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Protest at Madison School Board meeting

Opponents of police officers in Madison schools disrupt a Madison School Board meeting Monday evening, resulting in the board adjourning before it could pass a $415.6 million operating budget for the 2018-19 school year.

True to its president’s word, the Madison School Board met a state deadline to pass its 2018-19 budget Wednesday, two days after local protesters shut down the board’s first attempt.

The $415.6 million operational budget district administrators called “one to celebrate” passed with little drama. A small group of about 10 activists with the local social justice group Freedom Inc. attended Wednesday’s “special meeting,” but their participation was limited to some laudatory finger-snapping when board member Nicki Vander Meulen suggested applying for grant funding to hire more counselors and teachers.

That was a far cry from Monday, when the board had to adjourn its regular meeting before approving a budget after Freedom Inc. protesters refused to stop chanting and speaking out against the board over its refusal, so far, to eject Madison police officers stationed in the district’s four main high schools as educational resource officers, or EROs.

The budget and associated property tax levy passed Wednesday allows the district to boost average employee compensation by 4.13 percent while shielding them from having to cover any of a 3.85 percent increase in health insurance costs. Class sizes also won’t increase.

The owner of a home worth the median for Madison of about $274,000 will see a decrease in property taxes paid to the district of about $16.

The district’s property tax levy of about $308 million is up 3.64 percent from this year, but the increase is more than offset by a 8.75 percent, or $2.2 billion, increase in the value of taxable property in the district.

“Strong growth in Madison is supporting this budget as well and has reduced the impact on our taxpayers, “ board member Kate Toews said.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham called the budget the “strongest” sent to the board in the five-plus years she’s been in her position, and pointed specifically to its “significant investment in our staff.”

The measure passed 5-2, with members TJ Mertz and Vander Meulen voting no.

Mertz said there were a “lot of good things in this budget” but that it could have put more resources into the classroom, and pointed specifically to some middle and high school English classes with 31 to 39 students.

“And I think that we need to do better ... in putting our resources in the classroom and not in new administrators and not in new door locks,” he said.

The board was required by state law to pass the budget and levy by Thursday.

The board also accepted a report Wednesday from an ad hoc board committee set up last year to study the EROs stationed in the high schools.

After 20 months of work, the committee in September recommended keeping the officers — one each at West, East, La Follette and Memorial high schools — but with more oversight from the district and limitations on what they are able to do.

Board member James Howard emphasized that the decision to accept the report is not an endorsement of anything in it. The district is in the last year of a three-year contract with the Madison Police Department, which stations the officers in the high schools, and faces renegotiating or ending the contract in the coming months.

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Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.