(Updated) MMSD Board of Education Agenda — Lost & Found (and comments)

Update:  Board President Arlene Silveira sent me a copy of an amended agenda and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards resolutions are now an action item for the Students Achievement and Performance Monitoring Committee (committee agenda here).  The “Weekly Notice” link has also been fixed (over the weekend…that’s impressive).

On the WASB matter, I’ve had lots of talks with Board members in Madison and elsewhere about how to get schools the resources they need.  One idea that has some support is adding a dedicated statewide sales tax to the school finance mix.  It is clear that the continued shift to property taxes cannot be sustained, that the current sources of state revenues are not sufficient or sustainable and that the resultant program and service cuts in schools around the state are forcing districts to endanger our proud tradition of quality public education for all.  A sales tax won’t fix everything, but it will help.  Board members (in Madison and elsewhere) have been supportive but the idea may have come together too late  to become part of the WASB resolution process this year.   We’ll see.

(Original Post, see comments also)

It was a more than little difficult finding the agendas for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Committee meetings scheduled for Monday, September 14.

First, it looks like MMSD is again neglecting to send notices to those who subscribed to their “send notices” list.  Since no notice had arrived, I began checking the “Weekly Notice of Meetings” link on the Board page periodically.  Early on Friday the link gave last week’s notice; at some point it began giving a “page not found error” (pdf of this from 7:45 PM 9/11/09).

I assumed the page was being updated and kept trying.  Finally, at about 6:00 PM I realized that there would be no update and started searching.  Sure enough, a search for “weekly notice” and September 2009 led me to this page which led me to the agenda linked above.

I wouldn’t make a big deal of this, except that this is an organization that has not updated their budget page with the state budget bad news from June; an organization with apparently nothing to post on “State and Federal budget issues” at the same time their Board of Education is writing op eds on the topic ; an organization whose “Recently in the News” page is stuck in January of 2009; an organization that has not issued a news release since June (at least according to their web site)…Communication is clearly a problem.

We’ve been hearing about communication problems for years.  I have two pieces of advice.  First, it is important to begin by getting the little things right.  Second, if the people in charge of communications, the web page, public relations and all that are not doing their jobs well, find new people.

Now the obligatory but heartfelt clarification.  There are many people at MMSD who have been consistently helpful with my requests for information.  I know that if instead of periodically  clicking today I had dropped the Board Secretary a note, I would have had the agenda in my in box and the link would have been fixed (instead I assumed an update was in process and took my son to the beach till it was too late to drop that note).   I do appreciate the efforts that have been made.

Enough of my trials and tribulations, time for some notes on the agendas.  First I want to note three things that are not there.

There is nothing about the budget reconciliation.  Looking at the Board calendar, that means the earliest there will be a public discussion of what are major decisions about taxation, budgeting, spending and borrowing will be the October 5 committee meetings (things now go to committee before they go to the Board), or three weeks prior to the final approval of the tax levy and budget.  State statues dictate that the budget be presented to the public one month prior to a public budget hearing.  That was done in the Spring, but much as changed due to the miserable state budget.   I think that an effort to make the local changes in a manner respectful of the spirit of public knowledge and input on the budget is in order (more on the budget revisions here and here).  This is another little thing — or given the magnitude of the changes, big thing —  in the realm of public engagement that is not being done correctly.

Second, and germane to the state created budget mess, I expected that there would be some discussion of resolutions to be proposed to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.  From the discussion at the August 17 meeting I was under the impression that these would be finalized at a public meeting prior to the September 15 deadline.  Apparently these are being done outside the public eye, with no formal discussion or vote.   Not good.

Last, there is an agenda item for an update on the “class and a half” specials fix, but no documentation.  Id hope this isn’t another case like “Ready, Set, Goals” where the good intentions produced no tangible result.

No time to comment on what is on the agendas (maybe on Monday), except to say the item on short term borrowing highlights yet another way that Wisconsin’s school finance system is broken and if the people pushing value added really believe that reports like the one included are adding much of use in policy decisions, they need to stop drinking the Kool Aid (same goes for all the data fetishists in Arne Duncan’s gang).

Thomas J. Mertz

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2 Comments

Filed under Accountability, Arne Duncan, Best Practices, education, Local News, Uncategorized

2 responses to “(Updated) MMSD Board of Education Agenda — Lost & Found (and comments)

  1. On the WASB resolutions, I have been told this was an oversight or mis-communication and that it was intended to be an agenda item. If you look at the amount of things that are on the agenda, this is understandable.

    Attempts to fix this are in the works. They are trying.

  2. Some notes from the meetings:

    1. The Sales Tax resolution was forwarded to WASB.

    2. There was budget stuff on the agenda via the loan restructures (I don’t know if I missed the item or it was added after I did the line-by-line on the agendas). More on this later.

    3. The getting rid of class and half specials problems were confined to a couple of schools and have been addressed.

    4. Enrollment looks to be above projections but the patterns with individual schools bear some scrutiny. It looks like the the Board will be doing that at some point.

    5. It seems like there is much yet to be done with the strategic planning and although I understand why many would like to see it finished ASAP, I wonder if giving it the time needed now might not be better than the problems caused in a rush.

    I hope more later.

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