After ten rounds of weekly questions about the Madison schools, the six school-board candidates face one last volley concerning 4-year-old kindergarten, a new spending referendum and their own suitability for the board.
Isthmus reported this week on the Madison school district's decision in 2003 to reject a plan to partner with Madison's early-childhood providers to offer citywide 4-year-old kindergarten. Would you support such a proposal if it were revived?
I would have to look at the all of the aspects of the project, including cost to the Madison Metropolitan School District in light of the proposals from the district to close schools because of budget shortfalls. If the program could be incorporated into the MMSD at a "cost neutral" standpoint, then I feel that it would have a much better chance of being supported.
Also I would have to look at the curriculum and how it would be run and who would be in charge, etc. What has changed in the three plus years since it was last rejected by the school district?
All of these questions would have to be answered and also what impact would it have on our schools before I would say yes or no. I would want to hear what all parties have to say and hear from all the community before a decision is made.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
I would be very interested in supporting a proposal for a 4-year-old kindergarten program for several reasons, provided that some of my concerns would be addressed.
First, national studies show the importance of early childhood education for student achievement. According to the United Way Schools of Hope Initiative, 33% of students entering kindergarten in the MMSD do not have age-appropriate skills. Children from literacy-poor homes have an 800-word vocabulary versus 10,000 word vocabularies in literacy-affluent homes.
Second, the state imposed revenue limits make it imperative that the district becomes pro-active in increasing its enrollment. Communitywide 4k programs could take place in multiple facilities (e.g. under enrolled schools, neighborhood centers, etc.) to accomplish this mission.
Third, developing partnerships will be critical to the passage of future referenda. Working with organizations such as Dane County United would be important to have as allies in this initiative.
My full support for this initiative, however, would be contingent upon several factors. First, the program would have to be overseen by the Board of Education, be accountable and have a very clear delineation over supervision of staff, course content and organizational structure. The board is elected to oversee curriculum and taxpayer dollars. Second, all of the programs would have to be integrated with student demographics that reflect the district.
I look forward to overcoming the barriers and obstacles to assist in making this program a reality for not only the betterment of our school district but our community as well.
Would you support a referendum to authorize spending to avoid school consolidation on the east side and to fund smaller class sizes and such programs as elementary school strings and talented and gifted education?
I do not support a referendum to increase the spending of what we already are spending of over $12,000 per student per year. I would want an independent CPA firm to do an audit of the MMSD to see what our spending is.
Also, I will not vote to close any of the neighborhood schools and bus our young children to another school farther away from where they live. The elementary strings program and the TAG program should not be cut, but we should look at services and programs that are not cost effective. Another area to look at very closely would be unfunded federal and state mandates, and see where we as a school district can save money and resources.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
I support neighborhood schools, strings and TAG programs; however, I will not support a referendum to authorize additional spending at this time for several reasons.
First, the community elects school board members to make difficult decisions. A failed referendum would polarize our community. A passing referendum will not solve long-term challenges. Our decisions need to be data driven and not emotional ones.
Second, the state-imposed revenue limits make it critical that resources, space and personnel be used to maximum potential. Third, new service delivery models and potential partnerships need to be explored to supplement educational opportunities.
Lastly, I am confident that additional revenues will be received. This could include increasing program fees; state funding for special education, potential grants, alternative revenue streams and potential savings from teacher bargaining. Although, this will not be enough to save every program, the board can prioritize spending by adding back services it can afford and wishes to deliver to students. Also, cuts can be made elsewhere in the budget.
These yearly budget cuts affect student achievement, employee morale and community confidence in the district. An operating referendum is inevitable. However, our community will need to be convinced that our board is doing everything it can to curb costs.
A future referendum will need to be packaged as an investment in our school system and not as a last hope for survival. An example of this investment could be the development of a 4-year-old kindergarten program to increase student achievement and enrollment.
Here's your last pitch: In 50 or less words, tell us why the Madison school board would be improved by your presence.
I am an independent candidate that would represent all citizens of the MMSD, not just the special interests. I would look at all programs to see which are the most beneficial for students. I would build bridges to the 70-plus% of taxpayers that do not have children in the schools.
Johnny Winston, Jr.
I have been honored to serve on the board since 2004, this past year as president. During my tenure, I have developed partnerships, alternative revenue streams, strengthened community involvement and lead the superintendent's evaluation. I have been an active part of solutions, and not just complained about the problems.