We the People

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Politics and civil commentary with community columnist John Eyster.

What about “local control”?

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John Eyster
Friday, July 1, 2011

What about “local control”?

The present situation in our WI state government emphasizes the principle of “local control.” To what extent do WE THE PEOPLE of WI want our LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (towns, municipalities, counties) to have authority to govern localities according to varying situations and needs throughout the state and to what extent to WE THE PEOPLE of WI want our STATE GOVERNMENT to use its authority to set STATE-WIDE requirements and mandates? Over the years, I have discovered that I identify some issues/situations that I think ought to be standardized throughout the state while there are others in which I think LOCAL conditions and the choices of the citizens should be governed locally.

The Walker Administration with the REPUBLICAN controlled legislature have decided to SHIFT POWER away from "local control" to STATE CONTROL and even more CONTROL to the GOVERNOR. I think this is contrary to the BEST INTERESTS, in general, of WE THE PEOPLE of WI. What do YOU think? What are the issues/situations which YOU put into each category?

One of the key dilemmas I have had dealing with our WI State Government which took on intense reality during the almost 8 years (October 2000 – June 2008) that I was a registered lobbyist representing the School District of Janesville as Legislative Liaison. WI has a very high quality transparent lobbying system which I encourage you to learn about IF you are not already informed.

Use this link to check out the lobbying segment of the Government Accountability Board “Eye on Lobbying in Wisconsin.” YOU will be able to find out WHO is lobbying for WHOM and what they are lobbying about sorted by organizations, bills, administrative rules. YOU will be able to search using KEYWORDS.

The TRANSPARENCY reports show TIME and MONEY invested by lobbyists with specific bills and issues/topics. A lobbyist MUST identify time spent specifically with an elected state official and/or employee. Take a look!

I would cite my ongoing DEMOCRACY/CIVICS mission which included seeking a MANDATE that a 1-semester course focusing on US Government & Politics be required during high school to earn a WI high school diploma. That was a recommendation which came in the final report of the “Wisconsin Civics Action Task Force” which was chaired by Janesville Superintendent Tom Evert and was filed in February 2000.

I advocated the state mandate. The focus of the discussion on creating a state mandate either through a bill or a state regulation focused on the issue of “LOCAL CONTROL.”

Opponents, mainly Republican legislators, kept arguing that the decision on a US Government & Politics course requirement to earn a high school diploma in WI needed to be a LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD decision based on the local situation maintaining the Wisconsin “tradition” of “local control,” as they saw it. At the same time, supporters, mainly Democratic legislators, agree with the Task Force that democracy/civics education is so very critical for a healthy republic that it needed to be REQUIRED for ALL HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES throughout WI.

I STRONGLY believe that EVERY HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE OUGHT TO BE REQUIRED TO HAVE PASSED A MEANINGFUL & RELEVANT US GOVERNMENT & POLITICS COURSE! I teach freshman “American Government & Politics” in the UW – College system and the reality is that our WI HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES do NOT have a basic understanding of our REPUBLICS – WI and USA! This is, I believe, VERY DANGEROUS for the health of our republics. What do YOU think?

Another case study would be the advocacy of the REPEAL of the 180-day requirement in WI State Law for K-12 public schools with shift of focus to the TIME requirement. WI STATE LAW REQUIRED at least 437 hours for half-day kindergarten; 1,050 hours for full day kindergarten through grade 6 and 1,137 hours grade 7 through 12. LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS were required to MEET BOTH STANDARDS at that time. We argued that it was “direct pupil instruction” time was MORE significant than having 180 days. We argued that the number of days should be LOCAL CONTROL by the local school board. WHY NOT?

The TIME requirement is defined as “direct pupil instruction.” IF you want to learn the details, see DPI’s website http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/cal/daysover.html “Days and Hours of Instruction – Overview” and other links on that DPI webpage. The regulation will be found on DPI’s website at http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/cal/dayspi.html read, “Days and Hours of Instruction – Administrative Rules” – Pl 8.01(2)(f). 2. And there is also, http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/cal/daysq&a.html “Days/Hours/Waivers – Questions and Answers” – check-out the DETAILS. Probably more than you want to know!

At that time, Rep. Deb Towns (R-43) was Chair of the Assembly Education Committee and she introduced the bill to repeal the 180-day requirement with support from several local school districts, including SD-Janesville and state-wide lobbying organizations. The bill was passed by BOTH houses of our WI State Legislature.

The debate of the bill brought new attention to the INSTRUCTIONAL TIME REQUIREMENT in WI State Law. In fact, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an investigation on the fulfillment of the INSTRUCTION TIME REQUIREMENT by local school districts in the Milwaukee area. The article identified several local school districts that were NOT fulfilling the INSTRUCTIONAL TIME REQUIREMENT even as they did meet the 180-day requirement. Inquiry led to the discovery that the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) did require local school districts to REPORT SPECIFICALLY on their schedule and fulfillment of the180-day requirement. At the same time, DPI was NOT requiring local school districts to REPORT on fulfillment of the INSTRUCTIONAL TIME REQUIREMENT!

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time asserted that DPI did NOT need to require such reports. Really?! The state law had two (2) specific standards and DPI chose to ENFORCE only one (1)! Is that the authority of a state department? We did NOT think so. Without cooperation of the State Superintendent to require the reporting of INSTRUCTIONAL TIME by local school districts, a NEW LAW was passed so that NOW DPI is REQUIRED to have each local school district report BOTH parts of the SPECIFIC requirements of DAYS and INSTRUCTIONAL HOURS in WI State Law.

Where does the law stand today? In spite of passage by both houses of the WI State Legislature, the repeal of the 180-day requirement was VETOED by Governor Jim Doyle. WHY? The teachers’ union, WEAC, opposed it and Doyle was subservient to WEAC. So it goes… That experience made me the MORE cynical about WI state government. What reaction do YOU have?

Let’s follow-up to identify one specific situation which was fall-out of the VETO by Governor Doyle. SNOW DAYS accumulated a couple years ago so that many local school districts fell below the 180-day requirement. In spite of UNusually heavy snow-fall, DPI refused to issue a waiver to local school districts.

NOW, focusing on SD-Janesville: Janesville has always had MORE INSTRUCTIONAL TIME than required by WI STATE LAW and the 180-days (actually ORE than the basic requirement). The district’s request for a waiver noting that while Janesville had fallen short of the 180-day mandate, it would be able to meet the INSTRUCTIONAL TIME requirement by adding some time to daily schedules. DPI refused the requested waiver! What did that mean? Janesville schools eventually set up a SATURDAY school day to meet the 180-day mandate! Yes, the LETTER of the LAW was met. I would assert that DPI missed the SPIRIT of the LAW. How do YOU see it?

I continue to believe that in this 21st century with all of the changing educational resources, DAYS are NO LONGER a key to LEARNING. Having taught ONLINE for the Wisconsin Virtual School, I KNOW that my students’ learning was REALLY directly related to the TIME they spent on the course. I believe that K-12 PUBLIC EDUCATION needs to shift its assessment of LEARNING to the OUTCOMES and NOT THE DAYS!

I am convinced that TIME ON TASK is what is REALLY RELEVANT to LEARNING so that WE THE PEOPLE of WI need to tell our WI STATE GOVERNMENT that it should repeal the state mandate of 180-days of school leaving that decision to LOCAL CONTROL! I do continue to support the INSTRUCTIONAL TIME REQUIREMENT. I realize that mandate may prove to be outdated too. Time will tell… What do YOU think?

Those are ONLY 2 examples directly from my own involvement with the LOCAL CONTROL issue. I see serious weaknesses in LOCAL CONTROL; especially with the system of TOWNS in Wisconsin since TOWNS are too often dominated/controlled by long-time residents who work to prevent new residents participate effectively in the TOWN government.

At the same time, I do NOT see STATE – GUBERNATORIAL CONTROL as a panacea. I do NOT agree with the present major shift of CONTROL to the state and governor because I perceive that ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL even across the 72 counties, 1,266 towns, 190 cities, 405 villages and 424 local school districts.

I agree with Professor of Political Science Kathleen Dolan, UW-Milwaukee, that there is a Wisconsin tradition of local municipalities having discretion, whether through direct legislation or their own power to shape their own public policies. She asserts that the present drive of STATE CONTROL is inconsistent with the Republican ideology that says, “leave the states alone, one size does not fit all, top down is not always the best thing.’ Here they are trying to impose a position on localities who may want to determine their own needs.” What is YOUR perspective?


Here we go…

Mr. E.

Last updated: 10:50 am Wednesday, August 28, 2013

John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor assigned with the online/distance education faculty of Viterbo University, LaCrosse. He continues his personal mission supporting democracy/civics education in Wisconsin K-12 schools through Project Citizen, We the People, Discovering Democracy (Milton HS). John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff or management.

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