Category Archives: referendum

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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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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WAES School Funding Reform Update, Week of March 22, 2010

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (of Penny for Kids fame).  Table of Contents below, click here for the full update.

  • School-funding reform is the topic of the day under The Dome
  • Students coming to the front of the school-funding reform effort
  • “Category 5” crisis for schools … “A Penny for Kids” would help
  • Four-day school week is getting mixed reviews
  • Brodhead superintendent lays out need for April 6 referendum
  • WAES needs your support to keep working for school-funding reform
  • School-funding reform front and center on Wisconsin Eye
  • Rep. Schneider  says we must pay the price for quality schools
  • Help WAES correct e-mail update glitch
  • School-funding reform calendar

Thomas J. Mertz

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Fast MMSD Budget Hearing Report

Just a quick report, more later.

The big news is that by two 7-0 votes the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education agreed to raise taxes by at least  $11.7 Million ($4 Million from referendum and $7.7 from new cap room) and took most of Tier 4 (7-0 vote) and on a motion by Marj Passman some items from Tier 3 off the table (no time for links tonight, all documents are linked off of the district pages).  The Tier 3 items were 12, 35, 138, 140, 142, 146, covering Positive Behavior Support, Social Workers, Guidance Counselors, Nurses, Middle School Learning Coordinators and Psychologists.    The vote here was 5-2 with Lucy Mathiak and I believe Johnny Winston Jr Corrected Maya Cole voting no.

Passman’s motion came after a broader motion from Ed Hughes  to take many other items out of consideration (8, 12, 17, 35, 137, 138, 140, 142, 146, 149, 174, 175, 198, and maybe 44, 45 , 46– have to double check, it may be the 140s are wrong and the 40s are right Corrected:  8, 12, 17, 35, 44, 45, 46, 137, 138, 140, 142, 146, 149, 174, 175, 198) failed by a 3-3 vote with Winston abstaining. and Beth Moss, Marj Passman voting with Hughes.  The logic that helped Passman’s motion carry was that the Tier 3 cuts she identified paralleled Tier 4 cuts in those areas.  By Superintendent Nerad’s own admission the numbers in and even the inclusion in each Tier was a product of wanting the dollar amounts to come out neat and not any educational or policy thinking.

The one item not removed from Tier four was #9, Elementary Instructional Resource Teachers.  Much confusion around this in the budget and  the Reorganization. The one thing I know is that IRTs or coaches are considered n effective and efficient use of resources in all the research I’ve read.  I’m confused too.

I understand why Board President Silveira made the spending motions based on the amounts of the referendum and the new cap room, but the truth is authority is authority, is authority and it could just as well have been a round $10 million r $20 million.

The bulk of the night was public testimony.  Packed room, overflow crowd, strong support for schools and many reminders about the good they do, how.  Much of the testimony was about the Lincoln Open Classroom and some of the most moving about the Omega School.  Many also came to say “raise my taxes” and share their thoughts about why investments in education are so important. There was some anger, much rightly directed at state officials with Mark Pocan and Mark Miller called out by name multiple times.  Others were angry that in this year, after 17 years of cuts,  when the Board has the authority to almost fully fund education, they are hesitating.  Much more on this all later.

Stand up for schools!

Thomas J. Mertz

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Hatchets at the Ready — More Wisconsin School Budget News

Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, “Pass the Hatchet” (click to listen or download”

As they sharpen the hatchets to cut the Madison school budget, time for another installment in the sad story of diminishing educational quality in Wisconsin.

Might as well get the first “what you can do to stop this” out of the way at the start.  The easiest thing to do to help is to sign the Penny for Kids petition sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).  We (I’m a WAES Board Member) are asking that the state enact a 1 cent per dollar sales tax to address the immediate crisis and move Wisconsin toward better ways of investing in education.  You can read more and find out how to help in other ways at the links.

Most of these stories and links are from the last couple of weeks, but some are from earlier this year.  I’ve left Madison out this time, because we’ll be posting lots about the home front in the coming weeks.  This is no particular order and far from comprehensive (with districts holding April referenda reserved for another post).

I’ll get started with the districts mentioned in Chris Murphy’s  recent “What’s News: Schools’ money troubles are news all over Wisconsin “story on the Cap Times:  Oshkosh, Appleton and  Monona Grove.

Lots more on the major cuts in Oshkosh in this post.  My favorite recent thing is the Facebook group “The children in the Oshkosh Area School District are screwed!!!!!”  I love the lack of spin.

The Oshkosh West student paper has a good story: “Board decision ushers in winter of discontent.”  Here is an  excerpt:

State and local budget woes have placed a sharp edge at the throat of the Oshkosh Area School District. At an OASD school board meeting on February 10, board members voted 7-0 to raise the student to teacher ratio to 25:1 beginning in the fall of 2010, effectively eliminating some 35 teaching positions in order to shave approximately $2 million from the budget deficit. Although the board was scheduled to meet on February 24 (which was too late for publication in this issue of the Index) regarding specifics of implementation, the impact of these cuts could be dire, according to Assistant Principal Jay Jones.

“My biggest fear is that we could potentially lose some upper level electives that students have had some interest in,” he said. “One of the suggestions from Superintendent Bette Lang is that some of these elective classes will have to run every other year. But at the same time it could mean that an awful lot of classes simply do not run.”

Some more on the cuts and firings from School Board candidate Karl Lowenstein:

It is hard to describe the passion, energy, and eloquence of the students who lined up and stayed for hours to try to save smaller classes that were important to them. It was a testament to a hopeful future. Unfortunately, the board ignored their pleas.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to fire the teachers. There was very little discussion about the real implications of this cut. Bette Lang and the board members insisted that hardly anyone will miss the teachers–all it means is that small classes will be offered less frequently. Not one board member asked how a fired teacher can offer courses every other year. The board’s belief is that other districts have higher ratios, so our should too.

Although the information put out by the asst. principals at North and West, which listed all the classes which may be canceled next year, is surely exaggerated, the idea that firing 35 teachers will have no impact on the kind of education our kids get is simply not true.

Once those 35 teachers are gone, what will have disappeared from our high schools? It remains to be seen how many math teachers or business teachers or language teachers they will have to fire. It looks like at least 17 at West and 18 at North will lose their jobs. After that happens, we will have a better sense of how much worse the options have become for our high school students.

At least two more entries from his blog are worth reading: “Where’s the Plan? February 24 Meeting Report,” and “Students Organize Against Cuts.”

Here is a little more on the reactions from WLUK-TV.

With the High School cuts decided, the Oshkosh Board has moved on to debating school closures.  Two schools are on the block and the projected savings is $383,000.  Like Madison in elsewhere the discussions about cuts and closures are based on the combination of revenue limits that do not reflect the costs of education and the state budget that shifted much more of those costs to local property taxes.  The Northwestern reports some are urging taxing to the max.

Parents and teachers urged the district to increase taxes instead of making the tough choice to close another school.

“You can tax us to the max. I’m OK with that,” Lakeside parent Bill Keys said. “There’s no easy choice to be made.”

Increasing the tax rate to the maximum level would generate about $3 million in additional revenue and increase the tax bill on a home valued at $100,000 by about $66.

Now an editorial from the Northwestern: “Editorial: Teacher bashing won’t balance school budgets.”

Knocking teachers for compensation earned at the bargaining table is counterproductive, especially when concessions on health insurance and other benefits will have to be won through contract negotiations. Moreover, critics overlook that 34 teaching positions were cut this school year and that 35 positions have already eliminated for next school year, with more expected. On balance, Oshkosh educators have not been immune to economic pain.

And last from Oshkosh, a great exercise in sarcasm from columnist Tom Willderson (hat tip County Supervisor Mike Norton):

Your bill shows that I owe about $970 to the school district. This figure is much too high. My sons attend only two of the 13 grades the schools provide. Furthermore, they only use one of the district’s 21 buildings! My calculations show that I owe $7.18 for schools, given that my children use such a small part of what the district offers.

On to Appleton, where 27 educators’  jobs are on the block (16 full time positions).  The Post-Crescent reports some of the reasons for the layoffs:

It became obvious in recent months that the school board would have to lay off more staff after it was determined Appleton faces a $2.4 million budget deficit for 2010-11.

[Mark] Huenink [assistant superintendent for school services] said half of the layoffs are the result of an enrollment decline at the high school level, noting that even without staff reductions to balance the budget, the district would need to eliminate positions because there aren’t enough students signed up for several classes next fall.

Reading the district budget web page it appears that Appleton is caught in the old version of the budget gap and that not taxing to the max is not on the table, yet.

WHBY Radio reports that the layoff notices were approved on March 8.

Another part of the balancing might be a teacher pay freeze, but this doesn’t seem too likely.

Susan Troller has been following the Monona Grove situation in the Cap Times and one of the best sources of information is Board Member Peter Sobol’s blog.

As this video from Channel 3000 says, the big issue is school closures, but the long term picture isn’t good with cuts year after year. after year…

I really like the guy who hits the anti-tax/tax cuts politics as the root cause.

Rob Kahl the Mayor of Monona has also checked in.

Residents of the Monona Grove School District are hopefully by now beginning to fully understand the dire financial situation confronting our district. However, I think a quick recap is in order to ensure everyone fully comprehends the extent of the problem.

This is not a $1 million dollar budget hole that can be fixed this year with cuts including closing Maywood School. The district’s problems are much larger than that. Superintendent Gerlach has often referred to this as a $15 million dollar operating budget deficit and I know there are many questions of how he comes to that total. Quite simply, using a five year projection the total amounts to $15 million because the district needs to make $1 million in cuts each year in addition to the money cut in preceding years. The chart below shows how this amount is calculated.

Year 1 2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 2
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 3
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 4
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2013-2014 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 5
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2013-2014 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2014-2015 Needed Cut of $1 million

Total Deficit if No Cuts Made = $15 million….

. It is apparent to anyone with a calculator that the district will need to go to a referendum to raise more property taxes and do so soon as it is simply unfeasible to make the total amount of needed cuts. The “plan” of the district is prior to going to that referendum to have some “blood in the streets” in their own words by undergoing significant cuts to programming and closing Maywood School. After this blood letting, they will then come to the citizens of the district within the next year or so and ask for permission to exceed the property tax levy limits.

What’s missing here is that this has been going on in many districts for 16 years.

It is very sad the School Boards are (and have been) trying to find that magic balance point between the pain of repeated cuts and continued faith in the schools before asking for referendum.  Cut too much and people are too disgusted and disheartened to vote yes; cut too little and people think the Board is crying wolf.  Even Madison, with the “Partnership Pl;an” felt the need to put forth a referendum that required further cuts (and now the cuts are looking larger and some of the referendum authority may not be used).

Most of the “blood in the streets” right now is school closings, but other things are are also being cut.  A music teacher points to the cuts in her area:

* Increase the instructional minutes that define a full-time teacher for Elementary Related Arts from 1280 minutes per week to 1350 minutes per week.

* Reduce instructional minutes for the elementary related arts classes (art, music, PE) from 40 minutes twice a week to 30 minutes twice a week at grades 3-5, and for art only at grades K-2.

* Eliminate the 4th-grade string program

* Reduce staffing in 6-8th grade music programs by 1.53 full-time teachers.

This proposal intends to staff the middle school music programs with only 1 full-time teacher in each curricular area for band, choir, and orchestra.

All the proposed Monona cuts are here, on the district website.

It makes me think of what Madison has been through in times past and what is going on in Milwaukee this year.

South Milwaukee too.  Arts are always a place to look for cuts, especially when so much of “accountability” is linked to Math and Reading standardized test scores.  In both Milwaukee and South Milwaukee, students came out to protest (videos from WTMJ).


South Milwaukee

I can’t find much in the way of details, but 9 teachers were cut in Weyauwega-Fremont a couple of weeks ago and it is anticipated that 7-8 support staff will also be axed.

Big cuts in ManitowocLast year they lost $400, 000 in state aid and had cuts of $1.6 million (it could have been worse, $700,000 in one time stimulus money stayed the hatchets).  They are looking at another $1.7 million in cuts this year, but the Herald Times Reporter quotes business services Director Ken Mischler being positive:

Despite the cuts that will need to be made, many other school districts are facing more dire situations, Mischler said.

“Financially, we’re doing OK,” he said.

Board member Jim Protsman said the fact that the 2010-11 year likely won’t be the last year of budget cuts would influence his decisions regarding cuts for this year.

There are at least a couple of dynamics going on here.  First, the whole “it could be worse” diminished ambitions and expectations is exactly the wrong attitude to bring to education, even in the business office.  Education should be about reaching higher and higher.  Second, there is the the professional pride that induces administrators to downplay the damage being done by the repeated cuts to educational opportunities.  The Board member quoted is correct that there will be more cuts next year and beyond, especially if people keep saying “it could be worse” and “it’s not that bad” instead of shouting that the cuts must stop.  If you want to join the shouting, become part of the Penny for Kids campaign.

On to Kaukauna where the budget hole is $2.4 million in a $44 million budget and the layoffs have started. According to this WLUK-TV report, some of the the positions cut are in “School Within a School” alternative program which  serves students who are struggling and in danger of dropping out.

More than 125 people attended the meeting where the cuts were made, but that didn’t stop the hatchets.  There really isn’t much Board Members can do about the costs/revenue limit gaps but cut, these are a product of the broken school finance system that has been in place for 16 years (the Madison gap and the gaps in other districts where part of the equation is deciding whether to tax to the max are different in that Boards do have some options).  It is state action that is needed.

Milton has big problems too; an $850,000 gap in in a $34 million budget.  Possible school closures are again the focus of much of the frustration (really, the frustration needs to be directed at the state officials who continue to do little or nothing about this crisis)., but there are many other items on the chopping block.   These include laying off elementary teachers, cuting guidance staff, reducing the High School Dean to half time and axing a business education teacher.  The Janesville Gazette reports that one student provided some needed perspective on the last:

Ben Oliver, an 18-year-old Milton High student, spoke against the proposed elimination of a high school business teacher. He said with the state of the economy, the district should be adding, not subtracting from the business department.

“We have a local, national and financial responsibility to financially educate America’s youth, he said. “By no means is that a task for an understaffed department.”

WKOW had more — mostly on the school closures — in this report:

Just a couple more districts for now…

Wausau has a new teacher contract, below the old QEO 3.8%, but is still looking at $3.8 million in cuts from a $100 million budgetThey have also cut 10 teachers and added a sixth class to the workload of teachers in Middle and High School.

Two Rivers is looking to cut about $850,000.  Like in Madison, a proposed administrative restructuring is part of the package.  Other things include eliminating the one staffer for Gifted and Talented education, reassigning the Family and Consumer Science teacher, cutting pack on technology education, having a single librarian cover the Middle and High School,  and larger class sizes.

I’ve got at least another half dozen links that will have to wait, or more likely never be posted here because by the time I get to them there will be new cuts to in other districts to post on.  I hate this.

I hate doing this too.  Yet I keep on because I cling to the hope that if enough people become aware of the way education is being chopped in Wisconsin they will put enough pressure on out Legislators to move them from them to do something, even in an election year.

Might as well close with the “What you can do” also.

The easiest thing to do to help is to sign the Penny for Kids petition sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).  We (I’m a WAES Board Member) are asking that the state enact a 1 cent per dollar sales tax to address the immediate crisis and move Wisconsin toward better ways of investing in education.  You can read more and find out how to help in other ways at the links.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Budget, education, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized, We Are Not Alone

February 16, 2010 Wisconsin Referendum Votes (Updated with Results)

Update, results:

Bangor, both pass, operating 379 yes votes to 214; construction 437 yes votes to 157 no votes.

Brodhead, fails, 1,021-828.

Edgar, passes 706 to 629.

Green Lake, fails, 393 to 374.

Hilbert, passes, 419 t0 305.

Rhinelander, both pass, operating 3,646 to 3,111, construction, 3,664 to 3,089.

Shiocton, pass, 8 votes, can’t find totals.

8 pass, 2 failed.

The video at the top is from the 2006 Madison referendum campaign, since the voter turnout on Tuesday is expected to be small I thought a little shame might help bring people out.

We are in a new era of referenda.  Referenda for building purposes remain much the same, except in many districts property tax increases to make up for drops in state support have made passage more difficult.  Operating referenda are also more difficult for the same reason, but there is a twist.  Previously the biggest financial issue was that rising costs — many of them mandated or near mandated — outstripped allowed revenue increases (the revenue caps).  This problem remains, but in many districts it has receded in importance because the drop in state support has made simply taxing to the max — using all the allowed revenue authority  — and the large property tax increases that result  intolerable to many voters and Board members.  According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a recent record 98 out of 427 districts — including Madison — did not tax to the max for the current yearEvery indication is that the percent will be higher this year.  For these districts, increased revenue authority via a referendum is irrelevant.   These districts have to cut to address the gap between allowed revenues and costs (like always) and are cutting to limit property tax increases.   It is a new era.

It is this situation that leading our schools into crisis and making our schools the center of conflict instead aspirations.  It is this situation that inspired the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools to launch the Penny for Kids campaign to increase state education funding and improve how it is allocated.  Click the links, find out more and sign the petition.

On Tuesday, eight districts will have a total of ten referenda before the voters; four for construction borrowing, and six for operating expenses (one recurring and five nonrecurring).  You can see all the referenda details here.

The Bangor district is asking for $580,000 in demolition and construction debt authority (for the old high school gym, this would be a no interest ARRA loan) and three years on additional revenue authority at $350,000 a year.  The district referendum page is here.  Here is what the LaCrosse Tribune reported on the operating referendum:

“We’ve pared things down, and even if this one passes we will still have to look at ways to reduce our budget and conserve our expenses,” Superintendent Roger Foegen said. “But the board felt in these tight economic times we couldn’t ask for any more than we are currently getting.”

The district is in the final year of a three-year $350,000 operating referendum, he said.

Without renewal, it will face a $400,000 to $450,000 deficit next school year.

The district already trimmed $600,000 from its annual budget before going to the public three years ago, Foegen said.

“Because of the state funding formula and the things that go into it, we need to maintain it if we are going to keep our current programs and personnel,” he said.

Foegen said the plan will cost the owner of a $100,000 property an estimated $78 in 2010-11; $39 in 2011-12; and $13 in 2012-13.

The Brodhead district has a four year non recurring measure on the ballot.  Here is how it breaks down:

2010-2011 $635,000
2011-2012 $810,000
2012-2013 $855,000
Total $3,585,000

The district has a nice referendum page here.  It includes a list of cuts made sine 2003-4, which is good reminder that the current crisis comes on top of 16 years of cuts because — by state design — revenues have bee kept below cost-to-continue.  You can read the whole list at the link, here are the programs:

Programs or Activities Eliminated

– Jazz Band II eliminated – FHA (Future Homemakers) eliminated

– FBLA (Future Business Leaders) eliminated

– drivers’ education eliminated

– District funding for 7th grade camp eliminated (still runs thru funding by student activity account)

– access to HSED/GED programming at BlackHawk Tech reduced and restricted

– greenhouse no longer heated by District funds (now provided by FFA Alumni)

– eliminated French as an elective class at the HS

There is also a narrative  of what will likely be cut if the referendum fails here are some excerpts:

The School Board has identified staff and program cuts that will be necessary to balance the budget without a successful referendum. These would include: three elementary teaching positions (moving all grades to three sections, regardless of the number of students in the grade); three teaching positions between the high school and middle school, plus two elective programs (and their teachers) at the high school and middle school; one guidance counselor; two administrators; the high school adventures class; the long-distance learning program; and ALL extra-curricular positions at the high school and middle school. These cuts would be phased in over the next two years.

And, what is the impact of these cuts? Class sizes in the elementary school would increase from the current 18-23 students, to classes in the high twenties. Class sizes in the high school would increase from the current mid-twenties to around thirty, with some classes pushing thirty-five students. With the larger class sizes, students would receive less of the individual attention many of them need to be successful in school. Curriculum development and innovative new programs would fall by the wayside. Students would have less access to advanced coursework, at a time when they most need it to compete with graduates of other schools. And, access to some elective programs that prepare students for specific career fields might be eliminated altogether. Students having problems at school or home would have less access to a counselor.

Remember that Governor Jim Doyle and the Democratic leadership continue to boast of having “protected education.”  With “friends” like that — who look the other way while cuts like these are on the table — education doesn’t need enemies.

The Janesville Gazette reports another factor at play in the Bradhead and other votes on Tuesday (the Beloit Daily News includes similar observations):

District officials have “real serious concerns” if the referendum fails because families will have three days to file by the state’s open enrollment deadline to attend different districts, [Superintendent Chuck] Deery said.

“I’ve been hearing from quite a few families that that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” he said. “They won’t wait around (to see the board make the cuts). They want those activities for their kids.”

This is the death spiral.  State policies and budgets force program cuts, enrollment declines as temporarily better off districts poach students, accelerating the cuts.

Edgar is asking to issue

general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $7,600,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of remodeling existing physical education facilities for use as performance center/auditorium, constructing replacement physical education facilities, adding additional elementary classrooms, renovating and remodeling food service and music facilities, and acquiring equipment

The main Wausau Daily Herald story is here.  There are also a number of letters to the editor, all the ones I saw were in support.

Green Lake has the only recurring measure this time around.  For reasons that should be obvious recurring referenda make more sense.  The Bangor situation described at the top of this post is a perfect example.  Three years ago they went through the work to pass a nonrecrring referendum; now three years later they are having to ask again.  The reality of a system that does not provide for adequate revenues isn’t likely to change soon (here are those links to help work for change:  Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page) and districts and communities repeatedly “going to referendum” is a divisive waste of resources.

The open enrollment issue is part of this story too.  Green Lake has implemented environmental education and International Baccalaureate programs in an attempt to reverse the demographically-driven declining enrollment by attracting new students.

The Green Lake referendum page is here, with this video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are two items from their Q&A:

QUESTION: What happens if the referendum vote is no?

ANSWER: The district would have to cut $660,000 in the next budget, and there would be no additional funds for maintenance or technology. This would be followed by more cuts each year after that. There would be program and staffing reductions. Suffice it to say, the school would not be the same as it is today.

QUESTION: Has the district made cuts?

ANSWER: Yes, in the past four years the cuts have totaled over $600,000. This has allowed the district to extend the 2001 referendum extra years beyond the five years it was predicated to last.

Also worth reading is this from the  School: Tax effect would be minimal.

Hilbert is another construction project debt vote and like Bangor is looking to take advantage of stimulus related no interest loan opportunities.  They are asking for $4.7 million.  The Appleton Post-Crescent decribes the projects:

[U]pating classrooms; adding a new science wing; converting the current instructional media center and science labs to a larger library and media area and computer classroom; and upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

This is really the basic essentials, and if we turn this down I don’t know where we will go,” said Hilbert Supt. Tony Sweere, expressing hope that more voters “can get behind this.”

“It amounts to a 25- to 30-year fix for the middle/high school campus, which hasn’t been touched since it was built in 1974-75,” he said. “This will upgrade everything.”

A larger construction referendum failed by 89 votes in November 2008.

is another district with both construction and operating expenses on the ballot (referendum page here).   The state finance squeeze has been particularly tough on Rhinelander.  They’ve tried repeatedly for relief from referenda without much success.  Since 2005, four construction debt referenda have failed, as have five operating votes.  The only one to pass was an HVAC upgrade paid for by a one-time operating levy increase.

The current construction ask is for ‘for remodeling and repairing existing buildings” and would also take advantage of the  ARRA interest savings.

On the operating expenses and state funding, here is how SDR business director Marta Kwiatkowski described the situation in the Daily News:

“The way the state’s school aid formula works means that every school district in the state eventually will go bankrupt, some sooner than later. In time, every district will need to go to referendum, asking residents to exceed the revenue caps,” she said.

State aid to the Rhinelander district has dropped precipitously in the past decade. In 2000-01, state aid was $13.2 million, approximately 52 percent of the general budget. By 2008-09, state aid had dropped to $7.7 million, approximately 28 percent of the general budget, requiring residents to shoulder more of the cost of running the district. State aid is estimated to be at zero for this district in four years. The adjacent graph charts the decline of state aid to the district since 2001 and the corresponding rise in property taxes.

Year Property Taxes State Aid

2000-01 $12,035,267 $13,249,469

2001-02 $13,460,627 $12,387,722

2002-03 $14,108,872 $12,145,111

2003-04 $15,351,872 $11,337,277

2004-05 $17,012,020 $10,089,233

2005-06 $15,613,885 $11,693,310

2006-07 $16,560,823 $10,859,344

2007-08 $18,600,885 $ 9,314,011

2008-09 $19,875,455 $ 7,721,621

The district’s annual budget from state aid and tax revenues for 2008-09 was $27.59 million, down $317,820 from the previous year. Comparatively, in 2001-02, the annual budget from these sources was $25.84 million.

Here are the proposed cuts if the referendum fails (click on image for pdf):

Closing schools, cutting extra-curriculars, raising class sizes, stopping book purchases….throwing the future in the trash.

Shiocton is another example of the false attraction of nonrecurring referenda, compounded by the squeeze of state defunding.  Their four year referendum is expiring but because of state cuts in education investments, they had tor raise property taxes last year by 20%.  The plan now is to ask for another nonrecurring operating referendum below cost-to-continue and combine that with cuts (this is similar to what Madison did with the “Partnership Plan“).

Here is how the Appleton Post Crescent explained things:

The referendum asks voters’ permission to exceed state revenue limits by $500,000 for the 2010-11 school year, $600,000 for 2011-12 and $700,000 in each of the following three school years.

Shiocton school Supt. Chris VanderHeyden said the district faces a $900,000 shortfall next school year if it does not take this step to help balance the budget by covering the cost of preserving district education programs.

Regardless of whether the referendum passes or fails, the school district of 790 students in pre- kindergarten through grade 12 will need to cut $400,000 to stay in the black, VanderHeyden said.

About 65 percent of the $400,000 will come in staffing cuts, he said, which includes a reduction of 3.5 teachers and two paraprofessionals. The rest will come from such areas as departmental budgets, athletics, staff development, textbook adoptions and food service. “We will make the cuts but we also need the referendum to balance the budget,” he said. …

The increase this year was up nearly 20 percent. Either way, the tax rate will drop next year, VanderHeyden said. If the referendum passes, property taxes will drop $107 for the owner of a $100,000 home. If it fails, the property taxes will drop $278 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

So if it passes, there will be major cuts and taxes will go down.  If it fails, there will be even larger cuts and taxes will go down more.  Where is the choice for fully funding education?

The best answer is that choice has to be made at the state level.  Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page (the last has links to contact state officials).

Last but not least is Three Lakes.  This is one of those districts caught in declining enrollment and relatively high property wealth.  It also another district in the last year of a nonrecurring operating referendum.  Three Lakes is in worse financial shape, has been squeezed harder, have been cutting for years; according to the district figures, without a successful referendum they will run out of money in February 2011.

Therefore they are asking:

…that the revenues included in the School District budget for three years beginning with the 2010-2011 school year and ending with the 2012-2013 school year be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,517,469 a year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of funding operating expenses.

In the Rhinelander Daily News District Administrator George Karling and others give the big picture:

Three Lakes District Administrator George Karling said the override voters are being asked to approve is necessary to fund current programs and amounts to about half of the annual revenue that has been lost, compared to 10 years ago.

With about $900,000 in the district’s general fund, Karling said Three Lakes would only have funds available to operate through February 2011 absent approval of the override.

Informational material the district sent to voters indicates the district is not allowed to operate at a deficit and would “become insolvent and close in the near future” if the referendum fails.

School Board Clerk Tom Rulseh said the district’s budget is “really tight,” with the budgeted expenditures of $10,507,798.50 for 2009-10 down about $80,000 from the previous school year, while the revenue override is necessary to continue to operate.

“I don’t know where the money would come from” if the referendum fails, Rulseh said.

…When asked whether it would be necessary to approve another revenue override three years from now, Karling said he hopes state lawmakers change Wisconsin’s school funding formula by then to provide more money for Three Lakes, which is considered a “property rich” district and receives little state funding.

He said proposals on the state level to boost funding for K-12 education include an additional 1 percent sales tax, which is known as “A Penny for Kids” and backed by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, and a “65 percent hold harmless” provision to lessen the amount of lost revenue because of declining enrollment.

They also note that dissolving the district would likely lead to even higher property taxes.

That’s the roundup.  More votes in April.  Before closing I wnat to again share something and suggest you follow my lead.  When I do these posts that involve districts all over the state, I often take a look around their web sites.  I am always struck by the good work being done, some traditional, some innovative but all a source of pride for the students, the educators, the families and the communities.  All the sites are linked at their names, so I suggest you do the same.  It is a good reminder of why education is so important and why we need to do better recognizing that.  When you are done, help Wisconsin do better by getting involved for change.

Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Vote Yes for Schools (and do more)

Thomas J. Mertz!

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, Elections, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized, We Are Not Alone