The ongoing challenge of balancing the Madison Metropolitan School District's budget once again faces the school board and a proposal from district administration includes consolidating some east-side schools.
Many in the affected neighborhoods, who are attached to their neighborhood schools, are against consolidation. People whose children attend crowded schools like Leopold Elementary, however, have been critical of the district's expenditures on schools where enrollment has been dropping.
We asked the Madison school board candidates for their views on the issue and, also, where they feel other cuts can be made.
What do you think of Supt. Art Rainwater's proposal to close the shortfall in the 2007-08 budget? Do you, for example, support his plan to consolidate east-side schools?
The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is spending $12,111 per student (2005-06 budget) while Sun Prairie is spending $10,986, Middleton-Cross Plains $11,245, and Verona $11,900, so it isn't that we aren't spending enough but how we are spending our limited money.
In third grade reading the MMSD comes in at 77%, while Sun Prairie is 89%, Middleton-Cross Plains is 89%, and Verona is 84%. In regard to student-teacher ratios MMSD is 12.6, Sun Prairie 14.3, Middleton-Cross Plains 13.7, and Verona is 12.0. The student-staff (all employees of the school district) ratio for MMSD is 6.7, Sun Prairie is 8.6, Middleton-Cross Plains is 7.4, and Verona is 7.2. All of the above figures are from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction.
The MMSD is spending the most dollars per student of any district in our area, with smaller class size, yet has the poorest results in overall level of reading achievement, so it is not a question of not spending too little but spending money where it will do the most good for the students. Supt. Rainwater again proposes cutting programs like 5th grade strings and closing neighborhood schools instead of looking at other cuts, and this is a judgment call as to what the superintendent thinks is most important.
I am in favor of neighborhood schools and would work with the parents and the neighborhood to see what could be done to keep the schools open in the neighborhood and how to best utilize the space in the schools. I would be in favor of looking at all options to keep the neighborhood school open.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
This year, the board has been proactive through its committees in analyzing programs and services. The superintendent's proposed budget is not a surprise to me. There are areas that address programmatic efficiencies in Special Education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and department restructuring. A school consolidation is a part of those efficiencies.
This plan addresses several issues. First, it eliminates administrative functions. Second, data shows that several schools in the East High School attendance area are under enrolled and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. This plan keeps buildings open and alleviates concerns that property values will decline. In addition, space could be used for administration and citywide programs. If enrollment growth occurs in the area, the district can make boundary adjustments or re-openings. Lastly, programmatic challenges are met with full time staffing, increased support services and course electives. It also provides an optimal educational environment for the district's alternative programs.
Name three areas of the district budget where you think sizable cuts should be made and explain why.
We are spending on average $734 more per student than the districts around us (or $18,199,530 more), yet the other districts have a higher student performance than we do, with larger class size and less staff.
It is time to look at why the MMSD is spending more and getting fewer results. One area that I would look at to cut would be in the non-teaching non-maintenance staff that the district has. Why does the district have so many non-teaching staff compared to the other districts around us? This would be one area to look at and to see where cuts could be made. Another area would be to look at the health insurance cost that the district pays and see where we might be able to have savings by negotiating with both the union and non-union employees cost savings that could be implemented.
Madison taxpayers do not mind paying for education but they want to see results. We have not had the kind of results over the last few years that we should have, as the spending has gone up and the student performance has gone down.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
The three areas of the budget where I believe sizeable cuts should be made are in Special Education, ESL and same class size for specials at all elementary schools.
Our professional staff believes that the suggested budget reductions in Special Education and ESL will not adversely affect the quality of education that students receive and will continue to meet the needs of Individualized Educational Programs (IEP) and state and federal mandates. Increasing specials class sizes at all elementary schools has a lesser educational impact on standardized testing but also protects this area from future budget reductions.
Which living political figure do you admire the most and why? (in 25 words or less).
Former Senator Fred Thompson, because he is just a regular person who tells you straight out what he thinks on any subject and is also a good actor.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
Barack Obama is the embodiment of what we need in leadership today. He is someone who transcends race and politics to get things accomplished.