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Survey sent to Madison teachers details potential for cuts

Survey sent to Madison teachers details potential for cuts

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The survey was sent to Madison Metropolitan School District staff Friday.

A survey from Madison Metropolitan School District administration outlines the potential for more budget cuts coming amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with wage freezes and staff cuts among the options administrators are considering.

The two-question survey, sent to staff Friday, states that the district expects an additional $5 million to $9 million budget cut from the state legislature in the form of a budget repair bill to deal with revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic. It also asks teachers about their plans for the fall whether they would return to school in-person or work only virtually.

Madison Teachers Inc. discouraged members from responding to the survey in a Facebook post.

“We are urging you NOT to complete the District’s survey on budget priorities until MTI leadership has an opportunity to speak with MMSD affirming MTI’s role in representing you in negotiations around wages and discussions around changes to the Employee Handbook,” the post stated. “We need a unified voice and holding the survey until we’ve discussed these issues will send a message that we are united.”

The two options being considered to deal with the budget cuts, according to photos of the survey sent to the Cap Times, would be cutting 92 FTE positions while maintaining compensation increases or freezing most wage increases for one year while avoiding any FTE position elimination. The first option would also require updated staffing plans for the fall, according to the survey.

A letter sent to staff Thursday to let them know about the survey, which was posted to Facebook by School Board member Nicki Vander Meulen, stated there was still uncertainty about the size of the cuts.

“Given that 82% of our budget is in staffing related costs, we will not be able to move forward without some impact to our personnel budgets,” the letter said. “Finally, we are advocating with our partners at the local, state and federal levels to protect public education during times like these.”

[MMSD staff layoffs would be based on qualifications rather than seniority under proposal]

Vander Meulen wrote that she was “dismayed that our teachers and staff are being blindsided by such changes in the middle of a global pandemic.”

The district sent a follow-up email Friday stating that they wanted the information to "aid us in making the best possible informed decisions and in the best interest of all of our staff."

"COVID-19 has placed our Board in a very challenging position and as a district it also has united us in many different ways," the letter states. "To be clear, there are indeed difficult budget decisions that will need to be made by our Board, and it is important that we give them an accurate picture of the challenges that we all face. This survey is every staff member's opportunity for input."

The question about returning to work in the fall offered three options as the district continues to plan how it will conduct classes:

  • I plan to return to the building in the fall, regardless of whether learning is in-person or virtual
  • I would like to teach/work virtually only, if that is an option
  • I would not plan to return to the building in the fall if the only option is in-person teaching or work

The School Board is still considering whether to put two referenda questions on the November ballot, one of which would fund operations. Without a referendum and before the coronavirus budget considerations are taken into account, the district has to cut $8 million for the 2020-21 school year.

MMSD and MTI are also discussing changes to the employee handbook, one of which would change the layoff process from going by seniority to going by a set of qualifications. Administrators say the change would allow them to retain more of the staff members of color hired in recent years who otherwise could be near the bottom of the seniority list and further the challenge of diversifying the staff.

Employees on the handbook committee were opposed to that and some other changes the administration supports, saying that the qualifications would not be objective, according to a memo from interim superintendent Jane Belmore to the School Board about the proposed changes.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

Related to this story

Changes to Madison schools for the fall will include a greater focus on hygiene, handwashing and facial coverings, as well as potential schedule changes and health screenings. Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore said she is “quite certain” transportation will be an issue, with perhaps one student per school bus seat or even every other seat. Potential options include staggered start times for summer and fall.