School board elections are usually sleepy affairs.
But the proposal this year for Madison Prep, a single-gender charter school, has sparked a lively, and sometimes controversial, conversation about one of the most pressing problems facing Madison schools: the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. The debate has, in turn, sparked interest in the school board.
While there are an unprecedented number of candidate forums and listening sessions under way, we thought we'd pose our own questions to candidates. This week we ask the candidates how they would address a budget gap. What would they cut or how would they raise revenue? We also ask their opinion on Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining law and how they think it will affect the district and its teachers.
What is the best way to deal with the district's budget crunch? What would you cut? Or how would you raise revenue?
The best ways to deal with the budget crunch are: to be clear about priorities; insist on data and program evaluations in order to determine what initiatives and programs are most effective; involve the community and our staff in the process; and, work collaboratively to keep cuts as far from the classroom as possible.
This spring, the board must pass a budget made more difficult by the massive cuts to public school funding in Scott Walker's budget. It is made even more challenging because we have made cuts of more than $100 million and 700 employees since revenue caps were imposed in 1993.
Throughout my service on the board, I have balanced the current and future needs of the district with the needs of the taxpayer. The board has increased the district's rainy day fund to provide options for future programs. We have restored the triple-A bond rating, a testament to the district's creditworthiness. I am a proponent of the board-approved five-year budget model, implemented to improve our financial decision-making.
These initiatives enable us to support the school district long-term. A triple-A bond rating has allowed us to refinance and pay off debt at low interest rates. This frees up dollars that can be spent on our students. I have pressed the administration to continually evaluate our processes and curriculum to determine if there are ways we can achieve our goals in a more cost-effective way.
It is critical we hear from staff on how initiatives are working. Those in our classrooms, in the school buildings and who work directly with our students have many -- and often the best -- ideas on how to streamline processes. If something is not working, it should be changed or eliminated.
The challenges I describe underscore the need to have a board member who understands the budget, has experience with budget planning and, importantly, who is committed to public education rather than seeking to undercut or defund public schools. My commitment to public schools is a matter of record and my businesses experience has been valuable to our budgeting process.
There is no easy way to deal with the district's budget crunch, let alone a "best way." Board members have to balance the needs of the district with those of taxpayers.
However, due to the 5-year budget forecast model, it is instructive to see projections for budget deficits within each fund. In the next two years, the district will face significant fiscal challenges when our primary operating fund (Fund 10) grows from a $3 million deficit in fiscal year 2012 to a projected $12 million deficit in fiscal year 2013. The Community Services Fund (Fund 80) will also face a $2.4 million deficit in fiscal year 2012. It will be imperative for board members to fully understand what expenses are included in those projections, and how they might change depending on a variety of scenarios.
Since the per-pupil revenue limit formula is a balance between state aid and property taxes -- and given that state aid has been cut -- it forces the district to consider property taxes as a primary source of revenue. However, at the same time, the state expects districts to reduce reliance upon property tax as a source of revenue, which presents a complicated set of choices. In fact, it's quite daunting.
The current under-levy that is being carried forward is $10.5 million. The under-levy is the amount that the district could tax property owners, but has not. Depending on other operational efficiencies presented to the board, I would prefer not to tax at the full amount for the 2012-2013 budget. It will be imperative to have several scenarios on the table before deciding to use the full amount of the under-levy. Any ability to use the under-levy should also be weighed with increased costs to our administrators, educators, and support staff.
We have to evaluate all options and work diligently on preserving strong relationships with our employees as well as our taxpayers. We must also operate strategically, using data and evaluation to determine what programs/initiatives are producing real impact on student outcomes, as well as those that aren't -- and make budgetary decisions accordingly.
What is your view on Scott Walker's collective bargaining law and its effect on the district? How will it affect the way the district works with teachers?
Governor Walker's assault on the hard-earned rights of workers to have a voice in their workplace and the inequitable way he has sought to balance the budget has created a divisive atmosphere in the state of Wisconsin.
In the Madison Metropolitan School District, both the staff and district have made good faith efforts to continue a working relationship that is based on respect, fairness and shared goals: ensuring our public schools effectively educate 27,000 students.
With the elimination of collective bargaining through Act 10 (the budget repair bill), some Wisconsin school districts have unilaterally imposed rules and regulations about employee working conditions. We should not do that in Madison. When the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) expire in June of 2013, a "handbook" will replace them. This handbook will define most aspects of MMSD's relationship with its employees, i.e., mandatory hours of work, wages/benefits, general working conditions, methods of evaluation, disciplinary action, and hiring/firing. I will advocate that the new handbook become a series of policies, because policies provide both the administration and employees with consistency and certainty across the district.
Both the administration and our employees will want to consider some modifications to the CBA language. As I have consistently stated, the process of developing the handbook should be a collaborative, respectful, and fair one that should start now. Therefore, a significant amount of time should be allotted for this process, followed by a public hearing, before the Board of Education considers and votes on the handbook.
Act 10 had another negative impact on the district. Previously, the district could enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with our unions for clarifications or modifications to the collective bargaining agreements. For example, with an MOU, we were able to start 4-year old kindergarten in existing community centers and use teachers who were not part of the union. Under Act 10, an MOU would officially negate any contract we have with our employees. In actuality, one route to flexibility and creativity has been eliminated.
As a supporter of collective bargaining, I am disappointed in the governor's collective bargaining law. Act 10 has made providing high quality and free public education an incredibly difficult undertaking, but one in which we must find the opportunities to embrace change.
With Act 10, we are forced into conversations about what educators need versus what students need, as though it is an "either or" situation. It is not. In order to close the achievement gap and prepare all of our students for a competitive economy, I believe we need to look at more flexible and effective ways to educate children based on research and best practices. However, teachers and support staff need to be compensated fairly for those flexibilities. This will require a balanced and thoughtful approach. The outcomes for each must be just, equitable, and fair.
There is a long theoretical history to collective bargaining. Absent a collective bargaining law as it applies specifically to teachers, an evaluation tool must be developed with the input of teachers to assess teacher performance. Likewise, ongoing cuts to public education, especially when the stakes are higher for increased student performance, requires all districts to reevaluate how they allocate resources for greatest impact on student learning. The future of public education is one that requires greater accountability with fewer resources.
We need to approach the transition from collective bargaining agreements to an employee handbook, with an emphasis on the opportunities that help us better educate children while preserving the rights of our employees. Changes should balance the district's operational needs with the professionalism of our employees. Detailed preliminary discussions between district management and official representatives of the teachers and support staff should identify significant areas of disagreement, which should be publicly discussed by both parties, with final resolution of each item by vote of the Board of Education.