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An Endorsement for Andy Heidt — #1 of 7 of the 48th Assembly District Candidates on Education

On July 12 the voters in the 48th Assembly District — covering the East side of Madison, Monona, McFarland and the Town of Dunn  (map here)– will choose a Representative to the State Assembly to replace now County Executive Joe Parisi.  The candidates are (alphabetical, linked to their web sites):  Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe, and Chris Taylor.

I don’t live in the District, but like all progressives in the state, I have a stake in the race.  Whoever is elected will be in a “safe seat” which means that they have the opportunity to do more than be a consistent vote; they can push the envelope by introducing and promoting significant progressive legislation, the kind of legislation that makes overly cautious party leaders uncomfortable.  With the Republicans in charge, the rhetoric from the Democrats has been heartening, but it should not be forgotten that when they controlled the state from 2008-10 they did nothing to reform school funding except cut $300 million and raise the levy credit, did nothing on the minimum wage, failed to pass the Green Jobs bill, didn’t finish the Union contracts when they could, did much to little in progressive revenue reform…the list goes on.   In this race I think people should look beyond opposing Walker to what kind of legislator the candidates will be when the Democrats are in control.There is no shortage in the legislature of “pragmatic progressives” who can find 1,000 reasons not to do the right things; there is a dire need for courageous leaders who will be steadfast in their advocacy both behind caucus doors and in public.   Andy Heidt will be that kind of leader, that’s why he has my endorsement and why I’ve been helping with his campaign.

To back up this assertion (and as a service to AMPS readers and voters in the 48th), I’m offering a series of posts  examining what the candidates have and have not said about education issues, especially the core issue of school finance, and to a lesser extent the related issues of revenue reform (based primarily on their websites and on internet searches).  In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that I’m acquainted with three of the candidates and believe I have met at least three others and that some things that I know about them or impressions that have not appeared in campaign statements or biographies are part of the analysis.  If anyone, including the campaigns has anything to add or dispute, please use the comments to bring it to my attention.  This time the order is  from who I consider the strongest to who I consider the weakest (Andy Heidt, Vicky Selkowe, , Bethany Ordaz, Fred Arnold Chris Taylor, Katherine Kocs and Dave de Felice — this may change as I do more research).

Andy Heidt

By my criteria, Andy Heidt is far and a way the best candidate.  Throughout his campaign — beginning with his announcement (covered here by John Nichols) — he  has done more than decry the actions of the GOP, he’s offered positive policy alternatives and pointed to the failure of other Democrats to enact these and other positive proposals.  As Nichols put it:

Heidt’s argument that we must do more than merely prevent Walker from implementing his agenda. We must recognize that the crisis Walker is exploiting has its roots in the failure of Republican and Democratic administrations and legislators to recognize that Wisconsin cannot maintain services and public education if our politicians keep giving away tax breaks to multinational corporations and the wealthy.

Nowhere has this been clearer (or in my head more important) than in his statements on education funding.  Heidt has issued one press release  a “Keeping the Promise” plan (and here, scroll down) for school finance reform ((I helped draft the plan) and a short video.

In the press release, Heidt recognizes the importance of education and shows a “can do” spirit:

There are no more important investments than those we make in our children. They are the future and each generation has an obligation to provide the next with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. With a fair revenue system, there is no reason we cannot return to the Wisconsin tradition of supporting quality public education.

He also notes past cuts to education under the Democrats  and the inadequacy of their recent counter-proposal to the Republican decimation of our schools.  No other candidate has been explicit on this.

More importantly, no other candidate has offered anything like the detailed “Keeping the Promise” plan, nor the pledges to action contained in that plan.

“Keeping the Promise” has two parts.  First it calls for “immediate action” to address the crises created by 18 years under a broken system, significant cuts in state funding in the 2009-11 budget and the recent Republican measures.  These include enacting the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools Penny for Kids proposal, expanding sales taxes, shifting the levy credits to the equalization formula,  rolling back vouchers, fully funding SAGE, allowing for growth of the revenue limits based on CPI or the state GDP, taking the profit motive out of virtual schooling and reinstating educator union rights.   The second part build on this by initiating comprehensive reform based on “based on the shared principles of the WAES Adequacy Plan the School Finance Network Plan and the 2007-2008 Assembly Joint Resolution 35.” These are (from AJR 35):

  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.

Heidt vows  to “work tirelessly” to see that this reform is achieved prior to the next biennial budget cycle.

The sad history of AJR 35 (see here for AMPS posts covering that history)demonstrates the need for someone like Heidt in the Assembly.   When the resolution was introduced, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Governorship, but not the Assembly.  Over 60 legislators signed on and the promise of comprehensive school funding reform was part of the 2008 campaign to “Take Back the Assembly.”  The Democrats did take back the Assembly and once they did AJR 35 and school funding reform disappeared.   Gone.  Silence.  When some of us who wanted them to keep their promises spoke up, we were told to be quiet because speaking or acting on this difficult issue might jeopardize their electoral prospects in November 2010.   I for one didn’t keep quiet, but I’m not taking the blame for the electoral failures of 2010.  Instead I’ll offer an alternative analysis — it isn’t  the people like me who called for action who are to blame, it is the legislators who didn’t act and didn’t want to be reminded of their failure to act (I said much the same well before the November 2010 elections).  Many of those silent, silencing  and inactive legislators are now supporting other candidates who share their priorities and outlook in the race for the 48th.  I’m supporting Andy Heidt.

[Note — I originally conceived this as one long post, covering all the candidates, but that didn’t work out, so I’m doing a series.  This is #1 of 7. — TJM]

Thomas J. Mertz



Filed under "education finance", Accountability, AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Pope-Roberts/Breske Resolution, School Finance, Scott Walker, Take Action, Uncategorized

On the Agenda — MMSD Board of Education, the Week of May 23, 2011 (updated, finished)

As has been the tradition this "On the Agenda Post" is illustrated with a graph highlighting inequalities in MMSD. This one is from the 2011 "State of the District Report" (click the image for the full report, this graph is on page 40 of the pdf). To be honest, I have no idea what it means. "Advanced Courses" are not defined anywhere, nor is the meaning of "rate." The graphs are accompanied by a factiod stating "The percentage of students taking advanced course in grades 9-12 increased in 2009-10 compared to the prior year from 13.7% to 15.2%." This and other graph show decreases -- see the ESL/Not ESL for the best example -- and the above graph also shows "rates "of about 50% (low income) and about 80% (not low income). The "rate" in the factiod may be the percentage of total courses taken that are "advanced" (whatever that means) and the graphs may be the percentage of students in each category who took at least one advanced course (or both maybe something else entirely, who knows?). As a presentation of data, this is incomprehensible and inexcusable.

I picked a bad week to start doing “On the Agenda” posts on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education doings.  Too much going on.   Given the amount to cover, I’m going to try to keep the comments and context minimal.  I should also note that I haven’t yet decided how regularly I will do these again.

The details for all of  the meetings are here.  Here is the rundown.

  • 4K Advisory Committee, Monday, Monday, May 23, 9:00 AM, 5 Odana Court.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.
  • Special Board of Education Meeting in Closed Session, Monday, May 23 5:00 PM, Doyle Building, RM 103.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked,  employee non-renewal and student discipline are listed.
  • Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), Monday, May 23 6:00 PM, Doyle Building, Auditorium.  Agenda linked and discussed below.
  • Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) Advisory Committee Meeting, Tuesday, May 24, 6:30 PM, MSCR Administration Building.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.  Some interesting things I’d like to see, especially the “2011-12 MSCR Budget Update” and “Draft 2010 MSCR Annual Report.”
  • 2nd Annual Review of MMSD Strategic Plan, Wednesday, May 25, 5:00 PM, United Way of Dane County 2059 Atwood Avenue.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the document linked here.  There is a lot here.  Way too much to absorb in any one session.  What isn’t here is much in the way of an overall summary or summaries of each area or “Action Plan.”  You have to go line-by-line to get a feeling of what is and is not going on with each action plan (I’ve made it about 1/3 of the way through).  Since the “Action Teams” are  — I believe   — exclusively made up of staff, it means that no member of the public has been in the loop.  Under these circumstances, a once year 86  page report-out followed by a feedback session isn’t going to produce much in the way of meaningful engagement.    The Board realized some of this and established “Core Measures”  (page 69).  Of the 15 of 16 with goals, 8 have not been met; the 16th is the “Advanced Course Participation” graphed and critiqued at the top, there is no goal established for that.  I should note that some of these benchmarks ramp up to ridiculous NCLB inspired 100% proficiency goals in the coming years.    Failure is assured, eventually.
  • Project Orange Thumb Garden Makeover Ribbon Cutting, Thursday May 26, 3:00 PM, Black Hawk Middle School 1402 Wyoming Way.  A very positive school (Blackhawk),  community (Community Action Coalition), business (Fiskars) partnership.

The rest of this is going to be about the Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), the highlights ad lowlights, in order (unless a document is linked here, all the info available can be found at the link immediately above).

Election of Officers.  Maya Cole and Beth Moss deserve thanks for their service as President and Vice President this past year.  Whatever you think of their leadership, the jobs are difficult and time consuming, especially in a year like the one we’ve had.

PUBLIC APPEARANCES.  Word on the street is that there will be a substantial turnout of teachers seeking the restoration autonomy in the use of Monday Early Release planning time that was recently lost in the under-the-gun contract negotiations.  You can read more here and here.  It seems to me that there is a combination of real concerns and symbolic politics in play on both sides.  I don’t see the district rolling this back when they hold all the cards (thanks to Walker).  I’d suggest a compromise that changes the mandatory activities from once a month to twice.

BOARD PRESIDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS.  Recognitions for accomplishments by students and staff and other feel good items like the project Orange Thumb garden.

SUPERINTENDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS. Much meatier.  Five is items, none starred for action at this meeting, but some may go forward without Board action.

Talented and Gifted Update and Recommendations (the Preliminary DPI Audit Findings and Administrative Recommendation to not contest are here).

Too much here for this post.  I plan to get back to this in the coming weeks or months.

The price tag is an increase in the TAG budget from $1,123,249 to $1,725,880.  This does not appear to include the $60,000 increase for Youth Options and the $70,000 for CogAT tests in the Superintendent’s  (earlier) Recommendations.  I’m not sure why not.

Both identification and follow through are problematic, both in practice and theory.  One frightening revelation from the Preliminary Audit is that MMSD was “unable to provide a list of identified students.’  Think about that.

Anecdotally (and with TAG in MMSD, the lack of data is a big problem), I’ve talked to a handful of parents this year whose children scored in the highest identified grouping on one test or another without the referral process for identification being triggered.  The DPI confirms that this has been hit-or-miss.

I remain skeptical on that there will ever be a  rigorous and equitable identification process that covers “general intellectual, specific academic, leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts.”  I’d love to see the filings in a complaint based on the “leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts” areas.  I’m not saying give up — at least not here (for a provocative exploration of that idea, see James H. Boreland “Gifted Education Without Gifted Children The Case for No Conception of Giftedness“) — there is clearly room for improvement.   I am saying there are some basic definitional and conceptual issues that are not going to go away.  I’ve touched on these here; for more see Carol Fertig. “Conflicts in the Definition and Identification of Giftedness.”

Then there are all the questions about what follows identification…

One last observation is that the initial complaint centered on course offerings at West, that issue is only a small part of the DPI findings, has at least tentatively been settled via the changes enacted this year and is only addressed in a very indirect way in the Compliance Plan.

Superintendent’s Goals for 2011-12

I have to say that I was impressed (and somewhat surprised) by the degree to which the past goals had been achieved.  Much more impressed here than with the Strategic Plan report.  Maybe this is a function of the drafting and interpretation of the goals, but hats off to Supt. Nerad.   I think that more specificity is needed going forward on some.

Reorganization of Public Information Department

Three quick thoughts.  First, Joe Quick and the role of Legislative Liaison will be missed.  I think this position was under-utilized recently, but valuable none-the-less.  Second, Marcia Standford is an excellent choice for the Community Engagement work.  Last, I like the realism reflected in the document in acknowledging that if you cut almost $200,000 from the budget and add new responsibilities, you can’t do everything you were doing before.  “More with less,” works better in theory than in practice.

Badger Rock Contract Changes

Some small things clarifying BRMS terms fro withdrawing from the contract.

Additional 4K Sites

I had to read this one twice to believe it.  It appears that in 2011-2012 MMSD will not be offering 4K at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center primarily because “Parents have raised concerns about their children being placed at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center for 4 programing, therefore some students (20) have been considered for transfers to other sites.”

Other reasons are given, but since Allied is still on the list for 2012-2013, they seem like window dressing to me.

MMSD could, say that the Allied kids — who have great needs and few options — should be given more consideration, they could say no to the transfer requests.

Instead they appear to be pandering to prejudice.  What lesson is being taught here? How does that fit with the Mission Statement line about “embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.”

I haven’t followed this as closely as I should have.  I know that the issue of location and access in relation to poverty was raised earlier (see this story by Matt DeFour), and that some reconsideration was promised.  I’m not sure what happened next, but you can compare maps on the District 4K site (keeping in mind the latest developments).

I think that this is worth calling attention to and protesting.

Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring

K-12 Alignment

Standards and Test, the good and the bad.  Mostly — but not all — the bad in my opinion (see these old posts for some of it and stay tuned for more).


It looks like the cost is $611,000, most (all?) of which is covered in the earlier Superintendent Recommendations.   One other note is that i don’t think meeting and records for the this group were posted regularly.  When the Board approves the creation of a body that includes more than staff, this should be done as a matter of course.

Instructional Materials Purchase Plan

$415,000 more in purchases tied to the Literacy Plan.  I don’t think this money is part of the costs above or the Superintendent’s Recommendations.

Operational Support

Prepayment of District Debt
I discussed this here (the Fund Balance, surplus material).  My position is that some for escrow is good, but let’s spend to improve our district now.

March Financial Statements

All things considered, lo0ks good.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men Future Direction regarding Funding Levels

Seeking some clarity on how MMSD’s contribution to the Madison Prep budget will be calculated and handled if this comes to fruition.  Everyone needs to know how this would impact existing schools and programs and that isn’t clear, at all.

Proposed MMSD Energy Policy and Administrative Guidelines

Just what it says.

Plan for Use of Title I and Flow-Through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds (IDEA-ARRA Funding Memo, Title I ARRA Budget Revisions memo, IDEA ARRA Funding Plan spreadsheets)

There have been a lot of changes in plans along the way, with money allocated, not spent and reallocated.  Last year when a similar set of documents should about $7 million allocated, but not spent I made an informal bet with Erik Kass that they wouldn’t get it all spent by the deadlines.  I think Erik is going to win.

Proposed Revisions to Board Policy 8005-Employment

It looks like some new language around consistency in interviews and follow-up questions.


All the items with linked documentation are on the main agenda.  Nothing jumped out at me.

Legislative Liaison Report
*1 Senate Bill #95—Mandate Relief
*2 State Budget Bill/Revised Revenue Projections/Save Our Schools Proposal
*3 Reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act
*4 School Voucher Proposals
*5 Children At Risk

I’ve written about SB 95 twice before (here and here).  I’m not all that impressed with the “Save Our Schools” proposals which accede to at least $300  million in state aid cuts, do nothing about local control and generally accept the “we can’t afford to adequately fund education” paradigm.

The use of some of the increased revenue projections for schools is good, as is the shift of the Levy Credits from misdirected property tax relief to education.  More on this later in the week.

The ESEA thing is interesting.  It is from the national school administrator’s group and asks for full local flexibility in moving money among Title programs.  I don’t like it.  the regulations may be unduly cumbersome, but I don’t trust many local officials to not divert money for kids i poverty to other uses.

I don’t see anything on the Children at Risk Program or the Voucher legislation here.  Vouchers, yech.

Thomas J. Mertz

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MMSD Budget Hearings, 5/19 & 5/22

Click on image for all the District 2011-2012 Budget Information.

The Kingsmen – “Money” (click to listen or download).

The Madison Metropolitan School District will be holding two Budget Hearings on May 19 (5:00 PM at the Doyle Building) and May 22 (1:00 PM, at Warner Park) prior to finalizing any layoffs in the their preliminary 2011-2012 Budget on May 23.  The Preliminary Budget itself is scheduled to be finalized on June 20, following the statutorily required Public Hearing that same evening.  Details on this week’s hearings are here and the full current budget timeline is here.

This has been a strange year and the process and budget  reflect this strangeness.  I’ll admit that I haven’t followed things as closely nor looked at the budget materials as thoroughly as I usually do.  Still I think it worth offering some information, raising some questions and issues, and offering some comments.  If this reveals my lack of preparation, so be it.

This is post  is pretty long, if you are just interested in the “asks” for the Budget Hearings, scroll to the bottom.

Due to a combination of circumstances, MMSD is not being hit as hard as most districts by Governor Scot Walker’s Budget proposals, in fact MMSD is adding things and cutting very little (except staff compensation).  The best explanations of these circumstances are from Board Member Ed Hughes here and here.

If you want all the details (and as background to what will follow here, you’ll need some of them), read Ed’s posts.   For those who don’t, I’ll offer these two big picture excerpts from the second post:

Bottom line, primarily thanks to the cuts in the take-home pay of our teachers and other staff, we should be able to get through the budget process reasonably unscathed (except, of course, for our staff’s paychecks).


While the process should be relatively straightforward for us this year, the budget solutions the state has compelled us to pursue will have unfortunate long-term consequences.  Our teachers, who are not overpaid, are our most important resource.  Maintaining the quality of our school district will depend critically on our continuing ability to attract and keep the best teachers around.

Much as the Governor might disagree, we’ll eventually have to pay our teachers what they’re worth.   When we do, our expenses will jump and our property tax levy will follow suit.  Talk about your deficit spending – in effect, the state is financing the next two years of rising school costs by borrowing from our teachers.  At some point, that debt will become due.

It should noted that since Ed posted, the Board found funding for the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants, so that cut is off the table.

What’s New?

The biggest addition is 4 year old Kindergarten.  The numbers and analysis for this, other additions and savings/efficiencies, shifts are in the “Superintendent’s Recommendations.”  Here are the additions (I believe funding has been identified for the first set  —  including 4K —  and is contained in the initial Budget proposal, but the second set remains unfunded, leaving the budget out of balance):

And here are some more recent additions:

First, doing 4k is right and good and I’m glad that it is going forward.  It has been a long struggle and all who have made this happen should be proud.

Some other observations  on some of these.

The cost of the last is a big unknown (I point out the other TAG related adds because I think this item will be the topic of much discussion and the total increase needs to be considered).   There are other unknowns.

The Unknowns

There are always lost of unknowns at this point in the budget process.  The biggest one being the state budget, but also things like pupil counts and relative property values;  as well as local items like the TAG issue, Board member Amendments and of course any changes that might come as a result of the public input at the Budget Hearings.  I want to highlight some of these.

  • Unused Revenue Authority:  This is the big, big one.  Because MMSD has under-levied the past couple of years there is about $10 million in unused authority (see the Ed Hughes posts for more).  The Biennial Budget as proposed by Governor Walker does not allow the use of this authority.  Word is that this was unintentional and Republican Senator Luther Olsen has given something like assurances that this will be fixed before the state budget is finalized.  $10 million is  a lot of money.  If MMSD has this authority,  advocates for improving or expanding educational offerings, or revising upward compensation packages will have some room to work, and will no doubt come up against those who wish to hold the line on property taxes.  It will get interesting.
  • The Size of Mandated Revenue Cuts: As drafted, the Walker Budget requires all to reduce districts total state and local revenues by 5.5% (if the unused authority is allowed, MMSD would actually be allowed an increase).  Board of Education (proposed) Budget Amendment AA-4 states that “various sources” are saying this may change to 5.0%,  increasing MMSD’s limit by $1,429,798.  The amendment also proposes that this potential authority be used to add to the Fund Balance.  This is, or should be, a non-starter.  Because…
  • Surpluses, Equity and Fund Balances:  For the third year in a row, MMSD is running a surplus.  This year it is projected to be between $5.5 and $6.2 million (I can’t be the only one thinking back to the pain and drama of last year’s budget process in light of this development).  The Fund Balance is now projected at over $46 Million or double what it was just a few short years ago.  In the last year MMSD also adopted  a Fund Balance Policy and the projected year end total is in excess of the maximum allowed.  Some Fund Balance is already allocated to the 4K start up.  The Administration had recommended that $2,788,592 of this be used to create an escrow account for future debt repayments.  They are now recommending that $6.5 or $5.5 million be used in this manner.  The $1 million difference is in deference to a Board Amendment to use $1 million for maintenance.  For reasons related to the crazy quilt of school finance, most directly the hold harmless provisions, placing this money in escrow should increase future state aid (should, because things could change).  I can support using some of this for an escrow account, but think that some should be spent this year, both on maintenance and education.

So in these uncertainties there are some likely opportunities for change, a big question mark around TAG  and perhaps the possibility of  increased spending on maintenance, programs, services , and maybe  — if the $10 million in revenue authority is allowed  —  upward adjustments to compensation packages to offset the pension payment increases (many other Wisconsin public employers have done this).  Uncertainties and opportunities.

The Rest of the Board Amendments

So far this year the Board Amendments are unsigned.  Weird.  Maybe if I’d attended or watched some of the meetings I’ve missed I’d understand this or know which is whose.  All four that have been posted are here.  In addition to the one sending more money to the Fund Balance and the other spending Fund Balance on maintenance discussed above, there is a proposal to add a “Family (Parent) Engagement Coordinator, Elementary” and to add a “Director of African American Achievement.”  Both are designated to be part of the The Division of Equity & Family Involvement.   I support the first, with one suggested revision and oppose the second.

Family involvement is key to success in so many ways and MMSD’s efforts in this area have been limited by budget cuts and pretty hit-or-miss even before cuts took their toll.  I’m not sure that one district level position will make a big difference, but it is a start.  The revision I offer for consideration is making this position part of revamped Community Engagement & Public Information department.   I think there may be  synergy here, after all parents and families are part of the community and the strongest link to others who aren’t as directly connected to the schools.

Maybe if we had or were adding positions  — plural —  directed at the achievement of students in poverty and/or other groups, I could support a “Director of African American Achievement.”   As is, 50% of our students are poor, 17% are Hispanic, 10% are Asians, 17% are English Language Learners, 1% are Native American, 47% are white, 6% identify as mixed race,  and 20% are African American.   Of the approximately 2,500 MMSD students in tested grades who ranked in basic or minimal on the WKCE, about 1,125 are African American.  That’s half, bad and needs attention, but the other 1,125 students who are failing need attention too.    I also have to take into consideration the degree to which Cultural Relevance has come to dominate the equity work of the district, the degree to which cultural relevance has been defined almost exclusively in relation to African American culture and the so far unimpressive results (see the recent report on equity work  here, some test scores from the Cultural Relevance program are on page 76).  At this time and without adding other positions targeted differently, I can’t support this.

What’s the Ask?

I decided to do this post because people have been asking me about what’s going on with the MMSD Budget, many wanting to know where they should put their advocacy energy.   I think I’ve covered and provided links to answer the “what’s going on.”  The “what’s the ask” is harder, in part because of the lack of large, looming cuts and all of the unknowns, especially the $10 million in revenue authority.

The simple answer is to advocate for the things you care most about and that you think will do the most good.   That’s always good advice.

Here are my asks, in no particular order.

Start with the things discussed above.

Support: Use of some Fund Balance money for maintenance and education; creation of “Family (Parent) Engagement Coordinator, Elementary” position (maybe in a differnt department); and if the $10 million is available, using some of this for improving or expanding educational offerings, or revising upward compensation packages (especially for lower paid staff).

Wait and See:  TAG allocations.

Oppose: Use of any additional unanticipated revenues to add to the Fund Balance; creation of a “Director of African American Achievement” (unless other positions are created simultaneously); it is a done deal, but the increased allocation for testing and analysis should be noted.

There are also some other things that have been on my mind, that might be possible if the $10 million is available.

  • Bilingual Social Worker positions (as the Latino Parent Group and Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes have been advocating for at least a couple of years).
  • Class Size: The move to 18 in SAGE classes is not a positive development and in non-SAGE early grade classes numbers of 25 and above are too big.  Rolling bck the SAGE class sizes and setting a hard upper limit of 21 or 22 in K-3 classes would be good (remember that in Florida class sizes in kindergarten through 3d grade are Constitutionally limited to 18 students (22 4th through 8th and 25 in High School).
  • Mobility:  Last I checked, almost 40% of African American MMSD High Schools were in their first year at their school (I believe that for 9th graders this means that they didn’t come from one of the feeders).  Other mobility calculations are similarly alarming (raw numbers here).  If we want to get at achievement, I think we need to deal more directly and pro-actively with mobility.    I don’t have any ideas, but I’m sure others do and that funding would be needed.
  • Madison Prep is not a done deal and some mention should be made about supporting all the students in our schools instead of spending higher amounts per student on a non-Instrumentality, non-Union Charter School of dubious potential.

Last, I’m going to cut and paste some items from last year.   These are still good ideas.

  • I’ve proposed two budget amendments, one on information for decision making and the other on Equity.
    • Budget $250,000 for improved data collection analysis and reporting as required in the Strategic Plan, TAG Plan, and Equity Policy, Literacy Education Evaluation and elsewhere. This should include the creation of a position working with the Board of Education to determine and meet their informational needs.
    • Budget $2.0 million in Supplemental Allocations to high need schools via the Equity Resource Formula (or similar criteria) and aligned with purposes identified in School Improvement Plans and consistent with the Strategic Plan and Equity Policy. Since SAGE and Title I do provide resources to high need elementary schools, it may be advisable to disproportionately target secondary schools with these funds.
    • You can read more about these on the MadisonAmps blog.
  • Create a fund for Strategic Plan Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
  • Create a fund for Equity Initiatives that can be approved by the Board throughout the year.
  • Fund much-needed Facilities Maintenance.
  • Rescind the decision to seek pay freezes for some of the lowest paid employees.

See you Thursday?  See you Sunday?  My guess is there won’t be big crowds, so short waits and a fully awake Board.

Thomas J.  Mertz


Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, Equity, finance, Local News, School Finance, Scott Walker, Take Action, Uncategorized

Senate Bill 95 Testimony

Sisyphus 1, by Davor, click on image for more.

The Lyres, “Don’t Give It up Now” (click to listen or download).

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Senate Bill 95.

Due to time limitations  — both the time allotted here and the very, very short time between the release of the Bill on Friday and the scheduling of this hearing for today  — I will be confining myself to only two of the topics covered in this wide ranging measure.  Those are the dilution of the Student Achievement Guaranty in Education (SAGE) and the use of student standardized test scores  as a determinant of educator employment conditions.  I will note that I believe every section of this Bill should be thoroughly sifted and winnowed.

Before directly addressing the proposals on SAGE and the use of student standardized test scores, I’d like to say a few things about the broader trend in educational thinking and policy in Wisconsin.

Not too long ago Senator Olson chaired a Special Committee on Review of State School Aid Formula.  I sat though most of the meetings of that committee.  Although little came of it, there was a sense of optimism and ambition in the work of that committee, a sense that we can and should do better.    This spirit was captured in the title of the presentation by Professor Alan Odden “Moving From Good to Great in Wisconsin:  Funding Schools Adequately and Doubling Student Performance,” (paper of the same title here) .  It should be added that Doctor Sarah Archibald, who is anow dvising Senator Olson, was part of that work.

Almost no one is seeking greatness any more.  At best people are seeking to push the limits of “doing more with less;” at worst there is an unspoken acceptance that the children of today and tomorrow will not have the the breadth and quality of educational opportunities that their older brothers and sisters were provided.    Things like physical education for all children are now  apparently luxury we cannot afford and so you have before you a Bill which eliminates that requirement.   Maybe this one policy change isn’t the most important, but it wouldn’t be before you if academic subjects, arts education, technical education, agricultural education and in fact the entire curriculum weren’t threatened in districts around the state.   How sad that it has come to eliminating physical education requirements in order to at least partially fund other educational offering.

There are better ways.  The Special Committee Senator Olson chaired heard about some of them, others have have been put forth since then.  I happen to believe that revenue reform needs to be part of the answer, but the recent revised revenue projections provide a way halt the decline without altering the tax structure.  Joint Finance leadership has indicated they won’t consider this.  Perhaps they could be convinced otherwise, perhaps members of this committee could remind them of the responsibility of  each generation to give the next the tools to create a better future.

The proposed “flexibility” for SAGE is like the Phys Ed proposal, in that it is a step backward, only it is worse.  SAGE  is Wisconsin’s only state program targeted for children in poverty and this is crucial,  legally, educationaly and as a matter of social justice.

In the Vincent v. Voight  decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court noted that “Poverty undisputedly leads to distinct learning problems” and identified addressing these problems as part of the test of the constitutionality of a school finance system.

Odden and Archibald  — like every other proposal for reforming education finance in Wisconsin  —  followed this lead,  proposing 30%+ additional resources for free and reduced lunch students .  In a similar manner the School Finance Network  proposed a broader and genuinely more flexible poverty categorical aid to improve educational equity and outcomes.   Allowing districts to partially opt out, improves nothing.  It simply denies more children in poverty the benefits of a a successful program.

SAGE isn’t perfect, but the results have been good.   The research by the Value Added Research Center is worth reviewing to get at the details, but the results have been convincing enough that Odden and Archibald included it in their strategies for doubling achievement,  recommending that “schools be resourced for class sizes of 15 for grades K-3 and 25 for grades 4-12.”

Even scholars who are generally skeptical about the efficiency of class size reductions recognize that the effects are more pronounced for children in poverty.  One of the prime functions of our public schools is to break the cycle of inequality by providing opportunities.  We haven’t come close to doing this.  Instead of limiting access to these opportunities, as SB 95 does, we should be looking to expand access by fully funding.

Since education reform proposals originating in Florida seem to be popular with some these days, I’ll close this section  by noting that state class sizes in kindergarten through 3d grade are Constitutionally limited to 18 students (22 4th through 8th and 25 in High School).  If every young student in Florida can have the benefits of a class limited to 18, I would hope that Wisconsin could at very least not make it easier to take these benefits away from our economically disadvantaged students.

On the expanding the use of standardized tests in relation to teacher employment I’ll be brief.

First, the test that is in place is the WKCE and consensus is that the WKCE is deeply flawed as a measure of student learning, much less teacher effectiveness (something it is not designed to measure) .  It is my understanding that the earliest we will have a new assessment is 2014, which means that the earliest we would have multiple years of data to work with is 2016.  So even if you accept that these new assessments will be  appropriate tools to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness — which I do not — for at least the next 5 years SB 95 ties educator employment conditions  to WKCE results.  How can this be a good idea?

More generally, I’ll again turn to Professor Odden (I don’t believe Doctor Archibald was part of this project).  He wrote: “Merit plans in education have conceptual, strategic, technical, and political shortcomings” and advised against trying them till other options– such as knowledge and skills based systems had been exhausted.  Conceptual because of the collaborative nature of teaching and learning.  Strategic because they target the extremes instead of seeking to improve teaching across the board.  Technically because of the impossibility of designing a plan that equitably covers all teachers in all subjects in all grades in all schools….. And politically, because most educators will oppose them, creating hostility that undermines organizational unity.

I could elaborate on this list and add to it.   Almost every scholar who does not have a vested interest in standardized tests and their application is skeptical of their application to the evaluation of teachers.   This skepticism includes value added analysis.  Scholars across the spectrum,  including  the The Economic Policy Institute, The National Academies, Math for America, The Brown Center at Brookings, the Rand Corporation,  and even The American Enterprise Institute have cautioned against or rejected the use of standardized test based value added models for high stakes decision making.

Instituting a standardized test based teacher evaluations will require devoting more resources — time and money — to tests, testing and the analysis of these tests.  A recent decision in Charlotte-Mecklenburg North Carolina captures the absurd state of education policy-making.  The Charlotte Observer reports:

Next week CMS will launch trial versions of 52 new tests, including an exam for kids as young as kindergarteners who must be tested one-on-one. The tests will be used to evaluate teachers, as the budget shrinks and officials prepare to lay off faculty.

52 new tests, so they can figure out which teachers to lay off in order to do the least harm.

In closing I offer a quote from a School Superintendent in Pennsylvania, where similar “mandate relief “legislation is under consideration:

“This does not promote education, it simply promotes laying off more educators,… these so-called mandate reliefs are just more smoke and mirrors.”

Much of SB 95 is about presenting the illusion of helping schools and students and distracting from the reality that our state is abandoning our commitment to providing every student a quality education.    It is time to leave the the smoke and mirrors and get back to working for greatness.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Save the Dates

Wednesday April 20, 10:30 AM, “A Better Way”  School Funding Alternatives Press Conference

Parents, Religious and Education Leaders Call for Balanced Approach in Budgeting for Public Education.
MADISON, Wis. – A broad coalition of parents, student advocates, religious leaders and educators has come together to call on the Wisconsin Legislature to take a more balanced approach to the state budget process.
To make their voices heard, the group’s members will hold a press conference that will detail how the budget will impact people from a wide variety of perspectives. The event will be held in the Senate Parlor of the State Capitol Building. WHAT: Press conference featuring parents, students, teachers and advocates, who will speak about how the state budget will impact them and their local schools and students. The event will also outline options the Legislature and governor should consider before making massive cuts to education.

  • WHEN: Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 10:30 a.m.
  • WHERE: Senate Parlor, State Capitol Building, Madison
  • WHO: The event will feature a number of speakers, including:

• MC: Julie Underwood is dean of the University of Wisconsin-
Madison School of Education

• Nancy Holmlund is president of WISDOM, a network of 145
congregations representing 17 denominations across Wisconsin that
work together to promote fairness and the common good

• Beth LaBell is a parent and member of the Paris Vote YES
Committee, a group that promotes the Paris School District

• Terri Raatz is mom to three little boys, the oldest of whom, Patrick, is
seven years old and has autism

• Jasmine Alinder is the founder of I Love My Public Schools, a group
of concerned Wisconsin parents who are fighting for the rights of
children to have a quality public education

• Danielle Barbian is a senior at Hamilton High School in Sussex and
president of the Wisconsin Association of School Councils

• Kim Hoffman is a music teacher at Stone Bank Elementary School in
Waukesha County and member of the Wisconsin National Guard

WHY: The proposed state budget includes over $1.7 billion in cuts to education over the next two years, while increasing spending over $600 million for corporate tax breaks and transportation projects. The result will mean program cuts, fewer opportunities for students and increased class sizes.

“Road Map to a Better Way” from The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).

Thursday April 21,  Noon — On the Airwaves — WORT 89.9 FM.

I’ll be on A Public Affair with Allen Ruff discussing “the state of public education, the assault upon it and what we can do.”  Listen and call in:  256-2001.

Thursday, April 28, 6:45-8:45West High Roundtables Conversation

Thursday, April 28, 6:45-8:45, in the West High Cafenasium

Calling All Parents, Students, Teachers!

Excerpt from the April 2011 PTSO Regent Reporter article:

Our school, like every other school across our state, will
likely be confronted with some major changes in the near future.  The
events of this school year at West have shown us the importance and
the power of joining together and sharing our voices, so that we can
all be heard.

Now, in the face of potentially drastic cutbacks, it is more crucial
than ever that we identify the issues, concerns and decisions that we
need to explore as a community, and then establish the lines of
communication through which we can all effectively contribute to the
decision-making process, which helps to ensure inclusive input of all
affected stakeholders.

These issues will be the focus of our West Roundtables gathering,
scheduled for Thursday, April 28th, 6:45 p.m. in the Cafenasium.

We can be best prepared to protect the interest of our school by being
informed of the concerns and needs of all, and we can only accomplish
this if we have a system in place that facilitates a free exchange of

Please save the date Thursday, April 28th, to attend this important

Sponsored by West’s PTSO & the West Cares Group

[Spanish Language version]

Thomas J. Mertz

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Dane County Parent Organizing Meeting set for this Sunday

Parents in Dane County have scheduled an event to update the public on Governor Scott Walkers’ devastating cuts to their children’s educational opportunities and to plan what they can do, together, to form advocacy groups and work for a better way. The event follows closely on the heels of a similar meeting in Greenfield, March 5, that saw over 400 people come together to plan the next step.

March 27, members of the Dane County School Board Consortium and WAES will host a community meeting — “The Future of Public Education and A Call to Action” — at the Monona Grove High School Commons, 4400 Monona Drive, Monona. The hoped-for outcomes of the event, which runs from 3 to 4:40 p.m., include an increased understanding of school funding in Wisconsin, alternatives to cuts in funding, and formation of community advocacy groups. For more information, call 608-217-5938 or go to here.

Robert Godfrey


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WAES: “Governor’s budget plan for education gets a bad grade on basic mathematics”

Click the graphic for more information on WAES.

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)

Governor’s budget plan for education
gets a bad grade on basic mathematics

As long as the cost of education does not increase, the tools Governor Scott Walker “gave” districts to offset his devastating cuts to school aids might work, theoretically, for some communities. In the real world, however─where costs increase and children need opportunities to succeed, the coming years look pretty bleak.

That was the assessment following Tuesday’s credentialed media only press event behind locked doors where the Governor rolled out his version of the 2011-13 budget for public education. Not everyone was as optimistic as Walker.

Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers called the budget “a crushing challenge,” while the School Finance Network said the budget is “shortsighted and counterproductive” and “the simple fact is that (it) will result in cuts to programs and services and increases in class sizes.”

In general, the Governor’s budget that cuts aid and reduces districts’ revenue authority doesn’t take into account 18 years of cuts to programs and services and basic inflationary cost increases. WAES maintains that sooner or later, the result of the cuts─small, large, and cumulative─will be or already has jeopardized the future of Wisconsin’s children and communities.

Wisconsin’s School Administrator’s Alliance (SAA) said its members are united in their opposition to Governor Walker’s agenda of privatizing public education.” “According to John Forester, the group’s director of government relations, “The school aid cuts in the Governor’s proposed budget plan are of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression.”

Find out what you can do to stop these devastating aid cuts to our public schools at

Read more:

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Other Shoe, or Will You Be Marching in March?

There is so much good stuff out there on what has been happening in Madison and around the state this week that I really don’t have too much to add.  I will point toward the CAST Statement I helped draft, Rep Mark Pocan’s “Scott Walker’s Top Ten Lies” for a good fact check and Alder Brian Solomon’s  “Madison, WI: A Prelude for Economic Justice” for some questions and context.  I’ve been energized and filled with hope by the the rallies and protests this week, but like Brian I have concerns about the limits of the agenda being put forward.

That is why I want to try to focus attention on what comes next, the other shoe waiting to drop, Governor Walker’s Biennial Budget.  It is going to be a giant shoe and we need to be ready to catch it and throw that one back too.

Throughout this, Walker has made it clear that the so-called Budget Repair bill is only a prelude to the Biennial Budget.  The GOP talking points have been that destroying public worker unions is a way to give local governmental units (counties, municipalities and school districts)  the tools to deal with the budget cuts that radical slashes to state aid, shared revenue and unprecedented limits on local control of revenues — all anticipated in the Biennial Budget —  will bring.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the way to actually help local governmental units and the people of Wisconsin is to provide sufficient revenues.  For more, see the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future/Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Catalog of Tax Reform Options for Wisconsin and of course Penny for Kids.

Scott Walker and the GOP don’t want you to know what is in the budget bill, they especially don’t want this information out there while the people are in control of the Capitol and paying attention.  So, instead of releasing the Budget on Tuesday February 22 as scheduled, they have moved it to March 1.  Whether in the Capitol or elsewhere, we all need to be paying attention and we all need to mobilize on this too.

There have been some hints and leaks about what will be in the Budget and it ain’t good.

What do we know from all this?

  • Anticipated $900 Million in cuts to State School Aids.
  • Unstated, but large cuts to shared revenue
  • Talk of a hard cap in property tax increases equal only to growth in property wealth (se the video above),  taking away the ability of local governing units to mitigate the cuts in state aid.
  • Rumors of new refusals of federal aid, including Title I, a longstanding program targeted at the education of children in poverty.
  • Hard times ahead for Counties, Municipalities and School Districts and all those who depend on them for services.

Geez — Title I.  This is beyond insane.  For me this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Everything else  — tax cuts, aid cuts, revenue limits, union busting…– is maddening and insane, but refusing Title I is so stupid and so offensive that as Marvin Gaye said “It makes me wanna Holler, ” and scream and organize.


I know I’ll be marching in March and probably April, May and beyond (even though I should be campaigning for the District 13 seat on the Madison Common Council instead).

Who else will be organizing and marching isn’t clear at this point,  but I’d guess if you contact/join the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, Progressive Dane, The Wisconsin Wave Madison Area Urban Ministry, and the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, you’ll be in the loop and know when to lace up your marching boots.

Save the date.

Thomas J.  (TJ) Mertz


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Primary Election — Vote (For Me)

For more information, click the image.

Voting information can be found at the City Clerk’s site

Learn more about all the races and candidates via the League of Women Voters.

For those in District 13,  Madison, some things on the election where I am a candidate for Common Council.

Video from the Bay Creek Forum District 13 Forum is up on YouTube .  I want to thank the organizers and participants for a great exercise in democracy.  Here is one excerpt:

Capital Times, Laptop City Hall overview(very well done).

The candidates answers from Forward Lookout are here .

The Wisconsin Sate Journal overview and answers are here .

Capital Times guest columns are here .

Because of the current attacks on public workers and unions, I’d also like to use this opportunity to encourage all to work to defeat Governor Walker’s proposal.  More information here (linked).

Last, some quotes about voting I put on my campaign literature,  and a couple of songs.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the  right to vote except the American people themselves — and the only way they could do this is by not voting. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Suffrage is the pivotal right. — Susan B. Anthony
Voting is a civic sacrament. — Theodore M. Hesburgh

Chis Stamey and Yo la Tengo, “Vote” (click to listen or download).

Chick Webb Orchestra with Ella Fitzgerald, “Vote for Mister Rhythm” (click to listen or download).

Thomas J. (TJ) Mertz

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Off and Running, for District 13 Common Council

For more information, click the image.

It is official, the last of the paperwork is filed and on February 15 the voters of the 13th Common Council District in Madison Wisconsin will see my name on on the ballot (as TJ Mertz).  Exciting and scary.

I’ve spent the last few years working primarily on education issues. Municipal issues will be a change, but not that big of a change.  My activism in education has been about addressing inequalities, providing opportunities, enhancing democratic participation and promoting good governance and smart budgeting.  These are exactly the things I want to do on the Common Council.

I also want AMPS readers to know that I’m not  leaving education behind.

The city is directly involved in education through libraries, early childhood programs and neighborhood centers.  I want to be part of supporting and improving these efforts.    I also recognize that schools alone are not sufficient (see the Broader, Bolder statement).  Children’s abilities to take advantage of  educational opportunities are impacted by issues of housing, employment, policing, health care and much more.  As an Alder, I’ll make these connections and work for policies and economic development to help all our children.

I will continue to serve on the Board of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and advocate for adequate educational investments throughout Wisconsin.

Regular readers of AMPS will have noticed that there has been little or no activity the past months.  The race for Alder is the big reason why.   It is my intention to continue with AMPS, but I could use some help.  If you’d like to write for AMPS, drop me  a line or leave a comment.

I could also use some help with the Alder race.  You can volunteer or donate by clicking these links.

Thomas J. Mertz

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