If voters approve the $33 million Madison Metropolitan School District operating referendum next month, it would provide an immediate $6 million boost in a challenging budget season.
But that $6 million goes quickly, as outlined in the most recent budget plans Monday night. According to the presentation from district chief financial officer Kelly Ruppel, $2.6 million is slated to cover COVID-19 costs and $1.25 million would fund a 0.5% base wage increase for staff.
That leaves about $2.2 million for the variety of equity programs School Board members spoke excitedly about throughout the referendum process, ranging from a focus on early literacy to funding for Black Excellence programming.
As the years go on, other programs could also see a boost: the extra $8 million in year two, for example, could fund projects like the district’s Early College STEM Academy or mental health supports. In years three and four, the district would see an additional $9 million and $10 million, respectively, added to its state-imposed revenue limit, with the total $33 million being added in perpetuity thereafter.
While each year’s iteration of the School Board will make the final decision on how it uses the extra flexibility — or chooses not to — administrators see the opportunity to expand or continue programs they see making a difference for students, especially students of color.
“This will be a big, big move for our students and showing them support, a big move for our staff," superintendent Carlton Jenkins said. "It will be what Madison has come to expect of itself. We support schools, that’s what we do in Madison.”
Administrators from different departments, as well as students involved in some of the programs, spoke with the Cap Times in recent days to discuss how the referendum would affect them.
What would be funded for 2020-21 if the referendum is successful?
Nearly half of the $2.2 million dedicated to priority projects in the proposed 2020-21 budget if the referendum passes would go toward early literacy programming.
The $1.05 million would be used for purchasing reading materials, professional development for staff and increasing “highly qualified staff” with a reading certification.
“We want teachers to have access to tools and resources that value the diverse backgrounds and assets that our children and our teachers of diverse backgrounds bring,” said assistant superintendent for teaching and learning Lisa Kvistad. “We want materials that can help students to see things globally and help students to learn and find great meaning in things. It’s that notion of deeper learning.”
Early literacy is a focus for Jenkins, and Kvistad said he has helped drive the investment.
“This is really a community effort moving forward and it is a clear anti-racist strategy,” she said. “We do believe there is nothing more important than this, and Dr. Jenkins has made that very clear.”
Jenkins said literacy provides a baseline for other academic learning and can allow students to become "global citizens."
“From your own home, you can go around the world once you’re able to read, analyze, synthesize at a high level," he said.
Another $100,000 would go to the Black Excellence Fund, doubling its available funds for activities related to instruction and student support. Nichelle Nichols, executive director of Family, Youth and Community Engagement, said the funds would be used to respond to family needs they’ve heard about in the first quarter this year, including support for students on Wednesdays when they’re doing asynchronous learning.
“We obviously as a public school system have kind of a universal obligation to fulfill a promise to educate all of our kids,” Nichols said. “We know that with virtual learning and whatever might come throughout the year … that we still have a deep obligation to really provide the best quality instruction that we can.”
Materials presented to the board Monday show potential investments in anti-racist staff development, purchasing materials for historically accurate African American history and funding family supports. East High School sophomore Gueda Daff and junior Samuel Fiifi Cann said investments in staff development and a more inclusive curriculum that represents Black history throughout would be welcome, among other things.
“They should start funding groups that focus on supporting Black communities specifically, like BSUs (Black Student Unions) in all the schools,” Fiifi said. “Having them create projects that are tailored to getting Black students into higher classes and advanced classes to lessen the opportunity gap and also offering more resources to Black students would be a great way to use the referendum.”
However, more than money will be needed to change the experience in Madison schools for Black students, they said.
“It’s not really a financial thing, it’s really a change of mind and just looking at things in a different way when we make decisions and take actions throughout the schools,” Gueda said, adding that she’s optimistic that can happen with the new superintendent.
The rest of the $2.2 million in priority projects includes $250,000 toward Special Education Transitions, $300,000 for microschools and other programs for “at-risk youth” and $500,000 for elementary and middle school facility maintenance.
What would be among the considerations in future years?
Programs in STEM and mental health, as well as and ongoing work toward diversifying the district’s staff are among potential future projects.
MMSD and Madison College began the Early College STEM Academy in 2018, with up to 200 high school students studying at Madison College. If they complete enough credits, they will receive an associate degree at the same time they graduate from high school.
“To me, this is one program that is really around the entire city and community,” said director of pathways and secondary programming Cindy Green. “It isn’t just about what happens in the school district, the goal is to diversify the workforce, the goal is to keep our students here in the Madison area.”
Green stressed the program focuses on low-income students and first-generation college-going students, groups that “may not have this (college) opportunity without this partnership with Madison College.” The program is funded by MMSD, Madison College and a three-year grant that runs out after next year. Without the referendum, it could face cuts in the years after that, Green said.
The Behavioral Health in Schools program is also focused on a select group of students: those who need specialized mental health services. Executive director of student and staff support Jay Affeldt explained that the program brings mental health professionals into the school building and allows students who otherwise might not be able to access those services in the community to connect with them.
“We are in uncharted territory as a larger community in terms of stress and trauma on all of us, but on our students especially,” Affeldt said. “There’s never been a greater need for this kind of support.”
Support for the program, which is in 16 schools, includes $225,000 in grant funding that expires at the end of the 2020-21 school year, Affeldt said. With the program costing $25,000 per school, that’s nine schools that would be eliminated without funding, leaving students with needs that wouldn’t be met.
“If the referendum doesn’t pass and the board doesn’t find funding, we would have to then draw back on the partnership,” he said. “The hope is that the board would still find a way to close that gap, but that’s the challenge.”
Additional efforts that could see funding include staff recruitment and retention, specifically in providing support to staff of color as the district continues to work toward a workforce that mirrors the student body. Chief of human resources Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff said that while the district has strengthened recruitment efforts in recent years, officials need to think beyond bringing people here.
“Once we get staff recruited and selected into the organization, then what do we do?” she said. “We know that engagement and retention is sort of the next thing and really critically important.”
She called retaining staff of color a “community effort,” as they need to be comfortable when they’re outside of work, too. But internally, more funding could help build a system that allows new staff to see a long-term future in the district.
“We have this vision and this dream about a human capital strategy where anybody that comes into the district can clearly see their career trajectory,” she said. “That there are the resources and supports for people to aspire and become whatever they want to in the district.”
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