Thursday, March 17, 2011

Were Wisconsin School Boards Ignored by the GOP8?

Susan Troller posted an excellent article in today's Capital Times. 

Troller described the fact that yesterday was the Wisconsin Association of School Boards' annual "lobby day" at the Capitol, a chance for school board members to meet with their representatives about their concerns over state funding.  It was also the day that Governor Walker conducted a press conference to discuss the beneficial impact his new budget would have on schools throughout the state.  Representatives from only one school district, the West Bend School District, were invited into the room for the Governor's press conference, where they stood behind the Governor throughout.  One district out of the 426 school districts in Wisconsin was invited in.  Not surprisingly, the superintendent from West Bend couldn't say enough good things about the Governor's budget.  Here he is midway through WKOW's report on the press conference:

Confident that the West Bend folks might not be completely representative of the huge mass of board members walking the halls of the Capitol,Troller decided to do some interviews outside the Governor office after the press conference. She described some of what she heard in the article:
Mary Rayome and Anne Lee are veteran school board members in Wisconsin Rapids, a district of about 5500 students in central Wisconsin and they're discouraged. As part of the Rapids school board, they had to trim about $3 million from the district budget last year, a tense process that created some deep divisions in the community.
Now Wisconsin Rapids is facing more bad financial news as it struggles to deal with Walker's proposed budget, likely to create an additional shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars this year. And the budget repair tools aren't enough to offset the red ink, partly because the district won't find savings in health insurance, with staff members already paying up to 15 percent of their premium costs.
"As a district, we've been working to encourage a collaborative environment in our schools and now we're moving in the exact opposite direction. The budget repair bill has put school boards like ours between a rock and a hard place," Rayome says. "Morale is low and I'm terribly worried about the climate for our students and teachers."
In a village like Port Edwards, with only about 500 students, school board members are worried about the impact of the Walker budget, too. John Daven, Jr. and Leo Thomasgard say that consensus bargaining had been working well in their district, which employs about 40 teachers.
"We were fiscally fine, with very little debt and mutual respect through our bargaining process with the teachers," Thomasgard says. But the cuts looming for Port Edwards' schools in the proposed Walker budget are huge for a small district, and the purported savings from the budget repair bill won't help much."
"We've had to lay off a quarter of our teachers because we've got a deficit of $427,000 in a budget of $5 million," Daven says. He adds that the district has always been very financially prudent and the cuts are not only painful, but also feel unfair.
"These are people we sit in church with, teachers that my daughter baby-sits for. And we have to look them in the eyes and tell them they don't have a job."
As a local school board member, Thomasgard says it's particularly galling that there's no where to turn for relief, explaining that the governor's budget repair bill also prohibits asking taxpayers in the community if they would be willing to pay more to support community schools.
"This sure doesn't give much local control. From the beginning, we haven't had a seat at the table to discuss what impact this would have on a district like ours. It just doesn't seem right."
Having read Ms Troller's report, I am curious about something. My curiosity arises out of the uproar resulting from the Governor's proposed budget cuts to K-12 education and his requested expansion of charter and voucher school programs.  It also arises from the comment of the two Wisconsin Rapids board members quoted above who said the Governor's plan for insisting on contributions to health plans from the teachers won't help their district at all, because it already had the teacher's paying more towards benefits than what the Governor proposed.  Here's what I wonder:  Of the 8 Republican Senators that are now subject to recall efforts, how many of them had substantive communications with any of the school boards in their districts about the Governor's budget after it was announced, but before they precipitously voted on the Budget Repair Bill on March 9 and fled the Capitol?  That's eight days to have reached out to school boards in their districts at a minimum, and I have to believe many of those senators knew the broad outlines if not the details of the budget well prior to the Governor's Budget Address on March 1.  Knowing, whenever they did, that the Governor proposed over $900 million dollars in cuts to K-12 education, which of the GOP 8 thereafter sat down and discussed the future of public education in their districts with any of their boards?  Remember, these are GOP Senators.  The GOP is the party that believes in local control and not imposing undue restrictions and control from higher levels of govenrment on lower ones.  (Think of their reaction to Obamacare for example.) They are the supposed libertarian law-makers that hate big government throwing their weight around in the lives of local citizens.  

The Governor tells us this process was not about busting unions but about improving the state's schools.  So I put my question again:  Which of the GOP8, if any, discussed with the School Boards in their districts whether they felt it would enhance or diminish their districts' efficiency and effectiveness if the Senator voted "yea" or "nay" on the Budget Repair Bill.  Heck, why stop there?  Which of any GOP legislators did so?  I have to believe that between WEAC and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards this question can be easily asked, answered and scored on some report card, by use of some appropriate email inquiries to the 426 districts.  Make that 425.  (West Bend has already said how happy it is.)  It might be a good report card for the voters to consider in recall elections.

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