There will be a public hearing on Dec. 19 about borrowing and spending $1.3 million to improve the middle school building. Some urge spending this money as a way to support “education.”
In my opinion, these upcoming school board budget expenditures have little if anything to do with “education.” These are expenditures for necessary building maintenance (clearly not done well over the years) as well as some questionable “needed” upgrades, expansions, and renovations.
I am convinced that after this $1.3 million is spent, the academic performance of Madison’s middle school students will not have increased one statistically-significant bit.
For years, I have watched with frustration and regret as the school board and the various superintendents have told Madison taxpayers how Madison’s schools are terrific (and getting ever better). And I have watched with dismay as Madison’s school budget (corrected for inflation) has essentially doubled over the past two decades.
Unfortunately, what I haven’t seen is any significant increase in students’ academic performance -- measured by any objective third party. Madison’s student performance is still, at best, in the middle statewide -- and on some measures, it’s near the bottom.
I believe in metrics. If one claims that tax dollars spent will accomplish something (in this case, support “education”), then one ought to be ready and able to prove it.
There is essentially no evidence (in Madison or elsewhere) that spending dollars for school building upgrades and enhancements leads to better student performance. If it did, I’d be for it.
But there is plenty of evidence that these expenditures increase property taxes, cumulative future costs, create hardships for those with modest or fixed incomes, and even make it harder (because of increased taxes) for Madison’s students to afford to live in Madison when they grow up.
So, about the hearing. If folks want an enhanced middle school building, then by all means support borrowing some or all of the $1.3 million -- which taxpayers will have to pay back. But if folks believe they’ll get better “education” for Madison students, they will be sorely disappointed. Student academic performance will not change by spending this money.
One last thought. I believe that the current BOS should not vote on borrowing and spending this $1.3 million. We should wait for the new board to be seated in January. After all, the new board represents the most current measure of who and what the public wants. It is the new BOS who should be the ones to make this $1.3 million decision which, if approved, will encumber the public during their term and for years to come.