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Madison School Board approves $598 million budget with mixed feelings

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Investments in early literacy, expanded mental health supports, staff pay increases and more are included in the roughly $598 million 2022-23 budget approved by the Madison School Board on Monday.

With some members dressed in costumes for Halloween, the board voted 6-1 to approve the budget. Board member Nicki Vander Meulen voted against it.

The budget is nearly 16% higher than last year’s actual spending. The 2021-22 budget was approved at nearly $538 million, but the district actually spent roughly $516 million, because of unfilled positions and the use of federal money.

The increase in spending is largely because the district is continuing to spend federal COVID relief funds, raise pay and use fund balance for expenses that have been carried over, according to Ross MacPherson, the district’s chief financial officer.

With this budget, the owner of an average home in Madison valued at $376,900 would pay about $3,758 on the school district’s portion of their tax bill next year, which is about $63 less than this year.

The district’s total tax levy is increasing by 1.58% to nearly $363 million.

While officials celebrated pieces of the budget, they also acknowledged the challenges they face moving forward as they grapple with sustaining projects funded by one-time revenue sources and navigate stagnant funding from the state.

“We did this work this year knowing that it means a lot in terms of what we’ll be doing in upcoming years,” Board President Ali Muldrow said.

Ali Muldrow

Muldrow

This budget includes a 3% raise for all district staff, in addition to a $5 raise for some support staff.

The support staff raises added about $8.5 million to the district’s budget and are being paid for by a mix of one-time funds. Pay and benefits account for about 80% of the district’s entire budget.

Officials were conflicted about the raises because not all support staff were included in them.

But this budget is just the first step out of a tough few years for the district, Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said.

“This budget is the foundation for where we’re going. It’s not going to be the end. So we say, ‘Yes, hold on. We’re coming, we’re coming,’” Jenkins said.

He also noted the impact state funding has had on the district. “Go vote,” Jenkins said. “That’s the way we take care of the budget.”

The budget also includes $42.9 million in ESSER II and III funding, pools of federal COVID relief funds. In total, the district received just over $71 million in federal COVID relief, all of which must be used by September 2024.

The funds allocated in this latest budget focus on a range of projects, including mental health support, new technology, some staffing, a new podcasting space for students, expansion of the driver’s education program, HVAC upgrades and more.

Carlton Jenkins

Jenkins

The district is adopting a new early literacy curriculum with this budget, which aims to improve literacy and reduce inequities in opportunities and outcomes among students. It includes new learning paths and materials for students, and also new development programs for current and future teachers to help lead the new curriculum.

“If you want a real anti-racist district,” Jenkins said, highlighting the importance of the investment, “you focus on early literacy and beyond. Because this influences the math, science, innovation — everything.”

Full-day 4K programming will also be expanded with the new budget.

Fourteen new sites were identified at schools and child care facilities because they had high populations of students of color and students who receive free and reduced-price lunch, bringing the total number of full-day 4K sites to 29.

New sites have been added at Gompers, Huegel, Kennedy, Lapham and Lincoln elementary schools, Eagle’s Wing Child Care, MATCH Early Learning Campus and Reach Dane Head Start South Campus.

Declining enrollment

Like many school districts, Madison continues to see declining enrollment, according to the budget book.

The district measures enrollment in two ways.

Resident enrollment, which omits data based on open enrollment and voucher students, is a number used to set the revenue limit for the district.

In 2021-22, resident enrollment was 26,023. In 2022-23, it was 26,153. This brings the district’s three-year rolling average, which state aid is based on, to 26,349 for the 2022-23 revenue limit calculation, about 383 fewer students.

“At this point, the combined impacts of COVID-19 and declining birth rates in Madison continue to weigh on our revenue projections,” the district’s budget book states.

When it comes to the district’s staffing plan and expenditures, the district uses an actual “students-in-seats” count, which takes open enrollment and charter schools into account.

This school year, this count decreased by 124 students and brings the two-year decrease to about 1,500 students, according to the budget book.

The district stated in its budget book that the pandemic has complicated enrollment calculations and could cause differences in projections and actual enrollment numbers throughout the year.

The latest enrollment numbers also show the district is growing slightly more diverse. In the past five years, the district’s number of Hispanic students has increased by 2 percentage points while the number of white students has decreased by 2 percentage points.


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Olivia Herken is an education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She is a former local government and political reporter for the La Crosse Tribune, and a graduate of the UW-Madison School of Journalism.

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