Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 14, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Job loss. Businesses closing. A pandemic.
The folks in charge of the Madison Metropolitan School District think it’s a perfect time for two referenda totaling $350 million.
Never fear, Madison taxpayers. While you may be struggling to pay your mortgage, you are “facing a unique opportunity to invest in Madison’s future.” Of course, it will cost another $480 per year in property taxes — in one of the highest property tax cities in the state — for the owner of an average-valued Madison home.
Madison taxpayers face two ballot questions in next month’s election. They’re being asked to pick up the tab for $317 million in facilities upgrades, with the vast majority of the new money targeted for renovations and repairs to the city’s four main high schools. And the district wants $33 million in new operating funds each year. That ask would be permanent.
District officials have sold the capital referendum as critical to bringing up to date some very old school buildings, transforming them into 21st century learning centers.
But why now, in the middle of a pandemic, when so many are out of work, working reduced hours, or worried about their financial futures? A district official did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment Tuesday, but MMSD has blanketed taxpayers with information on the trials and tribulations of learning in Madison schools. Pro-referendum forces have, per usual, gotten a lot of backup from the liberal city’s liberal newspapers.
“The needs of our schools and students existed before COVID-19, opportunity and resource gaps were magnified by school closures and quarantine, and as we begin to recover together as a city, the chance to lift Madison up as a thriving, equitable, and inclusive community for generations to come is more important than ever,” the district proclaims on its referendum page.
Lisa Kvistad, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the district could tap into its existing budget for purchasing some of the curriculum and teaching materials it says it needs. But Kvistad noted that is a “finite amount of money.”
Interesting. That’s exactly what the taxpayers who are being asked to pay more have. A finite amount of money. But MMSD, which has so often asked and received from its voters, never seems overly concerned with the “finite” part of the average property taxpayer budget.
Taxpayers, too, would be paying for even more of the social re-engineering curriculum that has led Madison schools to one of the most woeful achievement gaps in the state. Last year, less than 14 percent of black students were considered proficient or advanced in English Language Arts. In eighth-grade math, 4 percent of black students were proficient or better.
And here’s a troubling admission from the school district: “COVID-19 protections, while necessary, had devastating social, emotional and academic outcomes on many of our students. We need to ensure resources are available for students in the fall to get them the social-emotional and academic supports needed so they can thrive through these challenging times.”
So, MMSD acknowledges that its virtual learning model, which shut down critical in-person learning to students, has been a failure — and now the school system wants taxpayers to pay for the damage the school board and administrators have done.
Many parents and taxpayers have questioned the current level of spending for an inadequate education. Now, the district wants more — a lot more. Something a little less “finite.”