Update on Madison Prep

There have been a slew of developments affecting the Urban League’s Madison Prep charter school proposal as we move closer to the School Board’s scheduled November 28 vote on the school.

The two most significant, interrelated issues at the moment are the cost of the proposal and whether Madison Prep would operate as an instrumentality or non-instrumentality school.

I’ll try to describe where I think matters stand as of today on these issues.  However, there is a risk of losing sight of the forest for the trees in these discussions.  The bedrock issue that is sometimes obscured is whether students in the Madison school district would be better off, and their overall academic achievement would be enhanced, if some of them had the opportunity to attend Madison Prep.

The cost issue is certainly relevant to this.  As we’re painfully aware, we don’t have unlimited funds to spend on our schools.  The state puts a cap on our expenditures.  If Madison Prep would end up soaking up the district’s limited funds to such an extent that we would be obligated to cut back on the opportunities we provide to our other students, then that would have a clear impact on the overall cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. 

I don’t think the instrumentality-non-instrumentality issue needs to have much bearing on the ultimate issue of whether Madison Prep would be good for our students, though others disagree vigorously on this point.

First, then, to the cost of the proposal. The relevant inquiry for me is what net impact approval of the proposal would have on the school district’s overall expenditures.   This depends on the difference between the amount the school district would save as result of some of our students attending Madison Prep rather than other district schools, and the amount of expenditures the district would incur for Madison Prep.

As to the savings, the district has calculated estimates of those figures, on the assumption that 70% of Madison Prep students would otherwise be attending Sennett, Wright, Jefferson, Toki or Cherokee Middle Schools.  Here are the projections of how much on a per-student basis the school district would save:

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

$8,796

$7,776

$7,460

$8,713

$8,334

(These figures can be found on page 55 of the November 12 MMSD Administrative Analysis of the Madison Prep proposal.)

The second part of this calculation is the per-student amount the school district would spend on Madison Prep.  This is where things get a bit complicated.

The Urban League submitted a business plan at the end of October.  The budget included in the plan assumed that Madison Prep would receive the following per-student payments from the school district:

2012-13

2013-14

2014-15

2015-16

2016-17

$9,247

$9,636

$9,612

$9,600

$9,625

These two sets of numbers allow us to calculate an estimate of the net cost to the school district of Madison Prep under these assumptions:

2012-13:  ($9,247 – $8,796) x 120 students = $54,120

2013-14:  ($9,636 – $7,776) x 240 students = $446,400

2014-15:  ($9,612 – $7,460) x 360 students = $774,720

2015-16:  ($9,600 – $8,713) x 480 students = $425,760

2016-17:  ($9,625 – $8,334) x 600 students = $774,600

From a school district budget perspective, these figures look manageable.  The Administrative Analysis contains a recommendation making the same point I have been advancing for a while – if the school district ends up approving Madison Prep, we should pay for the school by making use of our taxing under-levy authority.  In simple terms, we should raise the money by increasing the property tax levy rather than by taking resources away from our existing schools.

The property tax impact would not be significant.  As a rule of thumb, an increase in school district spending of $1 million leads to a property tax increase of about $11 on a $250,000 house.  So, if the these dollar figures are roughly accurate, authorizing Madison Prep would mean that by the fifth year of the school’s operations, property taxes on a $250,000 home would be about $8 higher than they would otherwise be.

The Administrative Analysis explains that these dollar figures are not reliable if Madison Prep is to function as an instrumentality of the school district, which is the Urban League’s current intention.  With instrumentality status, all staff at the school would be employees of the school district, rather than the Urban League.  The staff would also be members of the various bargaining units that represent school district employees.  Their compensation would be determined on the basis of the terms included in the current collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

This has the effect of significantly increasing the school’s operating costs beyond what the Urban League had projected for purposes of its late-October budget.  The terms of the teacher collective bargaining agreement were not negotiated with an instructional model like that proposed for Madison Prep in mind.

For example, if teachers will be required to work a longer school day, they must be paid for those extra hours in the manner that the CBA provides.  The Administrative Analysis of the Madison Prep budget plugged in the additional staffing costs attributable to the terms of the relevant CBAs and changed a few other assumptions as well to conform to district budgeting conventions.  The upshot is that the budgeted annual cost of a teacher, including salary and benefits, shot up from about $60,000 to a bit more than $100,000.

The per-student expenditures for the school go up significantly under this analysis.  The net cost to the school district would now look like this:

2012-13:  ($17,093 – $8,796) x 120 students = $995,640

2013-14:  ($15,254 – $7,776) x 240 students = $1,794,720

2014-15:  ($15,849 – $7,460) x 360 students = $3,020,040

2015-16:  ($15,430 – $8,713) x 480 students = $3,224,160

2016-17:  ($15,133 – $8,334) x 600 students = $4,079,400

The Administrative Analysis concludes that, calculated on the basis of these “instrumentality” assumptions, the cost of Madison Prep to the school district is too high.  Interestingly, the Analysis recommends that a fair per-student amount for the District to make available to Madison Prep would equal our per-student spending limit under the state-imposed revenue cap.  That amount is projected to be $10,588.54 for 2012-2013, and the Analysis assumes a $200/year increase for the following four years.

The implication is that if Madison Prep were able to deliver a budget comparable to the one included in its late-October business plan, the cost to the school district would be within the range that the Administrative Analysis recommends.

Having the benefit of the administration’s analysis of the budgetary impacts of operating as an instrumentality, the Urban League is now considering whether it might want to switch back to the non-instrumentality approach.  I understand that a decision is expected this week.

The issue seems to come down to whether the Urban League considers the budgetary and other impacts of operating under the current CBAs to put too serious a crimp in their plans for the school.  Remember that under Act 10, the terms of the CBAs cannot be modified to take into account the unique aspects of the Madison Prep proposal.

A decision to revert to the original non-instrumentality approach would have a positive effect on Madison Prep’s budget.  There would be other complications, however.

The school district’s CBA with MTI includes an agreement “that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certificated teacher, shall be performed only by ‘teachers.'”  For purposes of the CBA, “the term ‘teacher’ refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit.”  Hence, all teachers in MMSD schools must be members of the MTI bargaining unit.

Madison Prep may be proposed to be a non-instrumentality charter school.  But as far as the school district and MTI are concerned, a Madison Prep teacher would be a “teacher” within the meaning of the CBA.

If Madison Prep does hire teachers who are not MTI members, and does not recognize MTI as the bargaining representative for its teachers, then it certainly seems like the school district could be in violation of the CBA.

I had thought that one way around this would be for teachers at a non-instrumentality Madison Prep to be members of the MTI bargaining unit and for the Urban League and MTI to negotiate a separate collective bargaining agreement for these teachers.  Since the Urban League is not a municipal employer, the provisions of Act 10 would not apply to the labor relationship or the collective bargaining agreement.

My understanding is that the Urban League has indicated that it would be open to exploring this approach.  However, MTI has responded that, for reasons unknown to me, the union  may only represent public employees, and that the teachers at a non-instrumentality charter school operated by the Urban League would not be considered public employees.  So MTI apparently maintains that those teachers cannot be members of the MTI bargaining unit – as our CBA seems to require – even if everyone wanted them to be.

So, that’s a complication, and one that doesn’t seem to have an easy or obvious solution.

The other legal complication at this point is whether Madison Prep’s single-gender classrooms are permissible under state and federal law.  Federal regulations seem to require, for example, that if a school provides single-sex classrooms, it must make comparable instruction in a coeducation setting available as an option.

In the first instance, this single-gender set of issues has to be worked through with the Department of Public Instruction, which is holding on to half of the planning grant funds the department awarded the Urban League because of its questions on this aspect of the Madison Prep proposal.

We’ll see what developments the next few weeks bring.  If the Urban League does decide to revert to a non-instrumentality approach, the Administrative Analysis of the proposal will require some substantial revisions.

I think we should probably schedule another public hearing, particularly if the final proposal is for a non-instrumentality,  so that community members have an opportunity to express their views on the actual Madison Prep proposal that the School Board will consider.

The date of the Board’s vote may slip a week or so beyond November 28.  We’ll need to take the time necessary to work through the remaining issues in the hope that our decision can be driven by what’s best for the districts’ students rather than dictated by legal roadblocks.

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9 Responses to Update on Madison Prep

  1. I would guess — and it is just a guess — that jurisdictional agreements with other unions and likely their articles of incorporation and maybe their charter from the NEA preclude MTI from representing non-public employees.

  2. Kristen says:

    A consistent theme I’ve heard at MMSD strategy presentations this year is that their top goal is closing the acheivement gap. They have admitted that there are “pockets of excellence” throughout the school district (an acheiving teacher, classroom or individual school) but that they haven’t yet acheived consistency throughout the whole district.

    They want to implement consistent high standards at every school, in every classroom. To that end, they appear to be creating policies and procedures emphasizing consistency in curriculum throughout the district. They are focusing on collaboration between schools; and between downtown staff and teaching staff.

    So, this is where you and I disagree on the difference between instrumentality and non-instrumentality. To me, a non-instrumentality school will be yet another “pocket of excellence” in the district and will fly in the face of the district’s current stratetic initiatives to ensure an excellent education for ALL students.

    We already have individual programs and schools that are excelling. But they have determined that is not enough.

    I hope that the district and the Urban League can work together to create an instrumentality charter school in which they work collaboratively to close the acheivement gap in the entire district – and not just for the kids in one charter school.

  3. Lorie Raihala says:

    Thanks for this clear, concise analysis!

  4. Dorothy says:

    I agree that the basic issue is whether all students in the District, and especially all African-American students would benefit from the charter. A significant potential benefit is in the possible learning by the rest of the District about what works for this group. (Of course, first it would have to be established that the charter is working, and what specifically is working.) Now, how likely is it that the District would learn and incorporate that learning? How much emulation of the “pockets of excellence” has taken place? How much have we learned from Nuestro Mundo? Consistency may not be the answer. Maybe responsiveness. At any rate, paying a premium for the education of a few students doesn’t seem to me to fulfill our goal of equal education unless there is a big commitment and preparation for treating the whole enterprise as a significant experiment that will influence the way we teach and learn..

  5. Thanks for the comments. TJ – You may be right. I haven’t learned any more about the source of the apparent obstacle to the teachers at a non-instrumentality Madison Prep being members of the MTI bargaining unit.

    Kristen – You raise a good point. The district is striving to bring more consistency to the curricula at our schools. This may seem inconsistent with authorizing new charter schools, whose whole raison d’être is to provide learning in different ways. There seems little point in having a charter school if it is simply going to mimic the approach of our district schools. So, unless we want to write off charter school proposals all together, I don’t think that the fact that a charter proposal is designed to try a different approach should automatically be a disqualifier, despite its apparent incompatibility with a district push toward more consistency.

    Dorothy – I agree that the District should be open to learning from a charter if we are going to go to the trouble of authorizing it. I think that Nuestro Mundo offers an encouraging example. Despite its somewhat controversial beginnings, the school has been a success, and one that the District took to heart by introducing dual-language instruction options in several of our elementary schools, as well as at Sennett Middle School. If Madison Prep is approved, I hope that it will be similarly successful and that we’ll be able to transplant to our other schools whatever components of the program turn out to contribute most to the success of its students.

  6. Kristen says:

    Thanks Ed! I agree that any charters should be innovative and different. My fear is that a non-instrumentality will set itself up as a competitive “our school vs. your school” situation (“Our test scores are higher than your test scores”) rather than a collaborative endeavor in which you try out new ideas and expand successful practices to the entire district. If Nuestro Mundo was a non-instrumentality, would we have the new DLI programs in the district today?

  7. janeofdane says:

    I don’t understand how we’re going to make sure that the kids adversely affected by the achievement gap will be the ones that get into Madison Prep. Won’t students be chosen by lottery? I understand that beyond the lottery, there will be some sort of interview process by a Madison Prep board. Will they be allowed to use race or family income as selection criteria? Madison Prep’s promotional materials show black kids and their stated goal is to close the achievement gap. I think supporters imagine the students will serve low-income, minority kids. But how do they select their target demographic unless they discriminate? Are certain populations discouraged from applying? If Madison Prep denies admission to a lottery winner, saying perhaps that they don’t think their programs “is right for you,” will MMSD have lawsuits? I haven’t seen this point addressed in all the coverage. I’m troubled by the lack of evidence that this program will close the gap and by the possibility that it won’t even enroll the kids it purports to serve.

  8. Torrey says:

    janeofdane…. Any student can apply for admission, and will automatically get in if enrollment is equal to or less than the seats available. If demand exceeds supply, then students will be chosen by random lottery. There will be no interview process used to allow or disallow students from gaining admission to the school. There will be meetings between school officials and applying parents and students to explain how the school will work, and what will be expected of each party. This is simply to make sure everyone is on the same page so there are no surprises for families once school starts. The school will NOT deny admission or an application to any student based on these meetings.

    Madison Prep is reaching out to its target demographic through it’s marketing initiatives. Enrollment stations will be at the Urban League and in neighborhoods that are highly comprised of the target demographic. As I said, anyone can apply, but these are some means that will be used to try and reach out to the target demographic. The school aims to have a diverse student population.

    Madison Prep would never deny admission to a lottery winner, and in fact it would be illegal to do so anyway under Wisconsin’s charter school law.

    I hope that answers some of your questions and concerns.

  9. janeofdane says:

    Thanks, Torrey. I appreciate your explanation.

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