Ed Hughes wanted to talk to me about the Madison School spending referendum, which is on the November 4 ballot, along with the presidency, Congress, the legislature and the future of the free world as we know it.
I was embarrassed that I did not know that Mr. Hughes was a serving member of the school board. Turns out he got in unopposed, is why. In fact, there were no races in the last school board election. Any wonder we are now confronted with yet another spending referendum?
Ed Hughes is a trim, handsome man with distinguished-looking white hair. He is a lawyer with Stafford Rosenbaum and, judging by our conversation over lunch at Sunprint, an able proponent of Madison schools.
The Madison schools, he told me, have "big plans for the future. Unfortunately, we need (to regain) the trust of the community. There are really a lot of good things going on in the schools."
Before they can regain our trust, however, they are trying regain more of our money. The school district wants voter permission to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. Because the state's school funding formula punishes profligacy, Madison will have to pony up a total of $27 million over the next three years. (I explain that at the end of this blog.) That will add$92 a year to the property tax bill of a $250,000 home.
- Total K-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 in 2000-01 to 24,540 in 2008-09.
- The district's annual budget has increased from $183 million in 1994-1995, the first year of revenue caps, to approximately $368 million (2008-09).
- Its annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08.
I get these facts from Don Severson, who pretty much IS Active Citizens for Education.
Since the Sputnik era?
The prevailing wisdom is that the referendum will pass. The prevailing wisdom is probably correct. There has been no organized effort to fight it, unlike three years ago. And the surge of Obama voters, the scent of victory in their flaring nostrils, will carry along the schools in that high tide that lifts all boats. The Wisconsin State Journal has yet to do any serious journalism on the issue. It's been lost in the shuffle.
On the other hand, the stock market is in the toilet and with it, people's retirement plans. Home values are falling. Layoffs are accelerating. Energy prices are moderating but still expensive. And in the near future: a recession of unknown duration. So, maybe it doesn't pass.
The referendum was recommended 7-0 August 26 by the overly harmonious school board, including Lucy Mathiak, who once teamed with Ruth Robarts and Laurie Kobza. Those two, however, are no longer serving.
I give Ed Hughes credit for reaching out to this irascible blogger. The schools have not done enough of that in the past. I am thinking now of former TV-3 news anchor Beth Zurbuchen, who infamously dissed of opponents of the referendum three years ago for being "selfish."
Two of the three spending referenda were defeated that year, in no small part to such arrogance. I made that point with Ed Hughes. For arrogance this year, we have Marj Passman of Progressive Dane. You can hear Mitch Henck sputtering with amazement on his WIBA radio program Outside the Box as Passman makes the most ridiculous comments.
"Since the 1970s our government has paid no attention to education. No attention … since the Sputnik era, we have put no money into our children's education. None!" [
But the teachers always get theirs
Ed Hughes describes the choice to go to referendum as being driven by the state-mandated qualified economic offer (QEO). The district has to offer the teachers a 3.8 percent hike to avoid going to arbitration while the state's overall spending cap limits the district to a 2.2% to 2.5% annual hike - unless they get the voters' approval to raise taxes.
Don Severson counters:
"The board explains the 'budget gap' between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state-mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers' union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001."
I suggest that if the school board is willing to ask the taxpayers to feel the pain, they ought to ask the same of the teachers union. Instead there is the perception that the teachers union gets what it wants, the taxpayers foot the bill, and students get whatever is left over.
I suggested to Ed Hughes that he throw John Matthews under the bus. Then he can have my trust and my money. It is the thuggish John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc. who:
- Runs his union as an anachronistic and antagonistic industrial union that fosters a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality among its members.
- Called elected school board member Ruth Robarts "public enemy Number One."
- Is allied with the intransigent and arrogant Bill Keys, a former president of MTI who famously dissed the Pledge of Allegiance and those of us who respect its symbolism.
- Insists that the teachers' contract include a sweetheart deal with insurer WPS, on whose board he serves, even though competitive bids from other insurers would free up millions of dollars.
- Ordered his minions to picket Briarpatch because its director, then school board member Juan Jose Lopez was being, as Fredo would say, "hard in the negotiations."
This example resonated with Ed Hughes. Turns out his wife was working at Briarpatch at the time. Briarpatch is a social service provider that works with troubled kids. Imagine a kid thinking of suicide. Instead he turns to Briarpatch. As he rounds the corner he sees his teachers standing in the way.
Mrs. Ed Hughes had the very same thought. She ran out to tell the picketers of the error of their ways. As Ed tells it, "they were saying 'Ohmigosh, we're sorry.' Except for some union reps there who were saying, 'No way, we're here to picket.'"
Juan Jose learned his lesson. In the next election, the Wisconsin State Journal famously pictured Lopez, Bill Clingan and a third supplicant all lined up to kiss Matthews' pinkie ring.
For all that, Ed Hughes today declines to throw any pain John Matthews' way. Or maybe that is why he steers clear of the old bastard. Either way, the hurt gets put on the taxpayer.
A surprising ally:
None other than Deke Rivers over at Caffeinated Politics:
I have no problem paying more in property taxes for better schools… … (but) … I have not witnessedenough fiscal restraint from Madison Schools,which I expect to take place before asking the taxpayers for more funds.
What I do not want to do is to leave unaddressed long time issues with how our schools function by just giving more money in the latest referendum. - Why I Will Vote No On Madison School Referendum
Now for that explanation. "Donald" on The Daily Page Forum explains this better than I could:
Because the Madison Metropolitan School District is a wealthy taxing district, the state education funding formula will penalize MMSD by about 40% of the money raised by the referendum. Essentially what passage means is we are raising taxes to allow the district to spend 60% of the tax increase on Madison schools and sending the other 40% to the state to distribute to other districts.
BTW, I let October 23 come and go without noting that it marks the first anniversary of Blaska's Blog. In that span I have done 123 blogs, an average of one every three days. I look at other blogs, especially Brenda Konkel's, Paul Soglin's, Ed Garvey's, and John Nichols' (aka The Capital Times). Mine tend to be essays, rather than quick hits, which can be good or bad blogging but it is how I write. I mention that because it's a lot of writing and it is quite part time.
Your penance, Basford, Herr R-M, and Franklin Pangborn, for the free time I have been enjoying since County Board.