PARIS DECORATED

The Champs Elysees avenue in Paris is decorated for Christmas in this file photo. 

The way Principal Michael Hernandez tells it, something had to go.

Hernandez decided that at Sherman Middle School, it will be French class.

With a renewed emphasis on curriculum basics in the Madison School District, the need at Sherman to double-down on math skills, and a scheduled expansion there of the AVID program that prepares low-income minority kids for college, Hernandez figures the north-side middle school will need to drop its second “world language” offering next year.

French 2 will continue for seventh-graders who took French 1 this year. The school’s Spanish-language program — including three sections of dual-language instruction — also will continue.

“Unfortunately, there are tough decisions we have to make,” Hernandez told me. “With budget cuts, I can’t have a class with only approximately seven students, when I could use that (staff) allocation for a math intervention class.”

Principals will be developing these kinds of adjustments around the margins to prepare for the 2013-2014 school year as district officials begin work on the budget and schools get projections on how many staff members they will have.

School Board members on Monday will receive a “budget briefing” instead of fleshed-out budget proposal. Penciled in is $392,807,993 in district-wide spending next school year, down a fraction from this year.

The scaled-down budget proposal is due to the uncertain prospects of a controversial proposal in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget to shift aid and expand vouchers to Madison and eight other school districts — at a projected cost of more than $800,000 to the Madison public schools. In addition, new Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham just came on the job three weeks ago and is not prepared yet to present a detailed budget.

Hernandez said he is balancing resources to significantly address the race-based achievement gap that has been the focus of much public debate in the past few years, while retaining programs for talented and gifted students.

“We have been focusing tremendously on literacy and language arts, but when we looked at the data we saw a regression in math,” he said.

And although music programs traditionally have been targeted during the school district’s tight budget times, Hernandez says he's been able to maintain band, string, and choir programs for next year.

He’s concerned that the “reform” movement that is sweeping the country in an effort to raise the test scores and graduation rates of students of color is leading schools to drop electives that may be the very class through which a particular kid connects to school.

“We don’t really know which classes are motivating students; if we lose that class, we lose that student,” he said.

Kristen Nelson, president of the Sherman Middle School PTO, said parents understand that money is tight and a range of needs must be met. But they are concerned about district resources being pulled from the arts classes in general, she said.

Personally, Nelson said, she trusts Hernandez’s judgment in how to use the resources allocated to Sherman Middle School by the district. She sometimes wonders if the allocations to schools like Sherman — with 71.8 percent of students from low-income families — are adequate. “Perhaps we need more than some others,” she said.

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