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Wright Middle School

Sixth-graders at Wright Middle School, including Mia Rodriguez Torres, left, and Eric Williams, right, participate in classroom studies at the school in Madison in November.

The Madison School Board approved a preliminary $406.8 million school district operating budget for the 2018-19 school year on Monday that would keep staffing levels stable while providing a larger raise to teachers and certain other district employees than initially proposed earlier this year.

The budget, which looks to draw $310.8 million in property tax revenue for a 4.58 percent levy increase over the 2017-18 budget, continues funding “strategic investments” that aim to improve student achievement, particularly for students of color, such as through the Community Schools model slated to be expanded this year. It provides school-based community services for students and their families.

The budget would result in an $82 increase in the district’s portion of the property tax bill for the average-value Madison home worth $267,000, according to the district.

“We think this is the strongest budget we’ve built for a variety of reasons,” said Superintendent Jen Cheatham.

One of the biggest changes since Cheatham released the proposed budget in April is an increase in the base wage for teachers and certain employees.

A 0.5 percent base wage increase was initially proposed with other increases subject to the district’s salary schedule, which rewards experience and education.

Together, they would have provided an average salary increase of 2.5 percent.

But Madison Teachers Inc., the district’s employee union, negotiated a 2.13 percent base wage increase — the highest base wage increase allowable under state law for the school year.

Factoring in the salary schedule, the average wage increase is now set to be 4.13 percent.

To cover the base wage bump, the district drew about $3.6 million from other accounts and programs in the budget.

A motion by board member TJ Mertz to remove $3 million from up to $6 million proposed for school security upgrades failed on a 2-5 vote.

Nicki Vander Meulen joined Mertz in voting for the fund reduction.

While Mertz said he thought there can be real and effective changes to improve security, he said that up to $6 million could result in a “very, very expensive illusion” of safety.

“I think it’s important that we move forward on investing in security measures in our schools,” said board member Gloria Reyes. “It’s about time we take security measures seriously.”

Last week, the state Department of Justice announced the district would receive nearly $1 million in grant funding for school safety upgrades.

The grant funding would be added to up to $5 million from the district’s reserve funds to improve interior and exterior door locks, put protective film on windows and add more security cameras throughout the district’s buildings.

The state Legislature authorized $100 million in the spring for school safety grants in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Under the preliminary budget, about $2.2 million is left in tax levy authority.

The School Board will finalize the budget in October when enrollment levels, certain state aid figures and property values become more clear.

  • In other action, the board approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to study policies around discipline and student behavior, with recommendations due by December.
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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.