Speaking as a local school board president, I appreciate some of the required contributions to health care benefits and even the retirement system, although I would not have enacted the level you chose all at once. That level of salary cut is very difficult for teachers and other public employees and it will have a significant negative impact on the local economy in the form of reduced discretionary spending. I do not support some other provisions of your "repair bill."
With regard to your budget proposal, the only interpretation possible is that this is an all-out attack on public education. The so-called "tools" you give us, in the form of employee contributions to benefits (salary cuts), will not come close to filling this hole. Additionally, if you really believe that we can lay off our most senior (expensive) teachers and replace them with people right out of college, or even those with a master's degree, you need to collect information from people working with schools. The negative impact on schools caused by the loss of this knowledge/experience base (these are the people who mentor our beginning teachers) is huge, to say nothing of age discrimination lawsuits. Schools improve in a collaborative culture with accountability built in.
We have worked hard at Monona Grove to build a collaborative process of using student performance data to inform teaching, and to build a process by which teachers share best practices. We are seeing positive effects, in early reading, for example, as well as in other skills. Your funding reductions threaten the gains we are making. When we increase class sizes to more than 30 (our current middle and high school max), we reduce the time teachers have to grade papers and provide meaningful feedback and re-teaching experiences for students. When we increase the number of classes teachers have to teach, we increase the exhaustion level, in addition to the number of students with whom to form relationships. Studies show that relationships between staff and students have a significant impact on student achievement. I seriously would like to see the critics of teachers spend just one day teaching a full class load, and of course a week would be even better.
I recognize that we need to make changes. We need to come up with a more equitable funding plan and re-invest in public schools. This is crucial to the economic success of our state as well as our country. How many businesses will want to locate in Wisconsin when the public school system has declined? Schools are a part of the high quality of life here. Private charter schools do not have any better track record over all than public schools. The method of school governance is not what determines school effectiveness; rather, the crucial elements are the teaching and the learning. At Monona Grove, we have worked with other districts on a curriculum model that uses data heavily and which works to improve student performance. We use the research-based benchmarks set by the ACT, and are incorporating these with the national core standards. With the loss of the public school system comes a situation of increasingly random acts of improvement.
Please invite us to the table to talk about these issues. These sweeping changes will be devastating and cause damage that will be hard to fix when the pendulum swings the other way in a few years. When making significant changes, thought must be given to all the ramifications. Compromise is usually the best course.
Friday, March 4, 2011
The following is a copy of the letter sent by MG School Board President Susan Fox. I agree wholeheartedly.