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?
First, I would delve into the specifics of the budget and the history behind each program, and find out which programs have been most successful before making any decision. I would also need to understand the reasons behind the past cuts. Then, I would also like to explore new, innovative ways to raise revenue outside of the tax levy. I believe we need to market the MMSD in competitive times, where negative rhetoric has misinformed the public and reduced public support.
As a school board member, I would make sure we have adequate funding for our schools while increasing accountability for our resources.
In the last eight years, more Madison families are sending their children to school in other, nearby districts. This choice drains not just students and engaged parents, but also resources, as both local and state funding is based on the number of students. Every Madison child that goes to a non-Madison public school takes with them approximately $7,000 and totals nearly $5 million lost each year.
The most effective way to raise resources is to reverse this new trend and increase the number of students enrolling in the district. We must realize that parents have choices and be more proactive. We need to welcome current and prospective parents into our schools, tout our successes, and improve in areas concerning to parents.
Also, there are many ways we can be more effective with our resources without cutting important programs or staff. I have held listening sessions with parents and teachers, and visited with school principals. I have worked in non-profits and with education for over 12 years. Here are just a few of the ways we can better manage tight resources:
- Use proven, best practices. Stop spending time and resources on initiatives that are not working and focus on what is getting results.
- Cut down on teacher time spent on paperwork that doesn't improve learning.
- Only introduce new curriculum if it is an improvement and there is adequate staff training. We are spending thousands of dollars on curriculum that is sitting on the shelves because we have not spent time on training.
- Prioritize and focus. We need to be clear about our priorities. We are trying to do too many things and as a result, not doing enough of them well and we are wasting resources.
- Focus on quality of administrators and teachers in hiring. We can ensure quality teaching in every classroom by creating a thorough, effective hiring process. Let's make sure we are able to hire and keep the best.
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?
I think that Scott Walker's collective bargaining law has demoralized educators. We need to work in a cooperative and respectful manner that fosters a positive, productive working relationship between the district and educators, which carries over into the education environment for students. The district needs to work with the teachers and other staff in constructing the handbook that will replace the current Collective Bargaining Agreements.
I feel Scott Walker's collective bargaining law was unfair, grossly political and created to eliminate unions. If our state had financial challenges, he should have asked everyone to be part of the solution, not just our public employees. When he could have stopped at asking public employees to contribute more to their pensions, he did not. He took away unions' ability to collect dues and much more. He tried to demonize teachers and public employees.
I grew up in Wisconsin and have always felt proud of our values. We are taught to treat each other with respect, fairness, and face our challenges together. Scott Walker did not act with Wisconsin values.
My mother grew up in Madison, just three blocks from where I live now on the east side. My grandfather was a mailman. He came from a frugal, German dairy farmer family, and with this public sector job, he could send my mother and her two sisters to college. He worked hard every day and it is the same with our teachers.
Teaching is not easy. Anyone who thinks so should try it sometime. Twice a week, I tutor first graders at Frank Allis Elementary. I love these kids and it is the best part of my week, but I know I could never do what I see the teachers do. I admire our teachers who every day, all day have the patience, expertise, and commitment to teach a room full of children.
As a community, we must ensure we have great teachers who feel respected, valued, and are fairly compensated. Our children's learning depends on it. Morale is low and uncertainty is high. This year, the school board will review teacher contracts. I believe we should only make changes needed to improve student learning. I would not endorse cuts in pay or lengthening school days without compensation.
Across Madison, people are discussing our schools and how to improve them. In this critical time we should act with our Wisconsin values of respect, fairness, and collaboration. Together we can support our schools and help our children learn and thrive.