IMACS Contract(s) — Sorting Through the Mess(es)


Junior Wells — “Messin’ with the Kid”(click to listen/watch).

This is an almost everything, including the kitchen sink, post on updates for the Monday, July 31, 2017 Madison Metropolitan School District vote (agenda and materials here) on the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School Contract (previous post here provides essential background, I am not going to re-cover most of that material).   I am not making an attempt to link this all together or make it flow, only identifying some topics and providing information and opinions for each.  Here goes:

New Materials

There were some new materials provided to the Board after the last meeting and those have been posted as an update to my previous post.  This week we were given a new version of the contract; a draft version of the contract with IMA Inc (the private school); a memo/email from DPI on the 3K arrangements, lottery, attendance area and more; and a summary of contract changes.  Most of what follows is in reference to these materials, and is no real order (as I draft, I keep thinking of the Bob Dylan line — “I need a dump truck baby to unload my head“).

A New Budget?

The memo from DPI required a change in the language related to 3K payments from IMA Inc.  The contract now reads ” IMA, Inc. shall provide reimbursement to the District for one-third of the cost of the 3K-5K classroom including staffing costs, space rental costs and instructional supplies,” and there is a note that reads “Impacts the wording in the budget document.” I have asked three times since Thursday evening for a new budget, but less than 24 hours before the meeting I don’t have one [12:22 PM, 7/31/17, a budget has now been posted with the meeting materials, but both the language and the finances are unchanged).

The note indicates that they are only contemplating a language change, but this also necessitates financial changes.  The $53,901.33 in year one, and the amounts in later years, do not come close to covering the total costs for the 3K students.  My rough and conservative calculation for year one is as follows:

Count 3K and 4K students at the state count for 4K of  .6 FTE (although you could make a case that because the 3K and 4K students at IMACS will be in class about 40% more time than our other 4K students, that should be much higher, say .6 *1.4 or .84).  Using the .6 IMACS will have 174 FTE students in year one (150 K-9, 12 3K, and 12 4K).  Total budget for year one is $1,391,501.08, which produces a cost per student of $7997.13.  Multiply that by 12 (3K FTE) and you get $95,965.59, or $42,064.26 more than IMA has promised for year one reimbursement.

My guess is that any change will simply involve a shift from the “Financial Support from the parent organization, IMA, Inc” lines, but I would at least like that level of honesty and transparency.

What’s with the 3K Tuition Arrangements?

Even with DPI saying the arrangements are “OK” (in a memo that also says “DISCLAIMER: The content of this email is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain legal advice, including compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.”), major issues remain.  As before, for me the biggest one is a matter of principle — I don’t think MMSD should allow a third party to charge tuition to place children in our classrooms.  However, I also think the legal matters are still not clear.

I asked that the Board be given a draft contract with IMA Inc in order to understand what MMSD is selling them.  Strangely, the draft contract doesn’t really say.  It says somethings about what IMA will do (and therefore what MMSD will not be responsible for):

IMA, Inc. agrees to govern and oversee all financial aspects of the IMA educational facility and three – year – old kindergarten programs and afternoon four – y ear – old kindergarten wrap around care and programming . IMA, Inc. further agrees to incur all financial liabilities and costs associated with the IMA educational facility , three – year – old kindergarten program and afternoon four – year – old kindergarten wraparound care and programming.

And it says this about (part of) what MMSD is agreeing to do:

Three – year – old kindergarten: As set forth in Exhibit A (IMACS Five – Year Expenditure Budget Model) , IMA, Inc. shall provide reimbursement to the District for one – third of the cos t of the 3K – 5K classroom, including staffing costs, space rental costs and instructional supplies . The District does not provide three – year – old kindergarten and will not take on any financial responsibility for providing such programming. However, the practical considerations regarding hiring, evaluation and pay roll for this position have resulted in the District agreeing to perform the HR functions on behalf of IMACS. The amount set forth in Exhibit A in the row identified as “3 K Tuition/IMA reimbursement (cover 3K classroom %),” which shall be directly payable to the District, includes a two and one – half percent (2.5%) annual administrative fee. If at any point during the term of this Agreement, IMA, Inc. ceases offering three – year – old kindergarten programming, the Parties shall meet to identify budgetary and programmatic impact.

What is missing is anything about providing educational services, putting kids in classrooms, …how many kids? …how many hours? …what services?…what classrooms? …do teachers do conferences?…are the students enrolled in MMSD? …who will provide transportation? …do they have access to MMSD social workers? ..are they subject to MMSD rules? ….MMSD student and family rights? …who keeps their educational records?…who has access to those records?…what about liabilities other than financial?…I could keep going…

Leaving aside the bearing some of these questions have on the legality of the arrangements, as a Board Member, I want to know what we are agreeing to.  I would think IMA Inc. would also want to know what they are paying for.

I would not  find a reference to the detailed proposal satisfactory on this.  As a general rule, this is the contract and it should say what MMSD is accepting responsibility for.  More specifically, the detailed proposal was — in vague terms — found wanting, and has been (at least partially) superseded.  The detailed proposal says many things about 3K, but I don’t know which are meant to be implied by the contract.

I also think that if some version of an arrangement allowing IMA Inc to buy spaces in  MMSD classrooms and resell these spaces goes forward, MMSD should include in the contract some limit on how much of a markup they can take for this activity.

Why is the Charter School Policy Funding Formula Being Ignored?

I don’t know, but it is a bad practice and precedent.

The current IMACS 5 year budget projects expenditures $516,157.01 greater than the amount set by policy.

MMSD Policy 1000 reads in part

Charter School Funding Formula. All charter schools developed and initially chartered after July 1, 2013 shall receive annual funding pursuant to the following funding formula: The number of students (based on projected enrollment set forth in the charter contract) multiplied by the Department of Instruction’s open enrollment per student transfer amount.

There is no ambiguity, yet the MMSD administration found that a budget which included MMSD funding in excess of the open enrollment amount met expectations and satisfied the contingencies required by the January vote.

I went back and looked at the minutes and documents from the drafting and passage of the policy (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) to see if there was any hint that this was intended to be advisory or optional.  There was not.

In fact, the “Charter School Original Proposal Application Applicant’s Guide” says “In order to ensure sustainability and feasibility, budget proposals may not exceed the per pupil cost allocation unless accounted for by fundraising. ”  IMACS has not met this requirement.

This policy was passed by a 7-0 vote at the last meeting before I took office.  In the time I have been on the Board, I can recall no effort to change, or even a discussion of changing the Charter School Funding Formula.

A Board may change our policies, I guess we could waive a policy (but doing so in the middle of a process is a really bad idea), but I don’t think we can just ignore them or violate them.  Like I said, I don’t know what is going on with this.  I plan to try to find out at the meeting.

What about the Staffing?

There are two major, related issues with the staffing.  One is the waivers from Statutes and the MMSD Employee Handbook that are in the contract (this is new); the other is the mater of adequacy (which is continuing).  Here are the waivers:

20.01 Statutory Waivers: Pursuant to Wisconsin State Stat. sec 188.40(7)(b), “[e] xcept as otherwise explicitly provided, chs. 115 to 121 do not apply to charter schools. ” IMACS shall exercise the flexibility afforded by this statutory provision to offer special programming, including physical education, art and music, in an integrated, student – led manner. Additionally, such programming will be guided by Montessori certified staff. Such staff may or may not also hold additional DPI licenses and /or supplementary licenses.

20.02 MMSD Handbook Waivers : IMACS will provide a standard school day , except for early release days, and abide by the established District calendar. IMACS will not implement early release days at any instructional level as set forth in sections 4.01 (Middle and Senior) and 4.02 (Monday Professional Collaboration Time (Early Release)) – Elementary) of Addendum A of the District ’s Employee Handbook. This information shall be included in any postings for IMACS teacher positions.

Elementary – level teachers will have the amount of planning time set forth in section 4.02 (Planning Time) of Addendum A of the District’s Employee Handbook; however, the time may be divided into units smaller than thirty minute blocks.

The pedagogical orientation of the Montessori model does not rely on or use tradition al Carnegie units of instruction. The model relies on sustained work blocks. IMACS will not implement the teacher contact time limitations for middle school and high schools teachers as set forth in section 4.01 (Middle and Senior) of Addendum A of the District’s Employee Handbook. This information shall be included in any posting for IMACS teacher positions.

Parent engagement and parent – staff relationships are an important aspect of the IMACS school design. The eight (8) hour limit on evening parent – teacher conference time set forth in section 4.03 of Addendum A of the Employee Handbook shall not apply to IMACS. Information related to parent – conference participation shall be included in IMACS teacher position postings.

The first issue here is how this is being done.  In this post Act 10 world, the Handbook process is an essential part of the effort to create trust with our staff, and both the process and trust are very fragile.  With this contract that process is sidestepped, and trust is strained.

The second concerns the quality of education.  In general, teaching conditions are learning conditions, and things like planning time and some limit on workload are essential (the waiver eliminates the “the teacher contact time limitations for middle school and high schools teachers,” but does not establish new ones).

More specifically, the statutory waiver has great potential to marginalize Art, Music, and Physical Education by placing the burden for these on non-specialist classroom teachers.  As I noted in my previous post, my broad but unsystematic survey of staffing at Public Montessori schools found that almost all included Art and Physical Education teachers.  A 2012 Evaluation of Montessori schools in Milwaukee said this:

mke review 2012

Which brings us to other major staffing issue, which is the lack of Assistants in the budget.  In a move reminiscent of Kellyanne Conway citing alternative facts, the contract simply eliminates the Assistants from the AMI Standards (the budget still includes the minimal and likely insufficient BRS and SEA allocations).



Attendance Zones, Transportation Zone, and Demographics

When IMA was being considered in January, multiple Board Members stressed the importance of the potential to serve a diverse population, with an emphasis on our low income students and students of color.  With a Charter School it is impossible to absolutely control who applies and enrolls, but there are ways that we can influence this.  The most effective way is by creating an attendance zone that is dominated by the target populations.  Instead the contract for IMA declares the entire school district as the attendance zone (this was done in part in response to a new understanding of lottery rules, but it is not required by that understanding).  Another, less effective way is to only provide transportation within an area dominated by the targeted population.  The IMA contract makes a half-hearted attempt at this.  If this is to go forward I think we should try to do better.  My first move in that attempt would be to eliminate Maple Bluff from the transportation zone.

How Will the Success (or Failure) of IMA Be Judged?

As I detailed in my previous post, the IMA contract does not meet the requirements in this. I have also pointed out that I don’t particularly like this requirement.  I have been thinking more about this, and have a little more to say.  I still don’t like it, but have come to understand that the need for “Performance Based Contracting” is intrinsic to Charter Schools.

…[C]harter contracts that plainly:

• Establish the performance standards under which schools will be evaluated, using objective and verifiable measures of student achievement as the primary measure of school quality;

• Define clear, measurable, and attainable academic, financial, and organizational performance standards and targets that the school must meet as a condition of renewal, including but not limited to state and federal measures;

Charter Schools are based on a market vision of education (which I don’t like either).  Experience has taught that low quality education often does not discourage enrollments in Charter Schools, so the market needs another mechanism.  Performance Based Contracting is that mechanism.


What Now? What Next?

The meeting and vote will be this evening.  As far as I can see, with how the item is on the agenda, there are few different things the Board can do in the short term, and more in the longer term.


The first is we could approve the contract.


We can’t change the contract from the floor of a meeting.


If we don’t approve the contract, the options expand.


We could simply send our staff and IMA back to the negotiating table.  I don’t think that is a good idea.


We cold send them back to the table with instructions for what we would like changed.  This is better.  However, I think those instructions need thought and clarity, and I don’t believe the Board is prepared to create that clarity this evening.


An even better option would be to refer to a future meeting (here is no ticking clock), and at that meeting draft and approve instructions for negotiations.


If the contract is not approved tonight, we could — at a future meeting where it is properly noticed on the agenda — consider rescinding the contingent approval from January.  This would be my preference.


TJ Mertz

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