Madison school district enjoys budgetary success

Officials say high enrollment, retention rates keep district strong

Madison - Park News | Published July 13, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Near the start of the 2010s, Madison District Public Schools moved out of deficit, bringing its expenditures in line with its revenues. Since then, the district has continued to improve its financial picture by leaps and bounds.

The district has been retaining current families and attracting new ones, leading to a $4 million increase the past four years — a time during which expenses have increased only slightly.

The district also added about $650,000 to its fund balance this year (2015-16) and projects to add an additional $1 million in the coming school year (2016-17).

In other words, the district is bringing in much more money than it’s spending, putting it in an enviable position compared to other districts.

“We’re projecting continuous growth — currently two years ahead of where we expected to be in terms of enrollment,” said Madison Superintendent Randy Speck. “We want to be conservative with our projections, but at the same time we can’t deny what’s happening.

There’s been an enrollment surge that’s in line with what we’ve seen the past few years. And our goal is to have a 90 percent retention rate each year. If we can do this, we’ll continue to grow at a manageable rate.”

To put things in perspective, look no further than Madison Elementary, which first opened in early 2015, merging the student populations of Halfman and Edison elementaries. Back then it had room to spare, but for the new school year, the district will move the preschool to Halfman Elementary, forming the new Madison Early Childhood Center.

The preschoolers will occupy 10 rooms in one half of the building with its own secure entrance, separate from the other half occupied by the 130 at-risk teens in the alternative high school program at Madison Preparatory Academy. This provides the preschool with nearly twice as much room while freeing up space for K-5 students at Madison Elementary.

The new preschool will include the current Great Start Readiness Program, a state-funded program designed to better prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten, which has grown from just 16 kids back when it was at the Schoenhals building (now Madison Elementary) to 64 kids today.

And in the near future they will begin implementing Head Start, a federal program for kids ages 3 and younger.  

Speck noted other ways that the district has added value over the last four years, including the addition of new Advanced Placement and honors courses at Madison High; an emphasis on robotics programming; the construction trades program at Madison High and Madison Prep that gives students hands-on experience working with partners including Habitat for Humanity; Google CS First at Madison Elementary and Wilkinson Middle School, introducing kids to computer sciences; and a strong emphasis on STEM in general — science, technology, engineering and math.

The district has embraced the cultural diversity of the area. Last year it formed a strategic partnership with Keys Grace Academy, which now occupies the former Edison Elementary building and primarily serves the area’s Chaldean population.

Speck said that the district’s progress has put it in a position of strength. The teachers took a significant wage cut back in 2011-12, but since then the district has given it all back. Rather than freezing contracts, the board has been awarding small increases. And currently, the district is looking at more than 450 applications for open teacher positions at Madison Elementary.

“We’re in a place where we can attract, hire and retain the best people for these jobs,” Speck said. “We’re looking for people who want to serve kids. I can find math and English teachers anywhere, but we want to align their values as a person with our values as a school district.”

Madison Board of Education President Albert Morrison said the district has changed dramatically from where it was seven years ago.

“We had to make a lot of hard decisions back then, but our staff was on board, our board was on board, our administration was on board,” Morrison said.

He praised Speck, the superintendent who helped oversee the district’s turnaround.

“Randy Speck does an amazing job,” Morrison said. “Him and I privately communicate two to three times a day, five days a week, and it’s a pleasure, since it’s always about the future of Madison, not the past.

“Moving forward, the focus will be our families and our community, as it’s always been,” Morrison continued. “We’re blessed to be in a position where we can have that focus, since so many places are still struggling. We’re on top of our budget, our enrollment, our programs and our advancement. We’re thinking outside the box so we don’t have to count on (the state) for the support we need.”