KUSD Board approves transformation/budget plan
This vote came after 26 people spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. The public comments went for longer than the one hour regulated by the by-laws, and the board did agree to let the last five people speak. Comments came from students who spoke in favor of the language programs, from parents concerned about class sizes and the inaccuracy of the budget numbers presented, to one parent who spoke on the McKinley Middle School closing. In fact, she was disheartened to see that she was the only parent who spoke on the school’s closing. She expressed the sentiments of the other parents, feeling that they were defeated. “They feel that this is a done deal,” she said.
Karl Ericksen who has two children at Prairie Lane School and who is the executive director of the Urban Outreach Center, urged the board to “keep the kids in mind on every decision you make.” Phil Kent, a CPA who serves on the Audit/Budget/Finance Committee, stated that the fund balance is projected to have a balance of $9 million on June 30, 2012. “It should have two months of operating costs, which equates to about $50 million.” He then gave some figures which culminated in his calculating that 190 of the 250 layoffs from last year might have been averted had the discussions with the teachers’ union progressed.
Dan Hunt said that “we all want children to thrive. Poor governance in the past shouldn’t mean continued poor governance.” He urged the board to vote for reductions. “The taxpayers will thank you.” One woman expressed her heartfelt support for Superintendent Dr. Michele Hancock. “She didn’t cause these problems. She is bringing change and direction to us. She wanted to work with the Teachers’ Union, but Union Joe said no. The reason we’re in the mess we’re in is because of the Kenosha Education Association and Union Joe saying no.”
David Klimisch stated “data drives decisions. That’s what I’ve always been taught, anyway.” He also urged the board to reconsider their decision. “Is there anything from a scholarly journal? All I see are three website citations. These websites are not peer reviewed. The data is open to question.” He also felt that having this meeting on a night with parent/teacher conferences made the whole thing “suspect.”
Burton Zielinski, a grandfather, questioned the validity of the $25 million in repair work on McKinley Middle School. “Is this a legitimate savings? What really has to be done?” He stated that he’s seventy years old, and he offered his help. He didn’t think the numbers were right, and he encouraged the board to check the numbers more closely.
Once the public was finished with their comments, Hancock gave a presentation, again reviewing the numbers that have already been presented. “We are listening,” she said. “This is a preliminary plan. We have no hidden agenda. We need to take a blended approach to learning. What changed our minds on the middle school sports issue was the fact that parents came to us and offered their help. The decision was changed because the parents came up with ideas on how to get the money from other things.” Hancock also stated that she had her full confidence in the numbers prepared by the new chief financial officer, Tina Schmitz, and the facilities manager, Patrick Finnemore. She also wanted to clarify the fact that she did not say that class size didn’t matter at the December meeting. “Class size does matter. You can check the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website to see the district’s assessment scores. But, teacher quality matters most. If funding and money comes to us, we’ll look to the elementary grades to reinstate educators.” She also apologized if the public didn’t think that the board was being transparent enough. “We will try even harder.”
The board then had an opportunity to voice their concerns. Pamela Stevens made a motion to pull the language piece and the family design piece out of the plan. “We’re not eliminating the language program; we’re re-adjusting it. We’re not saying that language is not important. And, we’re not saying that eSchool is not being good enough. As far as the family program, I have no idea if it will work. But, we have to do something. You know how they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, it is broke. This is a preliminary plan. We are hearing that there are some hiccups in the seminars. We need to re-evaluate that. Only about ten percent of the budget goes to educating your child. I find this appalling.” Later on, she commended administration for “thinking outside of the box. Instead of cutting programs completely, they were willing to compromise and find ways to keep them.”
Rebecca Stevens stated that she thought that kids liked learning on-line. This sentiment was confirmed by the student ambassador, Trina Capelli, a senior from Bradford High School. For the language classes, “students call their teachers and speak on the phone with them. They take their tests in a building. I appreciate the fact that there are other classes available and an open schedule.” Jo Ann Taube stated that “It’s easier to take American History on-line rather than a language.”
Carl Bryan understood that the current language program students would be “grandfathered,” that they would be allowed to finish the programs that they started. But, he had a problem with the students traveling to the school that offered the language they wanted to take. He also felt that the “teachers traveling between schools was not an optimal use of our resources.” He wanted to find a way to keep all of the language programs as they now stand, or put them all on eSchool. He disagreed with the recommendation of the board on the language programs.
Robert Nuzzo stated that laying off teachers made him sick. “It’s terrible. Our children are the biggest asset this city has. Teachers guide our young people. They need to be given the tools they need to do their jobs. It’s sinful that a teacher with six years will lose his/her job. I use this computer (holding up his iPad). I’ve been learning a lot.”
David Gallo then called for the question. The vote was 6 to 1 to include the two portions (the language program and the family design program) as part of the budget. Taube suggested that the district work with the city bus system to “sync” the school bus schedules. The board then voted 6 to 1 to adopt the plan and recommendations of administration.
Other business conducted at the meeting included:
- The board voted unanimously to request a waiver from DPI for an additional four days of professional development beyond the two already requested.
- A unanimous vote was taken on the request from Kenosha County on the permanent and temporary easements associated with the widening of 60th Street scheduled for this summer.
- The board voted 6 to 1 to participate in the second year of the Wisconsin Safe and Supportive Schools Project and to include eighth grade student participation. Pam Stevens expressed her preference for an opt-in program vs. an opt-out program for parents, but Daniel Tenuta, assistant superintendent of secondary school leadership, stated that the opt-out program has worked out very well in past years.
- Snyder then read two pages of donations received from various businesses, most of which had to do with providing support for the Brompton School fundraiser.
- At the very beginning of the meeting, two Festival of Arts and Flowers Collection Awards were presented, one from the superintendent and one from the board of education.