If I were a betting man I would place money on a citywide referendum being held in November concerning overcrowding of Madison schools. But before we get to that point of entering a polling booth there is much work to be done by the school board in examining data and making the best choice for the school district. I also think it imperative that Madison parents have a frank discussion with taxpayers about the role they need to play in their children’s education.
Before I offer up my concerns let me state where I stand on the larger issues of public education.
I consider teachers to be one of the most important professions in this country. While they often get derided by some politicians and some parents the role they play in our society can not be overstated.
I firmly feel that education is something to be valued and invested in by the citizenry, regardless of whether we have children in the education system.
I also believe that children should not be held hostage by the shortcomings or mistakes of their parents. Education, after all, is the way to break free from the past and start anew.
While there is no way to know exactly in what direction the board will decide to frame the referendum there is plenty of evidence to look at to show that some building program (of one type or another) likely will be up for a ballot approval this fall. Madison voters will be asked to increase their dollar investment into the schools. While I have no problem with paying more for our schools, and fully understand why we all need to share that point of view, I do feel it my right to expect a better return on my investment than what I am currently reading about in the newspaper.
In February the Wisconsin State Journal posted a report from the Madison Metropolitan School District and the State Department of Public Instruction dated November 2013. It showed the percentages of 4th, 7th, and 10th graders who were proficient and advanced in reading.
Among 4th graders 50% were proficient at Franklin, 52% at Lapham, but only 3.9% at Allis. While 70% of 7th graders were proficient at Hamilton, and 61% at O’Keefe only 22% were reported at Sennett. Among 10th graders 61% were proficient at West High but only 38% at East High.
I understand that these schools and outcomes differ based, in part, on the economic divides that are a real part of this city. But if I am honest I can only allow so much leeway for the economic factors to run the debate.
I did not grow up in a wealthy family. My Dad was from the depression era, and made it through the eighth grade. But if I had a dollar for every time Dad read to me while a youngster I could order all new bookshelves for my home today. There was never a Friday night that I was not driven to our local library in the town of 400 people so to get a new book to read. One does not need a degree to fully understand the importance of education. It is based on my experience that I find using the crutch of being disadvantaged economically in need of being curtailed.
Today there was a news article dealing with behavior problems in our city schools. Some of the numbers were staggering to consider from the 2012-2013 school year.
Allis Elementary had 430 students at the end of the year, but had 404 behavior referrals and 93 out-of-school suspensions. Black Hawk Middle had 383 students and 1,093 behavior referrals and 233 out-of-school suspensions.
Admittedly I am several decades removed from my school days but can assure my readers if there was any reason to deal with my behavior problems in the classroom the least of my concerns would be from teachers or school administrators.
My main concern with any referendum this fall is that we can build the biggest and best schools with well-paid teachers and still fall far short of our goal of reaching all our students. The problem is not that taxpayers are not open and willing to provide monies to the schools but that all the parents are not willing or able to step up and fulfill their obligations for the rest of us.
Being a parent means sending kids to school who are ready to learn. Kids need breakfast to be served prior to leaving home, have the basic norms of society instilled about manners and kindness, and aware that teachers are to be respected and obeyed.
It is my hope that as we make this journey together as a community towards a possible referendum that parents will engage with taxpayers, who are willing to invest in schools, about ways they will better prepare their kids to learn once in new buildings.