Last Monday, the Madison school board voted 5-2 to approve a preliminary 2020-2021 budget. The decision comes after a tumultuous financial year for the district as they struggle with fiscal estimates for the coming school year.
As the state continues to cope with economic fallout from the pandemic, how much Madison schools will receive from the state is still in question.
Board member Cris Carusi said the $471 million preliminary budget represents the district’s best attempt to plan ahead despite the uncertainty.
“Right now we just have no idea what we’re going to get from the state. We’re just making a guess. This is an unusual budget year, to put it very mildly,” Carusi said. “We’re all just making our best guesses and we’re all moving forward based on those guesses.”
Since the budget is preliminary, it could be amended if the state decides to cut funding for schools in a budget repair bill.
Because of the pandemic, the Madison school district was already headed for an over seven million dollar shortfall in state funding. Under current estimates from the state Department of Public Instruction, Madison schools are projected to receive over five million dollars less in state financial aid than they did last year.
The Madison School board is also currently weighing whether to put an operating referendum on the ballot in the November election. They’re slated to make a decision on that next month.
Jason Stein is Research Director at the Wisconsin Policy Forum. He told WORT earlier this month that Madison Schools’ cut of state aid has been shrinking over the past several years. The amount of funding the district receives from the state is based on two factors: high property values per student in the district and Madison Schools’ high spending rate per student.
“It’s true that when you look at the state support for the Madison School District, it’s nearly the lowest among the 100 largest districts in the state,” he said.“And when you combine those two factors in the state’s funding formula, it adds up to less state aid for Madison, and that’s been accelerating in recent years.”
Also on Monday, the board postponed a contentious vote on revisions to the district’s Employee Handbook to next month. The changes could make it easier for District leadership to lay off and fire teachers.
The new rule changes would remove seniority requirements in layoffs, as well as shorten the notice period for terminations to 30 days. Scheduled pay raises for teachers are also frozen under the approved preliminary budget.
Board President Gloria Reyes says the measures were postponed for “more discussion and collaboration with stakeholders prior to any board discussion.”
But she says the board will take up the employee handbook changes at a future meeting.
Ed Sadlowski, the new Executive Director for the Madison teachers union says that both the employee handbook changes and proposed budgetary cutbacks will make it more difficult for the district to attract new teachers.
“The district’s decision to put a freeze on wages and step increases is certainly going to have a detrimental impact on their ability to attract and retain the best staff possible,” he says. “We’re operating in an environment right now where there’s a teacher shortage. Teachers are getting offers from competing districts where districts are cherry-picking the best staff and making decisions to pursue those employment opportunities that afford them a better standard of living.”
Two board members, Chris Carusi and Nicki Vander Meulen, voted against the preliminary budget on Monday.
For Vander Meulen, that’s because of a salary freeze for teachers.
“On the anniversary of Scott Walker signing Act 10, I’m not voting to take away any rights, responsibilities or money from our teachers, even temporarily,” she said.