After ten rounds of weekly questions about the Madison schools, the six school-board candidates face one last volley concerning 4-year-old kindergarten, a new spending referendum and their own suitability for the board.
Isthmus reported this week on the Madison school district's decision in 2003 to reject a plan to partner with Madison's early-childhood providers to offer citywide 4-year-old kindergarten. Would you support such a proposal if it were revived?
I would definitely support a workable proposal to provide universal four-year-old kindergarten. The program would have to be community-based and work within the existing early child-care system, with the district providing oversight, resources, and ensuring quality.
Early childhood education and intervention leads to success for children and is especially beneficial for children from low-income families. It levels the playing field on the first day of kindergarten and encourages more family participation in schools. Pre-K also raises reading and math achievement, decreases the number of children identified as needing special education services, and increases the rate of high school graduation.
The benefits of pre-K to the broader community are numerous, from decreased social services, crime, and health care costs, to higher wage and homeownership rates when students reach adulthood. The benefits to the entire community outweigh the costs.
The district has asked the Governor to give MMSD its fair share of funding for pre-K, to match the funding given to Milwaukee schools for their voucher program. The Governor's budget also has earmarked additional funds to help with start-up expenses for a program in the MMSD. Many other districts around Wisconsin already have thriving programs, so it is time we give our students the same opportunity for a head start.
Throughout my campaign I have emphasized the need to give all students the tools needed to succeed in school and in life. It is imperative that all children be able to read by third grade and that they start school prepared to learn. The rejection of the plan to partner with Madison's early-childhood providers is yet another example of how our administration and certain members of Madison Teachers Inc. are more concerned with protecting their turf than they are with helping our children.
We must encourage partnerships with the community and come up with new ways to help our students succeed. I would support a voluntary, collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten plan. We are being penny wise and pound-foolish by not working with the great resources available in this city for quality early-childhood education.
Would you support a referendum to authorize spending to avoid school consolidation on the east side and to fund smaller class sizes and such programs as elementary school strings and talented and gifted education?
I would truly love the certainty of an additional $30 million in revenue over the next three years. Adequate funding would allow the Board to focus on a long-range plan for the district and would provide the time to work with school boards around the state to lobby for reform of the unfair state school financing laws.
Last fall, the referendum passed in an overwhelming display of unity. As a co-chair of Community and Schools Together referendum campaign, the grass-roots group which worked to successfully pass the referendum, I understand the effort that was required to educate the community on the school finance system and the necessity of the measures that were approved.
For this budget cycle, I cannot support a referendum to raise additional money to offset the recommended cuts. I simply do not feel that district voters would support it. If we ask the voters to consider a referendum this year, and it fails, then we will have less leverage when asking for a vote in the future.
None of the proposed cuts are acceptable, but the Board needs to look for alternative sources of revenue and make some unpopular cuts before going back to the voters. The Board must continue to concentrate on educating voters on the gravity of our situation to ensure success of the next referendum. The school finance advocacy session scheduled for 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 29 at the Doyle building is a great start in this direction and toward reforming our broken state system.
At this time I do not think that a referendum is a wise choice to help solve our budget problems. For every $1 we go over the revenue caps, we lose $1.60 in state funds. I would not be a good steward of the taxpayer's money if I agreed to a loan with essentially 60% interest.
Other alternatives must be looked at first.
I propose an independent audit of the budget by a firm hired by the school board and not the administration. We must do a cost/benefit analysis of the many programs we have in this district and use the data to make sound budget decisions. Too often the cuts being proposed are politically based and not based on what is and isn't working in the district.
Another area we need to look at is controlling health insurance costs. We need to work with the union through negotiation to come up with a way to offer quality health insurance at a price the district can afford. In my opinion, the lack of vision on this issue is why we are looking at possible cuts.
We must look at how we are spending our money before we look to exceed the revenue caps and penalize the people of Madison with excessive taxation.
Here's your last pitch: In 50 or less words, tell us why the Madison school board would be improved by your presence.
I will provide a voice for children and families who may be left behind. I will improve communication between the Board and the community via connections I've formed through my volunteer work. I will take part in a state-wide initiative to lobby the government for change in school finance.
I would bring a common sense perspective to the board that has been lacking in the past. I believe in a strong educational system that is based on research and results. I will hold the district accountable for its results and will demand high expectations for all of our students.