Category Archives: We Are Not Alone

More School Layoffs in Wisconsin

Click image for more on the book (actually about higher education).

Alex Chilton, “Lost My Job” (click to listen or download).

The song — by the recently departed Alex Chilton –  goes out to all the teachers and school personnel in Wisconsin and elsewhere who are being pushed into the ranks of the unemployed by our state’s and our nation’s short-sighted refusal to make the kind of investments in education that are necessary for a strong, healthy and prosperous democracy.  Let’s not let that happen in Madison (join the Facebook group “Stand Up for Madison Schools” to get involved and keep up with the latest on the Madison Metropolitan School Budget) and let’s stop it in Wisconsin (sign the Penny for Kids petition and get involved there too).

Here are some links to the latest layoffs:

Appleton Post Crescent,  Appleton school board lays off 24 educators for fall.

Appleton Post Crescent, 34 teachers among 50 Menasha school staff facing layoff.

Stevens Point Journal,  School Board approves layoff notices to 42 teachers.

For more on recent Wisconsin school cuts see, Hatchets at the Ready — More Wisconsin School Budget News.

There will certainly be more layoffs and cuts as districts work through their budgets, especially where the April 6 referenda fail (look for a post on those soon).

I repeat, this doesn’t have to happen in Madison this year.  the Board has the authority to keep cuts at $1.2 million.  Tell them to use it:

Thomas J. mertz

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Hatchets at the Ready — More Wisconsin School Budget News

Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, “Pass the Hatchet” (click to listen or download”

As they sharpen the hatchets to cut the Madison school budget, time for another installment in the sad story of diminishing educational quality in Wisconsin.

Might as well get the first “what you can do to stop this” out of the way at the start.  The easiest thing to do to help is to sign the Penny for Kids petition sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).  We (I’m a WAES Board Member) are asking that the state enact a 1 cent per dollar sales tax to address the immediate crisis and move Wisconsin toward better ways of investing in education.  You can read more and find out how to help in other ways at the links.

Most of these stories and links are from the last couple of weeks, but some are from earlier this year.  I’ve left Madison out this time, because we’ll be posting lots about the home front in the coming weeks.  This is no particular order and far from comprehensive (with districts holding April referenda reserved for another post).

I’ll get started with the districts mentioned in Chris Murphy’s  recent “What’s News: Schools’ money troubles are news all over Wisconsin “story on the Cap Times:  Oshkosh, Appleton and  Monona Grove.

Lots more on the major cuts in Oshkosh in this post.  My favorite recent thing is the Facebook group “The children in the Oshkosh Area School District are screwed!!!!!”  I love the lack of spin.

The Oshkosh West student paper has a good story: “Board decision ushers in winter of discontent.”  Here is an  excerpt:

State and local budget woes have placed a sharp edge at the throat of the Oshkosh Area School District. At an OASD school board meeting on February 10, board members voted 7-0 to raise the student to teacher ratio to 25:1 beginning in the fall of 2010, effectively eliminating some 35 teaching positions in order to shave approximately $2 million from the budget deficit. Although the board was scheduled to meet on February 24 (which was too late for publication in this issue of the Index) regarding specifics of implementation, the impact of these cuts could be dire, according to Assistant Principal Jay Jones.

“My biggest fear is that we could potentially lose some upper level electives that students have had some interest in,” he said. “One of the suggestions from Superintendent Bette Lang is that some of these elective classes will have to run every other year. But at the same time it could mean that an awful lot of classes simply do not run.”

Some more on the cuts and firings from School Board candidate Karl Lowenstein:

It is hard to describe the passion, energy, and eloquence of the students who lined up and stayed for hours to try to save smaller classes that were important to them. It was a testament to a hopeful future. Unfortunately, the board ignored their pleas.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to fire the teachers. There was very little discussion about the real implications of this cut. Bette Lang and the board members insisted that hardly anyone will miss the teachers–all it means is that small classes will be offered less frequently. Not one board member asked how a fired teacher can offer courses every other year. The board’s belief is that other districts have higher ratios, so our should too.

Although the information put out by the asst. principals at North and West, which listed all the classes which may be canceled next year, is surely exaggerated, the idea that firing 35 teachers will have no impact on the kind of education our kids get is simply not true.

Once those 35 teachers are gone, what will have disappeared from our high schools? It remains to be seen how many math teachers or business teachers or language teachers they will have to fire. It looks like at least 17 at West and 18 at North will lose their jobs. After that happens, we will have a better sense of how much worse the options have become for our high school students.

At least two more entries from his blog are worth reading: “Where’s the Plan? February 24 Meeting Report,” and “Students Organize Against Cuts.”

Here is a little more on the reactions from WLUK-TV.

With the High School cuts decided, the Oshkosh Board has moved on to debating school closures.  Two schools are on the block and the projected savings is $383,000.  Like Madison in elsewhere the discussions about cuts and closures are based on the combination of revenue limits that do not reflect the costs of education and the state budget that shifted much more of those costs to local property taxes.  The Northwestern reports some are urging taxing to the max.

Parents and teachers urged the district to increase taxes instead of making the tough choice to close another school.

“You can tax us to the max. I’m OK with that,” Lakeside parent Bill Keys said. “There’s no easy choice to be made.”

Increasing the tax rate to the maximum level would generate about $3 million in additional revenue and increase the tax bill on a home valued at $100,000 by about $66.

Now an editorial from the Northwestern: “Editorial: Teacher bashing won’t balance school budgets.”

Knocking teachers for compensation earned at the bargaining table is counterproductive, especially when concessions on health insurance and other benefits will have to be won through contract negotiations. Moreover, critics overlook that 34 teaching positions were cut this school year and that 35 positions have already eliminated for next school year, with more expected. On balance, Oshkosh educators have not been immune to economic pain.

And last from Oshkosh, a great exercise in sarcasm from columnist Tom Willderson (hat tip County Supervisor Mike Norton):

Your bill shows that I owe about $970 to the school district. This figure is much too high. My sons attend only two of the 13 grades the schools provide. Furthermore, they only use one of the district’s 21 buildings! My calculations show that I owe $7.18 for schools, given that my children use such a small part of what the district offers.

On to Appleton, where 27 educators’  jobs are on the block (16 full time positions).  The Post-Crescent reports some of the reasons for the layoffs:

It became obvious in recent months that the school board would have to lay off more staff after it was determined Appleton faces a $2.4 million budget deficit for 2010-11.

[Mark] Huenink [assistant superintendent for school services] said half of the layoffs are the result of an enrollment decline at the high school level, noting that even without staff reductions to balance the budget, the district would need to eliminate positions because there aren’t enough students signed up for several classes next fall.

Reading the district budget web page it appears that Appleton is caught in the old version of the budget gap and that not taxing to the max is not on the table, yet.

WHBY Radio reports that the layoff notices were approved on March 8.

Another part of the balancing might be a teacher pay freeze, but this doesn’t seem too likely.

Susan Troller has been following the Monona Grove situation in the Cap Times and one of the best sources of information is Board Member Peter Sobol’s blog.

As this video from Channel 3000 says, the big issue is school closures, but the long term picture isn’t good with cuts year after year. after year…

I really like the guy who hits the anti-tax/tax cuts politics as the root cause.

Rob Kahl the Mayor of Monona has also checked in.

Residents of the Monona Grove School District are hopefully by now beginning to fully understand the dire financial situation confronting our district. However, I think a quick recap is in order to ensure everyone fully comprehends the extent of the problem.

This is not a $1 million dollar budget hole that can be fixed this year with cuts including closing Maywood School. The district’s problems are much larger than that. Superintendent Gerlach has often referred to this as a $15 million dollar operating budget deficit and I know there are many questions of how he comes to that total. Quite simply, using a five year projection the total amounts to $15 million because the district needs to make $1 million in cuts each year in addition to the money cut in preceding years. The chart below shows how this amount is calculated.

Year 1 2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 2
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 3
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 4
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2013-2014 Needed Cut of $1 million

Year 5
2010-2011 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2011-2012 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2012-2013 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2013-2014 Needed Cut of $1 million PLUS
2014-2015 Needed Cut of $1 million

Total Deficit if No Cuts Made = $15 million….

. It is apparent to anyone with a calculator that the district will need to go to a referendum to raise more property taxes and do so soon as it is simply unfeasible to make the total amount of needed cuts. The “plan” of the district is prior to going to that referendum to have some “blood in the streets” in their own words by undergoing significant cuts to programming and closing Maywood School. After this blood letting, they will then come to the citizens of the district within the next year or so and ask for permission to exceed the property tax levy limits.

What’s missing here is that this has been going on in many districts for 16 years.

It is very sad the School Boards are (and have been) trying to find that magic balance point between the pain of repeated cuts and continued faith in the schools before asking for referendum.  Cut too much and people are too disgusted and disheartened to vote yes; cut too little and people think the Board is crying wolf.  Even Madison, with the “Partnership Pl;an” felt the need to put forth a referendum that required further cuts (and now the cuts are looking larger and some of the referendum authority may not be used).

Most of the “blood in the streets” right now is school closings, but other things are are also being cut.  A music teacher points to the cuts in her area:

* Increase the instructional minutes that define a full-time teacher for Elementary Related Arts from 1280 minutes per week to 1350 minutes per week.

* Reduce instructional minutes for the elementary related arts classes (art, music, PE) from 40 minutes twice a week to 30 minutes twice a week at grades 3-5, and for art only at grades K-2.

* Eliminate the 4th-grade string program

* Reduce staffing in 6-8th grade music programs by 1.53 full-time teachers.

This proposal intends to staff the middle school music programs with only 1 full-time teacher in each curricular area for band, choir, and orchestra.

All the proposed Monona cuts are here, on the district website.

It makes me think of what Madison has been through in times past and what is going on in Milwaukee this year.

South Milwaukee too.  Arts are always a place to look for cuts, especially when so much of “accountability” is linked to Math and Reading standardized test scores.  In both Milwaukee and South Milwaukee, students came out to protest (videos from WTMJ).


South Milwaukee

I can’t find much in the way of details, but 9 teachers were cut in Weyauwega-Fremont a couple of weeks ago and it is anticipated that 7-8 support staff will also be axed.

Big cuts in ManitowocLast year they lost $400, 000 in state aid and had cuts of $1.6 million (it could have been worse, $700,000 in one time stimulus money stayed the hatchets).  They are looking at another $1.7 million in cuts this year, but the Herald Times Reporter quotes business services Director Ken Mischler being positive:

Despite the cuts that will need to be made, many other school districts are facing more dire situations, Mischler said.

“Financially, we’re doing OK,” he said.

Board member Jim Protsman said the fact that the 2010-11 year likely won’t be the last year of budget cuts would influence his decisions regarding cuts for this year.

There are at least a couple of dynamics going on here.  First, the whole “it could be worse” diminished ambitions and expectations is exactly the wrong attitude to bring to education, even in the business office.  Education should be about reaching higher and higher.  Second, there is the the professional pride that induces administrators to downplay the damage being done by the repeated cuts to educational opportunities.  The Board member quoted is correct that there will be more cuts next year and beyond, especially if people keep saying “it could be worse” and “it’s not that bad” instead of shouting that the cuts must stop.  If you want to join the shouting, become part of the Penny for Kids campaign.

On to Kaukauna where the budget hole is $2.4 million in a $44 million budget and the layoffs have started. According to this WLUK-TV report, some of the the positions cut are in “School Within a School” alternative program which  serves students who are struggling and in danger of dropping out.

More than 125 people attended the meeting where the cuts were made, but that didn’t stop the hatchets.  There really isn’t much Board Members can do about the costs/revenue limit gaps but cut, these are a product of the broken school finance system that has been in place for 16 years (the Madison gap and the gaps in other districts where part of the equation is deciding whether to tax to the max are different in that Boards do have some options).  It is state action that is needed.

Milton has big problems too; an $850,000 gap in in a $34 million budget.  Possible school closures are again the focus of much of the frustration (really, the frustration needs to be directed at the state officials who continue to do little or nothing about this crisis)., but there are many other items on the chopping block.   These include laying off elementary teachers, cuting guidance staff, reducing the High School Dean to half time and axing a business education teacher.  The Janesville Gazette reports that one student provided some needed perspective on the last:

Ben Oliver, an 18-year-old Milton High student, spoke against the proposed elimination of a high school business teacher. He said with the state of the economy, the district should be adding, not subtracting from the business department.

“We have a local, national and financial responsibility to financially educate America’s youth, he said. “By no means is that a task for an understaffed department.”

WKOW had more — mostly on the school closures — in this report:

Just a couple more districts for now…

Wausau has a new teacher contract, below the old QEO 3.8%, but is still looking at $3.8 million in cuts from a $100 million budgetThey have also cut 10 teachers and added a sixth class to the workload of teachers in Middle and High School.

Two Rivers is looking to cut about $850,000.  Like in Madison, a proposed administrative restructuring is part of the package.  Other things include eliminating the one staffer for Gifted and Talented education, reassigning the Family and Consumer Science teacher, cutting pack on technology education, having a single librarian cover the Middle and High School,  and larger class sizes.

I’ve got at least another half dozen links that will have to wait, or more likely never be posted here because by the time I get to them there will be new cuts to in other districts to post on.  I hate this.

I hate doing this too.  Yet I keep on because I cling to the hope that if enough people become aware of the way education is being chopped in Wisconsin they will put enough pressure on out Legislators to move them from them to do something, even in an election year.

Might as well close with the “What you can do” also.

The easiest thing to do to help is to sign the Penny for Kids petition sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES).  We (I’m a WAES Board Member) are asking that the state enact a 1 cent per dollar sales tax to address the immediate crisis and move Wisconsin toward better ways of investing in education.  You can read more and find out how to help in other ways at the links.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Coming Transformations

Credit: Computer Vision Laboratory, Columbia University

I want start off with one of the most egregious aspects of a horribly underfunded public school system and what acts of desperations that can ensue, followed by some “respectable” examples of education reform percolating around the country and ending with the next big “shining object” that will command our full attention here in Wisconsin shortly, whether we like it or not.

We begin with Charlotte Hill’s recent reporting at the site that highlighted a distressing development; four inner-city schools in Detroit are “partnering” with Walmart

to offer a course in job-readiness. Student participants earn school credit while learning how to hold down one of the superstore’s infamously low-paying positions. When the bell rings at 3:30, off the students go to their new entry-level jobs, where they work for minimal pay.

Their public school system, like the majority in the country, are struggling. They need money. Enter Walmart, licking their chops to come in and fill the breach. And in their world, students will be conditioned to accept a work environment that is “notorious for its low wages, discriminatory [in its] treatment of female employees, mass lay-offs and refusal to acknowledge, much less support, employee unions,” says Hill. 29 schools were closed this past fall, with 40 more due to be shuttered in the coming year – “financial need — not educational integrity — is driving the decision.”

At the end of the day, Walmart is the true winner in this partnership. Hill reported that

According to the Department of Labor, “Employees under 20 years of age may be paid $4.25 per hour during their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment with an employer.” From my calculations, 11 weeks of training amounts to just under 90 days of employment. Looks like whichever Walmart executive made the decision to partner with Detroit schools was just living by the corporation’s own slogan: “Save money. Live better.”

As Alex DiBranco pointed out:

The real message goes more like: Your educational system has failed you. Because of mass class inequities, you will not be offered opportunities to succeed in life. In fact, we’ve so given up on you, that even though you still come to school, we’re going to turn school into training on how to hold down the worst job possible and suffer all sorts of labor abuses. Just in case you’ve made it to your teenage years without realizing this, know the world doesn’t care about you, and you might as well give up on your dreams now.

Proposals for enormous changes in the school system have always been a feature during times of economic crisis, but you have to stop and catch your breath at times when some of the more “throw the baby out with the bathwater” schemes get a serious airing from our self-appointed “out of the box” thinkers on education “reform,” or, as one of our local school board candidates would prefer, “transformation.” Take for example Utah state senator, Chris Buttars. He has introduced a bill that would eliminate 12th grade in all public schools in his state, saving, according to Buttars, $60 million dollars from a state shortfall of $700 million. You might say to yourself that such a large hatchet would appear to have a fairly minimal impact on such a large deficit, and would therefore be dismissed out of hand, but you would be wrong. Eight other states are contemplating similar moves. It also wouldn’t probably surprise you to learn that the Gates Foundation is providing the initial planning grant to get this initiative off the ground. And while the impetus for having a so-called board exam system in which students must achieve some core competencies, instead of seat time in a classroom, has some laudatory elements to it, the larger gorilla in the room is that it will take an enormous amount of one-time stimulus money just to get this initiative off the ground in these handful of states.

A question I continue to ask is: why, in all these reports on new initiatives for “reform” (or if you like “transformation”), is it rarely mentioned or raised as a concern, the issue of how these initiatives will be paid for in a long term, sustained way?

Getting back to the actual students who are at the center of this maelstrom of education innovation, as Jessica Shiller has noted:

Seems like the students that would benefit most from having public school for longer would get left out in the cold. Graduating in 11th grade and having to look for a job in a dismal market is not much of an option. Going to community college or a vocational program could offer more, but with graduation rates pretty low, around 25% — to the point that the Gates Foundation is getting involved to help community colleges do better by their students — this also doesn’t seem like a suitable substitute for a full high school education.

Students who don’t do well early in high school might be left with dead-end options. At least if those students have a couple more years, they can try and improve their grades for college, but under these grade elimination plans, there is no room for that. Young people will be sorted into vocational and college-bound tracks at age 15. No more messing around kids: decisions about your futures will be made very early on in life. So much for the late bloomer.

It is rumored that shortly the beautiful minds behind the Wisconsin Way initiative, will finally roll out their plan, one that will have been already largely crafted in the minds of its corporate interests from the get go when they first held their state-wide forums a couple of years ago. It is likely that the fait accompli plan will contain much that is good, some that seems “sensible,” inducing the pundits to skim past the troubling parts in their embrace of “transformations.” For an excellent primer on the Wisconsin Way, please reread the warning signs that Thomas Mertz was writing about already 2 1/2 years ago.  Also, look for his excellent coverage of this roll out/fall out to come.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t take great creative thinking to know that the oxygen will be largely sucked out of all the hard work of analyses and stakeholder development that WAES has been engaged in for over a decade and its more recent Pennies for Kids initiative. Perhaps, when the chips are comfortably resting on the ground for a while, some parts or aspects of actual education finance/tax reform will get a hearing. But as we’ve seen in the past, nothing gets done in an election year. Sadly, the struggle for real finance reform, will continue for a long time to come.

Robert Godfrey


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Action to the South

At Fred Klonsky’s Blog there was recently a mini version of an AMPS type “Buzzsaw/Cuts” post on school budget issues in Illinois:

On this Saturday morning, this is how the state of Illinois is dealing with its school funding crisis: In Lemont, in Galesburg, in East Richland, in Hoopston, in Kaneland, in Waukegan, in Eldorado, in Jasper, in Elgin, in Knoxville, in Indian Prairie District 204, in Plainfield, in Ottawa, in Orion near the Quad Cities, and in Quincy.

I can’t say if the state and school budgets are worse in Illinois or Wisconsin and it doesn’t really matter which has gone further or faster in the wrong direction.  Both are in bad shape and both states are dominated by politicians who believe their re-elections are more important than addressing this reality and the lobbyists and donors who reinforce this message.

At least in Illinois, people are fed up enough to try to make their voices heard.  They have formed the Responsible Budget Coalition.  The video above is from their February 17 rally.  Below is their “We Can’t Wait” video.

We may not have thousands at the Capitol yet, but interest in tax and budget reform is growing and thousands in Wisconsin have signed the Penny For Kids petition.  Click the link to join them.

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Fix Is In

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has been doing an admirable job of outlining the human costs of our neglected infrastructure in his weekly columns. On Saturday he highlighted the conditions in schools throughout the country. And while he noted that getting the nation’s schools up to date is a huge undertaking, it represents only a small part of the overall infrastructure challenge we face as a nation. While highlighting a school in Pennsylvania built in 1861, with asbestos encrusted walls and dodgy electrical wiring, he noted the difficulty in getting good data on the physical condition of the country’s schools.

Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, has said that 75 percent of the public schools have structural deficiencies and 25 percent have problems with their ventilation systems.

But how to pay for this? Herbert made the point that:

right now there are not enough people at the higher echelons of government trying to figure out the best ways to raise the enormous amounts of money that will be required, and the most responsible ways of spending that money. And there are not enough leaders explaining to the public how heavy this lift will be, and why it is so necessary, and what sacrifices will be required to get the job properly done.

Suggestions have included such institutions as a national infrastructure or regional infrastructure banks that “would allocate public funds and also leverage private capital for the most important projects.” His larger point was that top governmental leaders should be seeking all kinds of solutions that are both solid and creative, while quickly implementing the best of them.

Which brings us to this next item, one with twist and turns not completely understandable at this point, but certainly not held up by people like myself as a model of how to “get the job properly done” — to use Herbert’s words.

Diane Ravitch, an intellectual on education policy, difficult to pigeonhole politically (appointed to public office by both G.H.W. Bush and Clinton), but best described as an independent, co-writes a blog with Deborah Meier that some of our readers may be familiar with called “Bridging Differences.” This past week she highlighted a possibly disturbing development in the Race to the Top  competition program of the Department of Education, that dangles $4.3 billion to the states with a possible $1.3 billion to follow. Ravitch’s critique suggests that this competition is not run by pragmatists, but rather by ideologues who are led by the Bill Gates Foundation.

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Two of the top lieutenants of the Gates Foundation were placed in charge of the competition by Secretary Arne Duncan. Both have backgrounds as leaders in organisations dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money.

So, why should it be surprising that the Race to the Top reflects the priorities of the NewSchools Venture Fund (charter schools) and of the Gates Foundation (teacher evaluations by test scores)?

But here’s where the weirdness of this story enters.

Marc Dean Millot, a writer on education policy and someone who has not been overly critical of charter schools and their “education entrepreneurs” in the past, was contracted for 6 months to write on the Scholastic blog, “This Week in Education.” Millot had the temerity to pose some questions about those conflicts of interest at the Department of Education and had asked Sec. Duncan to nick this issue in the bud quickly.

I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources — the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education’s competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department’s political appointees.

For his troubles, he was immediately sacked and the offending post removed. Fortunately, nothing is completely lost on the internet and you can read a cached version of his “Connect the Dots” piece here.

Even more chilling is Diane Ravitch’s predictions for the future, regardless of whether Secretary Duncan cleans up this apparent conflict of interest.

As hundreds and possibly thousands more charter schools open, we will see many financial and political scandals. We will see corrupt politicians and investors putting their hands into the cashbox. We will see corrupt deals where public school space is handed over to entrepreneurs who have made contributions to the politicians making the decisions. We will see many more charter operators pulling in $400,000-500,000 a year for their role, not as principals, but as “rainmakers” who build warm relationships with politicians and investors.

When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.

We indeed are entering another chapter in the deepening decline in support for public education. Our looming deficit in Madison is just one example of many across the country. What we shouldn’t have to battle so vigourously is our elected and unelected “advocates.” Sadly, this also includes some of our own friends in the state capital.

Robert Godfrey

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February 16, 2010 Wisconsin Referendum Votes (Updated with Results)

Update, results:

Bangor, both pass, operating 379 yes votes to 214; construction 437 yes votes to 157 no votes.

Brodhead, fails, 1,021-828.

Edgar, passes 706 to 629.

Green Lake, fails, 393 to 374.

Hilbert, passes, 419 t0 305.

Rhinelander, both pass, operating 3,646 to 3,111, construction, 3,664 to 3,089.

Shiocton, pass, 8 votes, can’t find totals.

8 pass, 2 failed.

The video at the top is from the 2006 Madison referendum campaign, since the voter turnout on Tuesday is expected to be small I thought a little shame might help bring people out.

We are in a new era of referenda.  Referenda for building purposes remain much the same, except in many districts property tax increases to make up for drops in state support have made passage more difficult.  Operating referenda are also more difficult for the same reason, but there is a twist.  Previously the biggest financial issue was that rising costs — many of them mandated or near mandated — outstripped allowed revenue increases (the revenue caps).  This problem remains, but in many districts it has receded in importance because the drop in state support has made simply taxing to the max — using all the allowed revenue authority  — and the large property tax increases that result  intolerable to many voters and Board members.  According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a recent record 98 out of 427 districts — including Madison — did not tax to the max for the current yearEvery indication is that the percent will be higher this year.  For these districts, increased revenue authority via a referendum is irrelevant.   These districts have to cut to address the gap between allowed revenues and costs (like always) and are cutting to limit property tax increases.   It is a new era.

It is this situation that leading our schools into crisis and making our schools the center of conflict instead aspirations.  It is this situation that inspired the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools to launch the Penny for Kids campaign to increase state education funding and improve how it is allocated.  Click the links, find out more and sign the petition.

On Tuesday, eight districts will have a total of ten referenda before the voters; four for construction borrowing, and six for operating expenses (one recurring and five nonrecurring).  You can see all the referenda details here.

The Bangor district is asking for $580,000 in demolition and construction debt authority (for the old high school gym, this would be a no interest ARRA loan) and three years on additional revenue authority at $350,000 a year.  The district referendum page is here.  Here is what the LaCrosse Tribune reported on the operating referendum:

“We’ve pared things down, and even if this one passes we will still have to look at ways to reduce our budget and conserve our expenses,” Superintendent Roger Foegen said. “But the board felt in these tight economic times we couldn’t ask for any more than we are currently getting.”

The district is in the final year of a three-year $350,000 operating referendum, he said.

Without renewal, it will face a $400,000 to $450,000 deficit next school year.

The district already trimmed $600,000 from its annual budget before going to the public three years ago, Foegen said.

“Because of the state funding formula and the things that go into it, we need to maintain it if we are going to keep our current programs and personnel,” he said.

Foegen said the plan will cost the owner of a $100,000 property an estimated $78 in 2010-11; $39 in 2011-12; and $13 in 2012-13.

The Brodhead district has a four year non recurring measure on the ballot.  Here is how it breaks down:

2010-2011 $635,000
2011-2012 $810,000
2012-2013 $855,000
Total $3,585,000

The district has a nice referendum page here.  It includes a list of cuts made sine 2003-4, which is good reminder that the current crisis comes on top of 16 years of cuts because — by state design — revenues have bee kept below cost-to-continue.  You can read the whole list at the link, here are the programs:

Programs or Activities Eliminated

– Jazz Band II eliminated – FHA (Future Homemakers) eliminated

– FBLA (Future Business Leaders) eliminated

– drivers’ education eliminated

– District funding for 7th grade camp eliminated (still runs thru funding by student activity account)

– access to HSED/GED programming at BlackHawk Tech reduced and restricted

– greenhouse no longer heated by District funds (now provided by FFA Alumni)

– eliminated French as an elective class at the HS

There is also a narrative  of what will likely be cut if the referendum fails here are some excerpts:

The School Board has identified staff and program cuts that will be necessary to balance the budget without a successful referendum. These would include: three elementary teaching positions (moving all grades to three sections, regardless of the number of students in the grade); three teaching positions between the high school and middle school, plus two elective programs (and their teachers) at the high school and middle school; one guidance counselor; two administrators; the high school adventures class; the long-distance learning program; and ALL extra-curricular positions at the high school and middle school. These cuts would be phased in over the next two years.

And, what is the impact of these cuts? Class sizes in the elementary school would increase from the current 18-23 students, to classes in the high twenties. Class sizes in the high school would increase from the current mid-twenties to around thirty, with some classes pushing thirty-five students. With the larger class sizes, students would receive less of the individual attention many of them need to be successful in school. Curriculum development and innovative new programs would fall by the wayside. Students would have less access to advanced coursework, at a time when they most need it to compete with graduates of other schools. And, access to some elective programs that prepare students for specific career fields might be eliminated altogether. Students having problems at school or home would have less access to a counselor.

Remember that Governor Jim Doyle and the Democratic leadership continue to boast of having “protected education.”  With “friends” like that — who look the other way while cuts like these are on the table — education doesn’t need enemies.

The Janesville Gazette reports another factor at play in the Bradhead and other votes on Tuesday (the Beloit Daily News includes similar observations):

District officials have “real serious concerns” if the referendum fails because families will have three days to file by the state’s open enrollment deadline to attend different districts, [Superintendent Chuck] Deery said.

“I’ve been hearing from quite a few families that that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” he said. “They won’t wait around (to see the board make the cuts). They want those activities for their kids.”

This is the death spiral.  State policies and budgets force program cuts, enrollment declines as temporarily better off districts poach students, accelerating the cuts.

Edgar is asking to issue

general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $7,600,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of remodeling existing physical education facilities for use as performance center/auditorium, constructing replacement physical education facilities, adding additional elementary classrooms, renovating and remodeling food service and music facilities, and acquiring equipment

The main Wausau Daily Herald story is here.  There are also a number of letters to the editor, all the ones I saw were in support.

Green Lake has the only recurring measure this time around.  For reasons that should be obvious recurring referenda make more sense.  The Bangor situation described at the top of this post is a perfect example.  Three years ago they went through the work to pass a nonrecrring referendum; now three years later they are having to ask again.  The reality of a system that does not provide for adequate revenues isn’t likely to change soon (here are those links to help work for change:  Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page) and districts and communities repeatedly “going to referendum” is a divisive waste of resources.

The open enrollment issue is part of this story too.  Green Lake has implemented environmental education and International Baccalaureate programs in an attempt to reverse the demographically-driven declining enrollment by attracting new students.

The Green Lake referendum page is here, with this video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are two items from their Q&A:

QUESTION: What happens if the referendum vote is no?

ANSWER: The district would have to cut $660,000 in the next budget, and there would be no additional funds for maintenance or technology. This would be followed by more cuts each year after that. There would be program and staffing reductions. Suffice it to say, the school would not be the same as it is today.

QUESTION: Has the district made cuts?

ANSWER: Yes, in the past four years the cuts have totaled over $600,000. This has allowed the district to extend the 2001 referendum extra years beyond the five years it was predicated to last.

Also worth reading is this from the  School: Tax effect would be minimal.

Hilbert is another construction project debt vote and like Bangor is looking to take advantage of stimulus related no interest loan opportunities.  They are asking for $4.7 million.  The Appleton Post-Crescent decribes the projects:

[U]pating classrooms; adding a new science wing; converting the current instructional media center and science labs to a larger library and media area and computer classroom; and upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

This is really the basic essentials, and if we turn this down I don’t know where we will go,” said Hilbert Supt. Tony Sweere, expressing hope that more voters “can get behind this.”

“It amounts to a 25- to 30-year fix for the middle/high school campus, which hasn’t been touched since it was built in 1974-75,” he said. “This will upgrade everything.”

A larger construction referendum failed by 89 votes in November 2008.

is another district with both construction and operating expenses on the ballot (referendum page here).   The state finance squeeze has been particularly tough on Rhinelander.  They’ve tried repeatedly for relief from referenda without much success.  Since 2005, four construction debt referenda have failed, as have five operating votes.  The only one to pass was an HVAC upgrade paid for by a one-time operating levy increase.

The current construction ask is for ‘for remodeling and repairing existing buildings” and would also take advantage of the  ARRA interest savings.

On the operating expenses and state funding, here is how SDR business director Marta Kwiatkowski described the situation in the Daily News:

“The way the state’s school aid formula works means that every school district in the state eventually will go bankrupt, some sooner than later. In time, every district will need to go to referendum, asking residents to exceed the revenue caps,” she said.

State aid to the Rhinelander district has dropped precipitously in the past decade. In 2000-01, state aid was $13.2 million, approximately 52 percent of the general budget. By 2008-09, state aid had dropped to $7.7 million, approximately 28 percent of the general budget, requiring residents to shoulder more of the cost of running the district. State aid is estimated to be at zero for this district in four years. The adjacent graph charts the decline of state aid to the district since 2001 and the corresponding rise in property taxes.

Year Property Taxes State Aid

2000-01 $12,035,267 $13,249,469

2001-02 $13,460,627 $12,387,722

2002-03 $14,108,872 $12,145,111

2003-04 $15,351,872 $11,337,277

2004-05 $17,012,020 $10,089,233

2005-06 $15,613,885 $11,693,310

2006-07 $16,560,823 $10,859,344

2007-08 $18,600,885 $ 9,314,011

2008-09 $19,875,455 $ 7,721,621

The district’s annual budget from state aid and tax revenues for 2008-09 was $27.59 million, down $317,820 from the previous year. Comparatively, in 2001-02, the annual budget from these sources was $25.84 million.

Here are the proposed cuts if the referendum fails (click on image for pdf):

Closing schools, cutting extra-curriculars, raising class sizes, stopping book purchases….throwing the future in the trash.

Shiocton is another example of the false attraction of nonrecurring referenda, compounded by the squeeze of state defunding.  Their four year referendum is expiring but because of state cuts in education investments, they had tor raise property taxes last year by 20%.  The plan now is to ask for another nonrecurring operating referendum below cost-to-continue and combine that with cuts (this is similar to what Madison did with the “Partnership Plan“).

Here is how the Appleton Post Crescent explained things:

The referendum asks voters’ permission to exceed state revenue limits by $500,000 for the 2010-11 school year, $600,000 for 2011-12 and $700,000 in each of the following three school years.

Shiocton school Supt. Chris VanderHeyden said the district faces a $900,000 shortfall next school year if it does not take this step to help balance the budget by covering the cost of preserving district education programs.

Regardless of whether the referendum passes or fails, the school district of 790 students in pre- kindergarten through grade 12 will need to cut $400,000 to stay in the black, VanderHeyden said.

About 65 percent of the $400,000 will come in staffing cuts, he said, which includes a reduction of 3.5 teachers and two paraprofessionals. The rest will come from such areas as departmental budgets, athletics, staff development, textbook adoptions and food service. “We will make the cuts but we also need the referendum to balance the budget,” he said. …

The increase this year was up nearly 20 percent. Either way, the tax rate will drop next year, VanderHeyden said. If the referendum passes, property taxes will drop $107 for the owner of a $100,000 home. If it fails, the property taxes will drop $278 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

So if it passes, there will be major cuts and taxes will go down.  If it fails, there will be even larger cuts and taxes will go down more.  Where is the choice for fully funding education?

The best answer is that choice has to be made at the state level.  Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page (the last has links to contact state officials).

Last but not least is Three Lakes.  This is one of those districts caught in declining enrollment and relatively high property wealth.  It also another district in the last year of a nonrecurring operating referendum.  Three Lakes is in worse financial shape, has been squeezed harder, have been cutting for years; according to the district figures, without a successful referendum they will run out of money in February 2011.

Therefore they are asking:

…that the revenues included in the School District budget for three years beginning with the 2010-2011 school year and ending with the 2012-2013 school year be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,517,469 a year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of funding operating expenses.

In the Rhinelander Daily News District Administrator George Karling and others give the big picture:

Three Lakes District Administrator George Karling said the override voters are being asked to approve is necessary to fund current programs and amounts to about half of the annual revenue that has been lost, compared to 10 years ago.

With about $900,000 in the district’s general fund, Karling said Three Lakes would only have funds available to operate through February 2011 absent approval of the override.

Informational material the district sent to voters indicates the district is not allowed to operate at a deficit and would “become insolvent and close in the near future” if the referendum fails.

School Board Clerk Tom Rulseh said the district’s budget is “really tight,” with the budgeted expenditures of $10,507,798.50 for 2009-10 down about $80,000 from the previous school year, while the revenue override is necessary to continue to operate.

“I don’t know where the money would come from” if the referendum fails, Rulseh said.

…When asked whether it would be necessary to approve another revenue override three years from now, Karling said he hopes state lawmakers change Wisconsin’s school funding formula by then to provide more money for Three Lakes, which is considered a “property rich” district and receives little state funding.

He said proposals on the state level to boost funding for K-12 education include an additional 1 percent sales tax, which is known as “A Penny for Kids” and backed by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, and a “65 percent hold harmless” provision to lessen the amount of lost revenue because of declining enrollment.

They also note that dissolving the district would likely lead to even higher property taxes.

That’s the roundup.  More votes in April.  Before closing I wnat to again share something and suggest you follow my lead.  When I do these posts that involve districts all over the state, I often take a look around their web sites.  I am always struck by the good work being done, some traditional, some innovative but all a source of pride for the students, the educators, the families and the communities.  All the sites are linked at their names, so I suggest you do the same.  It is a good reminder of why education is so important and why we need to do better recognizing that.  When you are done, help Wisconsin do better by getting involved for change.

Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Vote Yes for Schools (and do more)

Thomas J. Mertz!

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Buzzsaw Time — Wisconsin School Budget Roundup

Just some of the stories  about the budget struggles of Wisconsin districts in the last week or so (linked and excerpted with emphases added).   Bad all over.

If you want things to get better, do something, join those working for change:  Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids (SIGN THE PETITION!), School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Let’s start with Madison: “A horrible situation’ – Madison schools face $30 million budget hole

The Madison School District is facing a $30 million budget hole for 2010-11, a dilemma that could force school board members this spring to order massive cuts in programs, dramatically raise property taxes, or impose a combination of both.

District officials will unveil a list of possible cuts — which could include layoffs — next month, with public hearings to follow.

“This is a big number,” School Board President Arlene Silveira said. “So we have to look at how we do business, we have to look at efficiencies, we have to look at our overall budget, and we are going to have to make hard decisions. We are in a horrible situation right now, and we do have to look at all options.”

I think what’s happened is the state of Wisconsin has effectively passed along the tax problem to the local level, in terms of either we raise taxes to support public education, or public education isn’t going to be supported,” said Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.

Sauk Prairie Schools get budget input

“We’re going to have to start cutting some of these more main items,” [Superintendent Craig] Bender said, adding that every dollar in the budget is important to someone. “We didn’t start this process because we thought this was the best way to improve education, but we’re doing it though believing we’ll try to make it better wherever we can.”

Baraboo School Board grapples with more budget cuts

“We can address things one-by-one as we have been,” he [Board member Sean McNevin] said, “or we can take a top-down approach,” and hand the administration a set number of cuts with which to grapple.

Every fiscal cut we make tends to lay us on the road of mediocrity … but at some point it’s going to have to happen.”

[Baraboo High School Principal Machell] Schwarz said the district had been dealing with slim budgets for the past 10 years, however.

“We need to continue looking at the big picture, and stop focusing on money, and focus more on kids,” she said.

Monona’s Maywood [school] may close

The Monona Grove school district is scrambling for ideas to plug a budget hole of about a million dollars, including a proposal to consolidate the Monona community’s two elementary schools, Maywood School and Winnequah School.

“We have to look at every option. We have budgetary problems just like everyone else because of the state funding system and the poor economy,” [District Superintendent Craig] Gerlach noted in a phone interview on Thursday.

“I don’t want to close a school. But we have a predicted $1 million deficit every year for the next five years. We can’t balance the budget without threatening programs in our district that people have come to expect. In the long run, we can’t afford the luxury of this school,” he [Peter Sobol, Monona School Board vice president] said, noting that $250,000 in annual savings could keep four or five teachers in the classroom.

The Oshkosh Northwestern reports “Financial turmoil for school finances across Wisconsin due to state budget.”

But, nearly one in four districts, including Oshkosh, chose to tax below their caps this year despite the budget squeeze. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, an independent research group, reports 98 out of 427 districts did not tax to their revenue limits.

The change, he [Dale Knapp, research director for the Taxpayers Alliance] said, likely stems from a significant financial shakeup in the thick of a floundering economy. State lawmakers last summer cut aid to schools for the first time since the state’s education funding system was established in 1993. Local property tax payers were left with the burden of making up the difference if districts didn’t cut spending.

“When you talk to residents about the cuts being made to your school programs and then ask for a 10 percent or higher increase in the school levy, there’s a disconnect there, and that’s hard to take in,” Knapp said.

Many parents and educators in the district, along with some board members, have complained that cutting more than necessary only exacerbated today’s budget problems.

“It’s time for us to tax to the full levy. I’ve thought about that for a long time,” board member Karen Bowen said during a January school board discussion about the issue. “I don’t see how we can do good things for our kids if we just slash and burn.

More from Oshkosh.   First, some videos from WBAY-TV (I’m not sure of the right order, but they are all worth a watch).

Oshkosh School Board Decides Budget Cuts

Students, Teachers React to Oshkosh School Cuts

Oshkosh North Faces Cutting 70 Classes

Oshkosh Students Frustrated About Classes on the Chopping Block

For those who don’t watch, here’s the basic situation as described in this story:

The Oshkosh School Board had some difficult decisions to make Wednesday night — facing a multi-million dollar budget shortfall and making unfavorable cuts. The district faces a $4 million deficit.

In a late-night vote, after hours of discussion, the school board voted to increase the student-teacher ratio at North and West high schools to 25-to-1. This effectively eliminates an estimated 35 or 36 teaching jobs.

However, the school board rejected a plan to consolidate five of its middle schools into four buildings. Two elementary schools would close, and Perry Tipler Middle School would become an elementary school. Now, Tipler will remain a middle school.

The board took no action on the possibility of raising taxes.

A big crowd was on-hand for the school board meeting. About 80 people spoke out — many endorsing a double-digit tax hike to avoid drastic cuts.

The emotional audience was mostly teachers, parents, and students. Many said the cuts being proposed were too much.

Some of the cuts are catastrophic,” high school senior Derek Maters said. “If you look at the depth of them, it’s reaching from people who are looking at a tech career to people looking at a college career.

One more from Oshkosh: Dozens speak mind on proposed school cuts.

High school students easily accounted for most of the crowd at Alberta Kimball Auditorium at Oshkosh West High School, where hundreds gathered to hear the results of the meeting. One student presented the school board a petition with more then 480 student signatures opposing the cuts.

“For those who are not able to escape the district, you’re condemning their success,” said high school student Dereck Mathers, referring a report created by the high schools’ assistant principals detailing the impact of teacher layoffs on course offerings.

The report lists 43 West High classes and 67 North High classes that would no longer be offered next year if the resolution passes. The report predicts 787 West students and 1,142 North students would be impacted

“The problem with this is that if these courses are cut, many students will have to compromise for a lower level (education),” said Connor Schroeder, vice president of West High School’s student government.

West High School junior Ryan Steffen said he believes the cuts would create more impersonal relationship between students and over-worked teachers.

“I would like to speak for all the teachers because I’d like to not see them cut,” he said. “I know the passion they bring into work.”

Reading and hearing these students made me think of our older son.  He is at West and MMSD high school students  are in the process of choosing classes for next year.  I told him that it is very possible some of the classes he picks will not be offered due to budget pressures.  Hard to tell him that.  He’s volunteered on referendum campaigns and for school board candidates.  He did this because we taught him that being involved was a way to preserve and expand educational opportunities.  We’ve won those battles, we even won the battles to “Take Back the Assembly,” but the Assembly took back the victories.  Hard to tell him that too.

Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.


Budget forecasts show deficits for Kimberly Area School District

Budget forecasts suggest the Kimberly Area School District could have a $3.1 million structural deficit in five years should factors including state aid and teacher-to-student ratios remain unchanged.

[Scott] Gralla, [a consultant with PMA Financial Network] said there’s optimism that legislators will eventually restore higher funding levels to schools. Kimberly isn’t alone in the depth of deficits projected.

This is not out of the norm at all for districts your size,” Gralla said.

Proposed change isn’t elementary Whitnall district considers regrouping younger students

This proposal may only be the beginning of possible budget cuts, as the district could face a deficit between $1 million to $3 million.

Whitnall lost about $1.3 million in state aid last year and officials are unsure how much they will get from the state for the 2010-11 school year.

Nekoosa prepares to cut teacher jobs, programs

About $720,000 worth of reductions are planned for next school year, about $485,000 of which will come from the removal or reduction of 11 Nekoosa School District teaching staff members, according to documents provided to the public at Tuesday’s Nekoosa School Board meeting.

The plan includes eliminating a math and technical education teacher position from Nekoosa High School, a first-grade teaching job at Humke Elementary because of enrollment numbers, and English and social studies teachers at Alexander Middle School.

Several other positions are likely to have hours reduced, including choral music and art at Alexander, and business education and family and consumer education at the high school. A high school counseling position being vacated this summer because of a retirement also will not be filled.

“We are absolutely in financial crisis,” Superintendent Wayne Johnson said. “Virtually every school district in the state of Wisconsin is a little worse or a little better off than we are. The state funding formula is flat-out broke.”

Wisconsin Rapids, Public has chance to comment on proposed WRPS cuts tonight

The Wisconsin Rapids School Board must cut about $2 million from its budget for next school year

Nicolet’s finances chief concern of School Board candidates

We had cut as much as possible without cutting education,” he [candidate Joe Kasle] said. “We did not cut the arts, feeling that is part of having well rounded students. We had fund balance left to get through only 18 months. If the referendum had failed, we would have had to go to referendum again. After 17 years of 2 percent funding from the state and 4 to 5 percent increases in costs, there was just no money.”

That’s it for now.  I have more links and stories, but this is too depressing to do all in a couple of sittings.

Don’t get depressed, get mad, get active:  Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids (SIGN THE PETITION!), School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Thomas J. Mertz

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A Starving Impulse

Sam Dillon of the New York Times has been doing some good reporting on the carrot/stick financing strategies of the Dept. of Educaction in the vortex of shrunken state budgets, stimulus money about to dry up in 2010 and Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top (RttT) funding proposal.

In a piece from January 18th, Dillon quoted Nevada’s school superintendent Keith W. Rheault, who noted that Nevada educators had initially grumbled about the RttT program but quieted their criticisms once their state’s tax revenues plummeted last year.

“When you’re starving and somebody puts food in your mouth, it’s amazing what states will do,” Mr. Rheault said.

It was obvious that any opposition was not going to derail efforts by about 40 states to compete in the first part of a two-stage competition (7 will also file for second stage applications later). This, despite the fact that many of those states had to perform last-minute legislative changes to make their proposals more in line with Dept. of Education guidelines. A big effort, for example, was made in many states to accomodate the mandate that raised the number of chartered schools or expanded the pool of students who are eligible to attend them. As well, both California and Wisconsin repealed their laws that banned the linking of student achievement data to teachers; one day, in Wisconsin’s case, after Mr. Obama’s visit to Madison.

But in their efforts to jockey for desperately needed cash, ostensibly to become a leader in education “reform,” critics have suggested that the various state’s inabilities to pay current bills should make everyone skeptical of their capacity to take on any such new initiatives. As a report noted , in the case of Illinois, if the state were to succeed in receiving RttT funding, “it might not have the ability to finance the long-term costs of any new programs once the federal money has been spent.”

“Not too long ago,” Ms. Slowik said, “everyone was encouraged to get early-childhood programs going,  but then the funding wasn’t there.”

“Then you come along and have Race to The Top, and say you’re going to give your all and put extra things on,” she added. “There’s a feeling in the education community that these are expectations some know they can’t meet.”

With Illinois, for example, already coping with $1 billion in arrears to schools, and having already used $1 billion in federal stimulus money to plug a major hole in the state’s education budget, this represents a precarious tightrope to be walking on indeed.

Some educators are skeptical that the state can meet even its current obligations for education financing, let alone support new Race to the Top initiatives.

“Not in the current financial situation — absolutely not,” said Kenneth Cull, superintendent of District 69 in Skokie and Morton Grove. “They put too much borrowing and Band-Aids on basic education. They can’t do that forever. That’s why there is really a crisis right upon us.”

Sam Dillon’s piece today explored the “funding cliff” faced by many of the nation’s schools as they begin to use up the  $100 billion that Congress included in the stimulus law last year to help schools cushion the impact of the recession.

New studies show that many states will spend all or nearly all that is left between now and the end of this school term.

With state and local tax revenues still in decline, the end of the federal money will leave big holes in education budgets from Massachusetts and Florida to California and Washington, experts said.

“States are going to face a huge problem because they’ll have to find some way to replace these billions, either with cuts to their K-12 systems or by finding alternative revenues,” said Bruce Baker, an education professor at Rutgers University.

The stimulus program “was the largest one-time infusion of federal education dollars to states and districts in the nation’s history.”

While states were warned by Sec. Duncan and others to not spend the money in ways that could lead to damaging budget holes once the federal money ended, most took to heart the other message, to stimulate the economy by saving, or creating, some 250,000 education jobs. In short, many states used the balance of their money for 2009-10 school year leaving little or no money available for 2010-11. Wisconsin was one of 20 states that said when applying for their stabilization funds that they would spend the entirety of the endowment through the 2008-10 school years. Many states ended up spending a considerable amount of their Title 1 funds to save jobs that previously would have been paid through state and local funding that were about to be dissolved due to cuts in that funding.

Yet another train wreck hurtling down the tracks for education. Who is left to turn to for answers of how the bleeding of public education will be staunched?

Robert Godfrey

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Something Nice — Wausaukee Wins Awards (and more on State and Local School Finance)


AMPS followed the travails of the Wausaukee School District as the pressures 0f Wisconsin’s broken school finance system led it to the brink of dissolution.  A successful referendum in August 2008 gave the district new life.   This Wednesday, Wausaukee celebrated three prestigious awards, the High School won a Federal Department of Education National  Blue Ribbon School citation, Waunakee Community Middle School was selected as a Association of Wisconsin School Administrators Middle School of Excellence and both the High School and the Elementary School earned Wisconsin Promise Schools of Recognition.

Supt./Principal Jan Dooley explained the criteria for the Blue Ribbon award:

The Department of Public Instruction nominated our high school based on the category, “dramatically improving schools with at least 40 percent of our students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.” In analyzing our data at the federal level, the federal review team moved our high school from this category to the category, “schools in the top 10% in their state with at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” We are extremely proud of our students’ scholastic performance which led to the selection of our high school as a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School.

Dooley is right to be proud of the students, the staff and the community.

Wausaukee is a classic “small but necessary” district that is squeezed by the state finance system.  The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)  has long fought for reforms that recognize the diverse circumstances of  districts, schools and students in targeting educational investments.   As a result, Wisconsin  now has a (too) small “Sparsity Aid” (Wausaukee got about $39,000 this year).   Progress, but not enough and other state actions have undercut the good of this reform.  In particular the decreases in state aid have brought schools around the state to the brink of crisis (Wausaukee lost about 15% in state aid,  over $100,000 in total).

WAES continues the work on sparsity and other reforms, but this crisis has led to a stepped up action to address revenues through the Penny for Kids campaign for a dedicated 1 cent per dollar sales tax to fund education.  Sparsity, poverty aids and other moves in the right direction are part of the proposal, but the immediate revenue needs are the main focus.

Wausaukee was able to pass a referendum in 2008, but the cuts in state aid and the consequent raises in property taxes make that very difficult now.  Madison was also able to pass a referendum in 2008, but last year they they lost 15% in state aid didn’t tax to the max and next year —  when they will again lose 15% — they will likely tax well below the limit.  Here are the figures for state aid to Madison Schools for the last seven years ( from Asst. Supt. Erik Kass via Board Member Ed Hughes):

2004-05 – $50,064,391

2005-06 – $58,996,880

2006-07 – $56,984,763

2007-08 – $57,301,616

2008-09 – $60,743,743

2009-10 – $51,513,826

2010-11 – $43,761,093 (projected)

The old problems are still around — costs and allowed revenues not aligned, mandates underfunded, diversity not accounted for…  —  but there is also a new/old problem and that is that property taxes are becoming unsustainable.   The last time that happened, the state stepped up by pledging to provide 2/3 of educational investments.  In his first budget Governor Jim Doyle walked away from the pledge and it has been downhill ever since, reaching new lows with the 2009-11 budget (Doyle’s last).  This is why the Penny for Kids revenues are necessary.  Click the link and sign the petition.

I want to write more happy stories about education in Wisconsin, like this one started out to be.   Wausaukee and other districts are doing great things and that work needs to be celebrated and to continue and expand.  Till the continuance and expansion become real state priorities, I guess I’m stuck doing the jeremiads and calls to action.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Howard Zinn in the Car

Click image for Googel Books page.

Click image for Google Books page.

[I just got word that Howard Zinn died and am reposting this — TJM]

The Clash, “Know Your Rights” (click to listen or download)

Tom Robinson Band, “Better Decide Which Side You’re On” (click to listen or download)

A little side trip from the usual.

This evening I was at my local gas station.  I’ve had some interactions with the guy behind the counter before.  He’s probably in his late 20s, a white guy into “Positive Hip Hop” (we’ve talked about that before).  He wears some bling, has what looks like a prison tear tattoo by his eye, I think he said takes some classes at MATC.  I’m always glad to see him.

Tonight I walked in and saw — off to the side, behind the counter —  Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.

I said, ” You are reading Noami Wolf?” and smiled.

He responded “I got Howard Zinn in the car,” smiling also.

We talked a bit about Zinn and the People’s History (purchase from Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative).  I told him I taught history.

You’d be amazed at how many peple bring up Zinn when I tell them I am a historian.  I can do the “critical reading” thing with Zinn and find things that should be better, but he has done so much good for so many peoples’ understanding of our nations history and present;  in turn most of those people have become better citizens because of what they learned.  Zinn is good, the People’s History is good.

This would be a better country if more people had Howard Zinn in the car.

We talked some more;  he told me about reading the Constitution with his 11 year old daughter who wants to be  a Constitutional lawyer.  He told me that the price he extracted from his daughter for recreational computer access this Summer was a five page paper on the Federal Reserve.

We talked more about the Constitution.  As I was walking out, I quoted “Know your rights.”

He answered “They are under attack.”

With the door closing I said “Always” and he flashed me a hand sign and a smile.

These days it is easy to get discouraged about politics, activism, education and so much else.  It happens to me all the time.  I wasn’t discouraged on my way home and haven’t been since.

I’m energized.  I know that my friend at the gas station is going to keep doing what he is doing and the world is a better place for it.  I’m energized to make sure that people like him and me have opportunities to come together to work for that better future.  Mostly I’m energized to keep trying make public education live up to all of its promises, for his daughter, my sons and all the rest.

Thomas J. Mertz

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