We learned over the past week that MMSD administrators are proposing to balance the 2020-21 budget on the backs of teachers. The newly released 2020-21 MMSD Draft Preliminary Budget Proposal uses creative language that will mislead the public and burden our instructors.  

The district’s Budget Information 2020-21 page claims to deliver, “A competitive salary/wage strategy that provides an average total compensation increase of approximately 3.0%.” But upon closer inspection, Page 23 of the actual budget proposal says the following: “Included in the non-referendum budget proposal is a minimum compensation allowance of 3%, which is sufficient to fund the three standard components of compensation, specifically step advancement (1.9%), lane advancement (0.1%), and a base wage increase of 1%.”

In other words, the cost of living increase proposed by MMSD leadership is not 3.0%. It is not even the 1.81% allowed by law. It is 1.0%. The other 2% raise is what was previously budgeted in the teacher contract’s annual step and lane increases. These are not cost-of-living increases.

Make no mistake about it; administrators are operating in a challenging financial environment. The State continues to shortchange MMSD students with insufficient per-pupil aid, special education funding, ESL reimbursement, and a continuing reduction in Equalization aid. But after years of uncertainty and record low morale and teacher turnover, our communities cannot sustain another failure of school leadership. Teachers – and our children – deserve better.

We cannot repeat last year’s folly when a failure to prioritize teacher pay led to a scenario where teachers had to take time out of their preparations for the new school year to fight for a fair base wage. The school board ultimately relented and approved a fair contract for teachers.

This fall, students and their teachers will return to school in an uncertain environment. Earlier this week, MMSD indicated that they might return in the fall virtually. COVID-19 has highlighted to us the instrumental work teachers do for our siblings, our children, and for our community. For over a decade, teachers have taken blow after blow, but in Madison, we can do better.

That is why I am calling on the school board to immediately adjust the 2020-21 budget to provide a 1.81% base wage increase to our school employees who go above and beyond for our students and community.

Additionally, I am also calling on the school board to enact a policy that directs the district to automatically include the maximum cost-of-living increase by law in its Budget Proposal every year. This way, we put our frontline classroom educators at the center of our budgeting process while ensuring the board maintains oversight and flexibility.

All budgets are a reflection of our values. Last year, MMSD’s attempt to limit cost-of-living increases was a brutal blow to staff morale. This year, let’s show them that they matter to us – that the work they are doing, caring for our children during a global pandemic, is appreciated.