Last Friday, Madison School Supt. Art Rainwater announced his plan to address a $10.5 million shortfall in the district's 2007-08 budget. His plan includes larger class sizes, cutting 5th grade strings, reducing special-education teacher commitments for students with speech and language disabilities, slashing talented-and-gifted classroom help and consolidating schools on the east side.
We've asked the Madison school board candidates to comment on Rainwater's proposal and to offer their ideas for budget cuts. As a change of pace, we also asked them to name the living political figure they most admire.
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?
I look at the proposal as a budget made in "crisis mode." The reality is that the district needs to cut between $7 and $10 million for this year. We should be honest that this will be the case year after year unless the state finds a way to fully fund education. We cannot afford to assume this will happen anytime soon. Therefore, we need to look at solutions that will have an effect beyond the current budget cycle.
In making these difficult cuts, the community and ultimately the board must determine what is least detrimental to the education of our kids. We must also be creative and aggressive in pursuing new sources of revenue.
Consolidating schools will decrease school administrative costs, something the citizens' budget has pointed out as one area to cut. The plan to move Affiliated Alternatives to the Sherman School Building will provide space for alternative programs in one location, decrease rent costs, and also save by decreasing school administrative costs.
As I have stated before, neighborhood schools are vital to the community. This is true especially for the elementary grades. If the district has no better alternative, consolidating an existing pairing into one K-5 school may be the best option. Closing a school should be our last option.
As a board member, I will work collaboratively with the local government, our universities and the business community to actively seek other areas in which we can reduce costs without decreasing the quality of education.
Frankly, I do not like any of the superintendent's budget- cut recommendations. Certainly, no cut is good for our schools. Right now, it is a question of finding those cuts that would be least harmful. Sadly, we may have to cut or pass yet another referendum.
Madison schools face many fiscal problems. First, there are federal and state mandates that come to us without adequate funding. Second, we have increased numbers of challenging students with less money to support them. Third, our schools just cost more to run; our utility and our transportation bills increase each year, as do the price of books, paper and many other items the district must purchase.
I have many questions about each of the proposed cuts and I will analyze each to see how it affects individual classrooms, because that is my bottom line. If the instructional programs of our classrooms are compromised, then our schools will fail.
I am against the closing of schools. Schools nourish our neighborhoods, and vibrant neighborhoods are the strength of our city. Individual areas of our city are constantly recycling. Families with young children move in, these youngsters attend our schools, leave to begin their own lives, and their parents eventually sell their home and new families move in. Because of this, closing a school has a long-term effect on what may be a short-term problem.
Name three areas of the district budget where you think sizable cuts should be made and explain why.
The current board has done its best to work within the constraints of this budget. Not only have they gone out to the community, they have worked on the $100 citizens' budget and tried to get a handle on what the community would prioritize.
I would like to see us come up with 5- and 10-year plans of what we want our district to look like. I would also suggest that we come up with a plan, a guidepost, of what we can afford. We need to be honest, and unless things change at the state level, we could be cutting $50 million in five years.
One area I would look at is administrative costs. I would look at the administrator/pupil ratio to give us an idea if we are "top-heavy." I don't know if this has been done in the context of this budget but I do know that it was a concern for the general public during the citizens' budgeting process.
We should consider virtual schooling for some kids who may not benefit from traditional schooling.
We should also be looking at creating new streams of revenue. One avenue is to attract families to our district through charter or alternative school programs. These are public schools that provide choices for families and can provide more options for teachers.
We need to move forward with the budget today, and we need to start planning for the future. We need to start thinking outside of the box.
I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and researching the budget cuts and their effects on our children. As I discovered from my work with CAST, it is best to listen to and learn from our school communities, neighborhood groups, school board members, administrators, teachers and staff.
I have confidence in Lawrie Kobza's leadership on the budget and I will be open to any proposal she makes. I know that other board members are also wrestling with these problems, and that at present, none of them are committed to any cuts. Like them, I will work relentlessly with everyone I can to find a way to cut the budget that will produce the least negative impact on student learning. Only then will I be able to make an informed decision.
Which living political figure do you admire the most and why? (in 25 words or less).
I admire Russ Feingold for his independence and his willingness to stand up for his principles in the face of political pressure.
I was thrilled to meet George McGovern last week and to hear him talk about his presidential bid, his World War II experiences, and his love for his late wife. I worked on his anti-war presidential campaign in 1972. Now, 35 years later, I am working to save Madison schools because our federal government has decided to ignore our children and to spend its money on yet another war.
When Watergate finally exploded into the public consciousness, I had a bumper sticker on my car that read "Don't Blame Me -- I voted for McGovern." Now we face another challenge. Can we fully fund the education of our next generation? If our schools fail, will we need another bumper sticker that reads "Don't Blame Me -- I Voted for Schools"? Where are the McGoverns of today?