State's School Funding Policies Place Districts in Dire Fiscal Situations
Greenfield hosts more than a dozen school officials from around the state.
A dozen school administrators, board members and parents from around the state spoke Wednesday of the dire fiscal issues their districts are currently facing and will face in the future as the result of the state's school funding policies.
The Wisconsin Opportunity to Learn Network-sponsored event, held in the administration offices of the Greenfield School District, gave educational leaders a chance to publicly come clean about the current fiscal concerns they have for their districts as a result of the budgetary policies passed by the legislature and Governor Scott Walker this year.
Jim Shaw, the administrator of the Racine Area School District, indicated that his district faces a $25 million deficit this year and a projected $10 million hole next year. A $13.2 million reduction in state aid this year is responsible for the deficit the district faces, according to Shaw. In comparison, the school district in Green Bay faces an $8.8 million decrease in state aid and the school district in Madison loses $6.7 million in state aid.
"How do you go about finding a solution to financial problems of that magnitude?" Shaw asked.
Shaw outlined cost-saving measures - such as sweeping staff reductions and renegotiating insurance and retirement benefits with teachers - the district took to shore up its budget.
"This is de-funding public education in Racine and I am especially concerned about how it impacts poor and diverse children in Racine, kids with above average needs," Shaw said.
A roster of educational leaders from places such as Altoona, Middleton-Cross Plains and Eau Claire took their turn shedding light on a litany of cuts they have made within their school district in response to the policy actions taken in the state's Republican-led capitol.
"Wisconsin is set to become the Mississippi of the Midwest," said Ron Heilman, administrator of the Eau Claire School District.
The familiar fall guy during the event was Gov. Walker, who has a rosier outlook on Wisconsin education. Walker has stated on numerous occasions that schools are "in good fiscal shape," a phrase found headlining on his own Web site.
"Contrary to news reports, school districts are not in good financial shape so whoever is saying that, it is not accurate," Greenfield School District Administrator Conrad Farner said during the event. "We need our legislature and our governor to recognize that we are not in good financial shape."
Administrators also outlined the stark negative impacts their fiscal actions they had to take to balance their budgets will have on their young teachers, class sizes and services for poor students.
"Districts are surviving. Surviving is not the same as thriving," Farner said. "We can't forget that we are coming off of 18 years of revenue caps that have already forced us to tighten our belts, make drastic reductions and to lower our services."
Farner took a broad approach with his remarks, saying there is a fundamental flaw in the way public education is funded throughout the state. According to Farner, the question of "what do our students need?" should be central to finding the solution to Wisconsin's funding issues.
"We can't put our heads in the sand and pretend everything is alright," Farner said. "Nowhere in the process considers the needs of our children."