I Just Want to Be A School Volunteer Again: An Open Letter to Joint Finance the Governor Doyle on School Finance Reform

Dear Members of the Joint Committee on Finance and Gov. Doyle,

I used to be an active parent volunteer in the Madison public schools. I helped with reading groups and on field trips when my children were in elementary school, then tutored middle schoolers and tutored and led after-school clubs as my children got older.

Then a couple years ago, I had to stop my in-class volunteering. Why? Like hundred of parents and school staff across the state, all my volunteer hours were eaten up with supporting a series of referenda to keep intact programs that both benefited my children and are needed to support the learning of thousands of Wisconsin’s children. Over the past 8 years, I have seen music and arts programs cut, driver’s education eliminated, family and consumer education and technology education at the middle schools eliminated, class sizes increased and sorely-needed social work, counseling and psychology positions cuts.

Still, the cuts loom large. This year, schools with great reputations and devoted community support may close. Activity fees will continue to increase. Middle school and high school course options are at risk. I paid more last year on start-of-school fees and supplies than I did on Christmas gifts. Yet, the cuts go on, the fees continue to rise.

So, what’s involved in passing a referendum? There are multiple evening meetings to PTA groups and neighborhood associations to educate them on complicated school finance issues. There are letters to write, phone calls to make, meetings to attend, signs to assemble, fundraising to organize, and general public relations discussions to have with neighbors, colleagues, friends and relatives. You lose friends. It’s very political and it’s not very fun. And to top it all off, it pulls hundreds of civic-minded, good-hearted, kid-loving adults away from children, classrooms and teaching and into a role they never asked for and don’t relish: politics and deal-making.

I’ve heard elected officials say that before a school district should come to the legislature for funding, they should really work a little harder locally at passing a referendum. What? I was under the impression that teachers, principals, superintendents and other school leaders were hired to educate children, not launch political campaigns. I want my district’s principals hiring and supervising teams of high-quality teachers and exploring new ways to teach students in meaningful ways, not spend their days on talk radio and their evenings at civic forums.

And I want to go back into classrooms again. I want to talk to kids about their passions and comment on their improvements in writing, not spend Saturdays stapling yard signs together and Sunday afternoons strategizing on campaign slogans or calling long voter lists.

So, I am asking please, that the State Legislature:
— Fund at two-thirds its original commitment to categorical aids, the program that provides special education services to students with disabilities. This would mean a $45 million increase in the first year of new budget and $55 million next year.
— Continue its commitment to SAGE programs that cap class sizes to 15 in schools with high poverty rates.
— Remove the revenue caps that make districts across the state incapable of simultaneously balancing their budgets and retaining existing program levels for students.

Beth Swedeen

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4 Comments

Filed under AMPS, Budget, Elections, Referenda, School Finance, Take Action

4 responses to “I Just Want to Be A School Volunteer Again: An Open Letter to Joint Finance the Governor Doyle on School Finance Reform

  1. Fern Murdoch

    Great letter, Beth. I hadn’t really thought about how the hours I have to volunteer have been eaten up with time on school referenda. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. bswedeen

    Fern and others,
    I encourage EVERYONE to write their letter today to the 16 members of Joint Finance and the Governor. Earlier this week, I challenged AMPS and other community members to send 50 LETTERS to Joint Finance this week. Let’s go! You can find their addresses on an earlier post on this site listing all of them. Send copies of your letters to the local media as well:

    wsjopine@madison.com
    tctvoice@madison.com
    edit@isthmus.com

    Beth

  3. Arlene Silveira

    Please also send letters/emails or call our Madison legislative delegation. It is important for them to know how important this issue is to their constituents.

    Arlene

  4. Troy D

    Ok, I did it. I sent off my letters. I am such a horrible writer though, so I used one of the form letters and added my personal experiences. Below are some links that will help you to write your own letter. TAG- You’re it.
    Troy

    This link will help you to know who are your representatives.
    http://waml.legis.state.wi.us/
    This link will give you sample letters you can write.
    http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/budget.htm#state
    This link has the finance committee members.
    http://www.legis.state.wi.us/leginfo/CommPages/Committees.aspx?house=Senate

    Copy of my letter.

    Dear Representative
    I am writing to ask for your support of the Governor’s 2007-09 biennial budget proposal to increase funding for special education and bilingual-bicultural aid.
    When revenue limits started during the 1993-94 school year, the state reimbursed school districts for almost 45% of costs related to special education. With the Governor’s proposed increase for special education, the rate will be an estimated 29% for the 2008-09 school year — a loss of $9.4 million in resources compared to the reimbursement rate when revenue limits began.
    The same is true for bilingual-bicultural aid. The Governor’s proposal provides enough resources to keep the reimbursement rate at 12%, but when revenue limits started, school districts were reimbursed at 33% of related costs. This loss of $2.2 million in resources compared to the reimbursement rate when revenue limits began.
    Combined, the loss of resources is $11.6 million compared to the reimbursement rate when revenue limits began. If the reimbursement rate was the same, the district would not have had to cut $10.5 million from its cost-to-continue budget for the 2007-08 school year.
    I am a bilingual teacher in the Madison Metropolitan School District. I have seen first hand what the revenue caps have done to my district, my school, my classroom, and my students. Every year there have been more and more cuts. It started with fewer resources for my classroom. So, I spent more of my own money to buy books and materials. Then the resource people who are experts in math, science, literacy, gifted and talented were cut. So, I took more classes after school and during the summer. Then they cut the aides and special education teachers. So, I started tutoring students after school. The custodians were cut, so I bought a mop and bucket. Summer school was cut, so I tutored students during the summer. There was not enough money to add an addition to our overcrowded school, so I taught my students in the corner of the lunchroom for a year. My school asked for a referendum to try and restore some of the painful cuts. So, on the weekends I walked door to door doing lit drops.
    That’s just me, one teacher, in one classroom, in one school, in one district, in our state. What more do you want me to do?
    Please support the Governor’s proposed increases for categorical aid and work to restore reimbursement levels to the same percentage that they were when revenue limits started 14 years ago.
    Sincerely,
    Troy Dassler
    First Grade Bilingual Teacher
    Madison, WI

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