MMSD budget hearing focuses on teacher pay, recruitment and technology plan

As the vote for the 2014-15 Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Biennial Budget nears, school board members held a public hearing Monday to listen to input from community members, parents and teachers.

“We are still behind where we were in 2011,” teacher Margaret Stump said. “We are just catching up from where our salary used to be before Act 10.”

This sentiment echoed through the testimonies of several other teachers who spoke at the meeting. The hot topics of the new budget included salary increases, covering health insurance, and funding for technology.

The proposed increase in salary for the 2014-15 budget is 0.25 percent. According to one teacher, Erin Proctor, the raise would add just $16 to her monthly income before taxes.

However, MMSD will be the only district in the state with teachers contracted through the 2015-16 school year.

“Every year we are asked to do more with less,” Proctor said. “More teachers have quit this year than retired.”


Before the public hearing, another meeting was held to talk to representatives from of Chicago-based TeacherMatch to discuss the potential purchase of the controversial hiring tool. 

TeacherMatch is a computerized system that uses algorithms to predict the effect a teacher will have on student test scores. It would cost MMSD $273,000.

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said the tool provides a good jumping off point. 

“We’re not searching for a tool that’s going to precisely predict how a teacher is going to perform in the classroom,” Cheatham said. “We know that that is not possible. But we do want to find the best tool possible to inform hiring decisions.”

Cheatham emphasized that it would be used as a pre-employment survey to make better decisions about hiring, not to evaluate currently employed teachers.

“We are not using student test data in any way shape or form when in comes to making these decisions,” Cheatham said.

Board member TJ Mertz argued the system is not worth the money.

“A dependent variable is test scores,” Mertz said. “To me that is not an adequate definition of an effective teacher. A professional development plan developed without having seen a teacher in the classroom, to me, is not worth the paper its printed on.”

Technology Plan raises questions

Many questioned the cost of a technology plan, which was adopted in January and will be implemented during the next five years.

The plan includes teacher and student computing, creating new school learning spaces, upgrade networks and servers, improving student information systems, professional learning for staff, and overall technical support for all.

However, many teachers expressed concerns about the funding of new technology, at a $27.7 million price tag, when there are other needs.

“Expenditures on technology do not reflect our dire needs, our crumbling facilities, our need to compensate personal,” teacher Sue Pastor said. “As economic and political circumstances have chipped away at staff compensation, expenditures on technology are more than just inappropriate, but are morally wrong.”

According to the budget projections outlined in MMSD’s Technology plan, the budget allocated for technology will more than double the first year. Over the next five years, $8.8 million is required for one-to-one devices for student computing.

Students give input on technology, teacher benefits

Members of MMSD Student Senate came out with a budget report, recommending amendments to the upcoming budget based on input from surveyed students.

They suggested allocating $1.18 million more than budgeted to help maintain school buildings. They recommended taking that money from the portion of the Technology Plan dedicated to “School Learning Spaces.”

“While significant distractions due to failure to properly maintain the learning environment persist, new fangled technology purchases cannot be justified and are not grounded in an understanding of the day-to-day experiences of students,” they wrote.

The Student Senate also suggested allocating $1.3 million more to cover increases in employee health insurance costs. The proposed 2014-15 budget only covers 5 percent of healthcare increases.

The Student Senate recommended offsetting this cost by not contracting with TeacherMatch.

At the board meeting, many teachers expressed concern about having to pay into insurance. They argued that they needed a greater increase in salary to compensate for health insurance costs. 

Mertz said MMSD needs to figure out how to handle increasing insurance costs, but should not require teachers to pay into their insurance.

“One of the reasons I believe in the public sector is because the public sector is a place where we can, with the endorsement of our communities, live up to our best selves,” Mertz said. “Where we can treat people fairly, where we can show qualities like loyalty and compassion, in ways where when the bottom line is profit, you just can’t.”

The vote on the preliminary budget will be Monday, June 16 and the vote on the final budget will happen October 27. 


School budget

Just to clarify on your story; I am an SEA, which is a Special Education Assistant. I work approcimatly 32 hours a week during the school year. The $16 a month more I will take home next year is based on the .75% on base pay for the next school year. Members of our unit often qualify for free and reduced lunch for their children. Many have 2 and 3 jobs to make ends meet. We work with the most challanging of students. From extremely violent kids, to verbally abusive, to kids that need you to change their diaper. It is a job that is done out of love. Having said that, it is ever increasingly a job that is financially difficult to justify staying with. Madison will make some decisions this summer that will show what we really feel about the education of our kids, mine included.

Erin Proctor