School Board Campaign 2014: MTI’s Questionnaire

I am running for re-election to the Madison School Board.  Since my name will be the only one for Seat 7 on the April 1 ballot, I like my chances.  Still, I view the time leading up to the election as providing an opportunity for me to account for my performance as a Board member and to share my views on school issues.

Part of the responsibilities of being a candidate is responding to various questionnaires.  The first I received was from Madison Teachers Inc.

Here are MTI’s questions and my answers:

General

  1. If the School Board finds it necessary to change school boundaries, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgment?

For proposed school boundary changes, I’d want to apply the seven “Considerations when Redrawing Boundary Lines” approved by the school board in 2004.  They are:

  1. Every attempt will be made to keep bus routes no more than 45 minutes in duration one way.
  2. When redrawing boundary lines, current attendance area islands and optional areas will be reduced wherever possible and new ones will not be created.
  3. No student will be required to change schools, as a result of boundary line changes, more than once during his/her elementary years.
  4. Grandfathering 4th– and 5th-grade students will be considered when boundary lines are redrawn, and every effort will be made to allow 5th graders to remain at their school.
  5. School size of two sections per grade level to a maximum of 650 students.
  6. Every attempt will be made to avoid creating schools with high concentrations of low-income families.
  7. Efforts will be made to keep geographically and historically defined neighborhoods together and to consider the proximity of students to a school when redrawing boundary lines.

I would also consider the feedback and views of any working group that has been studying the issues, as well the views of affected families and other stakeholders.

2.         If the School Board finds it necessary to close a school/schools, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgment?

I don’t anticipate we’ll be closing any schools.  To my mind, the relatively limited savings that are achievable through such a move are likely to be outweighed by the disruption and inconvenience such a decision would cause.

3.         Given the needs of the District, and the fact that the District has not levied taxes up to the amount enabled by Wisconsin Statutes to increase funding to update texts and additional educational materials, and provide wage increases, are you willing to increase taxes?

Yes, I am willing to vote to increase taxes if that is necessary for us to fund a budget that appropriately meets the needs of the school district.

4.         If the School Board finds it necessary, due to State-imposed revenue controls, to make cuts for the 2014-15 budget, what criteria would you, as a Board member, use to make such a judgment?

We are just beginning our consideration of the 2014-15 budget.  Our revenue limit will go up by about $4 million and we have nearly $9 million in carried-over underlevy authority, so it is unlikely that we will be compelled to make cuts as a result of revenue controls.  If we were required to make cuts, I would like to keep them away from the classroom and would seek community input as to any specific proposals.

5.         Identify specific MMSD programs and/or policies which you believe should be modified, re-prioritized, or eliminated, and explain why.

I think that out recruitment and hiring policies need considerable revision in order to better facilitate our hiring and retaining a diverse and highly-skilled staff.  I look forward to reviewing the recommendations we’ll receive from Cross & Joftus, the consultants we’re working with on hiring, retention, and induction practices. It may be that the MTI-District Joint Committee looking at teacher assignments may make some recommendations that bear on these policies, and I look forward to learning more about the Joint Committee’s work as well

6.         What should the District do to reduce violence/assure the proper discipline and safety (of the learning and working environment) is carried out in our schools? 

One of the primary obligations of the District is to provide a safe and secure environment for students and teachers.  I support the District’s Positive Behavior Intervention System approach and as well our efforts to implement our social and emotional learning standards.  The Board is currently working on a revision of our Code of Conduct, and I support moving away from the current zero-tolerance approach of the Code so that teachers and principles can take a more nuanced, informed and sensible approach to student discipline issues.  We do need to explore additional alternative programs so that we can better meet the needs of students who are unable to function effectively in traditional classrooms without disrupting the teaching and learning of other students.

7.         Do you support that the health insurance carrier and coverage provided to District employees should be mutually selected through collective bargaining?

I favor collective bargaining on wages and benefits, including health insurance. Since as a school board member I’m part of management, I’d prefer some flexibility in determining how health insurance fits into the package of salary and benefits the school district provides.  I am encouraged by the prospect of the District and its teachers and other employees working together to develop a wellness policy.

8.         Explain your concerns/proposed solutions relative to the District’s efforts to reduce the “achievement gap.”

We need to pursue a broad array of strategies to address the needs of our students of color who are not achieving to their potential.  First, we should continue our work on ensuring a coherent and challenging curriculum keyed to the Common Core State Standards.  We need to do all we can to enable great teaching in all our classrooms.  Four-year-old kindergarten should certainly help level the field a bit for students entering kindergarten.  We need do to more to ensure that the students who would most benefit from summer school are enrolled.  Our Madison Out of School Time (MOST) initiative with the city and county holds promise for helping us to provide stimulating programs for students outside of the school day.  Since students don’t learn when they’re not in school, we have to work on increasing attendance rates and reducing out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. We can help improve our graduation rates if we can make middle and high school classes more engaging, and individual learning plans as well as clear college and career pathways for high school students can help with this.  We should continue to support and expand our AVID programs.   We need to do as much as we can to encourage all our students to take the most challenging classes that are appropriate to their skill level.  We would also benefit from effective outreach strategies and community partnerships to encourage families who may not have had positive school experiences in the past to support their children’s learning. It might also help if we had something like a standard homework policy in the district and clearly communicated to parents what their students could expect in terms of homework obligations.  While there is much we can do toward addressing the achievement gap, ultimately it is up to our students to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve their academic goals.

9.         Do you support additional planning time for teachers?  If yes, how would you accomplish this?

In the abstract, increased planning time for teachers would certainly be a good thing.  In light of all the competing demands for our limited resources and the needs of the school day, I don’t know if providing additional planning time is feasible.  I expect to learn more about this from the work of the Joint District-MTI Committees studying elementary planning time and professional collaboration time.

10.      Given the burden of setting up before classes begin and cleaning up before the next class, do you support limiting the number of sections assigned to elementary music and art teachers?

Of course there must be some limit to the number of sections assigned to elementary music and art teachers.  I do not have a view on whether or not current scheduling practices are overly burdensome.

11.      Given that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards rarely supports the interests of the Madison Metropolitan School District, do you support the District withdrawing from the WASB?  If not, please explain your rationale.

No.  WASB has in the past and may in the future provide some useful services to the school district.

12.      From what sources do you believe that public schools should be funded?

 a.     Further increasing student fees?

I am generally not in favor of increasing student fees.  They should not be a significant funding source for our schools.

 b.     Increasing sales tax by 1% with the guarantee that the additional revenue raised goes to public schools?

There are two problems with this proposal.  First, the sales tax is the most regressive state tax we have.  Second, it seems likely that the legislature would determine an amount that should go to the schools and simply deduct whatever is raised through the sales tax from its budget allocation.  The proposal does not get around the fact that the legislature will ultimately determine how much state aid should go to schools.         

c.     Holding a referendum to increase property taxes with the guarantee that the additional revenue raised goes to public schools?

 I don’t think we need to go to referendum until we are spending up to our revenue limit and still have significant unmet needs.  It may be that our facilities needs will justify a referendum within the next few years.  If so, I expect to support it.

13.      Do you support a maximum of 15 students per class for K-3 grades?

 Current school district policy calls for a maximum of 18 students K-3 in our 21 SAGE schools.  In non-SAGE schools, class size is normally capped at 20 K-1 and classes are a little bigger in grades 2 and 3.  I don’t think that reducing class size to a maximum of 15 K-3 across the district is feasible at this time, given the cost of the additional allocations and the space constraints in some of our schools.

14.      Do you support:

a.     The use of public funds (vouchers) to enable parents to pay tuition with tax payers’ money for religious and private schools?

No.

b.         The expansion of Charter schools (instrumentality charters) operated by the Madison Metropolitan School District?

If there are impediments to learning we can’t address or opportunities for improvement we can’t provide through our neighborhood schools, an instrumentality charter could be an effective alternative. I have supported instrumentality charter proposals in the past.  I don’t see any viable proposals on the horizon at this point.

c.          Do you approve of non-instumentality charter schools (operated independently, but funded by the Madison Metropolitan School District)?

I have never been unalterably opposed to non-instrumentality charter schools as a matter of principle.  However, the school district’s current charter policy prohibits non-instrumentality proposals and I cannot foresee any non-instrumentality proposal garnering the support of our School Board.

15.      Do you agree that the work of teachers, i.e. work of those in MTI’s teacher bargaining unit, should not be performed by others (sub-contracted)?

I support the provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the school district and MTI that addresses this point.  That provision states that while instructional duties required to be performed by certificated teachers are generally to be performed by members of MTI, the school district may make exceptions to this requirement to meet student needs and any exception affecting more than ten students must be specifically approved by the School Board.

16.      List MMSD staff and Board member(s) from whom you do or would seek advice.

I have and will continue to seek advice from all Board members on particular issues.  Similarly, I am open to suggestions and advice from any MMSD staff members.  The wider we can cast our net in terms of getting feedback from teachers and staff, the better and more informed our decisions can be.

17.      Is your candidacy promoted by any organization?

No, not that I am aware of.

18.      Have you ever been employed as a teacher?  If so, please describe why you left the teaching profession.

No.

19.      Do you support the inclusion model for including Title 1, EEN and ESL students in the regular education classroom?  Why/why not?

 I certainly think Title I students should be in the regular education classroom.  As to EEN and ESL students, I have to defer to the experts as to when exceptions to our general policy of inclusion may be appropriate.  I do believe that our choices in this area should be driven by evidence of what works most effectively for all learners rather than by ideology.

20.      What practices do you advocate for talented and gifted (TAG) students?

 Our first task is to ensure that we are and remain in compliance with DPI requirements for TAG services.    The cluster grouping approach included in the District’s TAG plan makes sense to me.  I support offering accelerated class options in core subjects to all our high school students.  In February, the superintendent is scheduled to present a new TAG policy for Board consideration.  I look forward to reviewing the proposed new policy, as I expect the policy will bring us closer to following best practices in this area.

21.      Aside from limitations cause by the lack of adequate financial resources, what problems do you believe exist in meeting TAG students’ needs and how do you propose to resolve this?

I’d like to see us do a better job in identifying students of promise who do not have parents advocating on their behalf and then providing appropriately challenging work for those students, as well as all other high-achieving students.  We also need to ensure that the TAG policies and practices we adopt are implemented consistently in all our schools.

22.      Are you willing to negotiate Contracts for 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 with MTI, AFSCME and the Building Trades?

 Not now.  I expect we will negotiate contracts for the upcoming years on a schedule comparable to what was followed prior to 2011.  The scope of the bargaining will be significantly affected by whatever the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides in MTI v. Walker.

23.      If the Supreme Court upholds Act 10, will you introduce and vote for a motion to adopt the terms and conditions set forth in the various Collective Bargaining Agreements between the above-referenced unions and the Madison Metropolitan School District as the MMSD Handbook?

 No.  If the Supreme Court upholds Act 10, I support the approach to developing an employee handbook that the School Board discussed in September, 2012.  In any event, I support the joint committee approach on issues of mutual concern that is reflected in the 2013-14 CBA.  I hope the joint committees are able to work productively and reach consensus on reasonable proposals.  If they are successful, I would support continuing the joint committee approach to the extent feasible, regardless of what the Supreme Court rules.

24.      Do/did/will your children attend private or parochial schools during their K-12 years?  If no, and if you have children, what schools have/will they attend(ed)?

Our two children graduated from East and attended Lapham, Marquette and O’Keeffe.  Prior to college they did not attend private or parochial schools.

Legislation

25.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion which would direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation to eliminate the revenue controls on public schools and return full budgeting authority to the School Board?

I would support such a motion.

26.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion which would direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation to prohibit the privatization of public schools via the use of tuition tax credits (vouchers) to pay tuition with taxpayers’ money to private or religious schools?

 I would support such a motion.

27.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct WASB to seek passage of legislation which will limit further expansion of District funded charter schools, which are not instrumentalities of the District?

 I probably would not support such a motion.  I am okay with the prohibition on non-instrumentality charter schools in MMSD’s charter school policy because I believe that reflects the will of our community.  I would not feel comfortable attempting to prohibit other school districts from authorizing non-instrumentality charter schools for their school districts if those school districts believe such charters would advance their educational mission.  I would probably support a prohibition on further expansion of non-instrumentality virtual charter schools.

28.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of legislation which will maintain or expand the benefit level of the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act?

 I am not aware of a need to expand the statutory benefit level and so I would not be inclined to support such a motion.

29.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to seek passage of legislation which will require full State funding of any State-mandated program?

 I would support such a motion.

30.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to seek passage of legislation which will provide adequate State funding of public education?

I would support such a motion.

31.      Will you introduce and vote for a motion to direct the Wisconsin Association of School Boards to request the introduction and promote the passage of a repeal of Act 10 and full restoration of education employees’ collective bargaining rights?

 I would support a motion to repeal those provisions of Act 10 that Judge Colas ruled unconstitutional.

32.      Do you support a specific school finance reform plan?  If so, which plan, and why?

 I support Tony Evers’ Fair Funding for our Future Plan because I believe it appropriately invests in education and reforms school finance while holding the line on property tax increases.

Your Campaign:

 33.      Are you, or any of your campaign committee members, active in or supportive (past or present) of the “get Real”, “ACE”, “Vote No for Change” or similar organizations?

 No.

34.      Name of Campaign Committee/Address/Phone#/Treasurer.  List the members of your campaign committee.

Since I am running unopposed, I have no campaign committee.  My campaign treasurer is Jill Jokela.

 

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4 Responses to School Board Campaign 2014: MTI’s Questionnaire

  1. Ed we are lucky to have you, and I am glad you are willing to continue serving on the board.

  2. Leta Steffen says:

    Ed, your blog posts and school newsletter columns are the clearest explanations I’ve seen of issues (and successes) the school district is facing. I appreciate that there is rarely a perfect solution, and you take the time to explain both sides and advocate with pragmatism. It is also refreshing to hear any sort of public/political figure actually give an answer, rather than always hedging. Thanks!

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