Basketball or briefcase: which do you think will get you ready for college?

Basketball or briefcase: which do you think is more likely to get your kids scholarships... or jobs?

On the eve of the school board election, the Madison Central school board gave $10,000 to the Madison Booster Club to cover part of the $23,000 the club spent buying a used mini-bus for travel to contests. The board then axed $28,000 from extracurricular activities, mostly in the form of cutting coach positions.

Interestingly, the cuts to sports happened almost exclusively at the middle-school level, with just one ninth-grade volleyball coach cut. In our high school, we will still have six guys running around on the sidelines coaching football, six basketball coaches, and six track coaches.

What cuts the board did impose on the high school focus on the arts. Rather than supporting and promoting the arts, the board chose to eliminate the assistant oral interpretation coach, the assistant debate coach, a high school summer band camp, and the music director for the spring play. So much for staging Godspell or Grease any time soon. And so much for encouraging the growth of speech and arts activities that have a much more direct relationship to satisfying academic objectives and building direct job skills than throwing balls and tackling each other. At the high school level, when it is arguably less important for kids to play ball and more important for them to diversify their academic and artistic experiences to get ready for college, Madison still puts sports first, arts second.

Note also that there was no public discussion of these cuts prior to Monday night's meeting. The Watertown school board held a public forum March 28 to solicit public input on potential budget cuts. Rapid City's superintendent has been doing the same thing, holding four public budget meetings over a month (last shot: April 18, General Beadle Elementary, 6-8 p.m.!). The Vermillion school board floated cuts for public discussion first.

But Madison? Nope. We just drop the bomb, then tell the paper the board "will review other budget reductions in the future," with no indication of what those cuts might be.

Madison Central, do you know how easy it would be to seek public input on the budget cuts we have to make? Have Vince Schaefer shoot a five-minute video outlining the current thinking, put it on YouTube, embed the video on the district's front page, and open the comment section. Even if only 15% of us want to show up and participate in an election, we still need to keep opening the doors and eagerly reaching out to draw public participation. If Madison's school board would do that, they might hear that some constituents believe there are better places to cut at the high school than the arts... or that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't be cutting high school programs at all and should instead be making the case for more revenue to support those vital opportunities.

Or we could just avoid all of the cuts for at least one more year with a simple accounting trick.