Category Archives: Pennies for Kids

On the Radio — 5/19/2010, Noon, WORT

Along with Joe Quick (Legislative Liaison for MMSD) and Rebecca Kemble (Parent Activist), I’m going to be on “A Public Affair” hosted by Esty Dinur on WORT at Noon today (5/19) talking about state and local school budget issues.  Listen and call in.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the Day — The Decline in State Education Aid (and more)

In the 2009-11 biennial budget, Wisconsin was forced to reduce state general school aids by $147 million each year compared to FY 2009.  Despite increasing poverty and rising fixed costs, the level of general aid available to Wisconsin school districts for the 2010-11 school year is roughly equal to what it was five years ago.

Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers in letters to Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold in support of the Harkin Education Jobs bill.

To learn more about the Harkin bill, see here and this New York Times editorial: “Saving the Teachers.”  I also liked Harold Meyerson’s recent Washington Post op ed, “Deficit hawkery’s harsh impact on education” (although with most states deficits aren’t allowed and much of it is about the equally insidious budget hawkery).

USA Today is reporting that:

Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

So there is plenty of reason and room to be talking about real tax reform that makes needed adjustments and provides necessary revenues.

While on that topic, the Penny for Kids campaign is going strong.  Join the thousands calling for an sales tax increase dedicated to education in order to meet the crisis and start Wisconsin back in the right direction.

Following Evers lead and contacting our Senators would be a good idea:

Herb Kohl

Madison Office
14 W. Mifflin St., Suite 207
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 264-5338
Fax: (608) 264-5473

Russ Feingold

1600 Aspen Commons
Middleton, WI 53562-4716
(608) 828-1200
TDD (608) 828-1215
Fax (608) 828-1203

If you want to hit State officials too, all the info is here.

Last, WisPolitics is reporting that Supt Evers also broached some school funding reform ideas around the Levy Credits (no link).  Addressing the levy credits as the property tax relief they are, instead pretending that they are education aid is  a great start,  but much more is needed to take our state where it should be and offer a quality education to all.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Mark Pocan’s Ear

If you live in the 78th Wisconsin Assembly District, your Representative Mark Pocan wants to hear from you and he wants to hear from you about the “revenue crisis facing our schools.”  He’s listening; it is time to speak loud and clear.

In his latest mailing to constituents the last question of his survey reads:

Given the revenue crisis facing our schools, how would you direct additional funding towards K12? (please select one)

____Increase property taxes

____Increase sales tax by 1c under a “Penny for Kids” proposal

____Close corporate tax loopholes

____Redirect current revenue collections towards K12


Other than the “please select one” this is great (I think closing corporate tax loopholes and Penny for Kids should both be in the mix).

If you threw your copy out already, you can download the survey here and mail it to the address included.  You can also email him:  Do sign the Penny for Kids petition too.

If you don’t live in his district, think about doing it anyway, but indicate where you live or send it to your Rep (Pocan cares — maybe too much — what voters outside his district think).

Don’t let this opportunity go to waste!

Thomas J. Mertz


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MMSD Budget Facts and Thoughts

Just some things that have been on my mind as this budget process unfolds.


The November 2008 referendum that many of us worked so hard for was a waste of time and effort.  There was no way of knowing that at the time and it doesn’t have to be that way, but as of now that’s the reality.  Last year the referendum added $4 Million to the Revenue Limit, but the district levied at least $6 Million under the limit (it gets complicated when you figure in Fund 80  — which has no limit — and the 2005 maintenance referendum and other factors…).  This year the 2008 referendum adds $8 Million in revenue authority; the Board of Education has already “decided” to levy $10,570,692 less than they are allowed.  The cuts and efficiencies already decided are $2.5 Million greater than those the referendum sought to avoid.


There are about $5.37 Million in cuts and efficiencies offered by the administration left on the table, plus amendments from Board Members.


The funding for a 1/2 time Albanian Bilingual staff member (item 61) which was cut on Monday was projected to  cost the owner of a $250,000 home 38 cents a year.  The same is true for the Korean position (item 62).  Maintaining current levels of service for Hmong Bilingual staff  (item 63) — which has not been decided yet — would cost that same home owner $3.01 a year.


For 2009-10 the English Language Learner division staff to student ratio was 18.85/1.  In 2005-6 it was 16.26/1.   One FTE has been cut already; 8.5 are pending.  These are the Hmong BRS (item 63)  and High School allocations (item 60).  The ELL population is projected to grow.


The proposal to make staffing levels contingent on pay freezes is an example of the Board of Education (or at least some members) attempting to avoid responsibility (Board Amendment here; news story here).  Proper staffing levels are a policy decision; we elect the Board to make these decisions.  The Board has more than sufficient revenue authority to fully staff at the recommended levels and give raises.  They are welcome to cut staffing levels if they think that is best and they are welcome to attempt to negotiate a contract with no raises, but these choices are theirs and not the unions’.   Assuming this goes forward and the unions choose raises over staffing, who would bear the responsibility for a student who was injured because an under-staffed security team could not respond fast enough?  In my book it would be the Board of Education and their desire to not use the full revenue authority.


On this and related pay freeze proposals, it should be kept in mind that the projected health insurance savings mean that for all staff total compensation packages are below those budgeted.  A pay freeze combined with these savings would mean a decrease in total compensation.


MMSD should keep the Legislative Liaison position, especially since the district voted to leave the Wisconsin Association of School Boards on Monday.  Recent state action and inaction may make it seem like having a liaison has not been effective; believe me, without that voice and expertise, things would be worse.


Brenda Konkel got it right on the “secret straw poll” distraction.  Here is what I posted in the comments on the Cap Times editorial:

As one who follows these things closely, has attended every budget-related meeting of the Board of Education and has long advocated greater openness in all governing activities, I have to say this is being blown out of proportion.

The tally or “straw poll” was not secret nor was it a vote. It was discussed repeatedly in open meetings prior to Board Members participating. Upon request copies of the tallies were given to me and at least one other community member at the conclusion of the first meeting where it was used. A check of the tallies and the subsequent votes would reveal that they don’t match, that Board Members did change their positions when items were the subject of open deliberations.

I would have preferred that copies were public prior  to, not at the conclusion of the meeting where it was first employed, but that was a logistical issue.


I was at a meeting of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools people yesterday.  Some of the people there were amazed at the hundreds of Madisonians who came out to tell the Board of Education that they preferred tax increases to further cuts.  Some of the people were also perplexed that with this kind of support the Board of Education is cutting and considering cutting at the levels they are.  I’m perplexed too.  I’m also disappointed.


Near the conclusion of the April 26 Board meeting one Board Member explained voting to cut a program that “in ideal times” they would not vote to cut.  The explanation included things outside the control of the Board– tough economic times, the state actions and inaction — but it also included something like “unfortunately we live in a time when people are reluctant to pay higher taxes for education.”  The people at the hearings weren’t reluctant.   I know that most of the people who worked to elect this Board Member aren’t reluctant.  I don’t know what kind of emails the Board is getting, but I have come to think of this attitude on the part of elected officials — state and local — as the “Tea Party in their head.”   Strong majorities of he people of Madison have repeatedly made it clear that they support tax increases for education, yet our legislative delegation and now our Board of Education instead listen to voices in their heads saying the opposite.


Some of the savings and efficiencies are great.  It would be nice there was some effort to allocate these to improving or expanding good things, instead of to avoid tax increases.  With the partial exceptions of shrinking Strategic Plan funding, Fine Arts and Math Task Force funding, Culturally Relevant Education and Talented and Gifted (and maybe a some other small things), there isn’t much thought or talk about improvement, about progress.  The achievement gaps continue.  Avoiding tax increases is not going to bring about a positive change there.


Strong statements about the harm done by cuts to programs and services from the administration and the Board have been much too rare.  Everything they said back when they were talking about why a referendum was needed remains true, yet now we hear that larger cuts than were projected without a referendum are acceptable.  If only in support of state level school funding reform efforts, the harm being done must be made clear.


I think some clarification about schedules and process is in order.  The calendar on the district web site has been out of date for some time, so here’s my attempt.

05/03/10 Board of Education Meetings Executive Session at 5:00 PM to discuss contractual matters and Legislative Liaison.

Open Meeting at 6:30 PM on Budget

05/04/10 Board of Education Workshop Meeting 5:00 PM. No public appearances. Last meeting before Preliminary Budget is Finalized. From this point forward further cuts are very difficult, especially those involving staff. Add backs are in theory easier.
05/10/10 Board of Education Meeting 6:00 PM. Regular Meeting, opportunity for Public Appearances. Budget will in all likelihood not be directly on the agenda.
05/15/10 Preliminary Budget Published
05/17/10 Budget Hearing 6:00 PM
05/24/10 Layoff Notices Due This is the due date, but logistics dictate that decisions be made weeks in advance.
06/1/10 Statutorily Required Budget Hearing and Vote The state requires advance publication of a the Budget and a hearing prior to the vote. This vote will be the last time that a simple majority can change things. After the (possibly amended) Preliminary Budget is passed, five votes are needed.
10/08/10 Revenue Limit Calculation from DPI
10/15/10 State Aid Calculation from DPI
10/25/10 Final Approval of 2010-11 Budget and Tax Levy

I don’t think I’ll be doing an “On the Agenda” post this week.  The agenda is here.  With one exception I think all the relevant documents are available on the Budget Page (there is a broken link in the agenda, so I’m not 100% sure).  The exception is the Cost-to-Continue Budget, partially revised to reflect the Reorganization.  That still hasn’t been posted by the district, but you can find it here.


Remember you can contact the Board at and please, please sign the Penny for Kids petition so there is some chance that we never have to do this again.

Thomas J. Mertz

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This and That

Catching up on some links and stories.  Some new, some old.

The initial Milwaukee Public Schools budget is out: FY11 Budget Proposal; Superintendent’s detailed overview; What’s happening in other districts?
. $33 Million in cuts and 682 jobs on the line.

Two Stories from Education WeekSchool District Funding Woes Increase and Districts Report Grim Outlook as Stimulus Fades.

A couple of letters to the editor with the right ideas: Richard Banks, “Invest in schools now, not prisons later” and Jane Albert, “Pass extra sales tax to support schools.”

Along the same lines as Jane Albert’s letter, Matt Hrodey on the Milwaukee Magazine NewsBuzz site writes all about “Our antiquated sales tax.”

As I’ve said many times, the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent SchoolsPenny for Kids campaign is the best thing going in school funding action.  Sing the petition; get involved.

The Wisconsin Way “Blue Print” is out.  It is a decidedly mixed bag, but does call for a sales tax bump to fund education.

The Reedsburg Times-Press asks “What now for schools?” and the Oshkosh Northwestern provides a reality based answer: “School closings, budget decisions fueling distrust between parents and districts.”  Depressing, but true.

In Oshkosh the problems also include “crowding, mold, mice.”

In the Dells,  “School board hears warning of budget cuts.”

One more, on a hopeful note:  “Sen. Harkin proposes $23 billion bailout for schools” (estimates of Wisconsin’s share here and here, about $400 Million).   Diluting that hope is the fact that Wisconsin — like many other states — basically used the ARRA state stabilization funds to replace state aid, resulting in a net loss for schools and that big funding cliff referenced in the second set of links.

Thomas J. Mertz

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On the Agenda — MMSD, the Week of April 18, 2010

The most important Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meeting this “week” is Sunday’s Budget Hearing (April 18th at 1:00 pm at Warner Park Community Recreation Center — 1625 Northport Dr).  Read more about it and some calls for action here.  An extra meeting prior to Monday’s District Awards Ceremony has been called to wrap up some loose ends and possibly move budget matters forward.

The meeting commences at 5:30 and the Award’s Ceremony is scheduled for 7:00. Here are the details: Memorial High School, 201 South Gammon Road. Madison, WI, Room 500.  As of last Monday, it appeared that MMSD-TV would be covering the Ceremony, but not the meeting.  If I hear different, I’ll post.

The first item on the agenda is “Position Descriptions for Deputy Superintendent/Chief Learning Officer; Director-Professional Development; Director-Early and Extended Learning; Executive Director of Curriculum and Assessment” and this comes with some new information, as requested by the Board.  The related documents are: Position Descriptions; Organization Chart; and an updated Reorganization Budget (what was previously presented as the Side-by-Side).  There are a couple of other related items that have been received by the Board but do not appear to have been posted yet on the district site.  The first is a new memo on the Reorganization from Superintendent Dan Nerad.  The second is a new version of the Department and Division Reports portion of the Budget Book (old version here), with at least some of the Reorganization interpolated in Budget Figures but not in the narratives or organization charts.  I haven’t had the time to do a page-by-page, so I’m not sure what has been changed or what still needs changing.  I am sure that the that the “Proposed Expenditures: Summary by Department” reflecting the Reorganization (beginning on page 5 new Department and Division Reports pdf), along with the Reorganization chart, is very useful in getting a handle on both the Reorganization and the budget.

Some things to note from this set of documents.

First, there are lots of vacancies in important positions and not all are Reorganization related.  This brought to mind that Arlene Silveira and Lucy Mathiak, now poised to begin their fifth years of service, are the longest serving Board members.  Maybe we were spoiled and some may say that turnover is good, but there does seem to be a deficit of the kind historical memory that long-serving Board members and administrators provided.

I’ve been trying to figure out the new Talented and Gifted arrangement.  Direct supervision of the Coordinator is split between Elementary and Secondary Assistant Superintendents (serve two masters?) and I think the budget lines for the TAG IRTs appear as Elementary Bldg Support and Secondary Elementary Bldg Support.  Talented and Gifted is one area where the narrative has not been updated in the new documents.

I also want to repeat three things.  1) This Reorganization seems to me to also change the job description of the Superintendent and that remains unexamined.  2) There has been some complaining about adding the Chief Learning Officer position at a time of budget difficulties, but the salary and benefits lines for that position replace the Chief of Staff and only add about $6,000 in projected expenditures. 3) The matter of using Fund Balance money to pay for the remaining contracts on eliminated postilions remains unresolved and the larger discussion of best practices on Fund Balances and debt refinance that I’ve been calling for the last year and a half does not appear to be part of the plan.

The next item is the “Legislation relative to the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) Program.”  This really deserves a post of its own as a state matter, but that hasn’t happened.  I did write a long comment and I’m going to cut-and-paste that and add some things.

I’ve been meaning to post on this, but haven’t found the time.

The proposal is to raise SAGE class sizes to 18. It is part of a series of band-aids in a package from the Rural Caucus. Most of them are fine, but they are pretty minor. Tom Beebe from WAES made that point in his testimony at the Assembly Education hearing. (full hearing video here). The bill itself is here; the press release on the Rural Caucus package is here; and there are news stories here and here and here.

Most of the package is fine, too little, but fine. I have mixed feelings about the SAGE part. Many districts are faced with the prospect of giving up SAGE all together (as Madison gave up fully locally funded class size reductions a few years ago). 18 is better than 22. For more on the economics of SAGE as an underfunded program, see these this post: SAGE Thoughts.

The research on class size doesn’t make a big distinction between 15 and 18, but experience and common sense tell me that whatever the test score correlations, the quality of the educational experience is more likely to be higher in a smaller class. A bunch of links to research: Reducing Class Size, What Do We Know?; For African-American Students, Class Size Matters; The Benefits of Small Class Sizes.

It wasn’t in the MMSD Budget Options because it wasn’t on their radar.

As I said in the post, this is part of the “we’d rather lower our ambitions than raise taxes” mentality that is destroying so many good things.

The biggest thing missing from this comment is the part of the legislation that I think makes SAGE contracts available to more schools.  I believe MMSD has 19 contracts and 25 elementary schools with poverty levels above 30% .  If I read this correctly, the six non-SAGE, 30%+ schools would be eligible (MMSD used to do fully locally funded class size reductions for non-SAGE schools, but that fell under the budget axe three years ago).  Expanding SAGE to more schools would be a good thing, but one with budget implications, requiring more local money too.

I also neglected to mention that coupled with the new 18/1 policy is the elimination of the DPI power to grant waivers.  MMSD has registered in opposition to this portion of the legislation.

A quick recap of the economics of SAGE and this proposal is probably in order (fuller ones in this post and this one).  SAGE is underfunded and the lower the poverty percentage in a school/grade/class, the more underfunded it is.  You have to get in the 90%+ poverty range for state funds to fully cover the costs of lower class sizes.  The class size limits also create sweet spots and sour spots.  At 15, 30 or 45 (or any multiple of 15) is a sweet spot where SAGE dollars are maximized and local dollars are minimized (at 18 it would be 18, 36, 54…).  The sour spots are all other numbers, but especially those just over the multiples of the limits.  Under current law 30 kids in a grade means two classes but 31 means three classes.  That’s a sour spot.  raising the limit gives more flexibility and makes many of the sour spots less sour (under the new limit of 18, 31 kids wouldn’t be the sweetest spot, but it wouldn’t require a third class either).

As a general thing, I like the expansion of contracts and have mixed feelings about the higher limits.  Many districts have been contemplating withdrawals from SAGE because they can’t afford it and while I believe 15 is better than 18, 18 is better than 22 or higher.  In an ideal world (and in the plans put forth by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and the School Finance Network), districts wouldn’t have to make these choices.  Even the Pennies for Kids proposal includes a Poverty Aid that would address most of this dilemma.  One friend suggested a local policy that would seek to keep the 15/1 at the highest poverty schools and use some of the flexibility at lower poverty schools.  I like that.

The last item is “2010-11 MMSD Budget Reductions, Efficiency Options, and Other Measures for Addressing the Property Tax Impact of and Revenue Gap within the Projected Budget (action may be taken). ”  The Budget Page is here (with a link to a summary of the actions they took last Monday, but not some of the documents linked above).

This is as good a place as any to say few words about the MMSD Budget article that appeared in the Isthmus this week (a very few words).

There is no question that there have been serious problems with the process this year.  Some of this is because the the tax or cut decisions before the Board are very different from the traditional cut to meet the revenue limits decisions of the past.  However, both the Board and the administration knew this in advance and I don’t think they fully thought out or implemented procedures that would make things as clear and smooth as possible.  I hope some planning is done to make next year better.

There is also no question that the timing and quality of information provided to the Board and public has been lacking in some significant ways.  Work needs to be done to tighten this up also.

The whole thing has the feel of a collective improvisation and a rushed one at that.  This isn’t good.

The one place where I think the analysis presented in the article is wrong is on the nature and size of the gap and the problems with the confusion around that.  I’ve said before, “tax authority is tax authority, is tax authority” and there was a an over $28 million gap between the authority exercised last year (the “no new taxes” level) and the allowed authority this year.  I don’t like the “no new taxes” formulation, but till the Board decides otherwise (as they did on March 22), that’s the baseline.

There was also a slightly over $1 million gap between allowed authority and initial cost-to-continue estimates.

When presented with this information, the Board asked for $30 million worth of options for cuts, efficiencies and savings.  This is what the administration provided and this is the source of the “sky is falling” ideas.   You can watch the press conference when this was unveiled and see that every attempt was made to clarify things, but the reality is that $30 million worth of cuts were on the table and until the Board was clear that they would exercise revenue authority above last years level (raise taxes) a forecast of a falling sky was part of the picture that had to be considered.

A couple things on the Awards.  I don’t know many of the recipients, but I want to give Sheryl Rowe (my younger son’s teacher this year) and Jill Jokela (who I often have disagreed with but have great respect for her dedication) special congratulations.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Time for Action — MMSD Budget Hearing, 4/18/2010

Note: The first call asks people to wear red.

Secret Affair, “Time For Action” (click to listen or download).

A couple of calls for action for Sunday’s Madison Metropolitan School District Budget Hearing* (April 18th at 1:00 pm at Warner Park Community Recreation Center — 1625 Northport Dr).

The first is from an ad hoc coalition:

As you probably already know, the school board is right now struggling with how to deal with the fact that the state legislature shifted more of the costs of education to property taxpayers.  Of the over $18 million in cuts they are still considering, many will disproportionately impact low income kids and kids of color.  A group of individuals and representatives of organizations (including the LCEC) is working to make sure the school board knows that there is public support for programs that support struggling students, improve teaching and address the achievement gap.

So many of the kids we work with at the center are struggling in school.  These cuts are going to make things even worse for them, and we can’t afford to let things get worse.

I hope that you will consider sending an email to the MMSD Board of Education and/or attend the public hearing on April 18 to urge them to protect direct services to kids in our schools (approximately $8 million of the remaining $18 million).

1.     Can you send an email to ? (- and ask one or two friends to do the same?) Please consider including the text below in your email (especially the bolded sentence) with whatever personal introduction or other comments you choose.

2.     Can you attend the public hearing at 1pm on Sunday, April 18th at the Warner Park Community Recreational Center?  (- and ask one or two friends to do the same?) If you come, please wear red (Badger gear is fine!).  You do not have to speak if you don’t want to.  We are planning to have a couple of speakers, and ask everyone else to stand in show of support.  That was we show the public support without creating something that goes on for hours.

Thank you!

Suggested text:

Dear School Board Members,

My name is… [introduce self and connection to schools here]

We recognize the enormous challenge that the School Board and the MMSD Administration has to address the remaining $18.1 million which the state legislature has shifted to local property tax-payers. We are also pleased with the School Board’s decision to preserve some important programs.  Madison taxpayers place a high value on public education and have overwhelmingly supported the schools through multiple referenda over the past few years.

The community has set eliminating the achievement gap for the nearly 50% of MMSD students who are students of color as the top priority in the MMSD Strategic Plan.  In light of this priority, and the fact that access to high quality public education is critically important to children from families who are marginalized due to racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic status, we ask you to maintain funding for all budget items that provide “direct services” (including those fitting “multiple categories”), and especially for those programs and learning communities that are addressing the achievement gap and issues of equity.

[add any personal experiences or stories you want to share here.]


The second is from Progressive Dane:

Time to Stand Up for Schools (again)

Despite the 2008 referendum which so many of us worked so hard to pass, state actions and inaction have once again placed the quality of our public schools in jeopardy. It is time to stand up for our schools (again).

On Sunday April 18th at 1:00 pm at Warner Park Community Recreation Center – 1625 Northport Dr. – the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will hold their second Public Hearing on the 2010-11 district budget. The Board needs to hear from the community that we value education and are willing to pay to keep our schools strong. Progressive Dane urges community members to attend and make their voices heard.

Even if you don’t want to speak at the meeting, you can attend register with positive message. If you can’t make on Sunday, the Board can be contacted at board@madison.

Unlike in previous years when state school funding policies required large cuts to programs and services, this year the Board of Education has the authority to almost fully fund programs at current levels. Unfortunately doing so will mean substantial property tax increases. This places the Board in a difficult position and as they work through the choices before them it is essential that they be reminded of the importance our community places on education.

Many of the budget issues are complex, but the message is simple.

  • For the good of the community and the future of our children, keeping our schools strong has to be the first priority.
  • After 16 years of cuts to programs and services and generally declining school taxes, tax increases are preferable to further cuts.
  • The over $6 million in cuts, efficiencies and reallocations initially approved at the April 12, 2010 meeting are almost entirely positive examples of fiscal responsibility. These items will have little or no effect on the quality of programs and services. The vast majority of the remaining options may have significant negative impacts and should be considered very carefully.
  • The district must fund essential facilities maintenance and plan for future needs.
  • Affordable MSCR and Community Education programs keep Madison healthy and make our community a desirable place to live.
  • We are eager to work with the Board to achieve adequate, equitable and sustainable state school funding in Wisconsin.

For more information on the MMSD Budget see here: http://drupal. madison.k12. 6001

To show your support and keep informed, join the Stand Up for Madison Schools Facebook group:

To get involved in state advocacy, check out the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools www.excellentschool and their Penny for Kids campaign www.apennyforkids. org.

Thomas J. Mertz & Jacque Pokorney
Co-Chairs, Progressive Dane

Time for Action!

Thomas J. Mertz

* Note the hearing Sunday is not the statutorily required Budget Hearing, that will come some time in May.

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On the Agenda, MMSD Board of Education, April 12, 2010

It is a full meeting this week (Agenda here) but this is going to be a quick post.  After an Executive session on litigation issues (Federal — ?! — and personal injury), the main meeting commences at 6:00 PM (Doyle Administration Bldg. 545 W. Dayton Street, Auditorium).  Like almost all Board meetings, this will be carried by MMSD-TV.

Budget matters (all the district info linked here) are last on the agenda but first on everyone’s minds, so I’m going to start there.

As noted previously Board Members agreed to work through the remaining Budget Options and share their “yes, no and maybe” lists.  These were due last Friday.  because of open meetings concerns, these have not been shared, but may be available to Board Members (and the public I hope) at the meeting.

There has been one update to the Board/Admin Q&As since March 29 on Discussion Items 201-228 (I actually don’t see anything new, but the section is dates April 12).

I also don’t see any updates or much needed fixes to the Budget Book as of this writing.

In a related matter, there may be some action around facilities issues.  Susan Troller has the story on the Cap Times.  The recent district Facilities Assessment, memo and spreadsheet are here.  Some older related documents may be found here, here, here and here.

The very last item on a full agenda is “2010-11 MMSD Budget Reduction and Efficiency Options for Addressing the Property Tax Impact of and Revenue Gap within the Projected 2010-11 District Budget.”  It is starred for possible action.

Now from the top.

First is a resolution of thanks to Johnny Winston Jr.  This is his last meeting.  Thanks Johnny (a fuller thanks here).

Next, Public Appearances.  It will be interesting to see if people show up en masse on Budget things, or if they wait for the Public Hearing on Sunday (April 18th at 1:00 pm at Warner Park Community Recreation Center — 1625 Northport Dr).

Board President’s Announcements follow, including the receipt of a $10,000 Toyota TAPESTRY grant for excellence and innovation in science education by one of my favorite activist teachers, Troy Dassler.  Congratulations!

Here is a video of Troy’s students:

You can read about some of Troy’s creative teaching here and see more video and read more here.

Two important items in the Superintendent’s Announcements and Reports.  First is the Board of Education/Superintendent Communication Goal Action Plan.  It looks like some minor modifications from the March version.  Some thoughts on that version in this post and this one too.  Things like the facilities matter mentioned above and the Budget Book problems (as well as some of the back-and-forth at recent meetings) indicate that the communications issues are pretty bad right now.  The plan is start, but not a panacea.

Next is the Job Descriptions for the Reorganization (PART 1, PART 2, PART 3). These help a little with understanding what is envisioned, but so much of this remains vague and blurry that I continue to think the approval and implementation are premature.  One thing worth noting is that although the Chief Learning Officer is a new position, it replaces the existing Chief of Staff, so the budget line gets shifted and all the expense is not new.  One other thing that bothers me is that there has been little or no discussion of how this new organization and the new positions change the job description of the Superintendent.  Since prior to the reorganization plan announcement Dan Nerad’s contract was extended — with a raise and without any annual evaluation that I can find — this bothers me.

Lots of things on the Consent Agenda that probably deserve attention, but I don’t have the time today.

The Legislative Liaison report is on the prospects of the pending state proposal to raise the SAGE class sizes to 18.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  It would provide some relief, but it is another instance of lowering expectations instead of making the difficult choices needed to fund education.   Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.  Get involved in changing this downward spiral!.  For the economics of SAGE, see these posts: Sage Thoughts and SAGE on the Chopping Block.

A couple of other items, but this hits what is most important, on the agenda.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quick, Sloppy, Thursday Wrap Up

For a variety of reasons I’m not able to do much blogging this week, but wanted to get some things up and out,  hence this quick and sloppy wrap up.

Other than the excellent and inspiring Instructional Resource Teacher (IRT) presentation, Monday’s Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education Meeting was depressing and disturbing in many ways (video here, preview here).  Much of this is due to the long and short term financial picture, both state and local — insert obligatory Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and Penny for Kids links along with discretionary School Finance Network link — some has to do with confusion about Budget information and processes.  No time to say more.

One good thing from the meeting is that although no vote was taken, it is clear that the IRTs will not be cut this year.

Another ting that came out of the meeting was a next step for the Budget process. By Friday of this week, Board members will be submitting lists of the remaining Budget Options marked, yes, no and maybe.  I assume that the unanimous “nos” will be removed from consideration at the April 12  meeting and hope that those with a strong majority will be too.  If you want to weigh in before the lists are finalized, write the Board at

I hope these are posted for public perusal in a timely manner (so that the public can contact the Board prior to any decisions).

It was also Johnny Winston Jr,’s last real meeting.  Thanks for the service Johnny.

The Budget Book has been posted, but from the discussion Monday and my own quick skims, there are some problems.   The biggest, but not only problem is that it doesn’t reflect significant changes that have already been decided, the Reorganization (PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)
being the most significant.  I’ve been told that some sort of fix to this and other issues is in the works.

On Monday, there were references to pending Questions and Answers on the budget, but the Q&A page was last updated on March 28.

Join the Stand Up for Madison Schools Facebook group to show support and keep up to date on the budget issues.

In other news, Jame Howard was victorious and will be joining the Board.  Congratulations and best of luck James (too late to turn back now).  I also want to thank Tom Farley for running and his desire to make a contribution to the community.

On Tuesday there were 48 school referenda on the ballot in Wisconsin, 24 passed.  All 6 recurring operational measures failed; non-recurring operational votes split 10 to 10, and 14 of 22 debt measures passed.   This is no way to fund educational investments.  For the full results, see here.

That’s it for now (may update at some point).

Thomas J. Mertz

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One The Agenda — MMSD Board of Education, Week of April 5, 2010

The 2010-11 Madison Metropolitan School District budget is once again front, center and all places on the Board of Education agenda.  The main meeting starts at 5:30 (after an Exec session on student discipline cases) in the Doyle Administration Bldg. Auditorium (545 W. Dayton Street).  It is a “workshop” meeting and that means no public testimony (people who have comments on the budget should continue to write the Board at  Like almost all Board meetings, this will be carried by MMSD-TV.

A couple of notes and then onto the agenda.  First, as scheduled the Board did receive Budget Books for 2010-11 last week; I’ve been told it will be posted on the district website on Monday ( I assume on the Budget page).  The Q&A have been pretty active and are worth working through, to get more information and glimpses of Board and Administration thinking.  I’d especially recommend “Q & A – Discussion Items 229 and above” which covers items not directly among the options presented by the Administration.

Note everything on the agenda is marked as “action may be taken.”

First up is “2010-11 Budget Development Process and Timelines.”  I hope there is a new timeline presented, because the one that is on the website has been out-of-date for some time.  When I asked about this some weeks ago I was told to use the Board Calendar instead, but the information there isn’t very detailed.  I also hope that there is no discussion/evaluation of the process at this time.  I think many — on the Board, in the Administration and among the public — have thoughts about what has worked and what hasn’t, but now is not the time.  Once this is over, I do think some evaluation and changes are essential.

Next comes the “Overview of MMSD Financial Picture” consisting of Impact of state’s finances on MMSD finances and budget projections, 5-year budget forecast and Tax impact projections of 4K implementation.  I’m fairly certain that the first is the only new document.  In consists largely of  Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) memos from January and February and a PowerPoint by Prof Andrew Reschovsky.

Whether local or state, the forecasts aren’t good.  For MMSD the the expiration of the Maintenance Referendum and  the limits of the operating referendum will — with or without 4K, but more without  — the structural gap between allowed revenues and cost to continue budgeting kicks back in at between $3 Million and $6 Million from 2012 forward.  That assumes taxing to the max and the max will require property tax increases estimated at about 12% for 2010-11, about 9% for 2011-12, about 6% for 2012-13,  4.5% for 2013-14, and about 3.25% for 2014-15.  At the state level, the projected structural deficit for the 2011-13 biennium is $2.3 Billion.

There may also be more bad news from the state.  Recent tax collections have not met projections thus far.  According to Steve Walters at WisOpinion, the hope is that two of the good things that were done in the last budget — increasing the Capital Gains tax and raising the highest income tax rate — will help enough to avoid a budget reconciliation (if GPR projected expenditures exceed projected revenues by 0.5% the “emergency” adjustment comes into play).

It is time for state officials to take their heads out of the sand and address the short and long term needs of the state, including education.  As I noted above, some positive steps were made in the last budget (I’ll add closing the “Las Vegas Loophole” and the Homestead Credit adjustment), but they clearly are not enough.  For the short term, the Penny for Kids campaign has the best solution.  For the long term, school funding still needs the big fix and Wisconsin needs real revenue reform (see the the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future/Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin).

The Facilities Assessment is next (memo, spreadsheet).  It looks like $85 Million over 5 years, with much of that needed sooner rather than later.  More bad news.  Susan Troller Doug Erickson has more at the Cap Times State Journal.

The last informational piece is a report on Instructional Resource Teachers (IRTs).  Research, current practices and the MMSD Reorganization all identify IRTs or “Teacher Coaches” or “Teacher Leaders” as the key to successful Professional Development practices.  The Reorganization already cut IRTs.  It makes no sense to cut further.  Here is one quote from Catherine McMillan, Principal at Franklin:

There are plenty more in the report.  I hope no one is confused by the illusion that “keeping cuts from the classroom” means IRTs are expendable.

Last is the big item, the action item: “2010-11 MMSD Budget Reduction and Efficiency Options for Addressing the Property Tax Impact of and Revenue Gap within the Projected Budget.”

Thomas J. Mertz.

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