Category Archives: School Finance

Seats at the Table

David Hockney, Walking Past Two Chairs 1984-6

Jimmy Cliff , “Sitting In Limbo” (click to listen or download).

The big item at the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meeting/retreat/workshop last night was the process for replacing the collective bargaining agreement with an employee hand book (thanks Scott Walker).  Being a retreat/workshop, nothing was decided.  In my view, at this point the most important issues are who will have seats at the table for the drafting of the handbook and what roles will the Board of Education play.

Matt Defour has a story on this portion of the meeting and Karen Vieth has a great write-up, so I’m mostly just going to offer comments, observations and opinions.

As of now, the default process, as put in place by departed Superintendent Dan Nerad (apparently without consulting the Board), is that the handbook process and drafting the handbook will be in the charge of a 15 member “Work Group” made up entirely of Administrators.  If the Board does not act, this is what we get, no seats at the table for teachers and other non-administrative staff.  The Board needs to act.

Recently I posted a cartoon of workers being locked out of discussions of labor; I never thought this would be the case in Madison.  This is insane.  An all administrative committee should not have even been among the options considered.   Our community supported our teachers when they walked out to protest the collective bargaining being decimated, Dane County voted 68% in favor Collective Bargaining, we are a community that recognizes the importance of workers and teachers having a voice and having their voices heard, we are a district where the successful school board candidate NOT endorsed by the unions saw “teachers and staff…playing a central role” in the handbook process.  This is the kind of thing you’d expect in Waukesha, not Madison.  Scott Walker and his supporters must be very pleased.

As described at the meeting, the default Madison process would allow for staff input via surveys and other means, but this is far different than having people at the table as part of the drafting team.    That’s not collaborative or a partnership.

Around the state, other communities have found ways to bring diverse staff to the table as partners.  I don’t have a complete list, but Middleton is doing it, La Crosse did it, Monona Grove did it,  Watertown did itSomerset did it, Hartland-Lakeside did itEau Claire did it .  Madison needs to do it.

They didn’t do it simply because it is fair and right, they did it because it makes sense.    La Crosse knew that the best decisions would not be made in “an administration in a vacuum.”  And the result was positive.

“I think the final product is a good product,” [Superintendent Randy] Nelson said. “It represents a balance that I think maintains the respect and dignity of our staff.”

Respect and dignity were part of the product because respect and dignity were part of the process.

The other issue in this is the role of the Board.  Arlene Silveira suggested that rather than have a Board member be part of the committee, Board Members sit in on the meetings on a rotating basis and keep the rest of the Board informed.  This seemed to have general support from the rest of the Board.   These is a good idea.

Maya Cole (and others) expressed concerns about the handbook process going forward with little input or guidance from the Board, both in terms of general philosophy and specifics.  Her fear was that in the end, with the clock ticking, the Board would be given only less-than-satisfactory choices.

There was some Pollyannaish talk that the “Guiding Principles” in the process document  — especially the first two “1. Improve student learning. As in everything we do, the first question and the top priority is student learning. How does what we are considering impact students? 2. Empower staff to do their best work. How does this impact teachers and staff? Does it help or hinder them in doing their jobs effectively?” — would be sufficient (a little more below on this), but there seemed to be a consensus that at very least the committee should present some options to the Board.  That’s another reason to have an inclusive committee; to get better options.

A quick aside on the “Guiding Principals” and related thoughts and then back to the Board’s role.  It is all well and good to say that student learning is or should be primary in just about everything, but it is also false and serves to marginalize staff.  I’ve long said that the interests of teachers align with the interests of students and the district by about 95% and yes “student learning” is the prime interest.  But staff are adults, with mortgages, families to support, loans to pay, relationships to cultivate and maintain, …They are not and should not be people who put student learning above the their own well being.  To  even contemplate that they should be is disrespectful.  That’s why we hear the “All about the students” meme  from the anti-teacher/anti-union reform crowd.  It sound good, but it is wrong.  Think about it, did the people negotiating a contract on behalf of Interim Superintendent Belmore put “student learning at the top of their list?  Of course not, and they shouldn’t have.

The only people who really have a claim to this position are the Board Members, and as the later discussion of taxes and budget at the meeting demonstrated (along with the years of under-levy), even the Board seeks to balance what is best for students with what is best for taxpayers (btw — good to hear Interim Sup. Belmore and some Board Members acknowledge how budget -driven cuts from contingency funds have limited flexibility in harmful ways, and talk about restoring some of these).   Let’s drop the false, feel good rhetoric.  [Some related things on the “All about the kids” rhetoric in relation to Madison Prep, here and here.]

Glad I got that off my chest.  The Board’s role is tricky.  They have the final say and responsibility, but almost certainly should not be intimately involved every step of the way (involved, but not intimately).  Beyond whatever “Guiding Principals” they endorse or don’t  (and this is the job of the Board, not the administration), I’d suggest the give the committee two lists.  The first list should be of things they do not want changed; the second of things where they would like to have some options for changes.  I’d put “just cause” for dismissals at the top of the first list.  On the second, the committee should provide both options and analyses of the options.

I’m not sure if this is the kind of thing Maya Cole was talking about.  She seemed to be thinking of something less detailed.   One thing Ms Cole did say very clearly was that in regard to the process the Board should make motions and take votes, and the sooner the better.  We are in agreement on that.

Right now, as the song says, this is in limbo.  There is a process, the administration is in complete control of it, there are “Guiding Principles,” things are going forward, but the Board seems poised to act to redirect and remake.  Till they do act (or announce in some manner a decision not to act), we are in limbo.  As always, write the Board to tell them what you think they should do (or not do):  board@madison.k12.wi.us.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Class Size: “Getting Mighty Crowded”

Video from the 2006 MMSD school referendum campaign.

Below is a slightly edited version of an email that I sent last night to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education.

Subject: Class Size
To: board@madison.k12.wi.us
Date: Thursday, August 30, 2012, 7:58 PM

I’m just back from the open house and thought you should know that 5th grade class sizes at Randall are at 28 this year.  Maybe other grades also, the last few years 2nd, 3d, & 4th [at Franklin and Randall] have mostly been at 26 & 27.

The best teachers in the world are better in classrooms with 22,23,24…not 26, 27, 28…  This is no secret.

If you are tempted to say that Randall is a low needs/low poverty school, so this is OK, I’ll remind you of that there were 86 low income and 30+ Ell last year and like Johnny Winston said “it isn’t easy being a poor kid at a rich school.”  I’ll also say that all kids deserve better than 28 per class.

Here is what I think is the most recent public info on class size in MMSD (from this post):
…The first was  an October 3, 2011 discussion of class size, cut short in order to waste more time on Madison Prep, that featured a confusing and incomplete presentation of data.  Despite promises made, in the intervening 10 months  the better data has not come before the Board, nor has the Board returned to the topic.  For what they are worth and those interested, the Middle School info is here (not too bad, but no trend info) and the Elementary info is here  (really useless).  There is nothing worth mentioning on High Schools.  For the hardcore, there was also what looks to be an outdated practices document given to the La Follette Area study committee, note that it says that the non-Sage grades 3-5 limit is 27 (it also still has SAGE classes at 15/1, over a year after MMSD went to 18/1).

As some of you know, I believe that the Board should be more informed and pro-active on class size, and that given the financial implications, this should be part of the budget process.

TJM

No responses yet, but it hasn’t been very long since I sent it.  If I get any responses, I will ask for permission to post the here.

For more on class size, see ClassSizeMatters.org.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Been down so long it looks like up

The dbs – “Ups and Downs” (click to listen or download)

This story  — “Bonduel school taxes going down: Increase in state aid one of reasons,” by Lee Pulaski in today’s Shawano Leader made me think of Richard Farina’s novel Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me.  That’s what has been going on with school funding in Wisconsin and around the nation, the cuts have been so regular and difficult that any relief, no matter how small, appears like forward movement.  The reality,  — in the Bonduel district, in Wisconsin and in most of the United States  —  is that these small steps forward don’t come close to making up for the giant steps backward of the last few years.  The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal, Senator Scott Fitzgerald and others seize upon these small and local steps, but we can’t let their anecdotes distract from the big picture.  Wisconsin Sate Senator John Lehman has promised to convene the Senate Education Committee to “to examine how these 1.6 billion dollar cuts have hurt Wisconsin Schools.” That’s’ a good start, but more is needed.  We need more than examination, we need workable plans to fund our schools at a level and in a manner that puts the needs of our students first (see more on this below, at the bottom.  Update: The agenda for the hearing is out — August 31 is the date — and it looks like they’ll just be documenting the destruction and previewing future damage.).   The tools — if, as you should, you include in the tools the massive cuts in state aid to education which are central to the Fitzwalker game plan– aren’t working to provide students with the Opportunities to Learn that they deserve.

For the national scene see “New School Year Brings Steep Cuts in State Funding for Schools,” By Phil Oliff and Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Here is one graph from that report.

Notice Wisconsin is the fourth worst state in this chart.  That may improve this year because of a one-time $50 per pupil aid.  But according to the July aid estimates from DPI, only 155 districts in Wisconsin can expect an increase in state aid the coming year, while 267 will see a decrease.  Bonduel is one of the lucky ones.  That’s what seems to be at the center of today’s story (it appears that they took a big hit last year and thatrevenues from 4K are kicking in too, like in Madison).

Peter Behnke, the district’s administrator, gushed good news for the taxpayers, who can expect a 3.3 percent decrease in their school property taxes due to an estimated $250,000 increase in state aid, to about $5.6 million.

“State aid is actually increasing for the first time in years, and that’s always a good thing,” Behnke said.

But what is missing is that the aid doesn’t come close to restoring state funding levels to what they were three years ago and leaves state aid per member for 2012-13 an estimated $671.55 belowwhat it was in 2007-08 (and in fact aid increased in both 2009-10 and 2010-11).

Here are some charts.  Note that the Bonduel district budget information is not accessible on the district website, charts were prepared using information from the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, found herehere here, here, here, here, and here.  For the 2012-13 per member, the 2011-12 membership was used to estimate.

The first is total state equalization aid to Bonduel.

The second is per member aid.

That anyone familiar with this history can “gush” over the 2012-13 projections is evidence of how far down we have been pushed.

 We need to push back, up and out of this hole..  State Superintendent Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for Our Future is a start,  but it won’t be enough unless it includes an influx of new state revenues.  That’s one reason why I think something like Penny for Kids is more necessary now than ever.  Penny for Kids would provide about $850,000 annually in new revenues for our schools.  I also think that Penny for Kids inclusion of a real aid to schools educating students in poverty is essential to addressing the gaps in achievement that plague our state and district (Fair Funding includes increased state aid to districts based on student poverty, but no new money or taxing authority only property tax relief, so this will supplant, not supplement).

After all the slings and arrows, the cuts, the failed recall, the still slow economy…I know many are like the District Administrator in Bonduel, ready to accept minor improvements as cause for celebration.  I think we can’t let down look like up, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, keep on pushing, not forget what is right just because it seems out-of-reach.  I hope Senator Lehman shares that attitude when he convenes his Committee, I hope he remembers the ideals of the Pope-Roberts Beske Resolution (he was a signatory).  Here they are as a reminder:

1. Funding levels based on the actual cost of what is needed to provide children with a sound education and to operate effective schools and classrooms rather than based on arbitrary per pupil spending levels;

2. State resources sufficient to satisfy state and federal mandates and to prepare all children, regardless of their circumstances, for citizenship and for post−secondary education, employment, or service to their country;

3. Additional resources and flexibility sufficient to meet special circumstances, including student circumstances such as non−English speaking students and students from low−income households, and district circumstances such as large geographic size, low population density, low family income, and significant changes in enrollment;

4. A combination of state funds and a reduced level of local property taxes, derived and distributed in a manner that treats all taxpayers equitably regardless of local property wealth and income…

These are still things worth working for.  Just thinking about them lifts me up.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Too Many Chiefs?

The Wild Magnolias, Mardi Gras Indians. Click image for more information.

Professor Longhair – ” Big Chief 1 and 2″ (click to listen or download).

Just announced, special Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education meetings on Friday, July 27, Noon (Doyle Blg., rm 103), to create a new, one year Chief of Staff position at a cost of $170,000.  This has to be done via a budget amendment, so it will require five votes.  No public appearances;  in order to weigh in write the Board at board@madison.k12.wi.us.

I am agnostic on the need for this position, but believe that if Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore believes there is a need, than a case should be made in a manner that allows for public scrutiny and input.  The agenda linked above provides no justification.  Hell, it doesn’t even have a job description.   There is no way for anyone to weigh the need vs the cost,  and lacking that there is no way to give meaningful public input, except to say, “slow down.”

I think some context is important.  In recent years,  early grade class sizes in our highest poverty schools have increased from 15 to 18 and other class sizes have likely also increased (neither the Board nor the public have been given  a clear picture of class size trends) .   A  Board Member amendment to guaranty adequate professional library staffing was defeated during the budget deliberations and an effort to increase the capacity for analysis and reporting was only minimally funded (on the need for the latter, see here).    Equity-based supplemental allocations are essentially dead.     These are four examples of places where decisions have been made to not spend money, where the desire to not tax and spend has triumphed over the desire for better education and a better district.  Add to these the fact that most staff are working under contracts that froze their pay and increased their benefit contributions.

All of the above (and more)  should be taken into consideration before voting on the creation of a Chief of Staff position.  Board members need to ask themselves if this position is more important than and more beneficial than other possible uses of the funds.

A little over two years ago the Board was told by Dan Nerad and (soon to be) Chief Learning Officer/Deputy Superintendent  Sue Abplanalp that there was no need for a Chief of Staff.  This was part of an ill-conceived and executed administrative reorganization done in 2010 (see here, here, here, and here).   At the meeting where Abplanalp’s job description was approved, there was discussion of the new position and clarification that duties which had previously been under the Chief of Staff would move to the new Chief Learning Officer portfolio.   Apparently that hasn’t worked out.

I’d be more inclined to support the new Chief of Staff position if it was tied to a cut in pay for the Deputy Superintendent/Chieif Learning Officer (and perhaps other positions impacted).  Those on the front lines in our district are continually being told to do more with less and more for less.  It doesn’t seem right for those at the top to be doing less for the same compensation.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Why Scott Walker doesn’t recall the QEO and how to help recall him

In last week’s debate and elsewhere, Scott Walker has displayed less then total recall on many things.  Among these are the role of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) and the 2009 repeal of the QEO in shaping teacher compensation in Wisconsin.  He doesn’t want to remember and he doesn’t want you to remember because it undermines key parts of the case he has made for (all but) eliminating collective bargaining for public employees, especially those parts related to health insurance costs.  According to Walker one of the main reasons Act 10 was necessary was that collective bargaining allowed teacher unions to force taxpayers to pay inflated rates to WEA-Trust.  From start to finish, this story is full of holes.

For me the start is 1993 and the bi-partisan creation of the QEO under Republican Tommy Thompson.  The QEO was one third of the “three legged stool” of school finance (the other two were 2/3 state funding and revenue caps…only the last remains).  It was the leg designed to hold down costs by establishing a 3.8% total teacher compensation package floor and ceiling for districts wishing to avoid arbitration.    Very few districts imposed the QEO, but it defined the playing field for contract negotiations.

The key part the Walker forgets is that between 1993 and 2009, under the QEO health insurance rates had little or no impact on contract costs and therefore taxpayers.  In effect, the QEO gave teachers the 3.8% increases and allowed them to choose the proportion that would go to salaries,  and the proportion that would go to benefits.   In the years the QEO was in place, health insurance costs (via WEA Trust and everyone else) rose considerably and as a consequence much of the total package increases went there and not to salaries.  That was the choice unions made via collective bargaining under the QEO.  So the first thing Walker wants forgotten is that for the majority of the last two decades savings from teacher health insurance would have had little or no impact on costs or taxes.

The second thing he wants you to forget is that under the QEO unions did have the incentive to limit health care costs.  According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, a majority of  unions sought some health insurance savings under the QEO:

Q: Does the QEO law prevent school boards and teachers unions from negotiating lower cost health insurance packages?

A: No. School boards and teachers’ union can voluntarily bargain changes to their health insurance coverage and frequently do. In fact, having the QEO law on the books has sparked serious negotiations on health insurance. Over 80 school districts have changed health insurance carriers and a majority of school districts have changed deductibles, medical provider co-payments and prescription drug co-payments.

Guess what Scott Walker, teachers — like everyone else — don’t want to pay too much for their insurance.

The repeal of the QEO, under Jim Doyle by Democratic controlled Senate and Assembly (for the record, I’ve always thought repealing the QEO in the absence of comprehensive school finance reform was bad crazy), combined with general economic conditions, smaller than usual revenue limit increases and the (at that time unprecedented) cuts to state school aid, led to even more unions agreeing to changes in health insurance.  As Matt DeFour reported at the time, at 3.75%, “compensation contracts” were “on track to be the lowest in more than a decade” resulting in new pressures to find insurance savings.   Where unions were not amenable to changes, the lack of a QEO put arbitration back in play for some districts.  Citing changes won through post-QEO arbitration in Milton.  Walker cheerleader Patrick McIlheran crowed that this “could mean the end to the costly market dominance of WEA Trust, the health insurer owned by the Wisconsin Education Association Council.”   A strategy memo on post-QEO bargaining from the law firm Boardman and Clark backs this up, noting that due to rising health insurance costs arbitrators were moving away from quid pro quo in this area and recommending consideration of seeking changes in “Health Insurance / Carriers.” So there were tools in place well before Scott Walker took his knife to collective bargaining.  Scott Walker also wants you to forget that without the QEO there was no floor either, unions could no longer count on 3.8% increases and that increases in both salary and benefit costs were trending down when he took office.

Last, Scott Walker wants you to forget that he campaigned on restoring the QEO.  Forgetting this aids the big lie that we all should have expected the bomb that was ACT 10.  His 2010 education packet stated:

The Qualified Economic Offer (QEO), which helped hold down local school costs for more than 15 years, will be restored and tied to revenue caps to align each district’s expenses with their revenues. Mediation and arbitration changes will also be needed to ensure that local economic factors are considered along with other common sense factors when arbitrating teacher contracts.

That doesn’t sound much like Act 10.  Walker wants you to forget that he campaigned on very different things than he enacted.

For more information on related things:

David Wahlberg, “Walker’s claim on health insurance savings for public schools questioned.”

Dave Umhoefer,  “”Act 10’s effect on school districts a mixed bag.”

WEA Trust,  “Response to Governor Walker’s Statements.”

Tom Kertscher, “Behind the rhetoric: The WEA Trust and school health care costs.”

WEAC, “Do the facts matter to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute?

Thomas J. Mertz, “Where is the QEO?” and “Where’s the QEO?  (again).

Now the real important stuff.

HOW TO HELP RECALL WALKER

Six days and counting…

If you have money to donate, there are many good places to give, but I’d recommend Students for Wisconsin, a PAC formed by Madison West High School students.   You can donate here, read about them here and here, and definitely should watch (and share) their video:

To volunteer check in with We Are Wisconsin or United Wisconsin.

DO SOMETHING!  There can be no regrets on June 6.

Thomas J. Mertz

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MMSD Administrative Analysis of Madison Prep and a Rumor

The Staple Singers – “This May Be The Last Time” (click to listen or download)

The required Administrative Analysis of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal  by the Madison Metropolitan School District staff has been posted, and it doesn’t bode well for approval.  The analysis identifies causes for concern and unanswered questions in many areas, including finances, staffing, governance, educational plans, single-sex segregation and many more.   There are some very strong things in the Analysis and to be honest I was slightly and pleasantly surprised by this strength.   [Update: Appendices have also been posted here   —  Appendix A – 9/20/11 WI Department of Public Instruction memo ; Appendix B – Personnel Costs; Appendix C – Summary Table Costs for Madison Prep Proposal Becoming an Instrumentality; Appendix D – Madison Prep Final Budget Proposal Instrumentality Analysis and Cost.] A long  excerpt and initial observations below, but first the rumor.

The (well-sourced) word I am hearing is that the Urban League of Greater Madison’s response to the matters raised or detailed in the analysis will be to seek a non-instrumentality, non union charter.  From another source comes the word that ULGM will announce a decision on Wednesday.  This change  may address some of the issues, but it raises others that will need attention.  The Analysis is based on the instrumentality proposal, so a new analysis may be required if the rumor is true

Many of the questions I am hearing assume the rumor is true and concern “what next?”.  As I see it there are three two possibilities.  The first is that the Board votes on November 28 as planned.    This may be preceded by altered submissions by The Urban League of Greater Madison on instrumentality status or other things and as noted above the need for aq new analysis may render this timeline impossible.  If the rumor is true and there is a change on instrumentality, I would not expect the Board to vote on November 28 unless A)Non-instrumentality is a deal killer (which it might be); or B) Other portions of the proposal and analysis unrelated to instrumentality status lead to a majority “no” vote.    So the second possibility, that the timeline gets extended, that there is a revised proposal and likely a new Administrative Analysis seems most likely to me.  More staff, Board and community time to be spent on something that even if approved seems to promise few benefits to those who are struggling most.

Now to the excerpt from the conclusion  (this is long):

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Conclusion and Recommendations

Over the past year, a very important conversation has taken place within our community about the achievement gaps we face as a District. While the Madison Metropolitan School District has been committed to closing its achievement gaps for many years and is a founding member of the Minority Student Achievement Network, the Urban League of Greater Madison should be credited for raising this dialogue to a new level within our community.

Simply put, the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated, and if any community is able to do so, this community can. This summary section of the administrative analysis for the Madison Preparatory Academies for Young Men and Young Women begins with a thank you to the Urban League for its persistent advocacy for our young people and for elevating the dialogue within our community. While this conversation has not been the without strain, it needed to take place, and it needs to continue.

Throughout the District’s discussions with the Urban League, three prominent issues have emerged:

  • the status of Madison Prep’s proposal as an instrumentality or non-instrumentality of the
  • District;
  • the costs of the proposed program; and
  • issues related to the single gender aspects of the Madison Prep proposal.

Instrumentality/Non-Instrumentality

The proposal submitted to the District by Madison Prep is an instrumentality proposal. By statute, as an instrumentality, all personnel must be employed by the District. As a result, involved employees become members of various collective bargaining units, subject to collective bargaining agreements.

Costs

Madison Prep submitted their budget plan to the District on October 30, 2011. Throughout the process of finalizing the plan, it has been apparent to the administration that the submitted budget did not take into account the fact that all personnel would be employees of the District, and the costs associated with this employment as required by Madison Prep’s proposal as an instrumentality. As a result, staffing costs have been recalculated with the result being a higher per pupil cost, a greater gap between the dollar amount the District could transfer from its other schools, without impacting programs, and the full costs to implement the program as an instrumentality. The current gap amount over a five year period of time within the administrative analysis is over $13 million on a break even analysis.

Gender

The administrative analysis has pointed out that there are concerns for the District should Madison Prep’s schools be implemented using a gender segregated model.

Recommendations

The achievement gaps we face must be eliminated. As we work with more urgency to identify and implement multiple strategies, this District has an interest in any proposal that provides additional, effective strategies to eliminate this unacceptable gap. Strategies like the International Baccalaureate Program, longer school days and a longer school year, mentoring support and the proposed culture of the school, as included in Madison Prep’s proposal, are all strategies we are interested in. However, we are also charged with considering the impact on all of our programs as we analyze the specifics of this proposal.

Analysis in this report is based on Madison Prep’s proposal as submitted. The purpose of this report is to provide analysis on that proposal without making programmatic changes, but as noted above, costs have been calculated to accurately reflect requirements as an instrumentality.

Madison Prep’s plan as submitted has an outstanding gap of over $13 million over the next 5 years. To fill that gap would require the District to make an investment of $15,000 – $17,000 per pupil per year. I cannot recommend that the District fund this proposal to that level. I can, however, recommend that MMSD fund Madison Prep to an amount equal to the funding we receive for every child under state revenue limits. That is a per pupil per year investment of $10,589 (2012-13 school year) – $11,389 (projected for 2016-17 school year).

This reflects an additional investment of over $5 million over the break even analysis. However, it still leaves a gap of approximately $8 million for Madison Prep’s current proposal. We are willing to work with Madison Prep to identify cost savings. As an instrumentality, we may be able to offer additional efficiencies, and are willing to continue that discussion if the Board so advises.

In addition to financial considerations, the Board must also consider the legal risks associated with Madison Prep’s single-gender proposal and the possibility of litigation.

If the Board votes to approve Madison Prep’s proposal, the following conditions should also be met.

  1. The recommendations found throughout the administrative analysis should be reviewed and discussed in development of a contract.
  2. All personnel will be employed by the District in collaboration with Madison Prep.
  3. All provisions related to collective bargaining agreements with MTI and AFSCME are followed.
  4. The budget as outlined by the District in addition, the management fee and the amount budgeted or an annual surplus should be eliminated with the surplus replaced with the amount each of the District’s middle schools is allowed to carry over, year to year ($20,000 per middle school and $40,000 per high school).
  5. The admissions process should follow the District’s enrollment timeline and acceptance into the program should be based on the lottery only. This does not prevent Madison Prep from utilizing an interview to get to know the selected students and the interview should occur after students are selected through the lottery.
  6. An ongoing bridging committee should be established to address issues that will occur when the schools are implemented.
  7. Relative to the proposal to have all board policies waived with the exception of those related to health and safety, we recommend conducting a detailed review of all Board policies to assess which should be waived and which should not.

We know more needs to be done as a District and a community to eliminate our achievement gaps, but we are also confident in our community’s ability to do so. If the Board so advises, we are willing to continue the discussions with Madison Prep and work to identify ways that costs of this proposal can be lowered, or to identify on our part, other things that we need to be doing as a school District and community to eliminate achievement gaps. These discussions need to continue on behalf of the children of this community.

Very quick observations (I want to get this up, in such a hurry I’m not even going to offer a song with this post, maybe I’ll add one later — did that, added a song).

First, a very good case can be made that Madison Prep has had their bite at the apple and failed to present a reasonable proposal in a reasonable time frame.  There is simply too much that is unresolved, uncertain, unanswered.  As I noted before, the simple requirements for a “detailed proposal” have not been met and as item #7 indicates, they still have not been met.  Despite the wishes of some, the burden is on the proposer to make their case for their plan and ULGM has not done that.

Second, the Administration floats the idea of using some of the unused levy authority to meet part of the budget gap for Madison Prep.  As one who has advocated tirelessly to get MMSD to use this authority in ways that all agree will help many students in our district schools (and has been attacked for this), I find it disturbing that the Administration — which has been recommending under-levies — now changes direction in order to fund a charter school that by their own analysis is of questionable merit.

Now in praise of the Administration for pages (4-7 and elsewhere), countering the falsehoods that MMSD cares little and does even less to address  the achievement of poor and minority students.  For a similar list, see this recent Wisconsin State Journal editorial

I’m going to close by saying that I was also very, very glad to see this from the Administration:

Simply put, the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated, and if any community is able to do so, this community can. (emphasis added).

And add that it was exactly that sentiment that has informed my advocacy and the advocacy of many others on budget and other matters.  Madison is place where we can achieve equitable educational opportunities, quality education, and real learning for all our students in our district schools.  We need to do this, we can do it.

What we don’t need is a charter school that embodies most of the worst policies and practices being pushed by those whose interests lay in convincing people that public education is a failure, that even in Madison, we can’t.

We can.

Thomas J. Mertz

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“It’s time to spread the truth about impact of budget on Wisconsin’s public schools”

Click the graphic for more information on WAES.

The Jam – “Time for Truth” (click to listen or download)

I haven’t posted any Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools  advocacy material this way lately, so here goes.  Short version:  The “tools” aren’t working, our students aren’t getting the opportunities to learn they need and deserve, and the only way this will change is if we don’t give up, we keep agitating.

Dear education advocate:

We need your help now.  We’ve identified you as not only people who care about kids, schools and their communities, but also who have the knowledge and skills to work on their behalf. We need your help in reaching out to the rest of the state—the media, community organizations and your neighbors—in pointing out how destructive recent changes have been to our children’s opportunities to learn.

This afternoon, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators released data that show, for the first time, the devastating impact of the most recently passed state budget.
While we all knew intuitively that a $1.6 billion cut in education would have an impact, the data is even worse than we could have expected and is a clear signal that our state is moving in the wrong direction as it relates to our schools.

The report is attached along with the release that was distributed from WAES. Here are the messages that we want to convey:

  • The state budget cut education by historic proportions. The state budget cut aid and revenue limit authority to Wisconsin schools by $1.6 billion in the last budget.  This is the largest cut to Wisconsin education ever and is one of the biggest cuts made by any state in the history of the country .
  • These cuts are having a devastating impact on our schools.  The data is in, and it shows that the cuts to Wisconsin schools, as a result of the state budget, are devastating and much worse than we could have expected.
  • Class sizes have skyrocketed. What happens when you cut teaching positions? Obviously, class sizes get larger. In schools large and small across the state, the average size of classes, especially at the elementary school level, have increased dramatically.
  • Course offerings have decreased.  The new data show that the numbers of programs and services for students in our public schools have declined significantly.  What’s worse, some classes, including programs for gifted students and the kinds of classes that are needed for admittance into highly selective colleges and universities, are gone. For those students who want to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison or another highly selective school, the challenge has become even greater.
  • Schools face even greater financial challenges next year.While the news is terrible for schools this year, the data show that half of Wisconsin schools are using one-time federal dollars to balance this year’s budget shortfall, money that will not be available next year.  Moreover, two out of three districts say that next year’s cuts will be even bigger than this year’s.
  • >We’re heading in the wrong direction. The data show that we are clearly moving in the wrong direction when it comes to our schools.  At a time when the knowledge and skills of our graduates are more important than ever before—not only for them but for our entire state—why are we making such devastating cuts to our schools?

Here is what you can do now: While we are working to connect with reporters who are covering the story from a state-level perspective, we need your help in reaching reporters, bloggers, and media outlets in your area.  Here are some specific things you can do right now —

  • >Find out what’s happening at home: The data from DPI tells the story at the state level, and it is devastating to children. If you can work with your local school district to determine the local impact, it will be even more powerful.
  • Connect with local reporter: We need to make sure this report is covered in your local newspaper.  Toward that end, if you know a reporter at your local paper who would write about this issue, please contact them and urge them to do so.
  • Write a letter to the editor: We also encourage you to write a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper for publishing.  If you need them, e-mail addresses of many Wisconsin newspapers are attached to this message.
  • Contact local talk radio hosts and ask to go on their shows: We need to get our voices heard on this issue. Contact the hosts of local radio shows and ask them if you can go on their show to talk about the report.
  • Connect with others who will amplify our voices: Think about others in your area who are friendly to our cause and can help carry these messages.  Do you know someone who writes a popular local blog? Are you close with your local PTA/PTO president? Use your imagination and your connections to tell others about this report, and ask them to spread our messages.

Whatever you do, please do something and make sure to let us know your plans. Thanks.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cap Times, Folkbum, and a whole lot of other places have more.

To help recall Scott Walker, check in with United Wisconsin.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Madison Prep – 1,2,3 Yellow Light (updated)

The Talking Heads, “1,2,3 Red Light” (live, 1977 — click to listen or download).

[Update — I forgot a huge issue:  Waivers ULGM had previously asked for a blanket waiver of all MMSD policies and some state laws.    There has been no further information on this.]

Big news over the weekend in the Madison Preparatory Academy saga.  There has been significant and positive movement on four issues by the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM).  First, they have changed their request from non-instrumentality to instrumentality, increasing control by and accountability to the district.  Second, they have agreed to be staffed by teachers and other educators  represented by Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI) and follow the existing contract between MTI and the Madison Metropolitan School District (the memo on these two items and more  is here).  ULGM has also morphed their vision from a district-wide charter to a geographic/attendance area charter.  Last, their current budget projections no longer require outrageous transfers of funds from other district schools.   Many issues and questions remain but these move the proposal from an obvious red light to the “proceed with caution” yellow.  It is far from being a green light.

Before identifying some of the remaining questions and issues, I think it is important to point out that this movement on the part on the Urban League came because people raised issues and asked questions.   Throughout the controversies there has been a tendency to present Madison Prep as initially proposed as “THE PLAN” and dismiss any questioning of that proposal as evidence that the questioners don’t care about the academic achievement of minorities and children of poverty.  This has been absurd and offensive.  Remember this started at $28,000 per/pupil.  Well, ULGM has moved this far because people didn’t treat their proposal as if it had been brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses;  if the proposal is eventually approved,  MMSD and likely Madison Prep will be better because these changes have been made.  As this process enters the next phases, I hope everyone keeps that in mind.

There is a Public Hearing on “The Proposal” tonight, October 3,2011 @ 6:00 PM at he Doyle Building (show early, there will be a crowd).  “The Proposal” is in quotation marks because there is much information that is required by Board Policy in a detailed proposal that is either missing or incomplete.  What we have officially — many things have been discussed in the press or on the Madison Prep site in more (but still not satisfactory) detail than appears in the official record —   is all (or nearly all) posted on this page from the district.

In the next 6-8 weeks the Board will vote on the proposal.  According to their policies, among the things they will be considerings are:

…an analysis of how a decision to establish or not establish the proposed charter school will impact families to be served and the overall programs and operation of the District.

and

…at a minimum, consider the information included in the detailed proposal, the information provided by the Superintendent, whether or not the requirements of Board Policy have been met, the level of employee and parental support for the establishment of the charter school, and the fiscal impact of the establishment of the charter school on the District.

What follows is a very initial and very lightly annotated list of what I see as things that should be part of this process.  Because new budget information was only released Friday evening and much other information is lacking, I want to emphasize that this is initial.  They are grouped loosely by topic and in no particular order (I will say I think the last is most important) ; some are things I think are of real concern, others are things that I just think need answers.

Budget Related:

There is much analysis yet to be done on the educational soundness of the choices made in the budget and more, but for now four issues jump out at me.

  1. Fund-raising projections at or above $500,000 per year.  This is a huge figure.
  2. Cost to families of about $770 per student, per year (uniforms, activity fee and field trip fee).  I misread the budget here and it looks like that included lunch and breakfast.  I believe the correct figure is about $270.
  3. No accounting for attrition:  Both ‘No Excuses” and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs have high attrition rates and all schools have some attrition.
  4. In years 6 or 7  IB exam fees kick in .  These could total in the tens of thousands annually.  We only have years 1-5 in the budget.

MTI Contract:

  1. Supervision of MTI members by non-MMSD employees may violate the existing contract. [Update:  And state statutes, which read: ” If the school board determines that the charter school is an instrumentality of the school district, the school board shall employ all personnel for the charter school.”]
  2. “Performance” based bonuses may violate the existing contract.
  3. What happens when the current contract expires.  If Act 10 is still in place, the protections currently available cannot be extended.  Despite the recent movement, the Madison Prep team  has a record being anti-union.

Location and Attendance Area:

The latest information as reported in the Cap Times (not anything official) is:

Caire says the school is looking at facilities to rent on the near west side, with most students likely to come from the current Toki, Cherokee, Jefferson and Wright middle school attendance areas.

First Wright does not have an attendance area of its own but encompasses the whole West area.  I understand this as saying the school will draw from West and Memorial areas, but this needs clarification.    Once clarified, the likely impact on all schools involved must be considered, as well as how this will shape the demographics of all the schools involved, including Madison Prep (remember, charter schools cannot discriminate in admissions).

Single Sex Education:

ULGM has said they intend to  satisfy the legal concerns of DPI at the time they finalize their contact with MMSD (if it gets this far).  This may be OK for DPI and planning grant funding, but seems to be mighty late in the game for MMSD.  I really think that this needs to be cleared up before the Board votes.

There is also the unexamined issue of how this fits with MMSD’s commitment to non-discrimination in relation to transgender students (something that is written into their Charter School Policy).  For those who don’t think this is important, I suggest you read the public testimony from the 2004 meeting that prompted MMSD to become a leader on this issue.

Who Will Attend:

This is related to the Location and Attendance Area matters, but extends beyond.   Given the laws and policies requiring open charter school admissions, I still don’t understand how or why this can work to target those students who are failing/being failed.

The Educational Program:

This is and should always be the crux of the matter.  If the program being proposed can reasonably be said to have a highly likelihood of significantly improving the educational attainment of a significant percentage of those who attend, then (almost) everything else becomes secondary (it doesn’t go away, but it recedes and note that all of the “high likelihoods” and “significantlys” are  – to a great degree  —  subjective).

I wrote before:

The Madison Prep educational plan itself is an incoherent and contradictory mélange of trendy and unproven elements.  Some of what is being proposed is promising (intensive tutoring, perhaps longer school days and years), some of it educationally empty (uniforms), and some of it likely damaging to creativity and authentic learning (the militaristic discipline of the “No Excuses” models).  None of the elements in-and-of themselves have been shown to make a significant impact on academic achievement and because of the contradictions there is a good chance that the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

There has been nothing from Madison Prep since I wrote that to change my impression.    I’ll be researching and writing more on this in the coming weeks and hope that more information from Madison Prep on their educational plans is forthcoming.

I want to point out that the incoherence and contradictions of what we have seen so far block the supposed path to replicating any possible successes in district schools   If this works, it won’t be at all clear what aspects made it work.

Lately I’ve been digging into IB materials and looking for places where it has been tried with high minority and/or high poverty student populations.  What I’ve found thus far is some real, but pretty limited success, high attrition and that even the “non-selective” programs (most IB programs have a very selective  application process) seem to require students to  be at least at grade level when they begin.  This doesn’t sound like the students featured in the Madison Prep media campaign.

Since I’m on the topic of IB, one other question has occurred to me concerning how Madison Prep intends to implement the program.  Some schools do a “certificate” allowing students to pick and choose which classes they do IB and which they don’t; others do only the “all IB” diploma program; still others have some students on one track and some on the other.  This matters in terms of both vision and budget.  If not all students are supposed to be “all IB,” that will require more non-IB course offerings; if all are “all IB” the exam fees per student will go up (as will attrition).

I’m going to leave this for now, with a promise to expand on those areas that I think are most important and a reminder that thorough vetting is always better than faith-based policy.  Sifting and winnowing, a proud Madison tradition.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Madison Prep and the Attack on Public Education

Mission Of Burma – “Academy Fight Song” (click to listen or download).

[Note;  This post is adapted from an article I wrote over a week ago for the Progressive Dane Newsletter (as of this writing PD has not taken  a position on the Madison Prep proposal).  I’ve only changed minimally for posting here;  one thing I have added is some hyperlinks (but I did not link as thoroughly as I usually do), another is a small  “For Further Reading” set of links at the end,”  and of course the song.  This is intended to be  a broad overview and introduction to what I think are some of the most important issues concerning the decision on the Madison Preparatory Academy presented in the context of related national issues.  Issues raised in this post have been and will be treated in more depth  — and with hyperlinks —  in other posts]

For decades free market advocates such as the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation and the Koch brothers have a waged a multi-front campaign against the public sector and the idea of the common good.  Public education has been one of the key battlegrounds.  In the coming weeks the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will decide whether to approve a proposal for the Madison Prep Charter School.  This proposal and the chief advocate for it – Kaleem Caire of the Urban League of Greater Madison – have their roots in the Bradley/Walton/Koch movement, and like much of that movement they offer false promises of educational progress in order to obscure the damage being done to every child in our public schools.

A Public Hearing on the Madison Prep proposal has been scheduled for Monday October 3, at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Building Auditorium;  The Madison Prep proposal is on the agenda of the PD General Membership Meeting  (Wed , 9/28 , 6:00 p.m, Hawthorne Branch Library, guests welcome).

The campaign to undermine public education, nationally and in Madison, has been very sophisticated politically and simplistic educationally.  Caire and other “choice” advocates zero in on the failings of public schools, while dismissing the successes or often even the possibility of success within a public school context.  This attention to the failings of public schools, especially for poor and minority students, is welcome.  However instead supporting the difficult and uncertain work of finding ways to expand educational opportunities and improve attainment for those being left behind, the self-proclaimed “reformers” offer only unfounded market-based panaceas.

This not only ignores the essential educational work that is needed, it obscures the growing inequalities of wealth and power that are at the core of many of educational struggles.

Madison Prep is a classic case.  The proposals (there have been multiple versions) and the extensive media campaign have centered on a narrative based on selected statistics illustrating gaps in achievement between African American (and to a lesser extent Hispanic) males and other students.  No attempt is made to locate the sources of those gaps, no attention is given to student-related factors such as poverty (Madison Prep advocates prefer to talk about race, not poverty) or mobility (in 2009 173 of the 435 African American 10th graders were in their first year at the school they attended); or to school-based factors such as curriculum, pedagogy, grouping practices, class-size, resource allocations….Instead the one and only “solution” offered is the ill-conceived Madison Prep Charter School.

A big part of this campaign has been directed at unionized public school teachers who are blamed for all the ills of schools.  Charters like Madison Prep promise to address these ills by stripping teachers of their rights and job security, forcing them to work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits, while expanding administrative supervision via a top heavy structure peopled by multiple well compensated  administrators, a “President” and a “Head of School” and a “Development Director.”  The transfer of wealth and power of the market based economy is mirrored in the structure of the school.

The Madison Prep educational plan itself is an incoherent and contradictory mélange of trendy and unproven elements.  Some of what is being proposed is promising (intensive tutoring, perhaps longer school days and years), some of it educationally empty (uniforms), and some of it likely damaging to creativity and authentic learning (the militaristic discipline of the “No Excuses” models).  None of the elements in-and-of themselves have been shown to make a significant impact on academic achievement and because of the contradictions there is a good chance that the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

One model being held up by the Madison Prep advocates is the “No Excuses” disciplinary approach of schools such as Chicago’s Urban Prep and the KIPP chain.  These schools often have high attrition rates and/or test scores appreciably lower than schools serving similar students (despite spending more per student, requiring a longer school day and serving a less impoverished population in comparison to the Chicago Public Schools as a whole, on the most recent tests only 11% of Urban Prep’s 11th graders met state standards in mathematics, well below the – still unacceptable – 29% for CPS).  Serious abusive disciplinary practices have characterized some KIPP schools and when these have come to light, because of their Charter status local Boards of Education have been frustrated in their efforts to intervene (some would say the entire KIPP model is abusive and these are not anomalies, but simply “No Excuse” taken to its logical conclusion).

Aligned with the “No Excuses” model is a reactionary and discriminatory call for single-sex education and an implicit rejection of the theory and practice of special education services designed to address the needs of a significant portion of our students.  The initial exclusion of young women from Madison Prep has been addressed, but the issues concerning potential discrimination against gay and transgender students have not been part of the discussion thus far and the outdated models of masculinity and femininity reinforced by this version of single sex education have not been examined.  Like all Charter Schools, Madison Prep will be required to admit special education students, but the “No Excuses” model is antithetical to the best practices in this area.

Madison Prep also promises to offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program and employ the “Harkness Method”of Phillip Exeter Academy to cultivate creative thinking and collaborative learning.  As attractive as these are in theory, they hold little promise as a means of addressing the needs of those students featured in the Madison Prep media blitz and call for practices that are at the opposite end of the pedagogical spectrum from the KIPP model.

The presence of IB and the “Harkness Method” in the proposal also highlights an important disconnect between the problem identified — MMSD is failing minority students and the solution offered – a Charter School.  By law, Charter Schools cannot discriminate in admissions (on the basis of race, poverty, academic achievement, or anything else).  Madison Prep cannot target those who are failing/being failed.  IB and Harkness style teaching will likely be very attractive to the families of students who are thriving in MMSD, the top 10%, meaning that if this proposal goes through the majority of the applications may come from students who are about as far from those featured in the sales pitch as possible.

In contrast, the school district and district schools can and do target programs and services to students who are failing and being failed.  That the district needs to be doing more of this and a better job of it is beyond question, but the expense of the Madison Prep proposal will force cuts to all district programs and services, including these.

According to the latest figures available, the five-year cost of Madison Prep will be about $27,000,000 and the cost per student  to the district will be about $15,000 (MMSD’s marginal cost per student is a little below $11,000).  The district will experience some savings because students in Madison Prep will mean fewer students in district schools, but because of the distributed nature educational budgeting, these savings – mostly in the form of fewer teachers – will be minimal (about $500,000 annually) and also come at the cost of more limited course and schedule choices in district schools. Estimates are that the funding Madison Prep for the hundreds of students who will enroll will require cutting an additional $1.5 and $2 million annually from the programs and services that serve 24,000 district students, 12,000 of whom live in poverty.

This will of course make it harder, if not impossible for the public schools to meet the needs of the students in their charge by offering the opportunities to learn they deserve, which will further undermine support for public schools and make market-based solutions and privatization appear superficially more attractive.  This vicious cycle is exactly what the Bradleys, the Waltons and the Kochs want.  Show up at the hearing or write the Board of Education (board@madison.k12.wi.us😉 and let them know that you don’t want this happening in Madison

Thomas J. Mertz

Chair, Progressive Dane Education Task Force

For Further Reading:

Kevin G. Welner, “Free Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy.”

Diane Ravitch, “The Myth of Charter School.”

David Sirota,  “The bait and switch of school ‘reform.”

Don Whittinghill, “ Following the Charter Dollars.”

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Of two minds and no sense in Two Rivers

There is an editorial in the Herald Times Reporter on the Two Rivers school budget that presents contradictory ideas and ultimately makes no sense.  If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find more that doesn’t make sense.

The editorial titled “Two Rivers school budget laudable” is mostly in praise of the Board of Education for acting on their commitment ” to not raising taxes.”  To do this the Board “cut about $2 million from its $23.7 million budget.”  According to the editorial (the Two Rivers district does not post budget documents), about half of this amount came from increasing staff insurance and pension payments.  The rest from what the paper calls ” another $1 million in labor and materials savings.”

At least the editorial points out that the FitzWalker “tools” don’t actually work at the district level stating clearly “The budget repair bill provision is not, however, the panacea envisioned by Republican lawmakers.”

At this point I want to point out that nowhere in the editorial are students or the quality of education mentioned.  The closest it gets is a couple of places where providing “adequate services” is mentioned as a goal, each time along with and apparently inferior to ” protecting taxpayers.’  Two  paragraphs on Manitowoc, introduced as another district where the “tools” don’t work, is an example of this :

Other school districts are in the same situation. Manitowoc Superintendent Mark Swanson said recently that the tax levy could rise 9.5 percent under current revenue cap and state-aid formulas. The school board likely will need to take austerity measures, including possible staff reductions, to make sure that projection doesn’t become reality.

Swanson, along with other school and municipal leaders throughout the state, wonders what impact this all will have on their ability to provide the services they are paid to deliver — now and in the future.

The penultimate paragraphs capture the contradictory thinking:

Rhetoric about serving the taxpayer at the least possible cost rings hollow if all the tools to achieve that goal are lacking. Commitment to hold the line on taxes is one thing, getting there is quite another.

We hope that other school districts and cities in Manitowoc County follow the lead of the Two Rivers public schools and make a good-faith effort to hold the line on property taxes.

Note “serving the taxpayer” not serving the students, but even in this formulation the impossibility of quality services under these conditions is apparent.

The editorial closes with more praise for Two Rivers and holds that district up as an example for others to emulate:

Two Rivers has demonstrated it can be done, even against highly challenging odds.

“It” being not raising taxes, apparently.  How did Two Rivers do this?  That’s where things get even more senseless.

Some of the answers can be found in a Herald Times news story:

The contract with the teachers union even includes a provision that taxes would not be increased. He said the teachers agreed to a pay freeze and an increase in the amount they pay toward health insurance premiums if needed to balance the budget without raising taxes, but that didn’t become necessary.

First, what is in the water of those Two Rivers?  Why would a Union — if they could (and even pre-FitzWalker tax rates were not subject to collective bargaining, so I don’t see how it could have happened) — negotiate a tax freeze?  Senseless.

And remember that the editorial said that “About half of that savings resulted from the pension and health benefit requirement,” and this story also refers “teachers having to pay more toward their retirement and health insurance benefits,” so something is hinky or at least confused.  Are they paying more or not?

But the real senselessness is found where this and other articles detail where some of the other$1 million in savings came from:

The board had decided to take $235,310 from its fund balance to help balance the budget without raising taxes.

Depleting fund balances is unsustainable (and not an option all districts have).  Very little sense there.

I’m not sure where the other $700,000 plus came from but a column by District Administrator Randy Fredrikson gives a clue on some of it:

A significant portion of our levy is still paying off the new high school and Koenig Elementary School. We have aggressively refinanced these obligations when time and interest rates permitted. This refinancing has also helped us control the budget over the past several years

In order to achieve significant savings from refinancing you have to have significant debt, something that not all districts have.  Interest rates also have to be lower than the initial rate.  Or you could front load savings like MMSD did in 2009 when they refinanced, in that case (and maybe in Two Rivers), there were some real savings via lower rates, but these were weighted to the initial years and in fact payments increased for some future years.  Whatever is going on, it is not sustainable  — repeatedly refinancing is just kicking the can down the road —  and doesn’t make much sense as something to base a blanket recommendation for budgeting on.

One more piece in another story:

Case Elementary School was sold to St. Peter the Fisherman this past summer. St. Peter the Fisherman had been leasing the facility the past six years.

So I guess other districts should look to sell schools also.  Senseless.

What does make sense would be to make the number one priority and goal finding sustainable  means to invest in giving every child the Opportunities to Learn they need and deserve.

Thomas J. Mertz

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