Last Wednesday at the GMM: Education!

Last Wednesday for our GMM we tried something a little different and a had a much more successful turnout!  We had an informal discussion, beer and snacks with Madison School Board member TJ Mertz and talked about many issues coming up for the Madison Schools.  Here's a little taste of what we heard! 

Heads up:  What are you doing on Monday?!  Going to one of the important BOE meetings?  (City Board of Estimates or Board of Education)  Both are discussing a three year contract that puts police in the schools!  Most people we talk to want a 1 year contract until the police study is done.  Referendum and AFSCME handbook also being discussed at the School Board on Monday 8/29.

Also watch for changes in our GMM meetings with more of a focus on issues every other month and less on the business end of things!

We started off with an icebreaker about who you are voting for in the presidential race.  One clear Jill Stein, one clear Hillary Clinton and a whole bunch of "wait and see" and "probably hold my nose and vote for Hillary".  One regular voter deciding not to vote.  Fear of Donald Trump the motivating factor for the reluctant support of Clinton.  Sigh.  (For those of you wondering, Progressive Dane has only once endorsed in a Presidential race (Nader 2000) and since then have made the decision to continue to only work in local Dane County races.)


We then moved on to the main attraction.  School Board Member TJ Mertz started off talking about the police in the schools and the current contract.  There is currently a full time officer in each of high schools and the school district picks up the entire cost, including a car allowance, spending about $400,000 a year. Other schools in the nation pay 60/40 or 50/50 with the city. Originally this was part of the COPS grant, a federal grant, but that funding is no longer available for this purpose.  They once had police in the middle schools as well. Other schools have security officers who help with issues such as when there is an out of control parent. Security officers are not armed, but they do carry restraining devices.  They also have locking doors, cameras and intercom devices at the entry ways.

The contract came up a few weeks ago and would have been on the consent agenda to be passed without discussion but some school board members are interested in re-examining police in the schools.  At the August 8th meeting about 20 - 25 people showed up to speak on the issues.  Many were opposed to any police except when they are there for safety as needed or with severe limitation on what they can do while they were there.  About a half a dozen people testified about the good work the police do (establish trust and build relationships, safety planning, teaching kids what their rights are, gang task force meetings every Monday morning.) 

Some of the concerns raised in the Progressive Dane discussion at the GMM include that if police want to be social workers, we should hire social workers.  There was concern about how a "trusting relationship" with one officer in the schools could look very different with a different officer in a different location.  People would rather have the ACLU teaching kids about their rights when it comes to the policing.  And people were interested in having the police in the schools not carry guns, but it was understood that the police department won't be there without their guns.  Questions were also raised about parent notification when police are involved.  There have been a few violations of this policy in the past few years.  This is more of a staff training issue than a police issue.  It was also explained there are some technical differences between what is considered a search and an interrogation.

One of the challenges for the schools is that the police are not in the organizational chart of the schools, so school personnel have no supervisory authority over the officers.  The police stationed in the schools report to captains at Police Department. The schools can request an officer be removed, but they cannot directly dismiss an officer who is not working out in the schools.  Police have guidelines they are asked to follow, but they do not follow school rules. 

The School Board sent staff back to re-negotiate the contract with the following concerns being raised.  Mertz asked for a 1 year contract to wait for the report being done by city so they could include what they find in the study in the contracts for next year.  He was also concerned that MMSD engage the community more.  He'd like to see it treated more like a partnership agreement than a contract. Another concern about the contract being extended for three years is that the school can only end the contract at the end of a school year and only for budgetary reasons - while the City can terminate on 60 days notice for any reason. Other concerns raised were that the school board needs more reporting on what is going on in the schools, not just to the superintendent and that the reports be made public.  The school board also discussed explicit limitations on what police can do in the schools and that they not enforce school discipline or arrest for minor infractions.  They also want a student complaint process to be in place.

On Wednesday night the contract was not yet out, so Mertz didn't know what was in it, but understood that it would still be a 3 year contract.  He also expected some beefed up language on what the police officers can and cannot do in the schools. 

This item is at the Board of Estimates meeting (4:30 in room 260 of the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) and the School Board Meeting (6pm in the McDaniels Auditorium at the Doyle Aministration Building at 545 W. Dayton St.) on Monday.  The group had questions about who at the school was negotiating this contract and under what authority.  This all seems to be happening fast with no public input and of course, school starts soon! People were wondering what their alders thought about this and what their role in this is.  Likely they will be voting on this at their meeting right after Labor Day.  Some in the group questioned what happens on the first day of school if there are no police in the schools.

The group decided that Progressive Dane will issue a letter to the school board and a press release supporting a 1 year contract, that there be reporting that is publicly available, to ensure there are specific limitations on what police can do in the schools and that they are not arresting for minor non-violent infractions and that a student complaint process be established.


We had a shorter discussion on the referendum for increased school spending.  It is likely to be on the November ballot.  Even though the school board passed a balanced budget in July that will be approved in September, this would allow the school board to raise an additional $5 million for this school year, $5 million in next school year and $8 million for the following 2 years. It was unclear what the money they raise this year would be spent on since there are 70 position cut (no lay offs) and they can't re-fill those positions. They are asking for $26 million revenue authority in 4 years.  If this passes, we could loose $13M in state aid and the taxpayers could end up being on the hook for $39 million dollars, instead of the $26 million.  We would lose the state money because we are a high spending district and the state assumes we need less state funding.  There are some issues with how this is calculated.  The group discussed how quickly this came up and that there wasn't much public discussion.  There were questions about if this could be on the April ballot instead and if there was any discussion with the county about a possible county referendum.  The group discussed that if this was on the April ballot we could ask for more money for targeted reasons and have more buy in.  The group also discussed transparency in the school board processes and how information is difficult to get in a timely manner.  People are particularly interested in having the budget be more transparent.  There were particular concerns about late information and not having time for amendments and that amendments that were worked on were not available to the public. Mertz talked about his ideas for more shared decision making and participatory budgeting.   We also discussed different ideas for a referendum asking for different amounts of money in different years.  

Our conversation drifted into school enrollment and voucher issues.  Enrollment is projected to go up but there is a long term trend of slight decline with open enrollment, smaller families and private schools.  Voucher are being used at  a christian school (only 6 - 8 students) and there is not much of an impact.  The bigger issue for voucher schools in the future is that the University is now allowed to create charter schools now. 
Other big issues coming up include the Special Education Plan, the Technology Plan and the equity policy.  We discussed the dual language immersion program and how that is impacting the schools.  Members asked if the teacher shortage was impacting the schools and it currently isn't but we are seeing alot of retirements and teachers with experience leaving the schools.
We briefly discussed the upcoming school board elections.  Nomination papers can be circulated December 1st and Ed Hughes and Michael Flores are up for re-election if they choose to run.  We discussed community members that might be interested in running.
Finally we discussed the strategic framework.  A revision to the plan will be presented on Monday as well.  The Board had been presented a draft in February or March and there was a section about having a thriving workforce but no focus on morale among current staff.  It will be interesting to see what the new plan says.  It's unclear if the Board votes to approve this or if this is more of an administrative plan.