The other day I was walking in the elementary end of the building here in Park Falls and as I was walking by Mr. Oswald's open door I noticed how engaged all his fourth grade students were in the work at hand and how they were all utilizing their Google Chromebooks in accomplishing that work. It is great to see that they are being used as another tool to accomplish the learning taking place in 4th grade, and every grade for that matter. Because computers will be a part of all these students' future work lives, we believe it is important they be comfortable using them on a regular basis in most subjects. After watching for a few minutes I was so impressed with what I saw I decided to share it with you! Kudos to Mr. Oswald and his students!
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released the new report cards for all schools in the state on Monday. These report cards are part of the state's new Educational Accountability Plan approved earlier this year. State Superintendent Tony Evers stated, "The 2011-12 preliminary school report cards are a starting point for using multiple measures to evaluate our schools." The school report cards provide an accountability score on a scale of 0-100. The score ranges place a school in one of five categories. I am happy to report that the three Chequamegon schools rated placed solidly in the "Meets Expectations" category. To see the report card go to this site: http://dpi.state.wi.us/oea/acct/accountability.html
Last spring the high school band submitted an audition tape to perform at the state school board convention in Milwaukee. This week the school district received word that the band has been invited to perform at the general session on January 24 at 3:00 p.m. The convention is held each year in downtown Milwaukee at the Frontier Airlines Center. Each year handful of music groups from school districts around the state are invited to perform for the over 2,000 school board members, administrators and educators attending the convention. The Board approved the band attending with the cost of the trip being covered through student activity account funds rather than district budgeted funds. Kudos to the band and their director Mr. Pollock for this deserved recognition!
We have welcomed back our students for another school year and The first few days have gone very well. Although things were a little quieter over the summer months there has still been a lot going on. We have just finished a month of summer school at both the Park Falls and Glidden campuses. The beginning band students started learning their instruments for the first time while the high school band culminated its summer practices with its appearance at the Minnesota state fair on August 28.
Our custodial staff has been hard at work to prepare the schools for your students. Some things will be very noticeable to you and your student such as the shiny polished floors throughout the buildings and the gymnasiums. Other improvements will be less noticeable but just as important to your student’s well being. We just completed updates to the heating and ventilation systems at the high school that will give much better air flow and exhaust capabilities in the high school science rooms that so often include noxious chemical odors as part of their lab experiments.
Our teachers completed two weeks of professional development workshops and meetings to be more fully prepared to meet the changes coming in education in Wisconsin with the new State Accountability Initiative. The goal of this initiative, just as is the goal of each one of us working in the schools, is to find ways to build and improve on the very strong education program we have had and continually see growth in student achievement. The work the teachers have done over the last week will give them additional tools to more effectively instruct and engage our students in educational growth.
This year will be no exception to the proposition of facing new challenges. Last year the unexpected drop in consolidation incentive aid and the failed referendum caused concern and necessitated budget reductions. This year that does not look as bleak because of unpredictable swings in the aid formula and how they impact our consolidation incentive aid. Recently we spent an hour with Senator Jauch to discuss, among other things, our concern with this unpredictable formula and the severe financial drop we will face coming out of the consolidation in 2014-2015. We will continue to work with our politicians to address the unique financial challenges we face in our consolidation as we continue to look at ways to run more effectively and efficiently.
The students, parents and community have much to be proud of in our schools and our students. Our WKCE test scores met or exceeded state averages in most areas. Meeting this target was one of the Strategic Planning Goals the District made in 2008. However, this year the challenge we will face is that the state is completely changing the way WKCE tests are scored utilizing the National Assessment of Education progress (NAEP) grading scale. As an example of how this will affect us, in the past approximately 82% of students in Wisconsin scored proficient on reading testing. Utilizing the new NAEP scoring, that will translate into 34% as being proficient. Students are not performing worse on the testing. The state, as part of its waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Law, is now adopting a more rigorous scoring system which will help us all in the long run.
We had our school district open house last Thursday and it provided an opportunity for students and parents to meet their teacher and learn about the programs and opportunities for our students this year. Whether you have children in school or not, I urge you to visit a school and see the many good things we are doing for the children of our communities. If you couldn't get to the open house come another time. Come to a sports event, volunteer to read to students, attend a concert or play, become part of a parent support group. Your involvement in our development of these future citizens is crucial to their successful education so thank you in advance for that involvement. Welcome to the 2012-2013 school year!
This week is set aside each year to recognize the many positive contributions teachers make to the welfare of our society and country. Take a minute to think about their importance to our society, but probably more important to each of you is the importance teachers have played in your life and in the lives of your children. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. As in so many areas we often take for granted the dedication teachers show to their profession on a regular basis. The letter below will appear in the Park Falls and Glidden newspapers this week.
"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child." - Carl Jung
To The Editor:
This week, May 7-11, is teacher appreciation week. Each year the first full week of May is set aside to recognize and show appreciation for the dedication and hard work of the teachers who serve the children and families in this community. As Carl Jung states above, we appreciate the good teachers we, and our children, had, but we are especially grateful to those teachers who are able to convey the curriculum with a warmth and caring that makes that teacher memorable.
I challenge each of you to think, during this week, about one or more teachers that stand out in your memory. Each of us can think of a teacher that made a real difference and a significant impression on our lives. In my mind there were two that stand out particularly; a high school history teacher who gave me the first encouragement that education might be in my future and, the real champion, my 5th grade teacher Miss Hume. Miss Hume had been my mother’s 5th grade teacher as well as mine. She conveyed the lessons along with what I now recognize were many life lessons. She was able to harness what was a surplus of energy, on my part, into a positive direction with the warmth Dr. Jung refers to so well, so that I really believed my desk was placed next to hers because I was her favorite and she needed my help! My mother later explained the real reason.
But the point is that almost all of you can point to a teacher that made that kind of difference in your life; that set your path for the future in some way, and this week is the time to remember them. But it is also, more importantly, the time to recognize and thank the teachers that each and every day are making the same kind of impact on your children’s lives that teachers made in your life. The last year as been a challenging year for teachers as the profession and the contribution these dedicated professionals make to the development of future productive citizens has been called into question. In this state, and others, they have been made a part of a political “football” game and been kicked around undeservedly.
Educational research clearly shows that the most important factor in the success of a student in school is the quality of the teachers. In our district we are fortunate that the vast majority of our teachers fall into the category of highly qualified teachers who do, and will, make a difference in the lives of your children. This is no mean feat given the challenges teachers face each day. Donald Quinn put it into perspective when he said, “If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 30 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”
As we thank the teachers for the difference they make, I also want to thank the support staff. Through their efforts as cooks, custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries, or bus drivers, all contribute toward the common goal of educating our children. The teamwork displayed by all of us, working with you parents in this effort, supports the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. Dr. Haim Ginott said, “Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.”
Let a teacher know you appreciate their efforts.
On April 12 the Chequamegon High School Band and the Choirs performed in the Wisconsin School Music Association large group festival that was held at the Prentice School District. The band, both the high school choirs and the middle school choir received first place from a panel of three judges. Our middle school band attended a different festival, doing very well too. Once again, this is an example of the kind of high quality experiences we have been able to provide for our students. I want to thank Mr. Pollock, Mr Donner, Ms. Kirch for their fine efforts to bring out the best in our students. I also want to recognize and thank Diane Johnson for her good work as the elementary music teacher. The strong foundation she has given these students in elementary school is a primary reason for the strength of the program at the high school level. I would like to go on record thanking her for those efforts since her position is one of the reductions that will take place as a result of the failed referendum.
So you can see and hear for yourself a sample of the good work our students are doing I have attached videos of one of the band's pieces performed at the contest, a march titled Little English Girl. I do not have a video of the choir's performance that day but I have attached a video of the Madrigal performing the National Anthem at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee prior to a Milwaukee Bucks game in February. These are the types of experiences that these students will look back on for many years to come. It is my sincere hope that we will be able to continue to provide these kind of life enriching experiences to students in the future.
Recently we posted a new video that describes the many opportunities and choices for students in our Chequamegon District. To see and hear of these opportunities in the students' own words click here.
On Tuesday, April 3, 2012, district residents will be asked to vote on a referendum to allow the Chequamegon School District to budget for an additional $380,000 in 2012-2013 and $450,000 in 2013-2014 beyond what is currently allowed under Wisconsin school revenue limits. A successful referendum will result in tax rates 15% below the 2010 rate and approximately 4% higher than the 2011 rate. The ballot will ask voters to approve or reject the following referendum question:
Shall the School Board of the Chequamegon School District be authorized to exceed the revenue limit under §121.91 of the Wisconsin Statutes in the 2012-2013 school year by an amount up to $380,000 and in the 2013-2014 school year by an amount up to $450,000 for the purpose of sustaining operating expenses?
⎕ YES ⎕ NO
It is our hope that this referendum fact sheet will help you to understand the referendum ballot and the reasons behind the decision to hold a referendum at this time. If you have any questions about the referendum you are urged to contact Dave Anderson, District Administrator (ext. 2427) or Lexi Witt, District Financial Manager (ext. 2425) at 715-762-2474. Additional information is available at the District’s website at www.csdk12.net.
Q. Why do we need to have a school district referendum?
A. The biennial state budget that was passed last summer resulted in cuts of $800+million from school aid. When the reduced total was run through the aid formula Chequamegon saw its consolidation incentive aid cut from $2,103,296 in 10-11 to 1,005,121.42 in 11-12. This, along with changes in the revenue limit formula has resulted in an approximate $1.4 million reduction in what the District could levy. Budget projections predict a budget shortfall of approximately $630,000 and $670,000 respectively in each of the next two years. The Board hopes to avoid having to make cuts of this significant amount through the passage of an operating referendum.
Q. What has the District done to address its budget shortfall?
A. The Board has imposed additional costs on employees consistent with changes in the law last year that result in employees seeing a reduction of 11-18% in take home pay. This year 3.2 full time equivalency (FTE) teaching positions were cut bringing the total staff reductions since consolidation to almost 15 FTE. In addition to the previously mentioned cuts, in December the Board approved the reduction of two teachers, a principal, the police liaison officer, and reductions in special education and cleaning support staff for next year. Also facing reductions for next year are extracurricular programs, classroom supply budgets, shuttles between the Glidden and Park Falls buildings and the food service program. These areas will face reduction whether or not a referendum is passed.
Q. What if a referendum doesn’t pass?
A. In addition to the budget reductions described above, the Board has made a number of additional budget reductions that will go into effect for the 2012-2013 year, but will be restored if a referendum is passed by the voters. The reductions, if the referendum does not pass, will result in less time available for music at the elementary level, less time available for physical education at the elementary level, no Family and Consumer Education at the middle school, higher social studies class sizes at high school (up to 32), no full time librarian at the elementary level, loss of some clerical support time, the start of deferred maintenance and the closing of the swimming pool.
Q. If the referendum is approved, how will it affect my property taxes?
A. The mil rate for 2011 was approximately $7.38 per thousand dollars of property value, a drop in tax rate of approximately 19% from 2010. Predicting mil rates can be uncertain due to factors beyond the control of the school board, such as assessed valuation of property. However, the operating referendum the Board has approved and asks the community to support would increase mil rate from the current $7.38 to approximately $7.70, an increase of 4.4% from the 2011 rate. The impact of moving the mil rate from $7.38 to $7.70 would be approximately an increase of $32.00 on a house valued at $100,000.
Q. Why not freeze pay or cut benefits to make up the shortfall?
A. Although a pay freeze is a possibility, the District still has to bargain base wage with employees under the new law. However a pay freeze would not cover the shortfall. Keep in mind we have already reduced take home pay by 11-18%. We are also looking at restructuring the health insurance in some way with a goal of $80,000 in savings while still being fair to employees. It is entirely possible such a restructuring could result in some additional cost to employees.
Q. Why not just raise taxes back to where they were last year?
A. First we don’t need to raise taxes to where they were last year. This referendum will raise tax rates by about 4% over this year’s rate but taxes will still be about 15% below where they were last year. Revenue Caps that are part of the state funding formula govern how much we may raise the tax rate. The state will only allow districts to exceed this revenue limit through a referendum. So the bottom line is that we cannot raise the additional revenue without taxpayer approval.
Q. Why is student enrollment declining?
A. Declining student enrollment is a trend that the vast majority of districts in the state have been experiencing for a number of years. It appears there are just fewer children being born in recent years. This is felt by school districts because state aid is based on the number of students.
Q. If enrollment is declining, shouldn’t expenses also decline?
A. School costs do not fall proportionately with enrollment for a number of reasons. First, there are expenses that the District has little control over that increase each year regardless of the number of students such fuel and utilities. Second, reducing the number of teachers cannot mirror exactly the decline in enrollment, because the decline is usually spread throughout the grades, For instance if the enrollment in a grade drops by three students there is little or no savings to the district. . However, over the last 9 years the student enrollment has declined by 25%, while District teaching staff have been reduced by 22%, so we have pretty consistently reduced staff as student numbers have gone down.
Q. Why doesn’t the District cut extra-curricular activities to save money?
A. If we cut all extracurricular offerings for students, sports and others, the total savings would be approximately $160,000. This is far below the deficit faced by the district and, as we all know, students who have a strong interest in sports may very well open enroll to another school district under the mechanism available to them under the law. If a few students move out of the district, the negative impact their loss would have on the state aid received would negate the savings. Students remain in school for a variety of reasons; and as you will recall when you remember your favorite areas of interest in high school, very often that did not involve a core academic area. Students who have an interest in technology education or family and consumer education or music or art or sports may be remaining in this district because of those very areas of interest. As we reduce those choices for students we may be encouraging their open enrollment out of the district to our financial detriment. We are, however, including extra-curricular offerings in the budget reductions by cutting them by 10% or $16,000.
Q. Why doesn’t the District just use the fund balance to cover expenses?
A. The fund balance has a couple important purposes. A healthy fund balance affects the bond rating of the district in a positive way but more importantly it reduces or eliminates the need for short-term borrowing for the payroll and other expenses during the year. The Chequamegon Board has made it a priority to build the fund balance to 30 % of the annual budget thereby eliminating the need to short-term borrow. This saves the district approximately $50,000 per year in interest costs. The budget shortfall for 2011-2012 will be covered by the fund balance due to that late timing of the notice on the cut in revenue. If we continue to cover budget shortfalls through the fund balance, within a few years we will have wiped out the fund balance. Using it is a short-term solution but not a long-term answer.
Q. Where can the public get more information?
A. The District is having a Public Information Meeting at the Glidden Campus on Tuesday, March 13 at 7:00pm. and one at the Park Falls Campus on Monday, March 26 at 7:00pm.
We are also doing short presentations for community groups. If there are any groups that would like to schedule representatives from the District to come to a meeting, please contact Pam Steger, 715-762-2474 ext. 2229. We will be happy to come review the referendum issues and answer any questions.
A meeting took place on February 23 that could be very beneficial to the District. Park Falls Mayor Tom Ratzlaff and Park Falls Area Community Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Kempf led a delegation of individuals from the Chequamegon School District to a meeting they had arranged with our area legislators. Present at the meeting were Assembly Members Mary Williams and Janet Bewley. Senator Bob Jauch and Senator Pam Galloway were represented by staffers. Also present were Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Representative Steve Kestell and two staff members from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Dave Luppnow and Russ Kava. Present from the District were Board members Dave Schmidt and Dick Ross as well as Lexi Witt and me. The Mayor had contacted Mary Williams’s office the week before with a strong request to have a meeting such as the one we had for the purpose of addressing the unique problems Chequamegon faced this year. These problems came about because of the dramatic reduction in school aids and the impact that reduction had on Chequamegon and the consolidation incentive aid it had received.
We met for over an hour with both Lexi and I addressing the way the reduction in levy authority had impacted our district, Board Members Ross and Schmidt addressed their concerns relative to their roles as school board members and the attempts the Board had made through consolidation to provide continuing opportunities to our students. Mayor Ratzlaff expressed his concern of the importance of having a strong viable school district in the community and feared that ultimately without help from the state the newly consolidated district could eventually face dissolution. The legislators, and especially Representative Kestell, expressed the opinion that the failure of consolidation was something they did not want. They want to encourage consolidation and the financial failure of one district that did consolidate would be unacceptable in his view.
At the conclusion of the meeting the legislators agreed that they would work on both short term (next two years) and longer term solutions to maintain the viability of the consolidation process. There was some discussion that, if possible politically, an attempt would be made to draft and pass legislation that would address Chequamegon’s issues sometime in the remaining two and a half weeks of the remaining legislative session. I have to say that I, and I think others, came away from that meeting very encouraged that there was a bipartisan interest (at least in that room) to address fixing the problem we face on a short term basis (next two years) and long term (post consolidation). Representative Williams indicated she would keep me informed as to the progress being made on either or both problems. I want to thank both Mayor Ratzlaff and Frank Kempf for their efforts with the contacts they have at the capitol and their support of the school district as we face these financial challenges.
Last night I had the opportunity to attend “An Evening with Shakespeare” put on by Paula Zwicke’s AP English class in the high school library. The students had displays and explained and answered questions regarding various aspects of life in medieval times. Following that, the students acted several scenes from Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. It was a much more interesting way to be introduced to the works of Shakespeare than I remember from my high school days and the introduction to life in medieval times with each student becoming knowledgeable about specific areas was an excellent way to give the students, and we, who were fortunate enough to hear it, insight into life at and before the time of Shakespeare. Kudos to Mrs. Zwicke and the students for an entertaining and educational evening!