On Monday, The Madison School Board unanimously voted to adopt the final version of the district’s $393 million operating budget for the 2017-2018 school year.
The budget includes additional tax funds granted to the district from the 2016 operational referendum. The School Board’s decision will result in a 3.52 percent increase in property taxes over last year, meaning the property tax bill on the median-priced Madison home valued at $263,000 would increase by $24.48.
At the board’s operations workgroup meeting earlier this month, the Madison Metropolitan School District said it needed a 2.96 percent tax levy increase over last year to balance its budget. The board decided Monday night to use more of its taxing authority to allocate an additional $1 million for special education and $600,000 for facilities.
Monday’s decision came after weeks of public comment from parents and teachers calling for more support of special education. Community members were concerned with the shrinking number of special education assistants (SEAs) serving the district’s classrooms.
Joanne Juhnke, a parent of two MMSD students, said SEAs provide individualized support for students who need it, including one of her daughters.
“SEAs have taught (my daughter), facilitated interactions with peers, sounded the alert when she has a seizure and stops breathing, and helped keep everyone safe when her limited words fail her and she resorts to physical means to communicate unhappiness,” Juhnke said. “We’ve also had experiences when SEAs in her schools are stretched too thin and she ends up assigned a patchwork schedule with too many staff transitions or assigned to individuals who simply aren’t a good fit for her personality and needs.”
Although MMSD added 20 cross-categorical teachers to serve special education students in the last five years, the district saw a net decrease of 35 SEAs in the same time period. After examining the numbers, school board member Mary Burke said the board was “a little overdue” to add more SEAs, but schools should make the decision on how to use the funds to best support their students.
“I am all for the additional funding, but I am not for making it so prescriptive as to what it is (used for),” Burke said.
Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham agreed.
“There may be scenarios where a (cross-categorical) teacher is needed, not necessarily an SEA. Preserving some flexibility, we think, would be the right educational choice,” Cheatham said.
The $1 million the School Board allocated for special education can be used to staff any position a school needs. The money could fund salary and benefits for 20 additional SEAs.
The $600,000 for capital projects increases the district reserve facilities budget to $5 million.