Parent, Community and Race Relations. I knew this had happened, but it took going through the line-by-line histories to appreciate how the district’s once concerted effort has eroded to almost nothing.
- 1997-98 Eliminate Parenting Classes.
- 1997-98 Eliminate Diversity Advocacy Positions.
- 1998-99 Eliminate Alternatives to Suspensions.
- 2000-01 $10,000 cut to “Staff and Student Equity.”
- 2001-02 Eliminate Two Minority Student Achievement support teachers.
- 2001-02 Eliminate clerical position in Race Relations.
- 2001-02 Project Bootstrap, Centro Hispano and Urban League Partnerships cut (moved to Fund 80?).
- 2002-03 Community Partnerships Coordinator moved to Fund 80.
- 2002-03 Parent Community Response Unit funding reduced $85,000.
- 2004-05 Race Relations Coordinator of Parent Relations Eliminated.
- 2004-05 .5 FTE Parent Community Relations Response Teacher cut.
- 2005-06 Eliminate Parent Community Response Department.
- 2006-07 Cut of $45,131 in “Race Relations – Supplies and Materials.”
- 2006-07 Eliminate Race Relations Special Assistant Supt.
- 2006-07 Cut $45,254 in “Minority Achievement Supplies and Materials.”
Keep in mind that this all happened at a time when our district was growing more diverse. I’m not going to defend every race or community relations program that has been cut, but I do think that this is an area where we should consider putting more resources, not fewer.
Off that soap box for now. One more item I want to highlight from the presentation materials is the “Examples of Efficiencies.” Art Rainwater used to say that the first couple of years under the revenue caps actually helped the district figure out how to do things better and these examples in areas like transportation and energy conservation show that this has continued. Supt. Nerad may find other new efficiencies, but we can’t cover the $8.2 million and growing gap through efficiencies.
One item listed is the much maligned Lawson Software system, which according to the current figure (as revised in the “Current Options” document) has led to $700,000 in annual staffing savings. It is also worth pointing out that a December 2007 article in the American School Board Journal praised the cooperation among area districts in purchasing and implementing the system and noted that the approach taken reduced both short and long term costs. I’m no expert on business operation software for school systems, but I do know that the ASBJ is a reliable source and I trust them more than I trust our local ranting and raving radio talk show host (listen here as Lucy Mathiak does her best to get a word in).
Thomas J. Mertz
As families across our community begin preparations for the 2008-09 school year, the Board of Education is going out into the community to discuss the financial status of the district.
Two public forums are scheduled:
Tuesday, August 12 at 6 p.m. in the Warner Park Community Center, 1625 Northport Drive, and
Thursday, August 14 at 6 p.m. in the James Madison Memorial High School Auditorium, 201 S. Gammon Rd.
The forums will provide an overview of the district’s financial situation and a discussion of the Board’s options, including going to referendum this November.
The audience will be divided into small groups depending on the number of people attending. The small groups will be facilitated by members of the Management Team and a Board member will be assigned to each group. This will provide an opportunity for questions and discussion.
Key questions that will be asked each small group include:
- Is there any additional information you need regarding the District’s financial situation?
- What are your reactions to the options the Board is considering?
- Are there other ideas you have to address the District’s current financial situation?At the end of the evening, there will be a large group share-out of information from each smaller group. Notes from each group will be organized and posted on the website.
We encourage you to attend, so you are better informed about the fiscal issues confronting the school district. Please feel free to pass this information on to others.
We look forward to seeing you,
Dan Nerad Arlene Silveira
Superintendent Board of Education President