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Saturday, February 24, 2024
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MMSD teachers tired of doing ‘more with less’ amid budget talks

The school district’s preliminary budget included a 3.5% pay increase for teachers, drawing criticism from the teachers’ union that the raise does not adequately meet rising living costs.

Over two dozen teachers and community members voiced their concerns at the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) monthly meeting Monday, expressing dissatisfaction with the Madison Board of Education’s proposed preliminary budget for the upcoming 2023-24 school year. 

Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), the teachers’ union that bargains with MMSD, advocated for an 8% base wage increase for teachers, according to the Cap Times. But the budget released Monday included only a 3.5% increase as well as “step and lane” advancements based on years worked and degree achievement. 

“Step and lane” advancements are standard compensation practices that raise teachers’ salaries based on how long they have worked at the school district and how many degrees they have attained. This provides an incentive for teachers to remain at the school district and pursue additional advanced degrees to receive higher salaries.

Andrea Missureli, vice president of MTI and eighth grade teacher at Wright Middle School, urged the board to “invest in our staff so our students are put in the best position to have a great school year.”

“Our kids deserve it,” Missureli added. 

Additionally, MMSD’s proposed  budget would cut a total of 155 positions throughout the district at a time when understaffing is already a pressing issue, according to The Capitol Times. 

However, board member Savion Castro noted the district’s preliminary budget is uncertain  because Wisconsin’s biennial state budget—which determines the district’s overall allocations—will not be announced until July. 

“Between now and when the board is scheduled to vote in October, there will be a lot of moving pieces,” Castro said. “This is not a finished product. It is very much a living document.”

Missureli also urged the Wisconsin Legislature to take responsibility, appealing to the state’s history of strong state-funded educational institutions.

“Wisconsin has always been very proud of its education reputation and needs to put the money where our state’s values lie,” she told The Daily Cardinal.

Despite uncertainty, MTI is optimistic about the state’s position on education financing after Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee stressed their commitment to this growing issue. 

“We’re definitely going to be funding K-12 education at a high level,” Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said during a public hearing on April 12. “It’s our number one priority.”  

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Marklein’s comments weren’t much comfort to those who spoke at the meeting, with many expressing strong disapproval of the school board’s budget decisions. 

“When surrounding districts are finding ways to offer COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] to their employees, it makes it harder to stay working in MMSD,” Hamilton Middle School teacher Maria Brown said. “Show staff that they are valued and essential for our district by supporting a full COLA of 8%.” 

Elementary school teacher Bette Jo Bradley said she finds it difficult to remain loyal to MMSD while struggling to earn a living wage. 

“We don’t have enough staff, we don’t have enough anything,” Bradley said. “Everyone’s exhausted.”

MMSD has resorted to increasing class sizes amid understaffing challenges, Missureli said. Teachers at Monday’s meeting claimed larger class sizes are detrimental to students because they limit the individualized care needed to learn.

“This reduction in allocations doesn’t only mean that students are cramped into bigger classes and have fewer core and elective offerings,” said Jennifer Karlen, a Madison West High School teacher. “It means students exist in less safe spaces because there aren’t enough adults to supervise them.” 

“We’re trying to do more with less,” added Karlen.

Missureli said the current budget will significantly impact class sizes, as enrollment is declining less than 1% while staff cuts are over 3%. 

Addressing those who spoke at the meeting, MMSD Superintendent Carlton Jenkins admitted the district’s budget proposal was “not enough.”

“It's challenging knowing we don’t have all the resources to do everything we want to do,” Jenkins said. 

A lack of funding from the Legislature constrains the school district’s budget, Jenkins added.

“We cannot be irresponsible and send our district into a state of a structural deficit that makes everything else cost more from there,” he said.

MMSD will finalize its 2023-24 budget in October when the state’s allocations are confirmed and enrollment numbers are secured. Until then, MTI and its strong network of teachers will continue fighting for higher wage increases, members who spoke at the meeting said.

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