School boards talk accountability, Walker’s budget
By Melanie Lawder, Wisconsin Rapids Tribune
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Representatives from eight central Wisconsin school districts congregated Monday at Wisconsin Rapids’ East Junior High School to discuss funding, state aid, revenue limits, vouchers and other issues.
Board of Education members and administrators from the school districts of Auburndale, Nekoosa, Pittsville, Port Edwards, Rosholt, Stevens Point, Tri-County Area and Wisconsin Rapids gathered at the Central Wisconsin School Board Consortium to meet with state representatives and explore how they could better advocate for their districts.
The roughly 25 school board members and administrators honed in on Gov. Scott Walker’s recent budget proposal, the accountability bill proposed in the state Legislature and the Wisconsin Student Assessment System, which are tests districts are required to administer to their students by the state.
Walker’s budget proposal and the Legislature’s accountability bill are the most immediate threats to public schools, said Stevens Point Superintendent Attila Weninger.
“Both of those are very onerous for schools, and I don’t know which is worse — and I mean that,” Weninger said.
The accountability bill proposed by the state Assembly, among other things, calls for changing the present school report card system to one that grades a school using an A-F system.
Presently, schools can receive a grade from “Fails to Meet Expectations” to “Significantly Exceeds Expectations.”
“To try to rate and rank a school by a letter grade is, in my view, not educational,” Weninger said. “It can’t tell the story.”
“We’re constantly throwing things at schools in the hopes that they’re going to get better,” said Nekoosa Superintendent Terry Whitmore about the possibility of a new school report card grading system. “We need time, we need time to work on these initiatives that are being thrown at us.”
Under Walker’s budget, public school districts would lose a $150-per-pupil state aid allotment in the 2015-16 year, followed by a restoration of that allotment at $165 per pupil in 2016-17. Over the two years, districts would undergo a net loss of $135 per pupil.
Additionally, Walker’s proposal would lift the 1,000-student cap on statewide vouchers and change how voucher students are funded. Under Walker’s proposal, a student leaving a public school district to attend a private school accepting vouchers would result in that public school losing the money it would have received for that child.
Several district representatives noted that the loss of funds through these two avenues was squeezing their already restricted revenue streams.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, one of several state Assembly representatives in attendance, pointed to the hundreds of million dollars in federal Medicaid money Walker rejected as a potential source of budget relief.
“Instead of just arguing over and over about which agencies take the highest level of cuts, why don’t we just put more money on the table?” Shankland said.
Central Wisconsin district representatives indicated Monday that they plan to meet again before the final version of Walker’s budget passes.