The Madison Metropolitan School District will be holding two Budget Hearings on May 19 (5:00 PM at the Doyle Building) and May 22 (1:00 PM, at Warner Park) prior to finalizing any layoffs in the their preliminary 2011-2012 Budget on May 23. The Preliminary Budget itself is scheduled to be finalized on June 20, following the statutorily required Public Hearing that same evening. Details on this week’s hearings are here and the full current budget timeline is here.
This has been a strange year and the process and budget reflect this strangeness. I’ll admit that I haven’t followed things as closely nor looked at the budget materials as thoroughly as I usually do. Still I think it worth offering some information, raising some questions and issues, and offering some comments. If this reveals my lack of preparation, so be it.
This is post is pretty long, if you are just interested in the “asks” for the Budget Hearings, scroll to the bottom.
Due to a combination of circumstances, MMSD is not being hit as hard as most districts by Governor Scot Walker’s Budget proposals, in fact MMSD is adding things and cutting very little (except staff compensation). The best explanations of these circumstances are from Board Member Ed Hughes here and here.
If you want all the details (and as background to what will follow here, you’ll need some of them), read Ed’s posts. For those who don’t, I’ll offer these two big picture excerpts from the second post:
Bottom line, primarily thanks to the cuts in the take-home pay of our teachers and other staff, we should be able to get through the budget process reasonably unscathed (except, of course, for our staff’s paychecks).
While the process should be relatively straightforward for us this year, the budget solutions the state has compelled us to pursue will have unfortunate long-term consequences. Our teachers, who are not overpaid, are our most important resource. Maintaining the quality of our school district will depend critically on our continuing ability to attract and keep the best teachers around.
Much as the Governor might disagree, we’ll eventually have to pay our teachers what they’re worth. When we do, our expenses will jump and our property tax levy will follow suit. Talk about your deficit spending – in effect, the state is financing the next two years of rising school costs by borrowing from our teachers. At some point, that debt will become due.
It should noted that since Ed posted, the Board found funding for the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants, so that cut is off the table.
The biggest addition is 4 year old Kindergarten. The numbers and analysis for this, other additions and savings/efficiencies, shifts are in the “Superintendent’s Recommendations.” Here are the additions (I believe funding has been identified for the first set — including 4K — and is contained in the initial Budget proposal, but the second set remains unfunded, leaving the budget out of balance):
And here are some more recent additions:
First, doing 4k is right and good and I’m glad that it is going forward. It has been a long struggle and all who have made this happen should be proud.
Some other observations on some of these.
- The first include $311,000 in new testing related expenses. MMSD also recently re-upped their contract with UW for value added analysis to the tune of $155, 257. $135,000 of the new test money is for the MAP (a generally good thing), $46,000 for EPAS and PLAN (the ACT related tests, I’m not so sold on this, I’ve written about this before — and elsewhere — and am working on something new, so no more now) and $70,000 for new Talented and Gifted Identification Tests (working on something on that too, but see here for some older thoughts on TAG ID) and $60,000 for AP (also TAG is you go with the way TAG is being treated around here lately). I’m not sure these numbers include all the related expenses of implementing and analyzing.
- System 44 is related to the Literacy Plan (more on the Literacy Plan linked here).
- $60,000 for Youth options, another TAG related item.
- In the second set — the ones that are unfunded — the TAG item doesn’t have a price tag attached. This is the cost of coming into compliance with statutes/DPI after MMSD decided not to contest the preliminary finding — in response to the 2010 complaint — that they were not in compliance.
The cost of the last is a big unknown (I point out the other TAG related adds because I think this item will be the topic of much discussion and the total increase needs to be considered). There are other unknowns.
There are always lost of unknowns at this point in the budget process. The biggest one being the state budget, but also things like pupil counts and relative property values; as well as local items like the TAG issue, Board member Amendments and of course any changes that might come as a result of the public input at the Budget Hearings. I want to highlight some of these.
- Unused Revenue Authority: This is the big, big one. Because MMSD has under-levied the past couple of years there is about $10 million in unused authority (see the Ed Hughes posts for more). The Biennial Budget as proposed by Governor Walker does not allow the use of this authority. Word is that this was unintentional and Republican Senator Luther Olsen has given something like assurances that this will be fixed before the state budget is finalized. $10 million is a lot of money. If MMSD has this authority, advocates for improving or expanding educational offerings, or revising upward compensation packages will have some room to work, and will no doubt come up against those who wish to hold the line on property taxes. It will get interesting.
- The Size of Mandated Revenue Cuts: As drafted, the Walker Budget requires all to reduce districts total state and local revenues by 5.5% (if the unused authority is allowed, MMSD would actually be allowed an increase). Board of Education (proposed) Budget Amendment AA-4 states that “various sources” are saying this may change to 5.0%, increasing MMSD’s limit by $1,429,798. The amendment also proposes that this potential authority be used to add to the Fund Balance. This is, or should be, a non-starter. Because…
- Surpluses, Equity and Fund Balances: For the third year in a row, MMSD is running a surplus. This year it is projected to be between $5.5 and $6.2 million (I can’t be the only one thinking back to the pain and drama of last year’s budget process in light of this development). The Fund Balance is now projected at over $46 Million or double what it was just a few short years ago. In the last year MMSD also adopted a Fund Balance Policy and the projected year end total is in excess of the maximum allowed. Some Fund Balance is already allocated to the 4K start up. The Administration had recommended that $2,788,592 of this be used to create an escrow account for future debt repayments. They are now recommending that $6.5 or $5.5 million be used in this manner. The $1 million difference is in deference to a Board Amendment to use $1 million for maintenance. For reasons related to the crazy quilt of school finance, most directly the hold harmless provisions, placing this money in escrow should increase future state aid (should, because things could change). I can support using some of this for an escrow account, but think that some should be spent this year, both on maintenance and education.
So in these uncertainties there are some likely opportunities for change, a big question mark around TAG and perhaps the possibility of increased spending on maintenance, programs, services , and maybe — if the $10 million in revenue authority is allowed — upward adjustments to compensation packages to offset the pension payment increases (many other Wisconsin public employers have done this). Uncertainties and opportunities.
The Rest of the Board Amendments
So far this year the Board Amendments are unsigned. Weird. Maybe if I’d attended or watched some of the meetings I’ve missed I’d understand this or know which is whose. All four that have been posted are here. In addition to the one sending more money to the Fund Balance and the other spending Fund Balance on maintenance discussed above, there is a proposal to add a “Family (Parent) Engagement Coordinator, Elementary” and to add a “Director of African American Achievement.” Both are designated to be part of the The Division of Equity & Family Involvement. I support the first, with one suggested revision and oppose the second.
Family involvement is key to success in so many ways and MMSD’s efforts in this area have been limited by budget cuts and pretty hit-or-miss even before cuts took their toll. I’m not sure that one district level position will make a big difference, but it is a start. The revision I offer for consideration is making this position part of revamped Community Engagement & Public Information department. I think there may be synergy here, after all parents and families are part of the community and the strongest link to others who aren’t as directly connected to the schools.
Maybe if we had or were adding positions — plural — directed at the achievement of students in poverty and/or other groups, I could support a “Director of African American Achievement.” As is, 50% of our students are poor, 17% are Hispanic, 10% are Asians, 17% are English Language Learners, 1% are Native American, 47% are white, 6% identify as mixed race, and 20% are African American. Of the approximately 2,500 MMSD students in tested grades who ranked in basic or minimal on the WKCE, about 1,125 are African American. That’s half, bad and needs attention, but the other 1,125 students who are failing need attention too. I also have to take into consideration the degree to which Cultural Relevance has come to dominate the equity work of the district, the degree to which cultural relevance has been defined almost exclusively in relation to African American culture and the so far unimpressive results (see the recent report on equity work here, some test scores from the Cultural Relevance program are on page 76). At this time and without adding other positions targeted differently, I can’t support this.
What’s the Ask?
I decided to do this post because people have been asking me about what’s going on with the MMSD Budget, many wanting to know where they should put their advocacy energy. I think I’ve covered and provided links to answer the “what’s going on.” The “what’s the ask” is harder, in part because of the lack of large, looming cuts and all of the unknowns, especially the $10 million in revenue authority.
The simple answer is to advocate for the things you care most about and that you think will do the most good. That’s always good advice.
Here are my asks, in no particular order.
Start with the things discussed above.
Support: Use of some Fund Balance money for maintenance and education; creation of “Family (Parent) Engagement Coordinator, Elementary” position (maybe in a differnt department); and if the $10 million is available, using some of this for improving or expanding educational offerings, or revising upward compensation packages (especially for lower paid staff).
Wait and See: TAG allocations.
Oppose: Use of any additional unanticipated revenues to add to the Fund Balance; creation of a “Director of African American Achievement” (unless other positions are created simultaneously); it is a done deal, but the increased allocation for testing and analysis should be noted.
There are also some other things that have been on my mind, that might be possible if the $10 million is available.
- Bilingual Social Worker positions (as the Latino Parent Group and Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes have been advocating for at least a couple of years).
- Class Size: The move to 18 in SAGE classes is not a positive development and in non-SAGE early grade classes numbers of 25 and above are too big. Rolling bck the SAGE class sizes and setting a hard upper limit of 21 or 22 in K-3 classes would be good (remember that in Florida class sizes in kindergarten through 3d grade are Constitutionally limited to 18 students (22 4th through 8th and 25 in High School).
- Mobility: Last I checked, almost 40% of African American MMSD High Schools were in their first year at their school (I believe that for 9th graders this means that they didn’t come from one of the feeders). Other mobility calculations are similarly alarming (raw numbers here). If we want to get at achievement, I think we need to deal more directly and pro-actively with mobility. I don’t have any ideas, but I’m sure others do and that funding would be needed.
- Madison Prep is not a done deal and some mention should be made about supporting all the students in our schools instead of spending higher amounts per student on a non-Instrumentality, non-Union Charter School of dubious potential.
Last, I’m going to cut and paste some items from last year. These are still good ideas.
- I’ve proposed two budget amendments, one on information for decision making and the other on Equity.
- Budget $250,000 for improved data collection analysis and reporting as required in the Strategic Plan, TAG Plan, and Equity Policy, Literacy Education Evaluation and elsewhere. This should include the creation of a position working with the Board of Education to determine and meet their informational needs.
- Budget $2.0 million in Supplemental Allocations to high need schools via the Equity Resource Formula (or similar criteria) and aligned with purposes identified in School Improvement Plans and consistent with the Strategic Plan and Equity Policy. Since SAGE and Title I do provide resources to high need elementary schools, it may be advisable to disproportionately target secondary schools with these funds.
- You can read more about these on the MadisonAmps blog.
- Create a fund for Strategic Plan Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
- Create a fund for Equity Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
- Fund much-needed Facilities Maintenance.
- Rescind the decision to seek pay freezes for some of the lowest paid employees.
See you Thursday? See you Sunday? My guess is there won’t be big crowds, so short waits and a fully awake Board.
Thomas J. Mertz