In July, my colleagues and I on the MMSD Board of Education voted to place two referenda questions on your November ballot. In light of COVID-19, the last five months have placed incredible strain on the health of our community and education of our scholars. Your Board of Education has monitored these impacts closely. Indeed, COVID-19 has shone a bright light on the disparities in our community and our education system. Illness, evictions, and job instability have hit people hard, particularly our most vulnerable families and citizens.
Moreover, the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery have laid bare before God and the world, yet again, that another pandemic, certainly endemic in Madison, persists. The facts are that white supremacy and systemic racism are original to the United States and run rampant in our education systems at all levels nationwide. Precipitous protests, civil disobedience and unrest have gripped our community to maybe, hopefully, force ourselves to look in the mirror.
The planning work for these referenda date back to last fall, when MMSD conducted 50 community info sessions. We believe these referenda are more important than ever for justice, equity, and excellence in education for all students.
As a board member and former MMSD student, I see firsthand the tragic inequities and manifestations of systemic racism in our school system. While we have made progress recently, it is not enough. Given our budgetary environment, we need to reinvest in high leverage equity strategies we know will have an impact to build even more academic momentum for our scholars. These referenda are vital to achieving the goals of justice, equity, and excellence in education for all students.
That work starts with ensuring Black Excellence isn’t just lip service; it also means we embrace, in totality, our diverse coalition of students to exemplify every day their brilliance and excellence. It is time for MMSD to uphold its end of the bargain.
Let’s start early. The operating referendum will allow us to invest in all-day 4K. As a district, we are only able to provide partial-day 4K for students and families. We know the benefits of high quality, early childhood education include closing the literacy gap and better social and emotional outcomes for students by addressing childhood trauma early and often through trauma-informed care. Yet, partial-day 4K is a barrier for many working families and truncates the benefits for students. By expanding to full-day 4K we can serve more students who need these benefits the most.
Currently, 27 out of 32 elementary schools serving third- through fifth-graders do not have one African-American teacher. That is unacceptable. Part of our $33 million operational investment would help place and maintain highly qualified educators in our classrooms, with a focus on teachers of color. The operating referendum prioritizes investment in transformative justice opportunities, mental health support, and wrap-around services rather than punitive punishment systems. We have seen these programs lead to better outcomes for our students of color.
While we build our students up with early education and invest in high-quality educators in the classroom, the need for investments in our facilities is far too great to ignore. Voters will have the opportunity to approve a substantial building referendum that will renovate our four main high schools, as well as build a new elementary school in the Rimrock Road neighborhood. These two referenda questions must be viewed as a package.
Listen, I went to La Follette High School. Those who know, know our buildings are tired and haven’t seen significant renovations in generations. They are not reflective of our commitment to education or conducive learning environments for the 21st century. These renovations will allow our students to learn in a healthier and safer environment. The renovations will also include significant sustainability improvements for our district, making our goal of a 100 percent clean energy district by 2040 within reach.
The construction of a Rimrock elementary school will eliminate a 40-minute bus ride for students in that neighborhood and provide a neighborhood school for many families.
Here in Madison, our education system has effectively disenfranchised Black and Brown students for generations. While we have incredible educators and staff that help students learn and overcome adversity, we need systemic change. I believe both the building referendum and the operating referendum together provide an important opportunity for our community to make these changes. I hope you will join me in supporting them.