A sound school district
A sound school district
Plan needed for underachieving schools
The news on Saturday was welcome news to the taxpayers in the Waukesha School District. The district indicated that, according to preliminary budget numbers, there will be a 3.78 percent drop in the property tax levy from the previous school year.
The proposed drop in the tax levy follows a budget year that decreased the property tax levy by 2.07 percent.
It wasn’t that long ago, just five years, when the school district’s finances resembled the Bailey Building and Loan Association after Uncle Billy lost the bank deposit.
District Superintendent Dave Schmidt, Superintendent Todd Gray’s predecessor, was in over his head. He refused to close underutilized school buildings. Teachers could move to the top of an absurd salary table in as little as six years. The district offered raise packages to the teachers union that resulted in salary increases above what was required under the qualified economic offer law.
The administration did not even know what was being spent on the district’s credit cards.
Meanwhile, Democrats like state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts were coming to Waukesha to use the district as an example of the failures of the state funding formula and the salary caps. Mayor Larry Nelson and a group called Waukesha Forward promised to lead an effort for a referendum to raise property taxes beyond the revenue caps.
It would be too easy to ascribe the change in the condition of the district to just one factor.
We can certainly give credit to Governor Scott Walker and the passage of Act 10 by the Republican Legislature. As much abuse as our state Rep. Bill Kramer took at town hall meetings when the district appeared to be in crisis, perhaps people will thank him now for standing with the governor.
Act 10 has certainly made the job of Superintendent Gray a lot easier. The district moved to a self-insured heath care plan that saved over a million dollars last year. The district has moved away from the infamous salary table to a new compensation structure that slows down the number of years it takes for a teacher to get to the top end of the pay scale. The district even just completed a salary plan for the 2011-2012 school year that’s designed to be more attractive to recruiting younger teachers to the district.
None of these changes would have been possible without the passage of Act 10. As Wisconsin’s conservatives like to say, “It’s working.”
But the district was showing signs of improvement before the passage of Act 10. Under Gray, the district moved to consolidate facilities to save money. The district created the STEM charter school. It even took on the teachers union over the ridiculous salary table and the health insurance plan.
Since Gray took office, it’s fair to say that the School Board has supported him. Ironically, many of the current School Board members supporting Gray also supported his hapless predecessor.
Now that the district is on sounder financial footing, the district has other challenges to take on. According to scoring by the state Department of Public Instruction, the district earned a C grade. While no schools received a failing grade, no school in the district excelled, either. Schools like Whittier and Blair Elementary are getting D grades and are failing at student achievement.
Waukesha School District residents should be grateful that the administration is doing its best to be a good steward for our tax dollars. It’s been a long road to economic recovery for the district.
Now comes the hard part. What is the administration going to do about the kids in schools that are not doing well? How do we educate them?
We do not judge districts solely on their financial soundness. We judge a district mainly on how well it educates the kids.
* * * Just a reminder, I will be at the village of Wales community blood drive tonight. My donation appointment is at 6:00 p.m.
If you’re coming out to donate blood, please call the Village Hall to let them know you’re coming.
They’re giving away free custard from the Culver’s in Wales and free Irish Fest tickets to donors. I hope to see some of you there.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)