Action Alert for the June 25 MMSD School Board Meeting

The MMSD School Board agenda for Monday, June 25 is packed, and there are several agenda items that warrant public input. First, the board will vote on the draft preliminary budget for the 2018-19 school year.  (The final budget will be approved in the fall.) On Friday, the district unveiled the version of the budget that is up for vote, giving the public a mere 72 hours to review this complex, 191-page document. The proposed budget has changed substantially since the draft preliminary budget was first introduced in April.

In addition to the budget vote, the board will consider a controversial contract, and they will vote to create a new ad hoc committee on school discipline that will be charged with rewriting the Behavior Education Plan.

Below are details about the positive changes to the budget, as well as concerns with the budget and other agenda items. Please take a moment to contact the board by 5pm on June 25 and encourage them to address these concerns.

If you can attend the June 25 board meeting, it is in the Doyle Building Auditorium and starts at 6pm. You can access the full agenda here. Please consider making a public appearance at this meeting.

Positive changes in the budget
Thank the board for supporting our teachers and staff:

  • The budget includes a 2.13 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for all MMSD staff, which is a critical piece of retaining experienced staff and addressing staff morale.
  • Additionally, the budget includes salary increases for experienced Special Education Assistants (SEAs), so they can earn more than new employees being hired at a $15 minimum wage.

SCAPE members spoke up about both of these changes, and your voices were heard. Thank you!

Please encourage the board to address these concerns. (You can focus on the concerns that are most important to you, or include all of them, when writing to the board.)

Contract with Achievement Network (ANet): This is in the consent agenda for the meeting (not the budget). MMSD is asking for $50,000 to hire ANet to accelerate student learning through access to their proprietary formative assessments and support for teacher teams. However, ANet has a dubious track record. A 2016 Harvard evaluation found that ANet had no impact on student achievement in math or reading (see page xiii of the linked report). Tell the school board to vote no on this contract.

Ad hoc committee on school discipline: This non-budget agenda item would form an ad hoc committee charged with rewriting the Behavior Education Plan. The committee would include three school board members (Gloria Reyes, James Howard and Kate Toews) and four MMSD staff members appointed by the superintendent. There are numerous problems with this proposal: no explicit representation from the special education community, no board approval of the members appointed by the superintendent, no explanation of how this committee would work with the MTI Joint Safety Committee and the MMSD Guiding Coalition on Restorative and Equitable School Discipline Practices, and more. Ask the board to delay this vote until these concerns can be addressed.

Back pay for custodial and food service workers: This is a budget concern. The employee handbook approved this spring included $32,000 to fix a back-pay issue for long-term custodial and food service workers. This funding is not in the latest draft of the budget. Tell the board to restore this relatively small, but critically important, investment in our staff.

Staffing for special education and behavior: The 2018-19 budget proposes fewer Special Education and Behavioral Education Assistants than the 2017-18 budget. Last October, the Board voted unanimously to spend an additional $1 million to address shortages in special education staff.  The district spent less, and they spent it from a different fund.  Ask the board what happened to that extra funding for special education, and tell them why this staffing is important (if you have a personal story to share, please do!).

Safety and security investments: The budget includes a $6 million investment—$1 million from a state grant and $5 million from the district’s general fund—in school security upgrades. These include video surveillance of every exterior door on school buildings, upgraded video monitoring systems in schools, and electronic interior door locks integrated into staff ID cards. Safety in our school buildings is paramount. However, $6 million is a LOT of money. To put this in perspective, the $5 million investment from the MMSD general fund could pay salary and benefits for ten counselors, social workers and psychologists for five years. The district could save about $3 million simply by switching to keyed locks, rather than electronic locks, that would allow interior doors to be locked from the inside.

Thank you for reaching out to the school board. Together, we can make a difference!

Update: Cost-of-living-adjustment for MMSD staff

The Madison Board of Education will discuss the staff cost of living adjustment tonight at 5:15pm in the Doyle Building, room 103.

The good news: The district is offering our staff the full 2.13 percent cost of living adjustment. This is the full amount they can bargain for under current state law. MMSD staff pay has not kept up with the cost of living since 2011, and this increase is a critical piece of improving staff morale and retention.

The bad news: The MMSD administration has proposed divisive budget cuts to pay for this cost of living increase:

  • The proposed cuts include $300,000 to address low pay and wage compression for Special Education Assistants (SEAs) and other hourly staff. These are the lowest-paid staff in the district, and this relatively modest investment will help retain those who have served MMSD students—particularly students with disabilities—for many years.
  • Students and families across the district would be affected by proposed cuts to services including student conferences, Parent Academy, Family and Community Engagement Teams and 9th grade mentoring. You can see the full list of proposed cuts on slide 6 of tonight’s budget presentation. This presentation doesn’t include the impact of these proposed cuts on students and families.

SCAPE supports giving our staff the full 2.13 percent cost of living adjustment. However, there are better ways to fund this adjustment than what the administration is proposing. Some possibilities include reducing funds budgeted for conference travel and rental of meeting facilities, and a one-time draw on the general fund balance. The staff cost of living adjustment should be paid for with funds that don’t affect services for our most vulnerable students and families, or our lowest-paid staff.

The board will vote on the 2018-19 budget on June 25. We’ll keep you posted as this situation evolves. In the meantime, please consider writing the board or attending tonight’s meeting, to let the district know that we are paying attention.

Thank you!

Action Alert: Tell the Madison School Board to offer MMSD staff the full 2.13% cost-of-living adjustment

Thank you to everyone who wrote to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board last Monday in support of an across-the-board, cost-of-living adjustment for MMSD staff. The school board is meeting in closed session on Monday, May 7 to decide what level of cost-of-living adjustment they will offer our staff.

Since 2011, the cost of living has increased by over 11% while MMSD base wages have increased by only 2.6%. Under Act 10, Madison teachers can collectively bargain for a 2.13% base wage increase this year, which would make up some of this difference. However, the MMSD administration has only budgeted for a 0.5% cost-of-living increase in the 2018-19 school year. The school board has the power to offer our staff more.

Staff retention is becoming a serious problem in Madison’s schools. In the 2009-10 school year, only 50 MMSD teachers left the district prior to retirement. In 2016-17, that number ballooned to 209 teachers leaving MMSD prior to retirement. Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) believes there could be another 200 resignations before the start of the coming school year. Too many of our staff members are leaving the district for opportunities elsewhere.

MMSD needs to provide pay and working conditions that will both retain and attract excellent staff. MTI’s advocacy for a cost of living adjustment is one piece of a solution. To advocate for better learning and working conditions, MTI has created a statement on school safety and climate that lays out how MMSD can create stronger schools for our students, families and staff.

The MMSD administration has publicly stated that they are giving staff an average 2.5% pay increase this year. This statement is extremely misleading. Under the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year, all staff are only guaranteed a 0.5% pay increase. Most of the “average” pay increase promoted by the administration is for a limited number of staff who have attained service or continuing education milestones. While these pay increases are important, the 2.13% across-the-board adjustment is the only way to address the rising cost of living for every staff member in the district.

Before Monday’s school board meeting, please take a moment to contact the school board and tell them to support the full 2.13% cost-of-living adjustment for MMSD staff. Feel free to use anything in this action alert to support your position. And please help spread the word by sharing this alert.

Thank you! When staff, parents and community members stand together, our students and schools win.

SCAPE members speak out against ERS contract

At the January 29 school board meeting, SCAPE members Joanne Juhnke and Cris Carusi testified against the MMSD contract with ERS for consulting on a student services resource allocation model. The story was covered by the Cap Times:

Madison School Board approves $100,000 contract for staffing consultation

Here’s what they had to say:

“Given that we’ve got expertise right here in the district, I don’t see a need to spend our scarce dollars to bring in more out-of-state consultants,” Juhnke said. “Let’s listen to the folks on the ground who know what’s going on and start making the reality match the rhetoric.”

“ERS has questionable expertise in special education and restorative justice, but they have ample expertise in student-based budgeting,” Carusi said. “This is a hallmark of corporate school reform and the school choice movement, and it is not the right direction for MMSD.”

SCAPE opposed this contract. It passed on a 4-3 vote, with Mary Burke, Kate Toews, James Howard and Dean Loumos voting in favor, and Nicki Vander Meulen, Anna Moffit and TJ Mertz opposed.

Action Alert: Tell the Madison School Board to vote NO on the ERS consulting contract


In December, the MMSD administration forwarded a consulting contract with District Management Group (DMG), which has a reputation for cost-cutting measures to reduce special education staff and segregate students with more significant disabilities. Grassroots organizations, families and staff spoke out against this contract, and we won. The contract was ultimately pulled from the agenda.

The MMSD administration is now seeking approval of yet another unacceptable contract—for $100,000—with Education Resource Strategies (ERS), to create new models for allocating resources to special education and the Behavior Education Plan. ERS, like DMG, promotes corporate school reform. Their area of expertise is restructuring school district budgets so dollars follow students, which potentially destabilizes smaller schools and schools with declining enrollment. The school board should vote NO on this contract.


At the school board meeting this Monday, January 29, we will be speaking in support of our educators and staff while voicing our opposition to the ERS contract. Here’s how you can help:

  • Write to the school board. Tell them to vote no on the ERS contract.
  • Attend Monday’s school board meeting and wear red in support of public education and our staff. Fill out a comment slip stating your opposition to the ERS contract and your support for our staff. Even better, share your thoughts with the board through public testimony.

Talking points:

  • ERS lacks expertise in special education. Their approach stresses capping the number of students placed in special education programs. Their proposal to MMSD doesn’t provide what we need to best serve our special education students. It emphasizes restructuring the student services budget to save or reallocate money and analyzing the Behavior Education Plan for ROI (Return on Investment). The consultants who will work with MMSD have training in business, with firms such as Bain Capital.
  • Their main work has been on behalf of corporate reforms that weaken unions, expand charters, and potentially lead to school closings. Their reforms lead to increased emphasis on standardized test scores in evaluating teachers.
  • ERS has no meaningful record of success. In Oakland, they addressed high rates of course withdrawal and failure in high schools by distorting the data. Rather than creating conditions to help students succeed, they redesigned schedules so students would take more courses and get more credits, even if they failed and withdrew from courses at the same rate. As for their record in special education, districts they have worked with for years continue to have alarming numbers of students in very restrictive environments and dismal outcomes. MMSD school board member TJ Mertz has documented their failings here.
  • ERS uses top-down analysis and recommends top-down solutions. MMSD needs a bottom-up approach that starts with, and values, the experiences of students and staff.

Please ask the entire MMSD school board to vote NO on the ERS contract. You can send email to the board plus the superintendent’s office at

Monday’s board meeting is at 6pm at the Doyle Building, 545 W. Dayton St. Plan to arrive about 15 minutes early and sign up if you wish to speak. Individual email addresses for school board members and tips for speaking to the board are on the SCAPE website.

Please forward this action alert to your friends and networks. And don’t forget to wear red on Monday!

Together, we have the power to make a difference!

Madision SCAPE (School Community Alliance for Public Education)
Madison Education Collective

Action Alert: Wear red for public education at Monday’s MMSD school board meeting

MMSD parents and staff will be wearing red at Monday’s school board meeting, to show our shared commitment to excellent schools for all of Madison’s students. We continue to see attacks on public education in Wisconsin, and nationally, that are intended to divide us. By joining forces at Monday’s board meeting, we can send a clear message that families and staff in Madison stand together to support our public schools.

We hope to fill the Doyle auditorium with parents and staff wearing red. Please come to this meeting and show your support for our staff, families and public schools!

When: Monday, January 29. The meeting starts at 6pm. Please plan to arrive by 5:45pm, if possible.

Where: Doyle building, 545 W. Dayton St. Please enter and check in at the main door on the east end of the parking lot.

Wear red!

We plan to have a few people make public comments at this meeting. If you are interested in speaking, please email SCAPE:

If you can’t stay for the full school board meeting, please try to stay through the public comments.

Together, we are strong and we can make a difference for public education. We hope to see you on Monday!

Madison School Community Alliance for Public Education (SCAPE)
Madison Education Collective
Westside PTO

Action Alert: Tell the Madison School Board to vote NO on District Management Group and postpone the vote on the class size policy

UPDATE: The contract with District Management Group has been pulled from tonight’s board meeting agenda. Here is the official word from the MMSD administration:

“While this work is very important to serving our children in special education, we have decided to pull the item from vote tonight. Our goal would be to bring an option back at the end of January.”

In the meantime, class size is still on the agenda. Please come to the board meeting if you can!

Tell the school board to vote NO on the contract with District Management Group to develop new staffing models for special education in MMSD.

District Management Group (DMGroup) is a controversial consulting firm that has been criticized for gutting staffing and services for special education students under the guise of inclusion, and creating “cookie cutter” solutions not tailored to individual districts. MMSD wants to pay DMGroup $165,000 for two years of consulting services even though the Frederick County, Maryland school district terminated their contract with them, and parents in Minneapolis have fought their special education “reforms.”

Tell the school board to postpone the vote on the proposed Class Size Policy until January and ensure optimal class sizes for all grade levels and subjects.

The proposed class size policy is an improvement over the current policy, but it doesn’t go far enough. Concerns are described below. The school board should take more time to work out these issues. We don’t support passing this policy as currently written.

Here are talking points and background information for these two action items. There is a lot here. Please pick a few points and keep your message brief.

District Management Group (DMGroup)

  • MMSD should not enter into a contract with DMGroup because their approach is focused on reducing costs without necessarily meeting the needs of all special education students. DMGroup’s own reports state that their approach doesn’t entirely address the needs of children with severe disabilities and autism, and English Language Learners.
  • DMGroup’s approach to “inclusion” doesn’t fit our community and district’s vision for inclusive special education. Their approach is to reduce special education staffing, add special education to the work of regular classroom teachers, and exclude high-needs students from regular classrooms and schools. As demonstrated by recent and ongoing problems in some MMSD schools, adequate staffing with licensed special education teachers and SEAs is critical for the inclusion of all children with disabilities in regular classrooms.
  • MMSD has an office dedicated to special education. Our district is also privileged with having one of the top universities in the country in regard to inclusive education. We should be tapping into our local resources, rather than bringing in organizations that lack connections to our schools and community.

Background on DMGroup (District Management Council is part of this group):

Cashing In On Special Needs Kids:

Frederick County Public Schools ends contract with controversial special education consultant:

Class size policy

  • Since introducing the proposed class size policy on Dec. 11, the MMSD administration and school board members have made some important changes. These include stronger reporting requirements and capping teaching loads for core subjects at 135 pupils. Please thank the board for working toward a strong class size policy and making these important changes.
  • The board should postpone their vote on this policy until January so other important changes can be made. Because the proposed policy is not a radical departure from current practice in the district, there is no reason to rush the process.
  • The policy allows special and elective class sizes of 40 in middle and high schools, This is too big. The proposed policy should specify a smaller, “optimal” size for these classes.
  • The policy calls for most high school classes to be canceled if enrollment is under 15 students. (There are exceptions for special education courses, ELL and advanced learning offerings, and a few other courses.) Under this policy, some popular high school elective classes—including courses in women’s studies and social justice—could have been canceled before they got underway, because it took a few years for their popularity to build. Principals should have full discretion to offer electives with low enrollment.
  • The policy should state that staffing allocations will target “optimum” rather than maximum class sizes.
  • 4th and 5th grade classes at high poverty schools should have smaller optimum and maximum class sizes.
  • The 15-student minimum is too high for high-poverty elementary schools. Principals need discretion to have sections of 13 or 14 students to achieve optimal class sizes and stay within maximum class sizes.
  • The board should take extra time to ensure the definition of high-poverty schools in this policy will maximize the impact of class size reduction. Research shows that small class sizes particularly improve achievement for low-income and African American students.
  • Finally, please thank the board for investing in class size reduction and additional SEAs this school year.

Thank you! Together, we can make a difference.

Madison SCAPE (School Community Alliance for Public Education)
Madison Education Collective

Action alert: Tell the Madison school board to address inequalities by acting on class size

This Monday, November 6, the Madison School Board will discuss the MMSD Class Size Policy, and classroom and school staffing in the district. Small class sizes are an evidence-based strategy for improving student outcomes, with minority and low-income students benefiting the most from small classes.

Last June, SCAPE was part of a coalition that successfully advocated for, and won, a budget amendment that addressed growing class sizes in the district. At that time, the school board discussed the need to address this issue through policy change.

The current MMSD Class Size Policy is weak. It specifies a minimum class size of 15 students and a maximum of 30 students, regardless of grade level or the percentage of low-income students in the school. Nonetheless, the MMSD administration has recommended sticking with this policy for the time being, while they work on other priorities.

In addition to improving student outcomes, small class sizes make for a positive learning environment and encourage the development of strong student-teacher relationships that are critical for learning. Moreover, small class sizes help staff manage behavior, student feedback and grading, and make the curriculum accessible and engaging for every student. For these reasons, and more, we are asking the Madison School Board to begin work now on the class size policy.

Please write the school board and ask them to address inequalities in our district by acting on class size (email addresses here). Even better, attend the school board meeting at 5pm in the Doyle Building, and consider making public comments to the board (instructions here).

Here are some points you can make in your email or public comments:

  • Class size is one of the most studied education policies. Well-designed research shows that class size reduction can have a positive impact on student achievement. The Tennessee STAR experiment, which is considered the gold standard for class size research, found that math and reading scores improved for all students when they were assigned to smaller classes.
  • Research shows that Black students and low income students particularly benefit from smaller classes. A top priority for the district must be providing classroom environments that support our students who need it most.
  • Achievement gains from class size reduction aren’t limited to test scores. Students in smaller classes are more engaged and focused, and teachers spend more time on instruction and less time on classroom management.
  • Small class sizes can foster inclusive classrooms, good relationships between staff and students, collaboration among staff, greater staff availability for helping students, and a positive school climate.
  • The current class size policy is inadequate. Because small class sizes are proven way to boost achievement, the district should not postpone working on a strong class size policy.
  • Staff compensation and class size should both be high priorities for the district. MMSD families want experienced, excellent teachers and small classes for their children.

Thank you for speaking up for strong public schools. Together, we can make a difference.

School Community Alliance for Public Education (SCAPE)
Madison Education Collective (MEC)


Tell the Madison School Board to add SEAs to our schools

On Monday, October 30, the Madison School Board is voting on the final budget for the 2017-18 school year. (They will also vote on Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School proposal – more on that below.)

The Madison Metropolitan School District received more state aid — to the tune of about $3.7 million dollars — than they budgeted for in June. This is great news for our district. The administration has proposed using all of these resources to reduce the school district’s tax levy. While we agree that keeping taxes in check is important, some of this funding should be used to meet unmet needs in our schools.

Adequate staffing continues to be an issue in many MMSD classrooms. You may recall that we advocated for, and won, funding for class size reduction in the 2017-18 budget. However, because the state budget wasn’t passed until after the start of the school year, the district was unable to use increased state aid to hire more classroom teachers. As a result, many of our classrooms do not have the staffing necessary to meet the needs of all learners.

We are hearing from MMSD parents and staff members that there are not enough SEAs (Special Education Assistants) to support special education students. SEAs play a central role in ensuring the well-being and safety of all of our students and staff. Please take a few minutes to write to the school board and ask them to add between $750,000 and one million dollars to the 2017-18 budget to support 15-20 more SEAs in our classrooms.

If you have a personal story to share that will support the need for more SEAs in our classrooms, please do. Your stories and experiences are the most powerful argument for hiring more SEAs to support children with special needs.

Here are some talking points you can include in your email to the board:

  • The district has eliminated 53 SEA positions since the 2015-16 school year. (While they added 29.5 special education teaching positions during this time, it’s unclear how many of these teachers are in classrooms and how many are working at the Doyle Building.)
  • SEAs facilitate inclusion in our district by supporting children with special needs in regular classrooms. They play a central role in implementing the Behavior Education Plan by helping all students feel welcome in our classrooms.
  • By ensuring the well-being of special education students, SEAs support learning for all MMSD students.
  • The district experienced high turnover (20%) of special education teachers last year. SEAs support these teachers, and all of our staff, so they can do their jobs and avoid burnout.
  • Relationships are critical to successful learning, and building relationships at our schools is an emphasis in the district this year. Hiring more SEAs now, rather than on an emergency basis later in the school year, will foster supportive relationships between staff and students, and prevent conditions in our classrooms from deteriorating.

In addition to the budget, the board will vote on the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School proposal on Monday. Last winter, the board approved the proposal for this charter school. However, they did not pass a contract for the school for a number of reasons, including inadequate staffing for special education students and English language learners at the school.

The administration has recommended that the board rescind their approval of the IMA proposal. Because this school would not have adequate staffing to meet the needs of all students, and for numerous other reasons detailed in past SCAPE action alerts, we support the administration’s recommendation. Please thank the school board for doing the right thing and reversing their decision on a weak charter school proposal.

You can find contact information for the Madison School Board here.

There will be a limited time period for public comments before the meeting. If you wish to make public comments, we recommend arriving early and filling out the form ahead of time.

Thank you standing up for our public schools. Together, we can make a difference.

School Community Alliance for Public Education (SCAPE)

August 21: Madison School Board vote on Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School contract

The Madison School Board will vote on the Isthmus Montessori Academy Charter School contract on Monday, August 21. The meeting, at the Doyle Building, begins at 5pm in closed session, followed by an open meeting where the board will discuss the contract and vote.

The agenda, draft contract and supporting documents are available on Board Docs (click on the link to the August 21 meeting).

There will be a limited time period for public comments before the meeting. If you wish to make public comments, we recommend arriving early and filling out the form ahead of time.

If you wish to reach out to the Madison School Board about the contract, here’s how to contact them.

Here are a couple of recent op eds from the Cap Times:

Jen Greenwald: Making Montessori a charter school unfair to other students (8/11/17)

Marj Passman: Madison School Board should nix Isthmus Montessori Charter School (7/28/17)