Patti Wenzel

Walker says his “tools” will actually save school districts money

By - Mar 17th, 2011 04:00 am

Some of the most controversial cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 biennial budget are to education. Overall, this budget will cut $834 million in state aid to K-12 schools in 2011-12, reduce the annual per student revenue limit and proposes to freeze aid at the 2011-12 levels into 2013 and beyond.

Walker explained his vision for education funding and savings in Wisconsin in a televised press conference late Wednesday afternoon. He was flanked by officials from the New Berlin School District in Waukesha County.

Armed with a document filled with data on benefit savings and proposed general aid reductions for each of the state’s 423 school districts, Walker announced that school districts will come out ahead of the game by simply using the “tools” in his recently signed budget repair bill.

“This is a great benefit to our school districts,” Walker said. “And this doesn’t even count the additional savings districts will get from the additional reforms in the budget repair bill and the proposed biennial budget.”

Walker announced that, as a whole, the state’s public schools will see savings of $488.7 million during the 2011-12 school year if all district employees make the same health and pension contributions the state employees will make. If this practice was continued into the second year of his biennial budget, the savings would total 80% of the planned cuts, according to Walker. However, this does not take into account the districts that are already under contracts with different or no contribution levels set.

But in a perfect world, those savings would be even greater if districts change their health insurance provider from the current plan to the state employee insurance plan, or even a private plan. Currently, school districts use the Wisconsin Education Association Trust (WEA Trust) health plan, as bargained for by the teachers’ unions. Walker said if districts changed health insurance carriers to the state plan, another $68 million could be saved.

Walker’s document also showed an overall savings to all districts of $78.9 million when his reduced revenue limits are added to the benefit savings, capping property taxes to be levied for education.  However, some districts will see their revenue limits cut more than the benefit savings, forcing those districts to cut in other areas to balance the budget since tax levies won’t be an option.

This is where Walker really promotes the tools available to district administrators and school boards. Because of his recently signed bill, school districts are not tied to the 5.8% and 12.6% pension and health care contribution levels; if they want to go higher or lower they may do so, and also be flexible with hiring and firing.

“These reforms will give the school leaders the ability to make hiring and firing decisions decisions on merit, not seniority. I want it based on putting the best teachers in the classrooms.”

Walker reminded the public that former Gov. Jim Doyle also cut hundreds of millions from education, leading many districts, including MPS, to look at layoffs of teachers, support staff and para-professional personnel.

“They (Doyle and the Democratic legislature) gave them no tools and they backed off when they got federal stimulus funds.  They pushed it off to the future.  The future is now and we’re looking at balancing this budget in a way that the kids don’t face dire consequences,” he said. “The difference is we are giving them the tools they need to stop the layoffs and massive tax increases.”

As an example, Walker repeated the story about Megan Sampson, who was named Wisconsin’s Best New Teacher of 2010 one week, then laid off from Milwaukee Public Schools the next.

“She was laid off due to previous collective bargaining agreements that mandated hiring and firing on seniority.  That has to change and it will improve our schools and help our kids.”

Dr. Paul Kreutzer, superintendent of the New Berlin School District, praised the bill and said it will allow his schools to retain teachers.

“We will not layoff a single employee for financial reasons in this next budget,” Kreutzer said. “This is drastically different from last year when we faced laying off 30 teachers. We will work with our staff to create an educational environment from the ground up with no bureaucracy in our way as we find the best practices to teach our students. These changes increase planning time, removes barriers and the end result will be our ownership and how we choose to move forward.”

New Berlin won’t see savings from the benefit contributions and revenue limits; it will still be short and have to find $44,250  in savings with those tools.

Savings proposed by Scott Walker from benefit contributions

MPS could see a savings of $7,238,151. But even if achieved, all of that savings would be eaten up by MPS’ $13.6 million structural deficit going into the next school year.

Even though Walker has the support of some superintendents across the state, the voices on the other side of the equation are not convinced public schools will not come out unscathed.

John Forester, Director of Government relations for the School Administrators Alliance, said members of his organization are united in their opposition to Walker’s agenda of privatizing Wisconsin education.

“His dramatic de-funding of public schools, plus dramatic expansion of private school vouchers and independent charter schools equals privatizing public education,” he said. “The Governor proposes cutting school aid by $834 million over the biennium. He also proposes reducing the allowable revenues by approximately $825 per pupil over the biennium. Even under the worst fiscal circumstances, in the last 18 years under revenue caps, Wisconsin lawmakers have always increased allowable revenues for Wisconsin school children.”

He called Walker’s management tools controversial and said they will not provide enough savings to meet the challenges in many of the state’s districts.

“We fear these cuts will hurt children’s education and devastate many Wisconsin school districts,” Forester added.

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton) also slammed Walker’s savings perspective. Pope-Roberts, a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Education and Committee on Children and Families, said the Governor’s press conference highlighted “new, deceitful estimates that are blatantly false and should be immediately dismissed.

“The Republican approach to education is dishonest budgeting that will devastate our local communities and hurt Wisconsin students,” she said.

The Department of Public Instruction released a report earlier this week that shows school districts are expected to lose about $1.7 billion in revenue-raising ability under the governor’s budget, in addition to state aid cuts.

And the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the 5.5% reduction in base revenue per student in the budget could cut the state aid and taxing ability of MPS by $165 million over two years and almost $12 million  in the same period in the Wauwatosa School District.

“Gov. Walker likes to crow about giving ‘tools’ to the local government while at the same time tying their hands when it comes to their own budgeting and forcing them to hammer their own communities,” Pope-Roberts said. “CEO Walker wants the state to run like a business, and now he wants to pursue the same folly for our schools. How can anyone look at Wall Street and think that should be the model for public education?”

But Walker seems to be standing firm in his beliefs, just as he did during the last three weeks of chaos in Madison. He calls those who are standing firm with him “brave souls” and boldly closed his news conference by saying these budget cuts are “ultimately good for our teachers to keep the best in our classrooms.”

0 thoughts on “Walker says his “tools” will actually save school districts money”

  1. Anonymous says:

    “These reforms will give the school leaders the ability to make hiring and firing decisions decisions on merit, not seniority. I want it based on putting the best teachers in the classrooms.”

    In other words, “you can fire all those teachers who have been in the district for a long time or have masters degress, because they cost too much”!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The very reason that Walker can believe all of this is because he does not understand any of it – he is simply not educated enough. He has been led down the path by those who control him – his campaign financiers.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Look at the facts folks. He is concentrating all the decision making power into the executive branch. I thought the Tea Party folks shared the distrust for centralizing power in the executive commonly shared by the founding fathers. The states are guaranteed a republican form of government by the US Constitution, that means protection of the rights of the minority. John Locke ranked the power of the legislator over that of the executive, as does the US and WI Constitutions by the ordering of the articles. The Republicans seem hell bent on rubber-stamping a unitary executive endowed with unlimited powers that supersede all local representative bodies. The founding fathers called that form of government, tyranny.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The only real “tool” in the box: Cut teacher pay/benefits. That’s been obvious from the start.
    Who’s in favor of an underpaid, resentful, sullen workforce educating
    our kids? We are! We are! say the wealthy (Walker’s employers), whose kids don’t go to public schools. We are! We are! say the stupid, who think pointy-headed intellectuals are the root of all evil.
    What a mess. Even if we kick Walker out forthwith, it will take five to 10 years to undo the damage.

  5. Anonymous says:

    After reading the first four comments I read the likes of ‘name calling’, ‘intellectualism’, ‘sarcasm’, ‘touchy feely-ness’ and so on; but can any of you disagree with the numbers? Are the numbers inaccurate? On the side, many of those with your ideology openly mock Mr. Walker and his lack of a college degree and ridicule those who voted for a gubernatorial candidate who lack the aforementioned degree. Yet how will you vote in the upcoming County Executive race now that the shoe is on the other foot?
    “Five to ten years to undo the damage”? Pardon me for earlier leaving out the word in my reply of ‘sensationalism’.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Marion, I’m not exactly sure what you believe Walker doesn’t understand. One of the reasons Walker was elected was because he could consistently submit a balanced budget, something Mr. Doyle and the Democrats failed to do. He cleaned up the mess left by Tom Ament and now has committed to clean up a 3.6 billion dollar deficit courtesy of the previous administration. I don’t believe that ANYONE controls Walker, but rather the unions seem to be controlling the teachers. If you look at the numbers and potential savings to the schools you have to wonder who’s really in it for the kids and the taxpayers(middle class mind you) and who’s protecting the money train to the unions and Democrat war chests. One thing is for certain, you don’t need a college degree to balance a budget however, apparently it takes a Harvard law degree to totally tank an economy.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Tom, I’m not going to debate you regarding whether or not the teachers would be considered underpaid as a result of the budget repair bill. People can search DataMine teacher salaries and make up their own mind. I believe/hope most teachers are worth the compensation they receive however that’s not entirely the whole point of taxpayer frustration. We are constantly told that we will all need to make sacrifices if we are ever to overcome the financial woes this country is experiencing. After random searches of their compensation it appears they are in a position to help out just a little bit. There are a lot of out of work and under employed tax payers whose tax bills keep going up to fund lavish pensions & healthcare for others who don’t even contribute. Hopefully someday Washington will get serious and cut entitlements. We can only hope people don’t follow the WI. educator’s example of how to deal with it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Walker’s assault on our schools is a recipe for disaster, and it is already causing serious problems.
    I have been in contact with a number of excellent, experienced teachers who are planning to retire early, while their retirement benefits are still in place. Yes, tenured teachers are more expensive, but they are critical to maintaining curriculum levels and helping new teachers find their way through the thicket.
    I have also spoken with young people who are now in their college or university years who had been planning on going into teaching, but are now reconsidering that decision. And who could blame them?
    A friend in Sweden tells me that the top 20% of their university students are planning on a teaching career. I wonder how we rank on such a scale…
    Anyone who thinks we can find our way out of this economic mess by turning out less-than-well-educated young people is, to use a nicer word than I’d planned, misguided!
    Someone mentioned that we will be a long time recovering from the Walker administration, and I hope we can get started on that soon…

  9. Anonymous says:

    Joe, Although I don’t agree with your assessment of what’s happening in Madison, I can appreciate your references to the Constitution. You must be equally enraged with the record number of czars in Washington who have no accountability to a congress elected by the people, or the un-Consitutional healthcare bill passed by “tweaking” rules set up by the founding fathers. See you at the next TEA Party!

  10. Anonymous says:

    John your right! I say, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Oh wait, that was Albert Shanker my mistake. But he is a nobody, so what does that matter. I’m sure the excellent, experienced teachers you speak of will be missed, oh wait, probably not. If they are too dumb to realize their retirement package would not be affected by now, especially after all the time the missing 14 gave us to review the bill, they should not be teaching! How would these vague individuals hold up in the real world without tenure in the private or parochial school setting? Plus I wonder how schools that are not held hostage to unions compare with results, ie, the number or percent of “less-than-well-educated young people” produced or college bound? You sure seem to talk to alot of people maybe they can help fill in the answer.

  11. Anonymous says:

    John, let’s be honest. This is not an attack on the schools, it’s an attack on the teacher’s union. Although I realize some will equate this as an attack on “the kids”, others will see the savings to most schools as an opportunity to invest it back into the students. After all “It’s all about the kids”. It’s unfortunate that you know of teachers considering leaving the profession over a money issue when teaching ideally should be about loving what you’re doing. I also know of good physicians wanting to retire because of the healthcare bill. In tough economic times this bill gives the “Megan Sampsons” out there hope to be judged on performance and not tenure. When you reference Sweden keep this in mind. They rank ahead of the U.S. in science and math where we rank near the bottom of the industrialized world. Based on teacher compensation I would have hoped for something better. We did however rank number one in self esteem. So basically we stink at science and math but our poop doesn’t. Megan please come back!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well, on the surface it all sounds good, however, Walker left a wake behind him in Milwaukee County in the way of millions of dollars of lawsuits for his less than legal actions. You are mistaken if you think he cleaned up anything. He left a mess. Milwaukee County has been sued by many of the families of the raped patients at Milw County Mental Health Complex (happened when he put his campaign contributor in charge who did not monitor or take charge of anything). Then there is the matter of illegally firing county workers who then had to be hired back with back-pay and interest due to his mistaken “interpretation” of his power. Our public buildings were filthy – especially the courthouse – after he hired his good friend’s cleaning company. I served on jury duty then and the bathroom on our floor had feces smeared all over the walls and floors, sinks and toilets for 4 days while I begged for someone to clean it. And, dare I mention that he cut the routine inspections of county buildings and bridges under his watch? Well, that little maneuver is also costing millions because the side of a building collapsed on a teen and killed him. Just minor expenses though, right? What he does obviously does not understand is that the well-informed can see through the wool he is trying to pull over everyone’s eyes. He has not balanced a budget to this day and most likely never will. Giving tax breaks to the super wealthy before saying there was a deficit in nearly that (surprise) same amount is not the way to go about it. He is spending our money (over $480,000 a month of our money) for his wannabee CIA entourage (Wackenhut crooked – very expensive security) to help him look “presidential”, and to take him in and out of the building when he should have the Capitol Police usher him in and out of the building. And there is already one – no, two lawsuits against him as we speak – which we – the taxpayers will be stuck with. Violations all being made because of his faulty interpretations. The man is a narcissist on a power trip that started when he ran for class president while briefly attending Marquette U.
    Well, he lost the student election due to distributing false info at the 11th hour. The University newspaper exposed it, so he dropped out and started making his bid in politics where he thinks people may be more easily duped. The savings to schools is just another of his bogus claims. I have heard his claim that the “tools” will save the schools money, however I have also read the bill and his budget and talked to numerous educators who have studied it and all anyone will be getting in return is an even further-failed educational system. Cuts and more cuts. What is happening here is the destruction of the middle class – the creation of a caste society – where only the super rich will live the American dream. Forget competing with other countries – our children will not be educated enough to compete. It all begins with the seduction – then the rationalization for cutting the amenities, then onto healthcare, education, help for seniors, etc.. Then comes various subtle acts of repression. After that, direct oppression and then finally, overt persecution of any group who does not succumb. Most will not see it until it hurts them personally and deeply. The unions and workers do not have “war chests” that can even begin to compare with the deep pockets of men like the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, or corporations like Exxon, Bank of America, etc…etc…. Follow but be warned – the sheep go over the cliff unwittingly.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Rhetoric. Read. Look into the facts. Learn. Don’t believe everything you hear. Good luck having the “best teachers” in the classrooms or educating your kids – any kids – with people who do not even have a bachelor’s degree (which is what they are going to allow – first at choice schools and then later at regular schools). Despite what the wealthy think is “good enough” for kids of the middle class, teachers need to be more than glorified babysitters, and it is only through their own education that teachers become better at teaching today’s subjects and today’s kids. All children – rich and poor alike deserve an education and need one to compete in today’s global economy. Despit ethe inference, there is nothing wrong with a master’s degree – and those teaching higher level education need just that in order to be knowledgeable and effective enough to do their job. And, just in case you didn’t already know it, teachers are REQUIRED to take continuing education credits in order to maintain their certification and keep their jobs, AND THEY USUALLY DO THIS AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE. Lastly, you are mistaken about what teachers earn. I have seen the pay scales – I have a relative who prepares them – and while most earn somewhere between $25,000 and $340,000, there are very few who even earn over $55,000 (even after years of being on the job) – in dangerous neighborhoods and classrooms, dealing with severely challenged children, and children with psychological, emotional & behavior problems. THEY ARE WORTH EVERY PENNY THEY MAKE. Those very few that earn $75,000 are long-time educators that are in charge of higher level or larger institutions and have the education and experience themselves to warrant that kind of pay. This is far less than companies pay for people who have climbed their little ladder to success and reached their peter principle by sitting in meetings and enjoying as many perks as possible with an investment of far fewer years. If you can print or write a cohesive sentence, thank a teacher. If you can add, subtract, multiply, know something about history, biology, chemistry, or any other subject taught in school, thank a teacher. If you can use the computer, you should most likely thank a teacher. Masters or bachelor’s degree, they work hard and deserve our support and our respect. The “tools” that are being mentioned are not tools – they are obstacles.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If you’re making the point that politicians will sometimes make appointments that aren’t the most qualified I will have to agree with you. Doyle’s chief counsel didn’t even have a law degree and the Obama “Dream Team” has the least amount of private sector experience of just about any administration ever. As far as the parking structure, that was built before Walker was in office, had the incorrect rebar installed which is undetectable from visual inspection. I don’t believe regular X-rays of public buildings is part of the inspection process. If it was you have to wonder why it wasn’t caught sooner under Mr. Ament. Sorry, zero points for that. As far as the security team cost, I’ll have to look that one up. But with all the death threats, smashing of car windows, signs with his image in crosshairs (even after the Arizona incident) etc., etc. I don’t think Capitol police are going to cut it. I’ve seen how prepared they are for demonstrations. If you are one who is going to hold past mistakes against a candidate, then it’s good to know you won’t be supporting Chris Abele. When you mention the bills and get input from the educators you should probably take into consideration that they might be a wee bit biased in their assessment. I’ve seen that stats on savings and heard the superintendent of the New Berlin schools speak on the savings that district is projected to get and how it can be used to reward the good instructors and be invested back into the schools. When you mention our kids won’t be able to compete with other countries, the fact is they can’t now. They rank near the bottom of the industrialized nation in math and science yet at the very top in self esteem. Sounds like they’re learning a sense of entitlement. Just continuing to throw middle class taxpayer dollars at that issue to keep the status quo doesn’t seem to be the best idea. When you write about oppression and persecution I’m thinking you’re referring to the death threats and vandalism directed at the Republicans or the boycotts against companies like Kwik Trip where the effects directly affect the pocket book of the middle class who work there. 40% of profits go right back to the employees and Kwik Trip is targeted because one employee (not the owner) contributed to Walker. Tax breaks for the rich? Let’s remember who already pays for over 60% of the taxes unless you’re referring to what some call corporate welfare. Wisconsin consistently ranks in the bottom quarter of all states in which to locate a business. Those tax breaks bring jobs to the area which create more tax payers which creates revenue to pay for the “corporate welfare”. But if corporate welfare still bothers you, you must be totally outraged at the 1000+ waivers from Obamacare given out to —-you guessed it—unions and many other Obama supporters. By the way, I never said the workers have war chests, the unions do which goes almost exclusively to Democrats. The contributions to Republicans is microbial at best. Those would be stats from the Center for Responsive Politics in D.C.. Keep in mind the top contributors in the 2008 election were unions. CHOO CHOO, CHOO CHOO.
    Finally, Let’s be honest, the battle in Wisconsin is not Walker versus the middle class, it’s the teacher unions and the Democrats versus the middle class taxpayer. I haven’t seen any ideas from the 14 to suggest otherwise.
    P.S. I read in another post your reference to teacher salaries. I searched DataMine teacher salaries and could lookup compensation for every teacher in my district. I got different results than you. Not saying they’re not worth it, but they can help out the middle class taxpayer just a little bit.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Not sure where you have been. But your logic is very welcome!

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