Tuesday, March 24, 2015

School Districts Face Tough Decisions

As I mentioned in my last blog, several districts are facing tough decisions as a result of the Governor’s proposed budget. I am attaching an article from the Edgerton Reporter written by Jeff Brown, Special to the Reporter. This article was published on March 11, 2015.

Grim Outlook for School District Budget
State Cuts Might Mean Pay Freeze for Teachers

Board of Education President Matt Towns told leaders of the Edgerton Teacher’s Union on Monday night he’s confident the school district will be able to balance the budget next year without laying off any teachers.  However, teachers might have to accept a pay freeze and pay more in health insurance premiums or pay a bigger share of their doctor’s bills.

Why?  Because health insurance costs continue to rise and because Governor Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 budget includes a $150 per-pupil cut in state aid.

Towns’ comments came during an open meeting attended by members of the board’s Edgerton Education Association Relations Committee and the Edgerton Education Association’s President, Vice-President and Secretary.

Begins and ends with health care

Towns began the meeting by telling EEA President Shane Kinnick, EEA Vice-President Adam Gould and EEA Secretary Jennifer Nelson the district wanted to avoid layoffs because “when you get rid of people that means two things, and both are bad for kids- you’re either cutting programs or your cramming kids into rooms.”

But Towns said the district’s “ hands were tied” because its health insurance costs are projected to grow by nearly seven percent next year.  “Every discussion begins and ends with heath care,” Towns said.

Salary and benefits make up 85 percent of the district’s 22 million dollar budget this year, and a seven percent increase in health care costs would mean the district would need to come up with an extra $225,000 next year in order to balance the budget.

Walker’s cut would hurt

There won’t be any extra money for the Edgerton School District or any other school district in Wisconsin if Walker’s proposed budget becomes law.  The $150 per-pupil cut in state aid would blow a $540,000 hole in the Edgerton School District’s budget next year.  Board member Amy Richardson told the union leaders that would force the district to adopt what she called a “doomsday approach.”

“If we don’t get the 150 and we have to cut $540,000, then we’re not sure we can even commit to no layoffs,” Richardson said.

Stop the slide

Dr. Tad Wehner, the district’s director of finance and personnel, sounded a more optimistic note.  He told Kinnick, Gould, and Nelson that the district was considering several options to hold the line on health insurance costs, including raising the deductible on the point-of-service plan the teachers are currently enrolled in and switching to an HMO plan.

Wehner said “his dream” was to allow teachers to choose between a point-of-service plan or an HMO. But Nelson said it was her sense that teachers didn’t want to switch plans again after having to do so several years ago.  She also said making the teachers pay more for their health insurance would amount to a pay cut.

“The insurance is important and we know that goes up, but we also know our take home pay has been reduced the last couple of years,” Nelson said. “So if there are things we can do to stop the slide, because that’s starting to hurt a little bit.”

The district was able to erase a $600,000 deficit last year while giving teachers a 1.46 percent cost of living increase and covering $150,000 of the increase in health insurance costs by reducing the number of one-year teaching positions, not filling an administrative position, reducing non-health insurance premiums and shrinking its maintenance and operation budgets.  But neither the cost of living increase nor the $150,000 was enough to keep teacher’s take-home pay from inching downward.

New building, new job?

One option for avoiding layoffs, said Wehner, is to move teachers from one school to another to address changes in enrollment.  For instance, said Wehner, rather than hire two new teachers to handle a projected jump in enrollment at Community Elementary School, the district could move teachers from the middle school, where enrollment is projected to drop by 15 next year.

Nonetheless, said Wehner, there’s a limit to the magic he can work with his budget wizardry. “It’s hard to balance a budget and add stuff without freezing everybody,” Wehner said.  “It digs us into a deeper hole.”

Pauli said the deficit imposed by Walker’s proposed budget would also force the district to put off a series of maintenance projects, including installing a new HVAC system for the pool ($250,000), rebuilding the tennis courts ($500,000), and refinishing the floors in the field house.

He said the school district couldn’t use extra revenue raised after passage of a referendum in 2013 to pay for those projects because under state law the money had to be spent within 18 months of the date of the referendum.

Education is “non-viable”

Kinnick, Gould and Nelson agreed with the board members and Pauli that freezing teacher’s pay in order to avoid layoffs was preferable to a small pay increase that cost jobs.

“Nobody would want a $500 increase at the cost of someone’s job,” Gould said. Nonetheless, said Gould, a pay freeze would send a troubling message -- namely, that teaching isn’t worth it.

“It really is non-viable for people to stay in education,” Gould said. “I’m not saying this just in Edgerton, but everywhere. It’s really becoming a bad situation.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Nicole Andresen, Guest Columnist

Inspired by Kevin Honeycutt

Our district was visited last week by Kevin Honeycutt, last year's International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) keynote speaker, and if you haven't heard of him, I encourage you to check out him out.

I have been to my share of keynote speakers and district lectures.  There have been some that have left things resonating and others that I was bored to tears (I'll be honest).  This time, I couldn't help but be engaged and listen to every word.  The way Kevin gets right to your emotions was.... well I can't even describe it other than it reminded me why I chose to be a teacher again.  I was laughing and I had tears in my eyes all at the same time.

His talk made me actually Google search during our break to find the high school teacher that had the most profound impact on my life.  I remember Mrs. Buchheit as a woman who was a great listener, had the patience of a saint, promoted her lessons with energy and enthusiasm, and was there for you regardless of whether it was school related or not.  She is really the teacher that I can look back on and remember her face, her lessons, and her voice.  Mrs. Buchheit helped mold me into the teacher I am today!

His talk made me email that student that I know I reached, but has fallen by the wayside again, and tell him I'm still here and I still believe in him.  Over the course of this child's grade 3 year in my room, we moved from a setting where you didn't know what would set him off, to a child who worked for me and listened with great interest.  While in 4th grade he knew he could always come to me for help and guidance.  He often showed up before school to work on homework because he didn't have a home setting that made it possible.  I gave him a snack for the morning and mid-day because sometimes mom was too tired to make or send anything.  In fifth grade, I moved to a new district.  Not by choice but rather by circumstances.  I received this letter from him the day he found out I was leaving the school:

I still kept tabs on him, checking in every so often.  He would stop in to my friend's classroom in the building to call me or write me.  When he was having a particularly hard time, his teacher would call me and I would speak to him from my new classroom.  Eventually I found myself back in the same district.  We would send emails back and forth, but he was always vague about what was going on in his life.  The next thing I knew he was no longer communicating and through investigation I found that his mom had moved him south to be closer to his dad.  Not quite a year later they did return but this child has been on downward slope.  It breaks my heart to know he is on the wrong path and that circumstances outside of school have lead to poor choices.  If anything that Kevin Honeycutt said really resonated with me, it would be that I can't give up on him, especially if everyone else close to him has.

Some of the best quotes and takeaways from Kevin Honeycutt were:

    If you don't care who gets the credit, you can make anything happen.
    Kids are learning on a digital playground and nobody's on recess duty.
    Write on your students' mind with permanent ink!
    Record your lessons and team teach with yourself.
    Don't let politicians sum us up. Tell the stories about your students, it's not bragging....It needs to be heard. Take charge! Get the word out!
    First generation to have global competition. How are you getting your students ready?
    Learn to Love to Learn
    It's okay to model that humans need to keep learning.... So if you're unsure of using tech in the class it's okay, let the kids help.
    Re-believe in your students! Make them feel valued!
    Kids come to us the best they can & sometimes it's not good. It's not our job to judge...
    They are all our kids.... Not just the easy ones!
    The most dangerous place to be in a school is alone.
    The world is changing, why aren't we?
    Worksheets on an iPad is moving sideways.... Move forward!
    Is your school global or snow global?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Area School Districts Also Facing Tough Decisions

Area School Districts Also Facing Tough Decisions 

As school districts around the state respond to the potential decrease in funding by the state and also experience rising costs, the layoffs and budget reduction stories are beginning to surface. Our Board will make some tough decisions at the next Board Meeting on March 24, 2015, (5:30 p.m.) in the area of OPEB and Insurance. They will not only be thinking about present concerns, but the future. Please listen carefully to the implications of the many decisions they will need to make by watching the Board meeting through live video stream or once it is taped and posted on the District’s website. 

This is just one of several stories I have read this week. 

(From the Janesville Gazette)

 Parkview issues layoff notices 

District anticipates $900,000 shortfall in next year’s budget 

By Gina Duwe (Janesville Gazette-March 18, 2015) 


 The Parkview School District this week issued preliminary layoff notices to six instructional staff in anticipation of a $900,000 budget deficit next year.

 Superintendent Steve Lutzke said he couldn’t reveal which positions are affected because the staff members can have private hearings, but the school board likely will issue the formal notices at its April 20 meeting. 

Some of the cuts are because enrollment is down in a couple grades, Lutzke said.

 “If we get four, five, six more kids in a grade,” then the district could retain the affected positions, he said.

 The district was anticipating a deficit around $680,000, which would have resulted in one or two staff cuts, but the deficit increased mostly because the district lost so many students through open enrollment, he said.

 Enrollment dropped by 64 students in this January’s count to 787, compared to 851 in the January 2014 count.

 Through open enrollment:

  • 37 students came into the district, compared to 56 last year 
  • 124 students left the district, compared to 106 last year 

 The district is in the middle of a three-year, $350,000 annual boost in operating revenue approved by voters in a referendum last year.

 Despite the extra revenue, the district used reserve funds to fill budget gaps last year and this year, but it can’t afford to continue that practice, Lutzke said.

Much of the deficit reduction will come through efficiencies, he said.

 Reduced fuel costs for buses are saving money, and preliminary insurance rates look better than anticipated, he said.

 When the district closes the primary school in Footville, it will save utility and transportation costs and see savings through staff consolidation, he said.

 Construction is underway after voters last year approved a $17 million referendum for additions and renovations to swap the Orfordville elementary school with the junior/senior high schools.

 The school board in January also approved eliminating one administrator for next year—the elementary principal/director of curriculum and instruction.

 Savings also will come when some retired employees use up their allotted post-retirement benefits.

 Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal calls for eliminating categorical aids to schools next year. Under that proposal, Parkview would lose an additional $135,000, pushing its deficit above $1 million.