The Madison Metropolitan School District's policy on military recruitment in schools, along with advertisements for the armed forces, is one issue that has generated significant comment to the school board recently.
Here's what we asked the two candidates this week.
Military recruitment in the high schools remains a troubling issue for some Madisonians. They feel that students are too young to make a decision that could engage them in U.S. aggression overseas and cost them their lives. Other see military service as an obviously patriotic career choice.
Do you think the school board should further limit military recruitment? Do you personally object to the "Army Strong" signs that the military paid to be displayed at school gyms and athletic fields?
No and no. Like anyone who has attended school board meetings recently, I have had a number of opportunities to hear from citizens who disagree with the school board's recruitment policy and its implementation. While I respect the sincerity of the speakers' views, I disagree.
Parents can complete a school district form directing the district not to release information about their children to military recruiters. But I think the military can be a viable post-graduation option for some of our high school students and I think that our students are capable of assessing the benefits and risks of that option.
Again, I respect the views of those who disagree, but the army ads on the scoreboards have never bothered me.
Military service is certainly one career choice for our young people. My concern is that no one of any age should be subjected to the aggressive recruiting that is going on in Madison high schools and all over the country. The military has budgeted almost $20,000 per recruit this year, while the University of Wisconsin spends an average of less than $950 for each varsity athletic recruit. Under the threat of losing $5 million a year in federal funding, No Child Left Behind requires that the Military have access to our schools. The issue before the Board of Education is not the ending of military recruitment, but enacting and enforcing reasonable limits on it (currently three days per school year), and confining it to the guidance offices in each high school. The military should have the same rights as college recruiters, no more and no less, and our policy must recognize that their huge budget often works to their advantage over others in our schools.
There have been serious allegations of military recruiters appearing in the lunchroom, and soldiers walking through our high schools in full military regalia must also be considered a form of recruitment. Speak to any family of military age students and you will hear horror stories of repetitive harassing phone calls.
Personally, I am offended by all advertising in our schools, and I would definitely vote to end the military ads as well as all others in our district.
Let's talk about an ugly topic: taxes and budgets. The Madison school district has been squeezed by revenue caps for years now, forcing many program cuts. Yet school taxes by far still take the biggest whack out of a homeowner's yearly property tax bill.
Given that three-quarters of homeowners don't have kids in the public schools, how comfortable are you with raising school taxes? Would you support a referendum authorizing additional school spending? Do you have any hope that Gov. Doyle and the legislature will relive the pressure on school district budgets? In short, please give us your take on budget-making.
While schools are the biggest single part of the tax bill, the schools are actually getting less and less; the city and county are getting more and more.
Our state legislature needs to face up to its educational responsibilities. It must end revenue caps and come up with a rational system of financing our schools. Federal and state governments must fund their mandates. Until this happens, our district will be forced to ask the public for additional support through a multi-year referendum or face a $10 million deficit in 2009-10 alone. The reason for this is that nothing will change until:
- The State Assembly changes its majority and leadership.
- Grassroots groups like Wisconsin Way and WAES reach into every county and township throughout Wisconsin promoting change.
- Corporate tax loopholes are ended.
- The Wisconsin Association of School Boards seriously represents its members and lobbies the state legislature for change.
- Each citizen of this state realizes the future of our pubic schools is at stake.
- The Federal Government wakes up to its funding responsibility.
While it is true that 75% of homeowners no longer have children in the public schools, they still have an important stake in the future of all Wisconsin children. My education was supported by the generations before me, and I will provide for the schooling of the generations after me. This is an eternal contract and the solemn responsibility of public citizenship in a democratic society.
Why should we all support schools? Beyond creating a literate population, schools are there to unify our diverse population, to improve social conditions, and to educate our children so that they can participate in a democratic society and become economically self-sufficient. In other words, the success of our public schools predetermines the success of our community, country and of our democratic society.
Fortunately, it looks like the Board will have a reprieve this year from the necessity of significant budget cuts, thanks to one-time funds from closing a couple of TIF districts. The following year looks much more challenging. Early indications are that we may be looking at as much as a $10 million deficit.
I expect that once our new superintendent comes on board, we'll take a hard look at how the district is currently organized and search aggressively for possible efficiencies and savings. But I am pessimistic that there are $10 million in cuts that we could make and still provide the quality of education that our community expects.
Serious legislative attention to the school funding mess would be welcome, but we can't count on it. This means it is likely that we will have to go to referendum next year.
Passage will be no sure thing. One of the most important responsibilities for school board members will be earning the trust of the community to the extent that Madison residents, even those without kids in the schools, will be willing to vote for higher taxes.
As a parent, what lesson did you learn in handling your kids that you share with young parents when they ask you for your sage advice for child rearing?
I don't think I'm a go-to guy for child rearing advice, but something Calvin Trillin once wrote stuck with me: Either your kids are the most important thing in your life or they're not. Everything else is just commentary.
My son, Jon, listed the following lessons from the Marj Passman School of Parenting in a speech he gave at my retirement party.
- When sending your child off to school, college, sports, etc., say, "give 'em hell." To Mom, "give em hell" means enjoy and do your best.
- Insist children get jobs to teach them the value of working and rewards of getting paid.
- Push your children to strive for achievement, without pushing too hard, and encourage them along the way.
- Teach children about art, music, history, theatre, and let them experience other cultures.
- No matter how bad a situation may seem, always have a sense of "umor."
- Unconditional love for your children.