I have studied and written about participatory budgeting, a process that involves citizens in making decisions about how their local government spends their tax dollars. Now the Harvard Political Review finds an experiment in participatory budgeting in Chicago is working:

The entire process (including implementation) is documented on a blog. [Alderman Joe] Moore recognizes that transparency is key, stating that if the process were not transparent, decisions would lose legitimacy. What's really fascinating is what was seen occurring both in and as a result of PB. People talked to each other. Social organizations that had never before worked together collaborated. Within deliberations, there was a consensus on the need for negotiation and equity. After PB in Chicago, two new social organizations were formed. Residents who had never really shown much interest in government suddenly became engaged in its workings and discovered that cooperation with public officials was possible [emphasis mine; Lena Bae, "Participatory Democracy in Chicago: Participatory Budgeting is Working, Important, and Going to Stay," Harvard Political Review, 2011.04.15].

Transparency via blog. Engagement of citizens in real deliberations and policymaking. Wow.

That sounds like exactly the kind of open participatory process Madison's school district could use as it crafts its Olson-Daugaard budget for the coming school year. People may say our awful voter turnout rates indicate people don't want to participate in local government, but the experience of the 49th Ward in Chicago shows that a process for real participatory decision-making that makes citizens the direct collaborative captains of their dollars can get more people involved in local politics.