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?
The district has made a good faith effort under difficult circumstances to identify areas for cuts. Every item listed will have an adverse impact.
I want to live in a community where children can walk or bike to school. I am a strong proponent of neighborhood schools, and I understand how hard it is on families to watch their school close. I love that families and neighbors fight hard, to keep their schools open. The closing of any school would be a difficult choice for me to make and would only come as a very, very last resort. At this time, I do not think that the plan to consolidate schools is the best place to save money.
Increasing class size is one proposal that I would oppose. Research shows that small classes benefit all children.
Higher athletic fees must continue to be accompanied by scholarships for low-income students. I do not like the idea of increasing art class sizes or eliminating strings. To retain the quality of our arts programs, we need to come together as a community to find sponsorship from private donors.
The cuts in special education will increase the intensity of caseloads; however, given the inevitability of cuts, the ones proposed minimize the impact on students.
These are difficult decisions to make. We must work together with districts across the state to lobby the state government to give our schools what they need, not what is dictated by an unfair, outdated law.
I want to preface my remarks with the statement that the district would not need to be making these cuts if it would use sound business practices and would actually negotiate contracts from a position of strength. We have to make these hard cuts that will affect children for that simple reason.
That being said, in my preliminary reading of the cuts, I think they are fairly well thought out and try to minimize the harm being done. I will need to hear from all sides of the debate to see if these are truly the best cuts that should be made. I do not like that once again we are cutting the fine arts like music and yet are still funding programs that even the district admits in internal studies are not cost effective like Reading Recovery.
We need to analyze our curriculum from top to bottom and really see what is actually having results and what is not. We are not currently doing this, and I believe it is essential if we are to have the most cost effective district possible. People are much more likely to support the district if they feel we are spending their money wisely. We would not need to be making these cuts if we would only use the sound business practices I would bring to the school board.
Name three areas of the district budget where you think sizable cuts should be made and explain why.
After 13 years of shaving and cutting, I do not think there is one area where we can make "sizable cuts." I would prefer to look at reconfiguring departments and asking staff and teachers for their input.
After visiting many schools around the district and speaking to staff, teachers, and parents, I am struck by the wealth of ideas, many money-saving, that would make our district run better. From frustrating accounting procedures to ineffective delivery of staff development resources, I heard many ideas that would increase efficiency. All of the staff, teachers, and parents spoke of the importance of small classes.
Our school district is an integral part of the city of Madison and draws many professionals to relocate here. I propose that the Board and the city government work together to find ways to economize on common programs and for the city to support some of the non-educational programs of the school district, such as police officers working with students and staff and transportation. That will allow the school district to concentrate on education.
It is in our city's best interest to keep our schools strong. As a candidate I have spoken to city officials about the need for more cooperation and coordination between city government and the school district. As a district we really do not want to continue to take technical education from one middle school, reduced class sizes from six elementary schools, etc. We are eroding the quality education that makes our city so great.
Once again, as a citizen of Madison and not a district insider, I do not have actual access to as detailed of a budget, and the cost/benefit analysis of each program, I would need to make an informed opinion on this subject. I am also not always aware of the mandates that make some of the programs seem ridiculous, but required.
On the surface there are three areas where I see cuts being necessary.
First, we need to offer teachers more options in health insurance coverage so they can make better choices that match their needs. We need to get control over this budget item if we are actually going to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students. The extra $7000 per year per employee that chooses WPS family coverage over other options is hurting our children. Greater choices for teachers will lead to greater satisfaction of employees and significant cost savings.
Second, we need to closely analyze Reading Recovery. The district admits that the program is not effective and yet we spend over $4000 per student to fund it. There are many other programs out there that are much more effective and would cost the taxpayers a lot less.
Finally, I was surprised to learn that the district pays a significant amount of money to transport students to private schools where their parents have chosen to send them. This does not seem like a good use of our money when we are looking at cutting programs for students in Madison schools.
Which living political figure do you admire the most and why? (in 25 words or less).
I was old enough to be politically conscious during the Carter administration. Jimmy Carter based decisions on what was just and right. I admire that.
I admire Russ Feingold for his work on trying to reform the campaign finance system. We will never get our government back until we fix this problem.