Category Archives: “education finance”

Class Size Budget Amendment (Annotated)

vegan-meat-alternative-sausage-onion_1

I had joked that the previous post should have been illustrated with a picture of sausage being made, but that I didn’t want to alienate vegans and vegetarians. The amendment is now finished, and the sausage pictured here is vegan.

“Step by Step” — The Boyer Brothers (click to listen/watch)

Yesterday afternoon I submitted the final version of an amendment on class sizes to the Madison Metropolitan School District 2017-18 Preliminary Budget.  The Board of Education will consider and vote on this (and other amendments), as well as the Budget at our meeting on June 26, 2017 (6:00 PM, Doyle Building Auditorium).  In my previous post I presented my then current thinking about the amendment and asked for feedback.  This post is a brief walk-through of the final version, highlighting (and to some extent explaining) changes.

In general, the legislative process requires compromise, and tempering idealism with realism.  I have tried to keep that in mind throughout the budget work, but at this penultimate step compromise and realism become more prominent.

From top to bottom, excerpts followed by comments.

Amend the 2017-18 MMSD Preliminary Budget by immediately allocating an additional $500,000 to expand the number of budgeted unallocated classroom teacher positions, and

Dependent on the per pupil categorical aid provisions of the biennial Wisconsin State budget allocating up to an additional $1,000,000 to expand the number of budgeted unallocated classroom positions proportionately with no additional allocation if the categorical aid increase is $100 or less, up to $1,000,000 if it is $200 or more, and

Both compromise and realism are present here.  Reviewing the Budget, previous and pending actions; talking and listening to budget staff, Board Members, community members, I have concluded that the present Budget can support targeted class size allocations of $500,000, and that a favorable State Budget would justify an increase to that amount of $1,000,000.  I am sure we will hear more on this from all parties prior to and at the June 26 meeting.

I try to be forthcoming and transparent, so I want to acknowledge that the best projections indicate that spending the $1,000,000 which is dependent on the State Budget will push the property tax levy increase beyond the 3.97% projected in relation to the November 2016 referendum, to approximately 4.3% (there won’t be final numbers till October).  I should also note that my proposed increase in levy is only one half of the projected $2,000,000 that would be available.

One other thing of importance here is the shift from talking about the number of positions to talking about dollars.  Being a budget amendment, that is necessary.  Translating dollars to FTE is an inexact calculation.  MMSD makes wide use of a figure of about $80,000 to budget full time teachers, inclusive of benefits, payroll taxes and everything else.  However, teachers hired late tend to be less experienced, have lower levels of post-graduate education, and are less likely to enroll in “family” insurance plans, making them somewhat cheaper.  If I had to guess, I would say that the probable cost per FTE hired under this amendment would be about $60,000, so $1,500,000 would yield 25 FTE, but it could be higher and the yield could be fewer than 20.

Establishing the following guidelines for the prioritizing the allocation of these new positions to schools: setting standards, but allowing for flexibility based on unique circumstances, local knowledge, and professional judgment, with primary consideration to be given to allocating positions to meet the standards in the order listed below:

  1. High Poverty, K-3 not to exceed 18 students.
  2. High Poverty, 4-5, not to exceed 23 students.
  3. Other Schools, K, not to exceed 20 students.
  4. Other Schools, 1-3, not to exceed 22 students.
  5. Other Schools, 4-5, not to exceed 25 students.
  6. High Poverty, 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 25 students.
  7. Other Schools 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 27 students.
  8. High Poverty, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 27 students.
  9. Other Schools, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 29 students.
  10. 9th Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 28 students.
  11. 10-12 Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), not to exceed 30 students.

For the purposes of this amendment designating the following schools as High Poverty:

K-5 (non-AGR schools marked with *; non-Title I schools marked with #)

Allis Elementary
Emerson Elementary
Falk Elementary
Glendale Elementary
Gompers Elementary
Hawthorne Elementary
Huegel Elementary#
Kennedy Elementary*
Lake View Elementary
Lapham Elementary*#
Leopold Elementary
Lincoln Elementary*
Lindbergh Elementary
Lowell Elementary
Mendota Elementary
Midvale Elementary
Muir Elementary#
Nuestro Mundo Elementary
Orchard Ridge Elementary
Sandburg Elementary
Schenk Elementary
Stephens Elementary*#
Thoreau Elementary#

6-8 (non-Title I schools marked with #)

Badger Rock Middle
Black Hawk Middle
Cherokee Middle
Jefferson Middle#
O’Keeffe Middle
Sennett Middle
Sherman Middle
Toki Middle#
Whitehorse Middle#
Wright Middle

There are two significant changes here.  The first is in the composition and ordering of the priorities. The second is moving from “hard caps” to “guidelines” or “standards.”

On the presentation of the priorities, the feedback I received was crucial.  Overwhelmingly, people were most concerned about the early grades in high poverty schools, and advocated a “the smaller the better” policy for these grades.  My personal preference for something more nuanced (read complicated) and giving more attention to (what I consider) extremely large classes in some of our lower poverty schools remains, but these are compromises I can endorse.

Budgeting hard caps is difficult, amending a budget that wasn’t built on hard caps is even more difficult (especially when proposed hard caps are smaller than the numbers used to make initial allocations).  Going forward, revising the current (weak) MMSD Class Size Policy, and giving more attention to class size at every stage of the budget process may create a more favorable environment for hard caps in future budgets, but not this one.

While understanding that (almost) any absolute rule will on occasion lead to less than optimal choices, I am wary of calls for flexibility.  Some years ago I wrote about the introduction of “flexibility” in SAGE and other policies:

Remember warnings about your face getting stuck in some ugly expression? I think the champions of “flexibility” in Wisconsin and elsewhere need loud and repeated warnings that their “flexibility” in educational policy (along with privatization, cuts in funding, destruction of local control…) in fact constitutes a possibly permanent acceptance of declining educational quality and is an ugly betrayal of our traditions and our responsibility to our children. They are bending our schools out of shape and our children will be stuck with it.

The events of the last six years have only reinforced my wariness.

My ideal method for balancing mandates and flexibility is to mandate default choices, but simultaneously create a process by which deviations from the default are justified and approved.  Although the amendment doesn’t go that far, I do think the reporting requirements (below) embody some of this concept and will create opportunities for accountability.

Requiring that public reports be made to the Board of Education, which include the amount of funds remaining from this allocation, the number of sections or classrooms added to date from this allocation for each of the listed priorities, the number of sections or classrooms remaining that exceed the guidelines for each listed priority based on then current enrollments.

At minimum three public reports be made,

  1. A Baseline Report to be issued as soon as possible after the passage of the Preliminary 2017-18 Budget, but no later than July 14, 2017.
  2. A Start of School Report, to be issued no earlier than the completion of registrations (August 21, 2017) and no later than the end of the second week of school (September 15, 2017).
  3. A Report, to be issued with the October/November Enrollment Reports.

I hope these reports accomplish two additional things.  First is increased transparency in school and classroom staffing.  I think these are the most important part of our Budget, and MMSD has been more translucent than transparent with them.  Second, I think the reports will contribute to the ongoing discussion of the costs and impacts of spending on class size reduction.

Before closing I want to note that I left out any mandate tying the allocation of the new positions to specific dates.  The main purpose of that was to give greater weight to the highest priorities, but the process was awkward, and the reconfiguration of the priorities accomplished some of this.

In closing I am going to cut-and-paste the closing of my previous post, once again urging participation in this process:

If you think I did more right than wrong, please let the Board (and the world) know about your support for the amendment.  As usual, you can email us [board@madison.k12.wi.us], or testify at the June 26th meeting where we will be voting on this and the entire preliminary budget.  Talk to your neighbors, co-workers, and friends, write a letter to the editor, post on Facebook. Instagram, or tweet something, draw something, dance…be creative.

Thanks in advance for the feedback and support.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Class Size, education, finance, Local News, MMSD, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

Notes for Final Class Size Amendment

Betty Everett — “Getting Mighty Crowded” (watch and listen).

On Monday June 12, the Operations Work Group of the Madison Metropolitan School District received an update on the 2017-18 budget, and discussed amendments submitted by Board Members (video here, meeting materials may be found at BoardDocs, here; it appears a second cost analysis on class size prepared by the district has not been posted on BoardDocs, it may be found here, a cost analysis prepared by community members is somewhat lower).

An amendment I submitted establishing “hard caps” on class sizes, and differentiating among classes and schools by grade span and a different poverty calculation than participation in the state Achievement Gap Reduction program (AGR, formally SAGE) has garnered much attention and more than a little support.  My amendment, with an explanation of poverty measure may be found here (a little more below).  The next step is preparing a “final” amendment for submission and vote (with the understanding that the amendment may be amended at the June 26, 2017 meeting, prior to a vote).  That process is the topic of this post.

The intent of my initial amendment was three-fold.  First, I wanted to get some sense of the costs involved.  Second, I wanted to shift thinking away from average class size to maximums, and away from AGR as the only means to differentiate between high and low poverty schools in this context.  Last, I wanted to give people opportunities to think, and talk, and write about class size in our district.  The numbers I used were not my ideal class sizes, and not intended to be final.

I have learned a little more about costs; made some impacts in how class size is being considered; and learned much about all aspects of class size impacts from the many staff, parents, and teachers who have opined in public and private.  Thank you all.

I want this discussion to continue, but soon the focus must shift to making concrete progress in addressing the most important class size issues in our district.  To do this I have to draft a budget amendment, and try to get it passed.

This involves prioritizing among the many issues and actions that have been discussed, and finding mechanisms to budget according to those priorities.  In an effort to be transparent, and as a plea for one more round of feedback and ideas from our community, I am presenting here what I see as the choices involved, and much of my current thinking.

Big Picture — Class Size Matters (in a Multitude of Ways)

No single education policy or practice will fix every area of concern with our schools, but research and experience have consistently demonstrated that small class sizes can help bring improvement in many of the most important areas, including student achievement, opportunity gaps, behavior, school climate, inclusion and differentiation, staff morale and retention, and family engagement.  This isn’t the place to work through the research, but I do want to point people to the Class Size Matters web site; recent local op eds from Cris Carusi, Andy Waity, and Jennifer Wang; and offer one excerpt from a recent evaluation of the SAGE program by the Value Added Research Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (if any of the people who have written the Board or testified — or others –would like to share your communications wider, I encourage you to use the comments on this post):

When comparing characteristics of students in SAGE versus non-SAGE schools, the Value-Added Research Center (VARC) observed large differences in their respective demographic profiles. The selection process into the program explains these differences and precludes simple comparisons across the two groups. Thus, VARC used statistical methods to control for these differences with the goal of estimating the impact of the SAGE program on student growth in mathematics and reading. Results from the statistical analyses of growth yield:

• An estimated positive effect of the SAGE program on reading academic growth in kindergarten as compared to students in non-SAGE schools, and

• An estimated positive effect of the SAGE program on mathematics and reading academic growth from kindergarten through third grade as compared to students in non-SAGE schools.

New to this year’s evaluation is an analysis of the effect of SAGE on students’ high school completion outcomes and on their choice of dropping out of high school. The results show:
• A positive effect of the SAGE program on students choosing to stay in high school in both ninth and tenth grade, and

• A positive effect of the SAGE program on students completing high school and not dropping out for students from African-American and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Finally, this year’s SAGE evaluation also included results from the SAGE End-of-Year Report survey to examine non-academic outcomes. The results from the survey show increased flexibility with classroom design, benefits for students unrelated to standardized testing such as having more individual time to work with students, and benefits for teachers in recruitment and retention.

Choice # 1 — How Many Positions (FTE — Full Time Equivalent)?

It is clear that at this point in the budget process it would be impossible to reallocate or find enough money to achieve what I would consider reasonable class sizes throughout the district.  The best option seems to be to offer an amendment budgeting an increase in the number of unallocated classroom positions and setting rules for how they are to be allocated.  I need to do some more digging and thinking, and have some more conversations with budgeting staff and other Board Members before arriving at the number for the final amendment.

What happens with the state budget — especially the “per pupil categorical aid,” but also equalization aid — will make a huge difference.  For that reason, I am leaning to linking the number of unallocated positions in the amendment to state budget provisions.

Choice # 2 — Where Are Class Size Limits Most Needed and What Should They Be?

This is where the feedback I have heard has been most valuable in opening my eyes to the myriad of experiences, viewpoints, and ideas.  It is also where I most want further feedback.  If we can’t do everything, what should we do first (and second, and third…)?

Everything here begins with the assumption that previous allocations remain in place (hold harmless), and that existing guidelines or standards are not preempted in order to achieve the new priorities.   I am not proposing that already allocated positions be moved, but that new allocations be used in this manner.

Below is my current list of priorities, in order.  Whatever the number of unallocated positions added, or the mechanism used to allocate them, it is highly unlikely that any will end up being allocated for any of the priorities after #5 or #6 (maybe not even these), but I do think it is essential to be comprehensive, to make a statement about (almost) every class in every school. All are for maximum limits, or “hard caps.” As before, it isn’t my ideal, and it isn’t final (but it does need to be final soon):

  1. High Poverty, K, 18 students.
  2. High Poverty 1-3, 19 students.
  3. Other Schools, K, 20 students.
  4. Other Schools, 1-3, 22 students.
  5. High Poverty, 4-5, 23 students.
  6. Other Schools, 4-5, 25 students.
  7. High Poverty, 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 25.
  8. Other Schools 6th Grade, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies),  27.
  9. High Poverty, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 27
  10. Other Schools, 7-8, Core Academic Classes (Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies), 29.
  11. 9th Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), 28.
  12. 10-12 Grade Core Academic Classes (Reading/English, Math, Science, Social Studies), 30.

These priorities recognize the research that has found differential impacts of class size reduction, with greater impacts for students in poverty and African American students, and in the early grades; as well as the general equity principal that resources should be directed toward higher need schools and students.  As mentioned above, I want the district to use a more expansive definition of “high poverty” than currently employed.  Here is the explanation from my initial amendment:

Defining “High Poverty”

The AGR designation does not reflect current demographics of our K-5 schools, and other than via Title I MMSD has not designated Middle Schools as “High Poverty.” MMSD currently uses both self identification (traditional) and Direct Certification to designate students as “Low Income.” These methods produce very different results (see spreadsheets here for K-5 and here for 6-8). It is impossible to say if one is a “better” measure than the other. I would suggest using an average of the two to rank our schools, and 35% (rounded up) as the “High Poverty” cut point for K-8.  By this method the following schools are designated ‘High Poverty”

K-5 (non-AGR schools marked with *; non-Title I schools marked with #)

Allis Elementary
Emerson Elementary
Falk Elementary
Glendale Elementary
Gompers Elementary
Hawthorne Elementary
Huegel Elementary#
Kennedy Elementary*
Lake View Elementary
Lapham Elementary*#
Leopold Elementary
Lincoln Elementary*
Lindbergh Elementary
Lowell Elementary
Mendota Elementary
Midvale Elementary
Muir Elementary#
Nuestro Mundo Elementary
Orchard Ridge Elementary
Sandburg Elementary
Schenk Elementary
Stephens Elementary*#
Thoreau Elementary#

6-8 (non-Title I schools marked with #)

Badger Rock Middle
Black Hawk Middle
Cherokee Middle
Jefferson Middle#
O’Keeffe Middle
Sennett Middle
Sherman Middle
Toki Middle#
Whitehorse Middle#
Wright Middle

Looking closer at the K-5 spreadsheet brings to light some of the issues involved.

K-5 Poverty AGR Title

First is that Lincoln — a high poverty school by any calculation — and Lapham, Stephens, and Kennedy — relatively high poverty schools — are left out of the AGR/Not AGR scheme, but included here.  Depending on how you count, these schools educated either 848 or 533 low income students last year.  This points to another observation, which is that there are a substantial number of low income students in our non-low income schools — by one method 180 at Chavez alone — and that these schools and students cannot be completely left out of our equity efforts.  It should also be acknowledged that one current AGR school — Crestwood — doesn’t make the cut.  I would be open to retaining that school.

Choice #3 — How To Allocate the New FTE?

If you want to make sure that the maximum number of the new sections go to the highest priority grades and schools, and maximize the likelihood that none of the classes in the highest priority categories exceed the designated limits, all allocations to lower priority categories would have to be delayed until after the Third Friday Count, and the end of allocations.  I am open to that idea (if you support it, let me know), but it isn’t my first choice (at this time).

In order to hire the best teachers, have the least disruption in class assignments, deal with physical and other logistics, best integrate faculty into school communities, and many other reasons, allocating earlier is better than allocating later.

What I am proposing for consideration here (and may end up proposing in the final amendment, depending on the feedback I receive), is an allocation process that seeks to balance the competing desires of maximizing addressing the highest priorities, and timing the additions in the way that makes the most sense.  Here goes version #1 (dates, details, and percentages, as well as the whole concept open for discussion and change).

  1. Beginning July 1, 2017 allocations of the new FTE will be made on a weekly basis, in order of and according to the priorities listed above, using then current enrollment or roster data.
  2. No more than 50% of the new FTE may be allocated prior to August 1, 2017.
  3. No more than 80% of new FTE may be allocated prior to the Third Friday Count.
  4. Middle and High Schools may address large sections via partial FTE and overload authorizations.
  5. The Board of Education will be provided bi-weekly updates on allocations made under this amendment, and any and all grades or courses at any school that exceed the limits above where there has not been an allocation made.  These reports shall be public.

I was tempted to make it even more complicated by having X% at this date, and Y% at the next date, and Z%, and on and on, with a new percent (almost) every week, but I decided not too.  I am still tempted to try to adjust the dates around the enrollment/registration week (August 14-18), or the opening of school (September 5 & 6).  As I said above, I am open to adjusting any part of this, or abandoning the attempt to balance.  I like it, but I don’t love it.

What Next?

To be fair to my fellow Board Members and our hardworking staff, I should finalize and submit this early next week (end of the day Monday 6/19 or mid day Tuesday 6/20 at the latest).

Between now and then, I hope to hear more from our well-informed and creative community (that means you!).  You can comment on this post, send an email directly to me — tjmertz@madison.k12.wi.us, or the entire Board — board@madison.k12.wi.us, I promise to read them all, but may not be able to respond individually.  You can even call me (the number is on the Board page).

Once I finalize this amendment, I will post it here, at AMPS.  Then you can weigh in and tell me what I did wrong.

If you think I did more right than wrong, please let the Board (and the world) know about your support for the amendment.  As usual, you can email us, or testify at the June 26th meeting where we will be voting on this and the entire preliminary budget.  Talk to your neighbors, co-workers, and friends, write a letter to the editor, post on Facebook. Instagram, or tweet something, draw something, dance…be creative.

Thanks in advance for the feedback and support.

Thomas J. Mertz

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2017-18 MMSD Budget Questions and Notes

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Chuck Berry — “Thirteen Question Method” (click to listen/watch)

At 5:45 on Monday, May 8, 2017 the Madison Metropolitan School District Operations Work Group will hold our first extended discussion of the the 2017-18 Budget since receiving the draft Budget Book.  Also on the agenda is the first of two scheduled discussions of possible changes to the Behavior Education Plan (summary here, many other related files attached to the agenda on BoardDocs, linked above).  It will be a busy evening.

In anticipation of these meeting, and this phase of the budget work, I sent two communications to the rest of the Board, and the Administration (here and here).  The first concentrates on some of the areas where I am thinking about offering amendments (there may be other areas, but I wanted to start with these); because the it appears the meeting will focus on the administrative “Priority Actions,” the second is on these.

In the interest of transparency and public awareness, I am posting these here, annotated with some extra commentary, notes, and links.  First up are the “Questions Related to Possible Budget Amendments.”

Wright Uniforms

  • What would be the cost to provide all Wright staff with 3 shirts/tops, 2 pair of pants or skirts, and one sweater or fleece in compliance with the uniform policy and the Handbook requirement that “In the event that any employee shall be required as a condition of his/her employment to wear any particular kind of uniform or other special clothing…clothing….shall be furnished by the District”?
  • What would be the cost to provide all Wright students with 3 shirts/tops, 2 pair of pants or skirts, and one sweater or fleece in compliance with the uniform policy?

I was one of two votes against this policy, but believe that if this is the will of the Board the burden should not fall on the staff and students.  As far as staff goes, I am not inclined to revise the Handbook to exempt Wright.  With students, despite the claims of the uniform industry, the best academic research I could find indicates that school uniforms do not save families money through decreased clothing purchases.   Wright is our highest poverty school, imposing added costs on the school’s families renders a bad idea even worse.

Class Size

  • What would be the costs and the additional FTE required to achieve each of the following class size caps:
    • AGR (formerly SAGE) schools, K-2, leave as is (soft cap at 20, hard cap at 22).
    • Non-AGR schools, K-2, soft cap at 22, hard cap at 23.
    • AGR schools 3-5, soft cap at 23, hard cap at 24.
    • Non-AGR schools, 3-5, hard cap at 25.
    • MS, English and Math, soft cap at 27, hard cap at 29.
    • HS, English and Math soft cap at 30, hard cap at 32.
  • Note: My understanding is that initial allocations are done based on the soft cap and projected enrollments, but that additional staff allocations are not done unless the hard cap number is exceeded. This may not be exactly how it works, and any corrections would be appreciated.

Class size matters; it matters for academics, it matters for behavior, it matters for family involvement, it matters for climate, it matters for working conditions and retention…class size matters.  There is a growing recognition in Madison (thanks Cris Carusi), that too many classes are too large.  These questions are intended as the beginning of a conversation about class sizes, not an end point.  I would like smaller classes across the board (all subjects, all grades),  and even smaller classes in high poverty and/or struggling schools, but you have to start somewhere.

Here are some links that provide important local context for these questions:

  • January and February Operations Work Group Presentations with discussions of staffing process.
  • Equity Charts” showing current (2016-17, not projected for the 2017-18 Budget…updated staff projections have been requested) staffing, as well as which schools  receive state Achievement Gap Reduction program and federal Title I funding, as well as other information.
  • Tableau interactive presentation showing Fall 2016 class sizes with filters for schools, subjects, and more.  The questions I asked concern the maximums allowed, but the distributions are of interest too.

The other items on this list are less concrete and don’t contain questions.  They were shared with the Board and the administration in order to alert them to possibilities that may develop into proposals/amendments.  They also are not exhaustive; the “Line Items” could lead many places and there are things like the “Special Assistant for Equity and Innovation” position, that I am not sure what to try to do about (I heard interviews were done last week, but no hire is final till the Board approves).

  • BEP Staffing and Implementation (including PBIS, Social Emotional Learning, Security…)
    • The May discussions of the BEP and answers to some of the questions on Priority Actions may lead to a proposed amendment. I continue to see a need to have more consistent professional supports and educational services available for students who have been removed from classes (suspensions, and less lengthy removals).

Not much to add to this, except I would love to hear ideas for how we could better deploy the millions of dollars we are spending on BEP implementation and related things.

  • Title I
    • The current Title I school Budget Allocations use Direct Certification and shift about $120,000 from K-5 to Middle Schools. Some of my Priority Action questions address district level Title I spending. Upon receipt of answers to those questions, I may want to work with staff to develop an alternate plan.

I have a lot to say here, but I am going to try to keep it brief.

Title I is a federal program that provides funding to improve the education for children in poverty.  Within the Title I regulations, districts have some choices on how this funding is used.  These choices include which schools are designated Title I (and receive funds), how those funds are allocated among the schools, and what measure of poverty is used in these processes (other choices include some of the “Reservations” and district level expenditures, some of which are related to the questions in the “Priority Actions” section).

These choices became more complicated when MMSD was able to enroll some schools in the “Community Eligibility” program that provides free lunch funding for entire schools that are high poverty.  One result is that the numbers and percentages of families at those schools filling out the Free/Reduced lunch paperwork decreased compared to other district schools.  Upon the recommendation of DPI, MMSD began using what is called “Direct Certification” for the Title I poverty counts (MMSD still uses “traditional” poverty counts for things like achievement data, adding to the confusion).  Direct Certification involves cross checking enrollments in other state and federal programs and using the result to estimate poverty counts.  Among other things, this produces much lower counts (when Milwaukee went to Direct Certification the percentage of students in poverty dropped from 82.7 to 67.3).  It also changes the distribution among schools  It isn’t clear what accounts for these changes.  I looked at the possibility that Direct Certification results in an undercount of undocumented students, but the results were inconclusive and indicated that although that may be part of the answer, there are other things going on. More on Community Eligibility, Title I, and Direct Certification, here and here, plus a post by me from last year covering some of this.

Here is the most recent information given to the Board on the proposed Title I allocations.

Title I allocationsHere is some information I sent to the Board and administration earlier this year, highlighting the impacts of the choices made on borderline schools (and the possibilities of using a different poverty measure):

Title I tjm

Note that any changes would involve altering the “dollars per Title I student” numbers and levels, and unless there are reallocations from the district level Title I spending, “cuts” to some schools.  I am not committed to making changes, but I would like to explore the possibilities.

The “Possible Budget Amendments” note ended with this:

  • Line Item Issues
    • I will be setting up an appointment to meet with [Assistant Superintendent for Business Services] Mike [Barry] on some line item questions (like the shift of Salary Savings budgeting between Fund 10 and Fund 27, the budgeting for Substitutes…I don’t have the whole list yet). My guess is Mike’s explanations will satisfy my curiosity and concerns, but if they don’t, I may make some requests or amendments.

Nothing to add at this time.

That leaves the questions on “Priority Actions.”  Before sharing the questions, I’d like to offer some context.  The Board consideration of “Priority Actions” began in November 2016 (minutes here).  In part because of the inclinations of Board Members, in part because of the Budget process, and in part because the way Health Insurance issues have dominated meeting after meeting, the “Priority Actions” have thus far received little sustained attention from the Board.  That should change at the May 8th meeting.

The discussion of “Priority Actions” begins on page 24 of the Budget Book. Here is a chart from the Budget Book:

Priority Chart

Here are the questions I submitted (some items  — including big ones like $625,000 for the Tech Plan — I had no questions for), with some links inserted (and dollar amounts added where appropriate).

Priority Actions

  • Intensive Support for Reading Intervention (LEXIA) – $190,000.
    • Can we get an update on current implementation (which schools, which students, how often…) and results?
    • Which schools (specific names)/students would this expand to if funded?
    • [Related] – Can we get a detailed accounting for the use of Title I Reserved Funds, highlighting any changes from the 2016-17 Budget?
    • In the past we have been told that MMSD does not use or classify LEXIA as an “Intervention” as defined by Response to Intervention mandates, has this changed?
  • Race and Equity Professional Development — $200,000, $80,000 new.
  • Principal Leadership Coaching
    • It isn’t clear how much of this is for “online module” development and deployment, and how much is for “face-to-face coaching,” nor who will be doing the work. A budget or a more detailed description which addresses these is requested.
  • New Teacher Mentoring and Forward Madison Sustainability Plan — $350,000 total.
    • What 2016-17 Title II activities/programs/personnel will be re-purposed or cut in order move $200,000 to this?
    • Is the March/April summary evaluation report referenced here available?
  • Bilingual Education and ESL Support — $349,000 total.
    • If the 2 OMGE Teacher Leaders are approved, would they only be working with Title I DLI schools?
    • See note above about changes in Title I Reserved Funds budgeting.
    • The deadline for DLI and the Lakeview Hmong program applications was 4/28. Can we get an updated estimate for transportation costs and numbers of students, including home school and school they applied to attend?
  • Middle School Report Card Redesign and Infinite Campus Customization — $40,000 total.
  • AVID Expansion — $40,000.
    • What are the projected class sizes for AVID sections with and without this increase?
  • School Based Support for Implementation of Personal Pathways — $460,000 total.
    • Are the Learning Coordinator Learning Liaison positions 0.2 at each high school, or single district positions?
    • Will the ACP Coordinators serve all students, or only Pathways?
    • Is the Lead Counselor position 0.0825 at each school, or a single district position?
    • Is there a projection for how these positions will increase as Pathways expands (can we expect to add the equivalent each year in proportion to new students entering Pathways)?
    • What are the current FTE’s devoted to Pathways for the people listed here (some appear to have partial Pathways assignments and partial assignments in other roles): https://pathways.madison.k12.wi.us/contact-us
  • Pathways Professional Development — $200,000 total.
    • Can we get a breakdown for how much of this is release time/extra time (Summer?)/subs, how much is contracted services, how much is other?
    • Is any of this covered by the Joyce Grant?
  • Experiential Learning Coordination and ACP Support  — $90,000 total.
    • Can we get a budget that breaks down student transportation, release time, and other?
    • Is there any evidence that the GMCC [Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce] Foundation has improved their work on behalf of our students since the November 2016 update?
  • Developing Future Teachers — $18,000 total
    • Approximately how many students are expected to be enrolled in TEEM in 2017-18?
    • Who is doing this work now?
    • Who is expected to fill these Coordinator roles (current positions if MMSD employees)?
    • As TEEM takes on new cohorts is it expected that the stipends will increase?
  • Expansion of Grow Our Own— $100,000 total
    • What are the 2016-17 allotted and expended budgets for each of our “Grow Our Own” programs (I know there is one for staff wishing to become teachers, and at least one for teachers seeking Special Ed, ESL, or Bilingual certification; I don’t know if there are others)?
    • What are the numbers and demographics of 2016-17 participants in each?
    • I know there was a problem and the Fall cohort for one program were told they had to wait. Can we get an update on that (is this budget line related to that issue)?

The Budget Book designates some of the “Priority Actions” as “Accelerated.” Here are my questions related to those:

Accelerated Priority Actions

  • Quarterly Grade Level Release for Teachers — $100,000 total.
    • Is this in addition to the $135,000 for Intensive Support Schools Quarterly K-2 release days approved as a Priority Action in the 2015-16 budget?
    • Can you confirm that the $400,000 increase under Required Allowances is separate from this and other Priority Action Substitute budgets?
    • Are this and other Priority Action Substitute expenditures reflected in lines 3 and 122 of The Fund 10 Expenditures?
  • Reading Software to Supplement Core Instruction for Students — $60,000 total.
    • See the question above under Intensive Support for Reading Intervention, requesting updates on LEXIA use and results.
  • Student Led Conferencing  — $116,000 total.
    • I think projections are for 305 non-Pathways 9th Graders at East, and 479 Pathways 9th Graders district-wide, yet the Funding for East non-Pathways is more than double the district-wide Pathways funding. Is there a difference in design that accounts for this?

And last comes “Innovative Priority Actions.”

Innovative Priority Actions and TID #25

  • Reservation for Innovation Opportunities
    • Note: Here and elsewhere a $800,000 multi-year reservation for “innovation opportunities” is mentioned. This concept was presented at the 10/17/16 OWG meeting, but neither my memory nor the minutes reflect a consensus in favor of this.
    • If we are going to set aside a reserve sum for Innovation Opportunities to be funded this year, there should be a process for proposals and decision-making.
  • TID #25 Budget (p 152)
    • Can we get an update on expenditures to date for the items listed for 2016-17?

Here is the TID #25 Budget from the Budget Book:

TID 25

A few words on the TID #25 funds and “Innovation.”  First, the rule of thumb with one-time funds like the TID #25 money is that you don’t spend them for ongoing operating expenses.  In general, that makes sense, except it fails to account for the uncertainty around all school funding.  This week possible cuts to Medicaid reimbursements are in the news; a couple of weeks ago it was Community Learning Center funding, nobody is confident the proposed $200 per student categorical aid increase will survive intact till the end of the state Budget process.  Uncertainty everywhere, yet because we know it will eventually run out, TID #25 money is in some ways treated as more uncertain than money we may never see.  The other side of the picture is that what is an ongoing expense is also uncertain.  Yesterday’s “Strategic Priority Action” may become tomorrow’s ongoing expense, or it may end up a one-time experiment.  With all that in mind, I believe we should be cautious when using one-time funds for what we believe to be ongoing expenses, but not categorically eliminate this from consideration.

Generally, due largely to my training as a historian, I am an “Innovation” skeptic and a firm believer in “The Conservationist Ethic” in education reform.  As David Tyack wrote:

In reform circles enamored of change and inclined toward Utopian solutions to improve schooling, a belief in progress can obscure the task of conserving the good along with inventing the new. In mitigating one set of problems, innovations may give rise to new discontents.

This skepticism is reinforced when the attraction of “Innovation” leads to a lack of critical thinking and careful vetting.

More specifically, I am not clear how the notion of dedicated “Innovation” funding (and the whole TID #25 budget) came to be included in the Budget.  Hence, my question.

On to next steps.

After Monday’s discussion, and receiving answers to my questions, I will start working on any Budget Amendments I would like to have considered.

Feel free to contact me (tjmertz@madison.k12.wi.us) or comment here with any questions or thoughts.

As with any matters before the Board, there are opportunities to make your voice heard.  Take advantage of them.

These our your schools; make your voice heard!

Thomas J. Mertz

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MMSD Budget (Crunch) Time (Updated)

“Money Talks,” Alex Chilton (click to listen or download)

Update:

The materials for Monday’s meetings (Budget Input and Operations Work Group)have been posted on BoardDocs.  I’ll list and link here, but first there are some things that were not posted that need to be addressed.

A choice was made to exclude from the meeting materials all of the suggested cuts/funding sources that were part of the the Budget Amendments submitted by Board Members (at this time it is not clear who made that choice). The full Amendments are in the original post below.

This is unprecedented.  It is absolute and basic that proposed amendments submitted in advance be included in the materials distributed to the public and Board Members.  They must be part of the record, they will  be part of discussion, and the public has a right to know what is on the table (especially in advance of a “public input meeting). 

It should also be noted that those Board Amendments that are present in the meeting materials, are present only in summary form.  My Amendments did not include extensive rationales, but Anna Moffit’s did, and to not share these with the public is wrong.

Additionally, the full Title I chart included in this post (below) is not posted, with only an explanation of the process provided.  There is also no further information on Title III and tuition for Ell certification (listed in my Amendments as something I would “like to explore”).

An earlier Budget Presentation included the “Goal” of “Greater transparency in budget development.”  The choices that have been made to not include Board Member Amendments take us further from that goal.

Here is what is there:

Starting next week, there are a few important meetings for the Madison Metropolitan School District Preliminary Budget (much budget info at the link, a bit more below).  Here are the key meetings:

If you can’t make these, you can always write the Board: board@madison.k12.wi.us.

A couple explanatory things at this point.  First, detailed agendas and materials for these meetings will be posted on BoardDocs in advance, usually at some point on Friday for a Monday meeting.  Second, the final Budget is not passed until October, after many things — especially the state aid certification — are set.  Amendments and changes are possible up to that point, but the Preliminary Budget is what is in place when schools open in September, and for this and other reasons is important.

From my point of view there are three major places where there may be action: 1)Budget Amendments from Board Members (Anna Moffit and I both submitted amendments, more below); 2)Title I funding (Federal poverty aid, more below in the discussion of my amendments, with some linked documents and  information previously not posted by MMSD); 3)The structure of employee health insurance contributions (because my spouse is employed by the district, I recuse myself on this).  The latest on this is here (expect more before the meetings listed above).

May as well start with my Amendments.  Here is what I submitted for consideration (I may or may not make motions on individual items).

Initial Budget Amendments

TJ Mertz

May 23,2016

I understand that in the current budget situation any additional spending must come from reallocations, but believe that it is counterproductive to match each proposed addition to a cut. Instead I have listed cuts and additions separately, with a final item on Title I and Title III.

Items to Be Cut

  1. Eliminate Assistant Principals at Allis, Kennedy, Stephens and Cherokee.

Note: 4k at Allis may mean that numbers justify this position. [Note:  My understanding is that traditionally an Assistant Principal is added when school population is above 500; these are all below.  I asked about this at a meeting and did not get an answer.]

  1. Cut Tech Plan Spending by $300,000.

The Baird projections show an initial $8.74 Million gap for 2017-18, and this assumes the continued $250/student categorical aid, and an additional $100/student. Under these circumstances I do not believe that increasing Tech Plan spending by $625,000 is sustainable.

  1. Eliminate Special Assistant To the Superintendent for Special Projects.

  1. Cut Employee Travel Conferences (0344) from $468,803.63 to $300,000.

  1. Cut Space Rental Events/Meetings (0328) from $175,875.99 to $111,774.14.

The proposed budget includes an increase, this amendment returns the amount to that in the 2015-16 budget. The Badger Rock rental was moved to object 0329 and is not impacted.

Additions

I support Anna’s proposals on expanding Intensive Support Team staffing and targeting class size at “intensive touch” schools, (as well as the reallocations she proposes).

  1. Add Board Research and Data NUP, $70,000

This position would work for the Board of Education and assist in fulfilling data requests, researching policies, and preparing analyses and briefs independent of administrative structures.

Strategic Framework Priority Area – Accountability.

  1. Restore Middle School Staffing (to the extent possible)

According to the March OWG presentation, 12.000 FTE, budgeted at $1,181,679 will be cut from Middle Schools. Without the detailed information in the Equity Chart, it is impossible to know what these cuts might be, but I would like to explore restoring some or all. Many of our Middle Schools are struggling with a variety of issues, and I think we need to make sure they have the capacity to be successful.

Strategic Framework Priority Areas – Coherent Instruction, Thriving Workforce, (and perhaps Personalized Pathways and Family and Community Engagement).

Title I

I may be offering amendments addressing the Title I Reserved budget (funds not allocated to schools), the poverty measure(s) used to allocate Title I to schools, the formula used to determine the allocations to schools (my understanding is that we can allocate a higher dollar amount per student to schools at higher poverty levels, I don’t know if we are doing that, but would like to explore the possibility).

Title III

It is my understanding that that $300,000 three year budget for ELL certification tuition reimbursement appears to be much more than anticipated spending (Mike provided me with a summary). I believe this is Title III money, which means there are limits on how it might be reallocated. I would like to explore the possibilities, especially using some of this money to replace unrestricted funds, or to improve direct services for ELL students.

I would be glad to answer any questions about any of these, but am going to mostly forgo long explanations and justifications here (the bracketed note on the Assistant Principals was added as an explanation for this post).  The two exceptions are Middle School Staffing and Title I.

On Middle School Staffing, just a couple of things.  First, budget pressures and choices made in drafting the preliminary budget led to school-based cuts at all levels.  At the Elementary level, there were two big factors.  The first was decreased enrollments; the second was what might call a “relaxed” approach to class sizes in the early grades (Anna Moffit has an Amendment on this, below).  The Middle School cuts were pretty much straight out budget based.  At this point — less than a week before we have the penultimate meeting to discuss the Budget and less than a month before we vote — I don’t know how these cuts were decided (other than the phrase “Equity-based” has been used, whatever that means), nor what schools got what cuts.  We have some info (below, and it may be out dated), but not much.  This make it hard to do the job we were elected to do.   I believe school based staffing allocations are at or near the top of budget issues and have been asking for information on the processes and results since at least February.  I hope we get this in the “Equity Chart” this week, and if changes seem like a good idea, I hope it isn’t too late.

Here is a staffing chart, with Title I information as of late March (read the notes in the link, about what this chart represents).

Title I Staffing Enrollments

The “Equity Chart” should provide more detail and be more up-to-date.  In reference to Anna Moffit’s second Amendment below, it is also worth noting that some of the Elementary School cuts do not seem to align with (projected) enrollment changes, this may be due to the interactions of grade level projections and desired class sizes (I have not looked closely, but will try, and would appreciate it if anyone else would like to make the effort, and share their findings). Depending on what I learn (and what else happens), I may or may not go ahead with an Amendment on Middle School staffing.

We do have new information on Title I since I offered the Amendments and it is good news.  Some background, first.  You can find everything you would want to know and more about Title I at the Department of Education page.  Essentially, it Federal aid to schools serving students in poverty.   It is also the biggest source of Federal money in k-12 education, so from a policy perspective, it gets used as a carrot and a stick.  In fact there are all sorts of of controversies about how Title I will be distributed under the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.   Local districts have a number of choices to make with Title I.  We decide (with some limits) how much is allocated to schools, and how much is “reserved” for district initiatives (see here for information on MMSD “Reservations”).  We decide what measure or measures of poverty will be used to distribute funds to schools.  We decide (with limits) what the poverty percentage cut-off will be for designating a school Title I.  We decide what levels — Elementary, Middle, High —  we will fund via Title I.  We decide how we will allocate to schools on a per qualifying student basis (do we give higher poverty schools more per student)?  All these decisions and more.  In Madison four things have brought Title I to the fore.  First, in 2014-15 MMSD expanded Title I to Middle Schools.  Second,  because some Madison schools are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which provides free meals to all students, the traditional Free/Reduced Lunch poverty measures have been impacted (see here for much much more on Title I and CEP, including analyses of some of the decisions listed above, worth a read).  In response, MMSD, like many districts is using what is called “Direct Certification,” a method that matches students to family enrollments in other government aid programs to arrive at student poverty numbers.  Third, for the first time since the 2008 referendum MMSD does not have unused revenue authority, this budget is especially tight.  Last — and this is the good news — recent reallocations show MMSD receiving $788,000 in additional Title I funding.  The initial Title I allocations (similar to the above chart) showed many schools with funding cuts (often on top of other staffing cuts).  With the $788,000 this has changed.  See here:Title I with 788000

You can see almost all schools received an increase, and that the schools are tiered, with higher poverty k-5 schools getting more per student, and Middle Schools getting a flat (and low) $750 per student.  More on the process MMSD used here.

But questions remain.  Is direct certification the best way to estimate poverty?  Are the tiers, the cut points, and the differences per student between them the right things to do? Is the Middle School/Elementary difference good policy (remember k-5 schools also have SAGE (now AGP) for the early grades)?  I am not committed to any changes from the proposed allocation, but I do want to think about these questions, hear from the community, and discuss the choices with other Board Members.

Here are Anna Moffit’s Amendments.  As stated above, I support them.  I am not going to say more at this time, Anna Moffit has already published a strong op ed on the first, and I am sure she will be equally eloquent on the other at the appropriate time.

#1 – Intensive Support Teams

Budget Amendment
Increase the Intensive Support Team staff by 3.5 FTE (1 FTE for the Autism /Significant Developmental Delay team/ 2 FTE for the behavioral health team and .50 for a clerical assistant).

Rationale:

Based on community feedback and staff input there is an increased need to support   our students with intensive behavioral and mental health needs. According to   anecdotal information and district data there are a small number of students that are currently receiving a disproportionate amount of behavioral referrals (about 1% of our students make up 95% of behavioral referrals). Many of these students have documented or undocumented diagnoses, learning difference or a trauma history that require an acute and elevated levels of support in order to be successful in our schools.

Rather than restrict eligibility criteria that create more barriers for students to accesss specialized services, we should be proactive and prevent escalating disciplinary measures that lead to exclusionary practices by increasing our capacity to serve more students in a timely matter. By investing in programs that prevent suspension and expulsion, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved for our district.

Building the capacity at the district level to provide immediate help and ongoing professional development to non-Student Services staff via our Intensive Support Team is more cost effective in comparison to paying for expensive, outside consulting services and trainings. Based on staff feedback, there is an increased need for professional development in the area of working with students that have intensive mental health and behavioral challenges in our district.
Currently, the Intensive Support Team doesn’t have the capacity to organize, schedule and provide professional development in an efficient and effective manner due to limited capacity. By providing additional team members and a clerical position, scheduling professional development during educators’ planning time would be more consistent across the district. This increase would also of-set some of the the cuts made in the previous year to Students Services staff (21 Student Services staff).

Possible funding streams:
BEP professional development:
Based on anecdotal data from one-on-ones with staff and Board presentations,
opportunities for professional development have been limited and difficult to attend due to other commitments, not due to lack of interest or need. There was no additional information provided to the Board that would support lack of interest or need as the basis for not utilizing professional development funding. In fact, Behavior Education Plan surveys continue to indicate their is a high interest in increased professional development in order to meet the diverse and dynamic needs of our student body.

Access to bilingual education:

The district will not be expanding the DLI program to all schools put forth in the ELL plan which should lead to a decrease in FTE by .50 for an additional DLI planner. This would provide about $43,755 dollars in additional funds. There are very few students and families (currently 4 families based on feedback from Principal) that have shown interest at Thoreau Elementary in the DLI program at a to-be-determined school, therefore $36,000 dollars appears to be an excessive amount of money set aside for transportation costs for busing. In total, there would be about $70,000 dollars in additional funds.

Other possible funding sources:

TID 25 loan

Reduce spending on Technology Plan

Reduce spending on Educational Resource Officers

Utilize funds saved from not filling the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent ($125,000 dollars).

#2 Elementary School Staffing

Provide additional FTEs to all of our “intensive touch” elementary schools in order
to ensure that all K-2 classrooms can begin the year 16 students in each classroom. The funding source is undetermined at this time due to lack of information in regard to Employee Premium Compensation limits for district staff members, as well as resolution in regard to TIF 25.

Rationale:

Based on extensive research, class size has the most significant impact on student achievement in the early childhood years. Smaller class sizes have shown to have a greater impact on academic achievement than aligned curriculum, as well as instructional coaching. Smaller class sizes also ensure that students and teachers have the time to develop strong, positive and reciprocal relationships which lay the foundation in developing a child’s resiliency. Resiliency has been shown to counter-act the effects of Childhood Trauma that is a direct result from children experiencing toxic stress at home, school and community. Students that experience chronic toxic stress are more likely to develop learning disabilities, maladaptive behaviors, as well as an increased risk of substance abuse issues and mental health challenges.

Although Governor Walker has provided district a “tool” called AGR to increase class sizes for our most vulnerable students, I believe that it has a detrimental effect on student learning for our youngest learners. With large numbers of black students, students receiving Free and Reduced Lunch, English Language Learners and students with disabilities not reaching adequate reading and math outcomes, leading to huge disparities, it is critical to invest our resources in high leverage strategies that can close these gaps.

Lower class sizes has also been a priority identified within our budget feedback from schools and the community.

There may be other ideas that lead to late amendments, or revisions of these.  Please remember, these are our schools, our children, and the School Board Members are your representatives; be part of “the village” by participating, making your voice heard at (or prior to) the meetings listed at the top.  I’ll be listening, and others will too.

Thomas J. (TJ) Mertz

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New MMSD Tech Plan Funding Scheme (and Related Thoughts) — Updated

computer_money

Funkadelic — “No Compute” (click to listen or download).

The Firestones — “Buy Now, Pay Later” (click to listen or download)

Update 7:45 PM, 6/8/15: There was little or no support for this proposal expressed by Board Members and it is “off the table.”

 On the MMSD Board Operations Work Group agenda for Monday June 8, 2015 (5:00 PM), a proposal (pages 19 & 20 of the “2015-16 Budget Review and Input” here)  to delay $4,115,000 in debt payments till 2026 and 2027, and add $1,428,348 in debt service payments, all in order to “Make it Possible to Support Annual Increases in the Tech Plan thru 2019 without Drawing Away Funds from Other Areas of the Budget” (the latest version of the Tech Plan budget has full implementation in 2022). For many reasons (too many to go into here), this seems like a very bad idea. In general, I think we should begin again and create a Tech Plan that we can afford without these kind of shell games.

Here is the key page:

Tech Plan DebtThe right hand column has the ugly details.

Tech Plan Debt3This not an item up for a formal vote. I will be advising against pursuing this option in the strongest terms (there will be public testimony at the meeting where you can share your thoughts, and the Board can always be contacted via board@madison.k12.wi.us).

Leaving aside the dubious merits of tech purchases as a priority (at a time when we are cutting classroom staff, deferring building maintenance, and looking at more cuts next year and beyond), it is simply bad policy to push debt into the future at a cost of $1.4 million in order purchase or lease items that will not even still be in service when it comes time to pay the bill.  The Tech Plan originally had a three year replacement cycle on most items; more recently that has been changed to a four year cycle (page 126 here, and more here, except the most recent expenditure — voted in April to be placed on hold brought before the Board were for a three year lease on Chromebooks and Tablets, so it is hard to say what the current thinking is).  Whether a three year cycle or a four year cycle, items purchased or leased in 2015 through 2019 will be out-of-service by the time the $2 M+ payments are due in 2026 and 2027.

Even if this “buy now, pay later” scheme made sense, it would only cover the annual expenditure increases through the year 2019 for a plan that now is not supposed to be fully implemented until 2022 and has projected ongoing costs of $6 M or more each and every year thereafter.  It is a very expensive temporary band-aid.

What Next?

Given the reality of depressing prospects for school budgets in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future, it is hard not to conclude that the Tech Plan adopted by the MMSD Board of Education in 2014 is unaffordable (I was the lone vote against, joined by Luke Gangler, the student Rep).  Instead of tinkering with changing three year replacement cycles to four year replacement cycles, or five year implementation timelines to seven year implementation timelines, and trying desperately to make the existing plan “work” in this reality,  we need to start again.

It is past time to create a plan that we can afford. I have been pushing for this, and getting (almost) nowhere.

Continuing down the path of attempting to salvage an unaffordable plan wastes both staff (and Board) time, and has a high likelihood of creating new inequities among our schools. If we do one, or two, or three years of purchases under the existing plan, those schools will get the full treatment, the Cadillac version. The schools further back in the queue, after the schemes run out and the realities of having to cut staff to buy tablets hit again, will probably not be so fortunate.

I am not against increased tech spending. I was the one who pushed including tech infrastructure in the recent referendum (and when I pushed for other tech expenditures to be included via short term bonding, I was told that they did not want to borrow to pay for ongoing expenses. Presumably that position has changed.  I do believe that any Tech Plan must be affordable, in the sense that using conservative budget assumptions, proposed spending is weighed against the prospect of budget cuts in other areas (including cutting staff).  It also must be equitable, in that it provides a realistic way to provide equivalent access to technology in all of our schools in a reasonable time.

In my opinion,the best place to start on a new plan would be with a needs assessment.  I asked about this when the plan was being approved about a year ago, involving the budget for the assessment, and finally it appears to be in the works.  Let’s put everything on hold, do the assessment, combine it with budget projections, and then move forward.

There will almost certainly be more Tech Plan expenditures on the June 29th Board  agenda (probably the tablets and Chromebooks that were put on hold in April) and the ones that follow. In the absence of an affordable and equitable Tech Plan, I will be voting against these.

TJ Mertz

Note:  Prior to this post, I had not blogged since being elected to the Board of Education. I have started a few times, but never posted.  Recently I decided it was time to make a real effort to write and post blogs again.  I had hoped that my return entry would be something more positive, but a number of people have asked me for more information on the state of Tech Plan in general and this proposal in particular.  I am not sure how often I will be posting; watch this space and the Progressive Dane site.

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It’s — Mertz for — Madison Time, or I’m Running for School Board

TJ.logo-268It’s Madison Time Part 1 & 2 Ray Bryant Combo

In December I announced my candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, Seat #5 (announcement below).   There will be a primary election February 19, 2013 and the general is April 2, 2013.  I hope I have earned  the support of the readers of this blog.  You can find out more about my campaign, endorse, volunteer and donate at MertzforMadison.com.  I am not sure if I will be doing any blogging during the campaign, but if I do things directly related to the Madison schools will be posted at MertzforMadison.com, and anything posted here at AMPS will be more about state and national matters.

Prepared, Progressive, Passionate

I am excited to announce my candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, Seat #5.

Our public schools are the backbone of our community, the wellspring of our democracy, and the best means we have of providing a better future to all our children. As a parent, scholar, advocate, activist and organizer, I have worked with parents, professors, students, school boards, administrators, legislators, educators, and their unions to better understand and strengthen public schools. I don’t think there has ever been a time when the challenges to our schools have been greater. I want to help Madison meet these challenges by serving on the Board of Education.

I have stood against the pressures of privatization, worked against the expansion and misuse of standardized testing, and have fought for adequate and equitable funding based on the idea that all of our students deserve broad and rich opportunities.

These struggles will continue and expand. As Madison prepares to welcome a new Superintendent, I see opportunities to do more than react. Madison is a community and district where we have the means and the will to show that diverse public education can live up to its promises. To do this we must honestly assess those failings illustrated by the achievement gaps, but also listen to voices of our classrooms and community to understand what is working and build from our strengths.

None of this will be quick and none of this will be easy. I ask for your help and support. Visit www.mertzformadison.com to endorse, donate, or volunteer; and “like” the TJ Mertz, Madison School Board, Seat #5 Facebook page to keep updated.

Thomas J. Mertz

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What to Keep an Eye on in Tony Evers’ Budget (updated)

Eyeball sculpture by artist Tony Tasset from the Eye Si(gh)t blog.

Mavis Staples, “Eyes On The Prize” (click to listen or download).

Update: Still haven’t seen the details, but according to the Press Release, the answer to question number three is a partial yes, with calls for “full funding” of SAGE (it isn’t really “full funding,” see here on the complexities of SAGE funding), increased sparsity aid, increased Bilingual/BiCultural aid in the second year, increased special education aid in the second year, new grant programs around STEM and vocational education, “educator effectiveness, ” and more).  No poverty aid.  For overall state funding  the combined  “categorical and general school aid”  Evers calls for would be  “a 2.4 percent increase in the first year of the budget, the same as the Consumer Price Index, and 5.5 percent in 2014-15.”  I don’t see anything on Revenue Limits.  More later.

Update #2: From a second Press Release, on Revenue Limits: “The plan restores revenue limit authority to all districts. It calls for an increase in the per pupil revenue limit to $225 per student in the first year of the budget and $230 per student in 2014-15.” More details on Fair Funding and other matters in this Press Release also.  A district by district tally may be found here.

Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers will reveal the remainder of his 2013-15 budget proposal on Monday (the first portion was released in September, but it lacks full school finance information;  WisconsinEye will be covering the event).  Evers has also announced he is seeking re-election next April (campaign website here; see here for thoughts on elections and holding Evers and others accountable for their actions and inaction).

We know that Evers budget will be based on the Fair Funding For Our Future framework.  We know that in outsourcing how our state defines what it means to be educated to  American College Testing (the ACT) it will call for an increase in spending of time and money on standardized testing and the processing of standardized test based data (for a horror story outsourcing testing related things in Florida, see “The outsourcing of almost everything in state departments of education,” from Sherman Dorn.  We know that it will in most ways be better than what Governor Scott Walker proposes, especially if the rumors that the Walker proposal will include Tim Sullivan’s “Performance Based Funding” are true ( by design this would direct resources away from those students and schools that are struggling and toward those that are thriving, an incredibly bad idea and the essence of the Republican philosophy).  But there are some essential things we don’t know.  Here are three things I’ll be keeping an eye on.

1. How much of an increase in State Aid will Evers call for?

Wisconsin school have endured huge cuts in state aid in both the last budgets.  Depending on how you count the combined dollar total is close to $2 Billion.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,  the per pupil cuts in Wisconsin have been the fourth largest in the nation.  Here is their chart:

The vast majority of districts have experienced cuts in state aid (the most recent figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, here).  How much of this lost ground will Evers try to make up?

2. What increases in Revenue Limits will Evers call for?

The FitzWalker gang essentially froze cut Revenue limits for 2011-12 and provided a $50/student increase for most districts for 2012-13.  Revenue Limits matter.  Higher Revenue Limits give local district the power to make up for lost state aid and more.  To what extent will the DPI budget restore this local control?  As the bar in expected achievement keeps getting raised, through a combination of state and local resources, we need to give the schools the resources they need to meet their challenges.

3. Will the DPI budget direct resources to those students and schools with higher needs?

In particular, will it call for increases in aid for English Language Learners,  for Special Education, for SAGE reimbursements, for Sparsity (see this column for Kathleen Vinehout on school budgets in general and sparsity in particular)?  Will it direct real aid to those schools identified as needing improvement by the new “Accountability” system (see here for a discussion of that system, including this issue).

One thing the new State Report Cards confirmed is that poverty is a great predictor of which students and schools are struggling.  Will the Evers budget address this in a real way by providing additional resources instead of the property tax cuts to based on student poverty that have been in every other iteration of the Fair Funding plan?  Property tax cuts don’t help students; students need help.  For more on school funding “fairness,” see this report from the Eduction Law Center (Wisconsin doesn’t rank very well).

Last Thoughts.

Those are the big three.  I’ll also be looking at the size of the guaranteed state funding per pupil (which in essence replaces the levy credits in Fair Funding), what kind of “hold harmless” provisions Evers includes, and like all of us I’ll be looking at the impact of the package on my school district (along with a variety of other districts I’ve been informally tracking for years).

This is step one; the next steps involve key players like WEAC and WMC, advocates in general, the Governor and the Legislature.  Much of what will happen with these is predictable.  I can say with great confidence that I will consider whatever Tony Evers proposes to be better than what comes out of the Republican controlled budget process.

One thing I don’t know is how advocates and Democratic Legislators will react.   If past actions and the recent press release from Senator Chris Larson  are indications, they will follow Tony Evers lead and take up Fair Funding as their own.  Depending on the answers to the questions offered here, I hope that people who care about our students, inside and outside the Legislature, keep an open mind to advocating for something better than Fair Funding, something that does make up the ground lost over four years of cuts, something that does give real local control, and most of all something that does a better job directing resources to the schools and students who most need the opportunities of quality public education.  Penny for Kids would be a start, perhaps in conjunction with Fair Funding.

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