On the Agenda, MMSD Board of Education, Week of June 14, 2010

Note:  For a while, I’m going to be illustrating the “On the Agenda” posts with various graphs documenting achievement gaps in MMSD as revealed by the admittedly flawed and limited WSAS/WKCE results.  I think regular reminders may do some good.

Last week was Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Committee meetings; this week they meet as a full Board and (among other things) take votes on action items.  Prior to the open meeting there will be a closed session to discuss among other things a contract for Google apps (to replace district email with Gmail, this is also on the open meeting agenda with  a price tag, so I don’t know why it is part of  the closed session), the Superintendent Salary (I thought that had been done in closed and open sessions as part of the Budget) and the negotiation strategy for the budgeted pay freeze for support employees.

The open meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM, in the Doyle Building Auditorium.  It will be carried by MMSD-TV.

Most of the agenda items were before the Committees last week (video here).  I attended most, but not all of that meeting and rather than repeat what I wrote in the preview of that meeting will be just adding a few things.

The meeting kicks off with announcements and recognition of awards and service (full agenda here).  These include the recognition of Sarah Maslin at the end of her service and the installation of new Student Rep.  Wyatt Jackson.

The first policy item is dealing with the SAGE reconfiguration (an unposted document with more info can be found here) necessitated by recent legislation eliminating the waivers for SAGE Block (small classes for math and literacy only).  As I noted before, this has budget implications and should have been done as part of the budget process.  Because of time constraints, this was not discussed last week.

The administration recommendation is to go to 18/1 class sizes in the current SAGE Block schools (Crestwood, Gompers, Huegel and Muir) and make SAGE in the other schools “flexible” with allocations ranging from 17/1 to 15/1.  The allocations used for the recently passed preliminary budget included allocations based on the first, despite the fact that this was never addressed directly in any of the budget documents or open budget meetings.

I’m not 100% clear what “flexible” will mean in practice, but my guess is that initial allocations will be made at 15/1 but instead of new classes being added when September student counts go to 16/1, they will be added only if they go above 17/1.

I don’t like the 18/1 and I don’t like the flexibility.  I’ll add that I don’t like the lack of any consideration of expanding SAGE at any ratio to the three 30%+ poverty schools that do not have it (as allowed under the same legislation that eliminated the waivers).

MMSD can’t plead poverty as a reason to raise class sizes, not  after they left $13.5 million on the table; I’d like to see anyone with a straight face say that this would be a “do no harm efficiency.”  Some great comments on this on the WEAC site, where the Union’s positive spin was rejected by teachers and others.  I hope MMSD also rejects the spin and the changes.

Changes to Internet Access and Student records policies are next.

Then the Superintendent will present a “Protocol for the Evaluation of MMSD Programs.”  This is a step in the right direction.   A couple of things I really like are the collaborative work on research questions and design up front, with extensive Board involvement and that there instead of a promise of quick answers and fixes there is no expectation of any significant changes being implemented till year four of a six year cycle.   If done correctly this could be meaningful, useful and not just an exercise in “See, we are using data” public relations.   I know the Research and Evaluation team would like to do this correctly, let’s hope they are given the resources (along with outside partners), corporations and freedom form political exigencies to do so.

Speaking of public relations, it looks like Supt. Dan Nerad may have enlisted spinmeister James Woods (of Wisconsin Way infamy) to raise money for and draft a communications and engagement plan.  No question that Woods is good at this kind of thing, he has been able to keep a straight face for years while telling the people of Wisconsin that the likes the Realtors, WEAC and the Road Builders are civic-minded,disinterested parties selflessly seeking to change the political culture of Wisconsin for the benefit of all state residents, all the while these same parties have continued to expend obscene amounts of money to advance their vested interests, continued to be the sources of the corruption the Wisconsin Way pretends to want to change.  Yeah, he’s good.

I’d stay as far away from him as possible.   I know PR is PR, but education needs trust, not spin; transparency, not manipulation; honesty above all.  Speaking of honesty, I don’t want to hear anyone say MMSD can’t afford to hire a communications consultant.  They left over $13 million on the table; it was a choice they made not one they were forced into.

The High School Initiatives Report from the Committee meeting is next.  The reports from the individual schools were very positive and inspiring.  Many, many good things going on and more in the works.  Collaboration was a big theme.   The one thing I like the most is the expansion of AVID and the methods used by AVID.  The high school versions of the achievement gap at the top won’t change until “rigor for all” with supports is in place and AVID offers much along those lines.

Student Code of Conduct and Expulsions revisions follow.  There is some new material here on the Code of Conduct, a comparison grid (distributed at the meeting last week) here and a new appendix on expulsions here.  Based on the discussion last week and the new materials much of the discussion will focus on whether bullying is adequately and correctly addressed in the Code of Conduct.   The expulsion plan is based on offering educational services and transition help for students in the expulsion process.

The Annual Strategic Plan Review is next.   This is worth a look, especially for the progress that has and has not been made.   I had some more comments last week.  I want to add that I like there being continued community involvement, but an annual meeting is pretty minimal.  In Green Bay, under Dan Nerad, for a long time after the plan had been approved, there were monthly “strategic plan “work sessions.”

Last week I raised some questions about the budgeted but unspent ARRA items in the Monthly Financial Statements (next on the agenda).  Asst. Supt Erik Kass provided some informal answers.  I did read correctly, there are around $5 million in approved ARRA projects form 2009-10 that have not been implemented, so the money has not “flowed through.’  There are about another $5 million in projects slated for 2010-11 (much of it designated as the second year of a a two year budget).  These look to be good projects and the district needs to get moving on them.  In answer to my other question, it appears that the ARRA things are considered like special grants and are therefore outside the budget process.  I don’t like that and think you could make a very good case that it is a violation of the state statutes governing the budget.  I’m not going to push that case — all this was done in public I don’t think it is worth fighting that fight — but when the budget process spends time on things like food for receptions, I believe these substantial funds and significant initiatives should be included in the discussion.

Lots of bills, contracts, RFPs and the like come next.  Some are consent items, some aren’t.

There is also a revised Human Resources report.  I didn’t take the time identify the revisions.   I think I forgot to note previously that this confirms John Harper as permanent head of Education Services.  The recommendations for administrative non-renewals for Career and Tech Ed Coordinator, Asst. Director of Equity and Parent Involvement, Expulsions and Truancy Coordinator, Library Media Services Coordinator, Fine Arts Coordinator,  Public Communication Director and Legislative Liaison remain.  The budget-related pay freeze is also listed.  In a related matter, a one month extension of departing General Legal Counsel Dan Malin’s employment is recommended, because there is no replacement in place.

I started looking for job ads related to all this.  The General Legal Counsel is here (with a May 31 deadline), the Equity Director is here, Director of Building Services is here, I couldn’t find the new Chief Learning Officer posted (I hope that means that the search is well along), but I did see that the Talented and Gifted Coordinator search has been reopened.

Reports for the Student Senate and Common Council/Board come next.

Next up is the Legislative Liaison on stalled Education Jobs Act (which President Obama gave a belated push to this weekend).  To get involved in the effort, join the Speak Up for Education and Kids Facebook group and current education related Wisconsin legislative studies. I guess our elected officials have to look busy while they ignore the funding crisis they created and proposed remedies like Penny for Kids.

The Google thing/switch to Gmail is last

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, education, Local News, Pennies for Kids, School Finance, Uncategorized

2 responses to “On the Agenda, MMSD Board of Education, Week of June 14, 2010

  1. Marc Eisen

    T.J., regarding your complaint that the school board has left $13.5 million in taxing authority “on the table”: Could you tell us the property-tax impact on the average homeowner? That is, how much in additional property taxes would the typical homeowner pay on top of the increase that the board seems willing to pay?

    In other words, what would the total dollar and percentage increase be on that average homeowner compared to last year if the board levied the maximum allowable increase?

    To say the obvious, these are tough times economically, and perhaps the board feels that in good conscience it can’t levy what some citizens would consider an onerous increase. Knowing these numbers would allow people to form a judgment on the affordability question. Thanks.

  2. Marc

    Bottom to top.

    I think your read on why they under-levied is likely correct (although the “cut here to not cut there” system that took over about half way through precluded any real, direct discussion of what they were doing or why). My point in relation to this is that in doing so for two consecutive years they’ve damaged their ability to say that they cannot afford to do x or y or z. They have also damaged their ability to lobby state officials for increases in state support.

    On the other questions, phrases like “average homeowner” and “typical homeowner” make it difficult to answer with the figures the district provided (and I don’t think it is worth doing my own calculations). When the latest assessment projections came out the average home value and the the total property wealth had both decreased. For consistency, the district decided to continue using the $250,000 home as a rough estimate, but (if I recall correctly) the average had fallen to something like $242,000 (may be wrong on that).

    With that caveat, the figures in February were 12.23% and $312.00. I don’t recall the revised %, but think the revised amount for a $250,000 was a little over $380.00.

    It is important to keep in mind that the long term trend in mil rates over the last 17 years has been downward. The projected mil rate for taxing fully would have been less than the 2005 mil rate.

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