City Budget and Education

Roy Orbison, “City Life” (click to listen or download).

I’ve been so tied up with life and the referendum stuff that I haven’t been much paying attention to the city budget process. A story in today’s Wisconsin State Journal got my attention, this graphic in particular. Two items on the possible cut list will directly impact the school district budget and at least three more will make things harder for our schools to do their job.

These possible cuts have been identified early in the budget process. Mayor Cieslewicz asked all departments to list what they would propose in the way of a 5% budget cut. If things go as the Mayor envisions, about 37% of these cuts will need to be enacted. Nothing is set in stone at this point. The Mayor will propose his budget in October and the Common Council will act in November.

The two proposed cuts that will force the school district to find more money to makeup the shortfall are a proposal to require the district to pay $522,000 for crossing guards and a proposal to increase bus fares, including pass programs. MMSD spent about $800,000 on Madison Metro bus pass subsidies last year. The proposed 33% fare increase translates into another $264,000 (or a shift to students and families). These two items add up to $786,000.

To me , that’s 786,000 more reasons not to do a referendum on the cheap. If the November referendum passes, we aren’t going to get a second shot at asking for more operational revenue authority in the foreseeable future. No matter what else happens to create new needs — like the city budget — there will be no second chances. We need to do more than loosen the bonds that have tied the district’s hands, we need to take the ropes all the way off (more on those thoughts here).

The other cuts are in the areas of library hours and social services and childcare tuition aid.

Since we have lived in Madison I have considered the limited library hours a source of shame. Cutting further, or closing a branch will harm both the educational climate and the quality of life.

We all know that children, especially those in poverty, come to school carrying the baggage of their home lives and that the kinds of things that social service help with are the kinds of things that if not addressed make it harder for students to be successful and create behavioral problems which effect the school climate and hurt all students. The “Broader, Bolder” manifesto correctly stated, we need to recognize “the powerful impact on student achievement of numerous contextual and environmental factors such as early learning, parenting, health, poverty, and the cognitive, cultural, and character development that occurs outside schools” and address this via the very same types of social services now on the chopping block.

Last, but far from least is $106,000 cut in the the childcare tuition aid. Childcare is not education, but they can be mutually supportive. Childcare also relieves some of the stress of working and single parents, creating a home environment more conducive to learning. The worst case scenarios, which will no doubt be manifested in some households, are that the cuts in childcare tuition aid will leave some children without guidance or protection for significant time periods and/or increase the childcare responsibilities older siblings, distracting them from their academic work. Not good.

I believe that Mayor Dave is sincere in his desire to build mutually supportive structures and relationships among the school district, the city and the county. All of these cuts would move us further from that goal.

The first round of hearings has passed, but you can contact the Mayor and the Common Council to remind them that supporting education in all ways is essential keeping Madison a great city. Don’t forget to mention that the city has a much freer hand with taxing authority than the revenue-capped school district.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Budget, education, finance, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

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