On the Agenda, MMSD the Week of April 26, 2010 (updated)

[I was contacted by a Board Member with some clarifications, I only have time for some of this before teaching and will go back later with more.]

Still more Budget work for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education.

This week the fun begins at 5:00 PM on Monday, April 26 in the Doyle Building Auditorium.  James Howard will join the Board and Maya Cole and Beth Moss will also be sworn in to new terms.   Then it is time to continue with the Budget work (agenda and other meetings this week posted here).

No public appearances (write the Board at board@madison.k12.wi.us to weigh in), but the meeting will be carried by MMSD-TV.

Lots of news and lots of news coverage this week.  The biggest development was the submission of Budget amendments by five Board members.  These and other developments were the topic of stories in the Wisconsin State Journal, on the Cap Times and an editorial from the State Journal.  The editorial team for the State Journal seems to think that the way to “protect kids” is to keep taxes as low as possible by freezing the wages of teachers whose compensation had been limited by the QEO for a decade and a half.  I certainly want to protect my kids from well compensated professional educators.  Wacky bunch on that Editorial Board; much better at rhetoric than thinking through their positions.

Also lots of news on the SAGE reconfiguration legislation and lots of confusion.  See here and here for news stories and this post and the links for some clarity.  I’m working on a post on this, but haven’t had time to do much yet.  Watch for it.  For now I will say that it was nice to see Mark Pocan make an effort on behalf on MMSD, even if it was too late (and I don’t think it was Pocan who dropped the ball here, this legislation was designed to help districts keep a diluted version of class size reduction and the waivers MMSD had and the problems the legislation caused for them appear to have been unique).

Before digging a little deeper into the amendment material, a little catch up from Monday’s meeting (preview and more links here).  Gayle Worland’s WSJ story covered the removal of the Lindbergh and Penn Park Summer programs from the cut list.  Some Board Members made it clear that there support was due to the timing and in the future they would be open to cutting these if sufficient notice were given.  SAGE was also discussed and the Reorganization Job Postings were approved.  For the record, the item numbers of the cuts approved are: 82, 83, 84, 88, 89, 90, and 187 (membership dues, office supplies and the like).  109 (recruiting expenses) and 226 (Emerson after-school) were offered and then withdrawn.

Also for the record, the tally of Board Member “yeses, nos and maybes” has been posted (without attribution).  On to the amendments.  As I said before, read them yourself, they aren’t that long.  I’m just going to hit the highlights and lowlights.

I guess I’ll do them in alphabetical order (the admin responses are incomplete — check for updates — and have a numbering that begins with Ed Hughes followed by Lucy Mathiak and then Arlene Silveira; with the later posting of Maya Cole’s and Beth Moss’s offerings, Cole’s are now listed first and Moss comes before Silveira…confused yet?).

Maya Cole’s amendments are the most thorough and the ones that least reflect the “if we are going to fund A, we have to cut B” fiction I complained about earlier.  Throughout the Budget process Maya Cole has been particularly concerned about long term sustainability and you can see some of that in her ideas.

Three of the first four deal with administrative and professional pay freezes.  There is lots of confusion on this.   Item 191 in the budget options was labeled “Administrative Salary Freeze.”  The response to a question on this made it clear that the listed $163,925 represents only a partial roll back of step and merit increases and does not touch the across the board 3.0% package (1.48% salary) raises given in December (without a fiscal note or any discussion).   If I read these correctly, Cole is asking for a true freeze, step, merit and a repeal of the December increase.  Total savings = $644,427. Cole offers furloughs as an alternative.   The rationale cites a 2005 study that places some MMSD administrative compensation as above peer districts (referenced here, I can’t find an electronic copy to link and haven’t dug through my files for a paper version).

At the time I was opposed to the salary portion of the December increase.  I support these amendments.  I think that the vast majority of administrators work hard and do a good job, but times are hard all over and those who are compensated the best are those who will feel the least pain from freezes.

[Lots of confusion here on my part, I’m still not clear on all of it.  Much of the savings and difference came from an initial assumption of a 1% pay increase in the cost-to-continue budget when in fact that budget included a 2% increase.  More on this whole thing later.]

Cole also suggests a $200,000 savings in professional dues and subscriptions.  The $200,000 seems like a lot to be spending, but zeroing this out seems wrong too.

Her next amendment has to do with how to pay for the last year on the contracts of eliminated administrative positions.  She suggests the WRS savings.  I don’t care much, but would prefer using tax authority instead of fund equity, contingency monies or other things that may be needed in the future.

Cole’s Amendment VI reclassifies the head of Public Information from an administrative slot to non-union professional.   I think this is in part inspired by the creation of the Chief Information officer in the Reorganization and the consequent shift of the Superintendent’s duties toward Public/Community Relations.  As Superintendent Dan Nerad himself noted at last Monday;s meeting the implications of the Reorganization for his job duties have not been fully spelled out, but the talk so far has been in that direction.  $30,000 is the identified savings and although like so much with the Reorganization the unknowns are huge (and like some other items Cole proposes it may be premature), i can support at least exploring this.

Cole also supports discontinuing the Value Added consultant contract. I’m with her 100% here.  Her rationale is the WKCE is on the way out and that’s the basis of this work.  My rationale is that the information provided is almost useless.

Amendment XIII from Cole cuts Reading Recovery positions.  I disagree here.  The Board has initiated a process of evaluating and perhaps reforming all reading instruction in MMSD and I think that the previous decisions on Reading Recovery should stand till that is completed.  I also think that the statement “RR as implemented for the past several years is not working” is an overstatement of the conclusions and the definitiveness of the recent report.  In Cole’s defense, what she proposes is using the expertise gained from years of Reading Recovery to transition to something more efficient and one would hope at least equally effective.  I still disagree.

Cole also wants to so fund Hmong BRS positions, use ARRA money for Assistive Technology, pay for staff development on the Middle School Standards Based Report Cards, restructure Planetarium fees, add a 430,000 a year “out reach” to “families of color” position and introduce a sliding scale for bus passes whereby “reduced lunch” students pay at a reduced level and (I assume) free lunch students would be unaffected.  With one exception these make sense.  I don’t like the last.  On the second to last,  I think the idea is good — we’ve lost many family outreach positions over the years – but at this pay level it appears to be a “second class” position.  I’d also add that I’d prefer targeting low income families of every background.

Ed Hughes’ amendments are up next (administrative responses here).  Hughes wants to cut the Legislative Liaison, negotiate pay freezes for Painters, Custodians, Clerical positions, Educational Assistants and Security positions with cuts the other option, cut Board compensation by 5%, reallocate some of the savings from the Legislative Liaison position to Community Engagement and Outreach and raise MSCR adult fees by 30%.

The admin response describes 50% of the Legislative Liaison’s work as Community based. As noted above, the Reorganization has many implications for Community Relations (including a reassignment of the Affirmative Action Officer with new duties in this area.  The real question is if in this budget context is the Liaison position a luxury we can’t afford or a necessary part of bringing about the state action that is needed.  I lean toward the latter, but could see the balance of duties being adjusted or split with at least a .25 FTE working on state matters.

I admire the willingness of Hughes to cut his own compensation, but need to note that this would make serving even less possible for many in the Community who do not enjoy his affluence.  In fact. I’d support higher compensation and if any or all Board Members want to quietly donate any or all of their pay to the district, that’s great.

I strongly oppose targeting the lowest paid employees for wage freezes.   I should say at this point that my spouse is an SEA with the district, so I have an interest.   This is more of a general thing about inequality and the growing distance between the haves and have nots.  I can’t support freezing the wages of the have nots.  I’ll add that the contracts were negotiated in good faith and that the Board has the tax authority needed to honor those contracts; there is something unsavory about seeking these changes in order to provide tax relief.

[The contracts in question are currently under negotiation and the amendments would not roll back raises, but would not include any raises in the 2010-11 year.  It should also be noted that food service workers — the absolutely lowest paid — were exempted.]

This may sound hostile to Ed Hughes, but it isn’t meant to be.  I think he’s searching for answers to difficult matters, trying to do the right thing and simply ended up in a place that I strongly oppose.  I admire the effort and disagree with the proposals.  The same is true with the proposals from other Board Members that I oppose.

The Administration responses to the pay freeze proposals suggested they be taken up outside the public view in executive sessions.  I’d like as much as possible concerning these and other contracts to be handled in public.

On to Lucy Mathiak’s amendments (some administrative responses here and here).  Mathiak’s cuts and choices to fund are all linked, but I’m going to list them separately.  The cuts are $1.2 Million from the Teaching and Learning supply budget, the Expulsion Navigator position, travel and conference costs, and a 10% cut to supply budgets other than T&L.  These cuts would be used to fund Instructional Resource Positions, Special Education Assistants, Painters, Facilities, the Omega School, and the Penn Park and Lindbergh Summer Programs.  It should be noted that many of these have already been “taken off the table” and all could be funded with plenty of room to spare by using the tax authority granted by the voters of Madison and the state.  There is also a shift from unallocated Title I positions to IRTs.

I can see some cuts to supply budgets but the T&L one is too extreme by a mile.   No real opinion on the travel budgets.   I don’t think that the Title I and IRTs should be an “either/or” but a both and if we have unallocated federally funded positions that are supposed to serve our neediest students the answer is to use those positions, not reallocate.  Take look at the achievement gaps and tell me we are doing all we should.

On the Omega School, the Summer programs and so much more, I return to the fact that the tax authority is there to support these worthwhile programs and positions.  Use it!.

Beth Moss has two amendments covering multiple items.  She wants to Fund Schools of Hope (item 168) and the Omega School (item 162).  To do this she proposes cutting CESA dues, Lighthouse Project (Board development) spending and $85 in WASB conference fees.

First I have to say that the whole idea of the Board and the Administration deliberating over $85 is the height of absurdity and an illustration of how bad things have gotten.

I’m all in favor of funding Schools of Hope and the Omega School.  With the CESA, Moss states we aren’t using the membership.  Before supporting this I’d like to explore if the better option would be to get more involved with the CESA.  I like the Lighthouse Project as a source of ongoing research to draw upon, but I think most of the benefits can be accessed without fees or participation.  I refuse to comment further on the $85 WASB fees.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Last, the amendments from Arlene Silveira (some administrative responses here and here).  Silveira also links cuts/savings to funding choice and I’m going to separate them too.  The cuts are Outside Legal Consulting, confirming the $43,000 saved by not funding the Communications Consultant and taking an additional $25,000 from Strategic Plan initiatives, increases to Planetarium fees. a $.9 Million cut to supplies and materials, increases to MSCR adult fees in the 30% to 40% range (the latter for non-residents),  some cuts to the Athletics items with the discretion given to Athletic Directors, and consulting fees.  Silveira’s amendments fund the School Forest,  Engagement Coordinators, Library Pages, Security Assistants, Educational Assistants, GLBTQ Resource Teacher, Media Clerk, The Planetarium and IRTs.  Silveira also directs the use of the  Microsoft settlement money.

All the things Silveira funds are good (and many have been “taken off the table” already.   The cust to supplies seem more reasonable than Mathiak’s, the Consultant cuts are fine (with the exception of the Communications consult that I still think is necessary),  and the MSCR and Planetarium fees aren’t too burdensome.   I don’t like the cut to the Strategic Plan funds; this is our main hope for improvement and should be fully funded.

Many of the savings and efficiencies identified by Board Members (and by the administration previously) are good things;; some aren’t.  As these come under consideration I think key parts of the big picture don’t get lost.  The biggest of these is that significant investments in education are essential to address inequality, keep democracy healthy, and creating a  strong economy.

More directly, at two budget hearings hundreds of citizens took the time to let the Board know that increased property taxes were preferable to most of the cuts they were considering.  (Almost) nobody likes the increased reliance of property taxes to fund education but the state passed the buck on adequately funding education.  State officials have been criticized by the Board and others for their reluctance to raise taxes in order to preserve beneficial expenditures.   If cuts go too deep, the Board of Education will criticized for the same reasons and will lose much of the high ground and maybe their local support in their efforts to bring about state reform.

Insert obligatory Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and Penny for Kids links along with discretionary School Finance Network link.

Two other meetings this week.  The 4K Curriculum Sub Committee at 8:00 AM Monday (4C
5 Odana Court, Madison, WI) and the Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee at 4:00 PM Tuesday (Lapham Elementary School, 1045 E. Dayton St., Madison, Library).  Glad to see the $K going forward.  Much to say about the TAG work, but that will have to wait till post-Budget.  It is worth noting that with 8.5 FTE serving as of last count 896 students —  many only by placing in existing advanced Math classes — both the Administration and Board Members have exempted TAG from Budget scrutiny.  I don’t support cuts to TAG, but I also don’t support cutting many of the other things on the chopping block.

Thomas J. Mertz

1 Comment

Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

One response to “On the Agenda, MMSD the Week of April 26, 2010 (updated)

  1. Bill Scanlon

    The Board needs to do all it can to stanch the bleeding of Madison’s public schools that has been going on since the late 90’s because of the state’s grossly irresponsible school finance and funding systems.

    The Board’s hyperfocus on cuts rather than on generating as much revenue as possible in order to avoid cuts is a big mistake.

    Before making cuts, the Board needs to make the largest investment it can in Madison’s public schools by increasing taxes as much as possible (about $17M more).

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