That Was Strange — MMSD Budget Hearing Report

Patti Smith, “Aint It Strange” (click to listen or download).

Short meeting, short report.

I got there 15minutes late, a very sparse crowd, maybe 4-5 people who weren’t there in a professional capacity, more reporters than citizens.  Strange.

By the time I got there public testimony had ended and Ed Hughes had already withdrawn his “Gift Card” Budget Amendment (more on that below).

I got special dispensation to testify and spoke briefly thanking staff and the Board for doing well under difficult circumstances and given the underlying structural issues, asked them to keep open minds on the use of the potential additional $10 million in revenue authority and identified a couple of places they should consider (addressing mobility and making supplemental allocations based on equity measures real again).  I was told that three people testified; I’m not sure if that included me.

They wrapped up and that was it, over by 5:30.  I ran into three friends afterwards who were on their way to the hearing.    I told them they had another chance on Sunday.

I think there are a lot of factors at play in the lack of attendance and interest.  Here are some:

  • Everyone understands that their actions are constrained by state matters.  In some way this is a victory, because not too long ago we heard a lot of  “don’t whine about the state, there are local mismanagement issues that are the problem.”  In some way this is a loss also.  By far the biggest factor in the fiscal situation is a broken system of state finance aggravated by cuts in state aid and diminished local authority, but there are choices on many things in the Budget that are local and I believe some of these choices are problematic.  When people rallied to protect their favorite programs or to keep their school open, they also became aware of and involved in these choices.  I think that was good.
  • They have generally done a good job under the circumstances.
  • There is no “cut list” to excite interest.
  • One friend said to me that “everyone I know is doing state stuff.”  See number 1.

Like I said in an earlier post, I think there are still things worth advocating on, worth getting excited about.

There was some excitement around Ed Hughes’ proposal in the media today.  Despite pleas from Dave Blaska this excitement did not translate into cyber-warriors actually bothering to attend the meeting and testify.   As of now 116 comments on the Wisconsin State Journal story, most of them ill-informed and hostile.

The odd thing about so much of this that Ed has been a Board Member who has repeatedly pushed back at the Unions.  Most of his new critics don’t know the history and don’t care to.  Ed gets that there is a  tension between the adversarial and collaborative aspects of the Board/Union relationship, and has on occasion pulled toward the adversarial more than I think is good.  I’m not privy to the nuts and bolts of negotiations, but that’s the impression I have and certainly his budget amendment last year calling for a freeze in pay for non teacher MTI affiliate members  backs up this impression.

Read these  posts by Ed  (1, 2, 3, 4) and his responses to Blaska at the above link to learn a little more about where he is coming from.    He is  not (as Blaska characterized)  “cowed” by the Union, but he probably does have “conflicting emotions” because he understands the tensions and also understands that the district staff is the most important factor in fulfilling the mission of providing quality education to all students.

To me this amendment was a nice gesture.  It doesn’t change much, it certainly doesn’t make up for the financial hits district staff are taking, but nice.  It isn’t the kind of thing I’d propose, but  it is something I could support.

I think it is sad that a relative few knee jerk anti-Union/anti-Teacher/anti-Public Education/anti-Public Sector trolls and flamers can create an atmosphere where a proposal like Ed’s doesn’t stand much of a chance.


Thomas J. Mertz

Addendum — Ed Hughes has some clarification on what happenedSusan Troller offers some background and context.


Filed under "education finance", Budget, Contracts, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, School Finance, Scott Walker

8 responses to “That Was Strange — MMSD Budget Hearing Report

  1. I spoke before you came and encouraged the board to consider adding funding for more AVID classes.

  2. Good and thank you! You were more focused than I was.

  3. I couldn’t make it tonight, but am hoping to get there Sunday. What do you know about the recommendation to change the Monday planning time to professional development/meeting time? The teachers I’m talking to are upset about this – they do a lot of collaborative planning on Monday afternoons and are under the impression that might go away? I’ve read the contract language and the purpose/extent of the change isn’t clear to me.

  4. My understanding of the change is that it would give supervisors/administrators the power to have mandatory activities during the early release time. I think how big a change this is will vary greatly from school to school, at least initially. There may eventually be district-wide initiatives.

    Monday’s agendas aren’t posted yet, so I don’t know if there is an item directly on this. That makes a difference. If it is just going to express displeasure with a contract provision that there is no proposed change on, while worthwhile, I think the budget hearing is more important. If there is an item to speak in favor of, that means real potential for change.

    With the budget, things are still in flux, especially while the state matters remain unsettled.

  5. It is my understanding that the planning time issue is part of the teacher contract and not addressed in the budget. Not sure it can be changed until the next contract.

  6. Not in the Budget, but the district can ask for a contract change at any time. Now that I think about it, any change will not be made or discussed in public session (although in theory it could, they just very rarely do).

  7. Tom Farley

    I read through most of the responses to the WSJ piece on the Ed Hughes proposal. What’s sad is that Madison used to be perceived as a Creative Class city. Clearly we have a large population here that doesn’t understand how innovation and progress occurs. The best ideas often come by generating several, and you can’t generate ideas unless you suspend all judgement. Unfortunately we’ve created an environment where our local elected leaders are immediately judged at every single stage of the policy creation and evaluation process.

  8. Tom – Yes there is a population in Madison like you describe, but I think their size is exaggerated and that many of the comments ob are from outside Madison and even outside Wisconsin.

    Madison has long had a niche as a place that reactionaries love to react to. In recent months this has become more pronounced. Things like Ed’s proposal become national news and the national cause celebre of the day for a bunch of people whose hobby (sometimes paid hobby) is trolling and flaming in comments section.

    All this makes on our community of developments like those around Ed’s proposal even sadder.

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