Maya Cole, president of the Madison school board, sounded grim following Gov. Scott Walker's budget address on Tuesday.
"It's disappointing to hear him say he's helping kids," she says, "and on the other hand he's basically cutting every opportunity for us to help kids when it comes to K-12 education…. I think what he's doing is just disgraceful."
Madison school superintendent Dan Nerad also admitted that it has been "a difficult day."
"This district has been making reductions for over 15 years," Nerad says. "A year ago we had a reduction of 15% in state aid. This year's it's an 8% reduction in state aid. While we know that we face a budget deficit, there's also a need to know that our kids are educated well if our state is to stay strong."
Nerad says Walker's budget will cause a $20 million cut in revenue for the district in 2011. If the governor's budget repair bill passes in its current form, he says, the amount would be about $11 million. Obviously, given the current chaos in the Capitol, the future is murky.
Cole is contemptuous of Walker's promise to give districts "the tools" they need to deal with their budgets.
"The tool he's giving us," she says, "is the ability to lay off or cut."
Cole guesses that the district might be able to hold steady with staffing as it budgets for 2011-12, but foresees a possible 300 layoffs the next year. Teachers taking early retirements could help, and Cole says that veteran teachers might feel pressured to do so just to help out the district.
Then there's the matter of children. Cole says that Walker's budget will force cuts in a variety of crucial programs, including alcohol prevention, children at risk and nursing services.
"Nursing services are particularly scary to me," she says. "In the high schools, nurses see up to 150 kids a day. In a district with 49% poverty, people aren't even getting their basic needs met. Kids go into nurses to talk about everything from birth control to depression to suicide prevention to drug-abuse issues to getting a Band-Aid on their thumb."
Nerad also worries about program cuts.
"Without being able to increase taxes, as this budget asserts," he says, "we have to approach it as a kind of plan that is designed to reduce programming for kids. We'll see how much of that we have to do."