WAES School Funding Update, 12/1/2008

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    The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide, independent, membership-based organization of educators, school board members, students, parents, community leaders, researchers, citizens, and community activists whose lone goal is the comprehensive reform of Wisconsin’s school-funding system. If you would like more information about the organization — or on becoming part of WAES — contact Tom Beebe at 920-650-0525 or tbeebe@excellentschools.org.
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    New report calls for balanced approach to solving fiscal deficit

    Most of us who fight for school-funding reform now understand that underfunded schools are just one symptom of a crisis in public structures. To save those services that level the playing field for all of us, we will need a balanced approach to government that includes new revenues as well as prioritization of spending and cuts in non-essential services.

    To answer the constant drumbeat calling for smaller government and no tax increases, a new report details “an inventory of options for reforming the state’s tax system and finding a balanced approach for filling the deficit.” “Catalog of Tax Reform Options” (http://www.wisconsinsfuture.org/publications/taxes/1108WI_TaxReformOptions.pdf) was authored by the Wisconsin Council of Children and Families (http://www.wccf.org/) and the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future (IWF at http://www.wisconsinsfuture.org).

    IWF’s Jack Norman, along with the report’s other authors, talked about the report in the Nov. 22 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an opinion piece entitled “How to raise money for our state (http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/34903414.html).” Norman was also Ben Merens’ guest, Nov. 24, on “At Issue” (http://www.wpr.org/merens/index.cfm?strDirection=Prev&dteShowDate=2008-11-24%2017%3A00%3A00) on Wisconsin Public Radio.
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    Budget cuts could degrade Rhinelander High School

    Rhinelander Board of Education meetings are very well attended these days as the community discusses the future of their children’s education in light of a failed Nov. 4 referendum. Recent discussions are centering on moving back to a seven-period day at the high-school and put the hockey and swimming teams on the budget chopping block in light of the need to trim about $2 million from the district’s 2009-10 budget.

    Rhinelander implemented a four-period day 10 years ago because it was good for kids. High school Principal Terry Fondow told the board recently, however, that “because of the district’s fiscal reality” he was proposing moving back to a seven period day. This would mean reducing the number of graduation credits and advanced placement courses, increasing the student-teacher ratio, and eliminating staff. Fondow said, “It’s no doubt that I’m proposing a degradation of the high school, both in breadth and depth (http://www.newsofthenorth.net/article.cfm?articleID=24365).”

    Board President Chuck Fitzgerald told the audience at a recent meeting that the group would be considering budget cuts into April or May, but that athletic programs will be among them (http://www.newsofthenorth.net/article.cfm?articleID=24390). He explained that one proposal is to close the swimming pool which would mean the elimination of the hockey and swimming programs, both of which use the pool.

    Proposing the cuts, administrators said they worry they will damage education. “We are now at the level of cutting severely into what is good for children,” said co-assistant superintendent Carole Witt Starck.
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    Proposed cuts in Merrill could “damage education”

    Options is the key word in the Merrill School District as the community looks to make $750,000 in for the 2009-10 school year (http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/article/20081202/WDH0101/812020464/1981). This discussion also follows on the heels of an unsuccessful referendum to exceed revenue limits ($2.9 million) on Nov. 4.

    Merrill has cut its budget each year since 2000-01, and, during that span, has cut $5 million. Recommendations include eliminating the positions of three literacy teachers, cutting two teachers in high school elective courses, eliminating a middle school band teacher (reducing lesson and instruction time), and eliminating fourth grade at Maple Grove Elementary School by splitting the students among third- and fifth-grade classes.
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    Rural school finance is subject of Dec. 10 “webinar”

    Rural School and Community Trust (http://www.ruraledu.org) will be holding a webinar — a web-based seminar — on the top 10 things you can do to improve Wisconsin’s financing of rural schools. The event will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 1 p.m. and consist of a conference call and a slide presentation.

    Amanda Adler, director of the Rural Education Finance Center, will host the discussion.

    Webinars are a regular benefit to members of the Rural School Innovation Network (RSIN), but they are also open to non-members for a fee of $45. For more information on this event or joining the RSIN, go to http://www.ruraledu.org/site/c.beJMIZOCIrH/b.3937703/k.5F87/RSIN_News_and_Updates.htm.
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    Waupun hopes third time a charm for referendum

    In an effort to keep two schools open, the administration of the Waupun School District recently came forward with a $3 million “high-stakes referendum” for the April ballot (http://www.fdlreporter.com/article/20081203/FON0101/812030440/0/FON0201).

    In the past two years, voters have rejected two operational referenda. The decision to try again was among seven options outlined to balance the 2009-10 budget and beyond. One Waupun resident said “we have to make it clear (to voters) what will happen if this referendum fails. If people realize these schools will close or their child has to ride the bus over an hour every day, they might vote a little differently.”

    Closing the two schools would save over $400,000. Other options for reducing the budget include cutting additional personnel, a wage freeze for non-represented employees, eliminating four athletic teams, cutting middle school extra-curricular activities, and abolishing the police liaison position.
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    Membership in WAES is more important now than ever

    Two organizations and three individuals are the latest welcomed additions to WAES, a diverse, statewide coalition working for school-funding reform. Joining are Glorie Salas, Ken and Kim Bates, the Neshkoro School Visioning Committee (in the Westfield School District http://www.westfield.k12.wi.us/), and Price County Citizens Who CARE, the group that “started” the school-funding reform movement in Wisconsin when members walked from Butternut to Madison about 10 years ago to “talk about” their problems with the present finance system.

    If you haven’t joined the effort to bring the reform message to everyone, do it now. WAES is an independent, non-profit, dues-supported organization. If we are going to organize communities around the state for change, we need your talent, your time, and your financial support. Go to http://www.excellentschools.org/about/join.htm … it’s quick, it’s easy, and you can join online.

    When you pay your dues, you are helping to finance the core educational mission of WAES. Numbering 120 strong organizations and individuals, our mission is to make sure that as many people as possible get the message of reform. We do that by traveling around the state and holding school-funding change discussions in church basements, schools, kitchens, and meeting halls. You can find out how to bring this message to your community at http://www.excellentschools.org/calendar/SchoolFundingWorkshop.htm.

    Thomas J. Mertz

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    Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, finance, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action

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