Capital Times Referendum Editorial

Other than the confused second-to-last paragraph, there is much sense here.

Set a school referendum Nov. 4

The Capital Times 8/18/2008 5:35 am

Madison still has great schools.

In fact, as urban school districts go, Madison stands out — in the best sense.

This district still believes it is possible to tackle the big challenges and meet them. And the continued success of its students is proof that this belief is anything but naive.

But greatness is achieved only by those who are vigilant about maintaining strengths and addressing areas of vulnerability.

It is safe to say that any serious approach to this district’s future involves asking the voters of the Madison Metropolitan School District to endorse a funding referendum to avert anticipated budget shortfalls of $8.2 million for the 2009-10 school year, $6 million for 2010-11 and $5.1 million for 2011-12.

That’s a lot to ask of taxpayers who are feeling stressed by a tightening economy.

But education is not a cost, it’s an investment. And the crowds that showed up at forums that the School Board held earlier this month on the question of how to address the projected shortfalls displayed a clear understanding of this subtlety.

There appears to be a good deal of support for going to referendum this fall. And we think the board should do just that.

Balancing the MMSD budget now would make it possible for the district to see its way through a rough stretch without unreasonable cuts and to implement initiatives that would ensure Madison schools continue to set the standard for quality and achievement in Wisconsin and nationally.

Unless the board comes up with an ill-thought-out proposal, we’ll urge a “yes” vote on the referendum.

But even those who might oppose a referendum should be in favor of board action at this point.

If the board moves now, the referendum question can be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Because the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain is expected to draw a record voter turnout on that day, there could be no better point at which to assess the level of support for the school district in general and the current board’s strategies in particular.

Wisconsin has a great tradition of involving all taxpayers in the process of setting and supporting education priorities. We keep the decision-making process at the grass roots level. We elect school boards. We put major spending and building questions to the voters in the form of referendums. The system has worked well — even as state meddling in the structures of school financing has made things difficult. And it works best when referendums attract maximum participation.

Nov. 4 can and should be such a day.

I agree that high turnout elections are appropriate for school referenda. Where I disagree is in the implication that “the system” of requiring districts to go to referendum in order to simply meet rising costs or to fund even relatively small new initiatives has “worked well.” It hasn’t. No system that would require $8.2 million in program and service cuts from a cost-to-continue budget in Madison, push Wausaukee to the edge of dissolution, or compel over 150 districts to hold operating referenda in the last two years can be said to have “worked well.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Local News, Referenda, referendum, Take Action

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