Why should education contribute so much to help reduce state's deficit?
The bond referendum election held on April 5 for reinvesting in our school facilities has come and gone, and voters spoke by defeating the proposal with 51.7% opposed (2,805) and 48.3% in favor (2,624).
High voter turnout was indicative of the interest in the school district's election, as well as in other local and state races.
I wouldn't be truthful if I said I wasn't disappointed. So many citizens had worked on this plan for several years. The School Board felt it had proposed a cost-effective and educationally sound solution to our district's aging buildings. Whether it was the timing of this election or the proposal itself that voters rejected is still up for determination.
Nonetheless, a decision was made on election day to not address our facility needs at this time, and I definitely can accept that and move forward.
Several citizens have asked why I allowed on school grounds on election day those advocating for recall of our state senator and those supporting our state senator. Because two of our buildings are polling sites, and because the political advocates were not trying to influence anyone about items on this ballot, we were required to allow this activity at the high school and middle school as long as the advocates remained 10 feet away from path and entryway to the polls and did not cause any disruption to the voting process.
Democracy is messy, but it works. I have yet to find a better system and am proud of our community's adherence to the election process and results as we move forward.
A new battle zone for our school district is over proposed cuts in school funding by the state over the next two years. This effort in Madison is not yet resolved but as proposed has the potential for reducing our revenue cap for spending on each child by $530, or $1.6 million dollars/year.
I believe education needs to take part in balancing the state's budget deficit. However, as proposed, education reductions account for $1.7 billion of the $3-billion deficit, which seems extreme. Even that might be OK, except for the fact that:
n the budget bill reduces $1.7 billion in revenue to public schools at the same time as the transportation budget for the state is increased by $300 million, including $225 million for a new Milwaukee Zoo interchange.
n public education cuts will be the highest in Wisconsin's history, while an increase of $41 million in state aid goes to Milwaukee vouchers and charter schools.
n the bill eliminates the requirement that districts have reading specialists to coordinate a comprehensive reading program, but calls for an additional $1.2 million over the biennium for the Department of Administration (not the Department of Public Instruction) to develop a 3rd grade reading test.
n the budget bill maintains teacher and administrative licensing and student testing requirements for public schools, but it eliminates licensing and testing requirements for private and charter schools.
For next year, our district should be OK if this budget bill passes, but only because of our fund balance and federal Education Jobs Fund dollars we've held in bay to use next year instead of laying off staff.
However, in the second year of the biennium (2012-13), our district will be faced with well over a million dollars in reductions, even as our population and student needs grow.
During spring break this year, I was fortunate enough to serve on a district accreditation team in Spartanburg, S.C. The process that district used for its system-wide accreditation (AdvancEd) is the same process our district's strategic plan calls for under Strategy #6, Accountability. Being on the team of outside evaluators helped me learn what we need to do in River Falls to earn national certification that comes from the process.
While there, I wrote to myself: "Unlike the Spartanburg district, our River Falls community and parents hold high expectations for education and high aspirations for their children."
As we move forward to face our school buildings' inadequacies without new revenues from the referendum, and as we work to keep quality staff and strong educational programs that the proposed state budget would threaten to slash, it's my hope that we as a community raise our voices and demand that children continue to be placed first in Wisconsin and River Falls as they have for decades past. Our future is counting on it.