Funding tops agenda for school boards
JANESVILLE After two years of budget cuts, public schools need more money from the state, the head of the state school board association said in an interview with The Gazette on Wednesday.
John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, stopped in Janesville on his way to Elkhorn to speak to school board members and superintendents at a regional meeting.
State general aid to schools was cut 8.4 percent last year and 7.7 percent for this school year, according to an association fact sheet.
Ashley said he would urge school board members to press candidates for state Senate and Assembly on this and other questions.
"This is the one time they're going to listen to the public, because they're trying to get elected," Ashley said.
The association can advocate only for policies its members vote for at its annual January convention, Ashley said.
The association supports an increase in state general aid to schools, as well as increases in funding for computer technology and relief from unfunded mandates. Those include mandates that all kindergartners be screened for reading readiness and for new teacher and principal evaluations.
Ashley said he's concerned a proposal will be reintroduced in the next legislative session to expand vouchers for families that send children to private schools. The voucher plan is now limited to Milwaukee and Racine, he said, but some want to expand it statewide.
Private schools in Green Bay already have asked the state Department of Public Instruction how they can access that money, Ashley has heard, even though there's no program in place.
The association's concern is that vouchers drain money away from public schools, while the private schools that benefit aren't held accountable for academic results the way public schools are.
Voucher schools have not shown themselves to be superior, and there have been cases of mismanagement, Ashley said.
Ashley's guess about elections is that the Assembly will stay Republican after Nov. 6, and the Senate will remain closely divided, with independent-minded Republican Dale Schultz as the vote that tips the scales.
Ashley said the members of the 424 school boards that make up the association were sharply split—just like the rest of the state—by Act 10, the law that forced drastic changes in the state's law governing collective bargaining by most public-employee unions.
Act 10 is now in legal limbo, as a circuit court judge has ruled parts of it unconstitutional. It's unclear what the ruling means, and in any case, the state will appeal it to higher courts, Ashley noted.
The association is advising school boards that it's premature to negotiate new contracts, as unions in Janesville, Madison and Milwaukee have called for.
Districts should build relationships with their staffs, but negotiating a contract now "would seem to be putting your district at risk," Ashley said. "You need to talk to your legal counsel."