Changes students will encounter when they return to school next month include a classroom shared by fourth- through sixth-graders. Because of the elimination of one rural bus route, many students will now ride the bus for more than an hour, morning and evening. All sports will be shared with a neighboring district. A program to give special help to struggling math students in elementary school has been eliminated and a reading specialist’s time has been cut by 40 percent. A high school teacher has been eliminated. Beginning this fall, Pepin will share an art teacher with a neighboring district, trimming art programming for Pepin students by 40 percent.
Other examples of the painful cuts that school districts across the state have to endure are:
At Beloit Turner, the elimination of the high school alternative education program and a position cut due to cancellation of a specific state grant, are called “a severe cut to our at-risk students.”
In Auburndale, the district will no longer offer advanced placement English or advanced placement computer science. There will be less instruction in both vocal and instrumental music. The drama program will likely be cut.
In Oconto Falls, cuts at the high school include positions in special education, the mathematics lab, technical education and the library. At the middle school, the district eliminated half-time positions for band and math and a half-time dean of students.
St. Croix Central will hire lower-paid para-professionals to replace certified teachers in the elementary school library, the English language learner program and a technology coordinator program.
I am sure these are not the most severe cuts we will see over the next couple of years. School districts across the state have reported a higher number of teacher retirements, which in some cases has softened the blow of the budget cuts and has prevented further budget cuts; however, a teacher is gone and has not been replaced. The increase in employee funding for health and retirement plans has also softened the blow for some school districts, although that savings is likely a one-time savings that will not help in the coming years.
Most frightening was a comment from Stephan Schiell, the superintendent of the Amery school district (a small town way up nort der hey): “[…] Not having to bargain with the union will make [the budget] easier to balance. Remember, we can always have our employees pay more for their benefits. The law does not have a cap.”
Now think about what he said ... "the law does not have a cap" ... let that sink in. Basically, what he is saying is that eventually teachers will be paying 100 percent of health care and pension benefits. This is the goal of union busting, low wages, no benefits and no job security. I do not understand how balancing the budget on the backs of the very people we rely on to educate our children can be considered a good idea. If anything, it will cause good teachers to seek employment elsewhere and educators that may not be qualified will be hired in their place.
Scott Walker not only started a war against public employees in Wisconsin, he and his Republican colleagues are waging war against our educational system. The very tool we need to train the workers and leaders of tomorrow. I prefer my tool kit to Walker’s—I say we start taxing the rich and making corporations pay their fair share. If corporate America wants an educated workforce for the future they had better step up to the plate now; if they don’t, their quest for short-term profits over long-term growth will be the end of the United States being a world power.