AFE Board Discussions

School Board Response to Richards Community

May 5, 2017
Dear Community Members,

Board President Anne Kearney, Director of Business Services Shawn Yde and myself, John Thomsen, District Administrator, have compiled a collective response to your questions, to the extent that the questions can be answered at this time. There are two narrative portions that provide a majority of the information requested.

You will see some enrollment data included, but please know that our enrollments ebb and flow on a daily basis. The final sectioning (class sizes) are determined once we get closer to the end of summer. With respect to sectioning, in our review of recent elementary class size the District has not run classes over 26 students. The typical range is 21-25 students. No one is recommending we deviate from that practice. Also know that attempts are made to balance classes and to support students and teachers through additional support staff when appropriate.

Part One – Board Strategic Response

We appreciate your investment in your children’s education and in the Whitefish Bay schools. You should know that the district administration and the School Board are guided in their decision- making by The District Focus Plan that calls for “student-centered” “educational excellence” for all students in our district. This means, of course, that we look for excellence, equity, and a whole-child environment in all our schools.

You mention the May 10th deadline in your letter as a final decision point. Please know that May 10th is not the final staffing determination point. Although a staffing plan is likely to be approved on that date, the staffing plan is often modified in mid to late summer based upon updated enrollment counts. If the class size grows too large, we can add an extra teacher after that date; however state law mandates that we cannot take a teacher away after May 10.

There appears to be some confusion about elementary class sizes in the past and we would like to clear up any misunderstanding. The administration and School Board value small class sizes as is shown by past data. For instance, class sizes have historically ranged from 21-25 students in grades K4 through 5 at both Richards and Cumberland. Periodically, a section may run slightly below or slightly above those numbers. At this point in time, we do not anticipate a change in our practice and the administration will be working literally up to the first day of school, if necessary, to adjust sectioning to achieve balanced class sizes.

It is possible that you see the balancing work being done at the administrative level and the board level as a “fix.” However, we see this work as maintaining the delicate balance that state revenue caps (keeping taxes in line), current state funding, a desire for robust and equitable educational experiences for children, as well as a sustainable compensation model for our staff, all require.

Most of your questions inquire about class size. Those questions are best answered by reference to the District Class Size Policy, 343.2, which states as follows: “It is the intent of the School Board to establish the ratio of students to teachers at such a level as to reflect the educational needs of children and also the availability of community resources.” Unfortunately, your questions requesting detailed information about enrollment data and sectioning cannot be answered at this time because they are premature.

Having said this, we do know that the total number of students at Richards for 2017-2018 currently stands at 605 students. This compares to 663 students with 28 full time sections in 2016-2017; 696 students in 2015-2016 with 29.5 full time sections; 699 students with 31 full time sections in 2014- 2015; and 722 students with 32 full time sections in 2013-2014. We look at enrollment over a 3-year period and make projections using a well-regarded software program. However, these are only projections and must await the reality of the number of children that are sent to district schools.

Finally, you discuss communication and collaboration. We are happy that we have had this opportunity to communicate with you as a follow up to the lengthy discussion at the school board meeting on April 26, 2017. To the extent that you have additional direct questions, we will do our best to answer them. As for collaboration, we welcome collaboration with parents. In the past, parents have been generous in supporting our schools by referenda, by renovating our sports fields, by supporting the arts, by providing classroom equipment, by raising funds for extracurricular groups, as well as by volunteering in schools. The quality of our District would not be the same if not for the incredible support and passion of our parents, which is shown in your outreach on this issue.

Hopefully, you saw at the school board meeting that the members of the administration and Board care deeply about our students, staff, and schools. The Board and administration will continue to work diligently to maintain the level of excellence that is expected in Whitefish Bay. We have attempted to answer your short-term inquiries, but some of your questions require a long-term strategic process as long-term interests are at stake. We look forward to a continuing conversation.

Part Two – Administration Staffing Process Overview

The purpose of this brief staffing update is to provide data and some analysis of enrollment projections and how the information is used in the budget development process.

Background: The District starts its budget development by doing enrollment projections in October. The projections (provided to the Board in Oct.) are refined in the early spring when each of the buildings goes through its early registration process. Those updated spring projections become the basis for contract renewals or non-renewals that by statute must be issued preliminarily in April and then the required final notices must be issued in May. Once contracts are issued the district is unable to reduce the full-time instructional staff.

Please realize this State imposed deadline does not stop the enrollment review process. The D istrict approves a projected staffing FTE (Full Time Equivalency) report which becomes the basis for the District’s budget development process in early May, but the District enrolls students from early May until the start of the school year. The estimates that were based on the early registration are monitored right up to the start of the school year. We have had enrollment increases or decreases prior to the start of school. We have hired additional teaching staff right up to the first day of school. The May deadline (contract issuance) establishes the floor for staffing; although not ideal for multiple reasons, the District is still able to add staff, during the summer, if deemed necessary.

Class Size History: We have reviewed Whitefish Bay’s class size numbers for the majority of the last 23 years. At the Elementary level our class sizes have been between a low of 17 students and high of 26 students. A class size of 17 students occurred once and a class size of 26 students occurred 6 times. Certainly those class sizes are outliers. A review of the data indicates that our class sizes are normally somewhere between 21-25 students per class at the elementary level. In fact, we have classes of 25 students at Cumberland in both second and third grade this current year. Also know that attempts are made to balance classes and support students and teachers though additional support staff when appropriate.

A more recent factor related to enrollment is the discontinuation of the Chapter 220 program. As we lose approximately 20 students per year because of the sunsetting of this program, we will likely see a decrease in enrollment.

Budget Implications: As described earlier, we start the budget process using enrollment projections to develop budget estimates. These projections indicated an increase of 25 students, which has been used for the estimated revenue cap projections. Based on registrations and current projections, the enrollment looks as though it will decrease by 26 students. This would result in the District’s revenue limit estimate being 51 students lower than estimated in the three-year enrollment average through the State’s revenue limit calculations. The state revenue limit formula provides Whitefish Bay with $11,239 per pupil and the District would lose the ability to generate revenue associated with the loss of students (the ability to tax for that money). In other words, our revenue limit would be reduced by an additional $191,073 in 2017-18. If the District were to add staff beyond the amount currently budgeted it would need to increase expenditures to do so. A full-time instructional staff member is in the range of $78,000 with family benefits.

Longer Term Effects: The fiscal impact would not just be felt during the 2017-18 budget. In 2018-19 the District’s revenue cap would be reduced by 34 students (revenue cap loss of $382,146) and the full impact is realized in the third year when the District finally would feel the impact of the full loss associated with a loss of 51 students ($573,220).

Effectively managing enrollment and staffing is vital to Whitefish Bay’s efforts to provide quality education. The District will quickly slide into financial distress by not staffing appropriately, yet could diminish educational quality if it understaffs. Class size has been an ongoing priority for the District. Our comprehensive enrollment predictions and budgeting process (which delays some final staffing decisions until August) have been successful over the years in maintaining favorable class sizes, at all four schools, while planning a fiscally responsible budget.

Part Three – Questions Addressed

  1. What is the current projected 2017-2018 enrollment, by grade based on most current data? E.g. where are we seeing the distribution of non-returning students by grade?See chart in question 2.
  2. What is the current K4 enrollment data (if not included in the above response)?

 

Cumberland

Richards

6-Mar

3-May

7-Mar

3-May

74

77

 JK

62

67

94

101

SK

84

86

94

95

1st

99

96

119

117

2nd

98

100

115

115

 3rd

79

80

121

121

 4th

88

91

111

106

 5th

90

89

728

732

 Total

600

609

  1. Based upon the most current registration/enrollment data (“current data,”) what grades will see teacher elimination?This is yet to be determined. We are monitoring all grade levels and will make these determinations at a later date.
  2. Based upon current data, are losses of sections the only option to absorb the loss of these teaching positions?That is how it has been historically done in the past due to the fiscal impact. This is described in more detail in the narratives. Other considerations would require a longer term strategic look by the School Board.
  3. If not, what alternatives are being considered? Have multi-age classrooms, redistricting, or a temporary pause on non-essential electives been considered?Multi-age classrooms were considered by the Board years ago and were not pursued. Non- essential electives might mean different things to different people, but in the Board’s view electives are not expendable. Our desire is to maintain a high quality comprehensive program that addresses the whole child and all aspects of the Focus Plan.
  4. Could the increase in teachers to the other schools be temporarily postponed instead of the loss of the teachers at Richards?The increase in staffing at other schools is directly related to current specific course enrollment. These positions require specific teacher certifications, desired prior experience(s), and specific teacher skill sets. Postponing or reassigning teachers to different levels would not align with state statue (certification) or the strategic needs of the District.
  5. What type of enrollment numbers would be required to reinstate these positions? E.g. if there were 25 new registrants before May 10th, would that be enough, or what numbers do we need?Our enrollments ebb and flow on a daily basis. In our review of recent elementary class size the District has not run classes over 26 students. The typical range is 21-25 students. No one is recommending we deviate from that practice. The final sectioning (class sizes) are determined once we get closer to the end of summer.
  6. What is the number of students per section the District/School Board is comfortable allowing, per grade?This is covered in the narrative and the answer above.
  7. What information is being used to make determinations on optimal class sizes per grade?

We have maintained our current class size practice as we value small class sizes. The Board has engaged in public school advocacy addressing the funding of schools in a manner that allow these practices to continue.

  1. Are you willing to collaborate with parents to get creative on how to not eliminate these positions and meet budget challenges?We are always willing and eager to collaborate. We work through a lengthy budget development process to ensure our resources align with our goals and priorities. Class size has always been a priority in the budget process.
  2. Does the District intend to communicate with the impacted families the approximate class sizes they will be facing in the fall? If so, when? How often will it be updated? How will this be communicated?Final determination on sectioning/class sizes is determined later in the summer and in some cases adjustments are made days before school begins. Since this is a very fluid process, communicating before final enrollments are known makes that process very difficult.
  3. If the District does not intend to communicate prospective class size increases in advance of the school year, they will likely be faced with additional families leaving the District; has the District/Board considered the long term effects of the loss of these families to the District?We anticipate the Board having a larger strategic discussion on the budget process, enrollment, sectioning, fiscal resources, priorities and overall sustainability. Our goal is to remain a District of Destination for families and employees.
  4. Has the District/Board taken into consideration that enrollment and class sizes fluctuate significantly year by year and a one-year “fix” may result in much longer term impacts- loss of families, quality teachers, reputation, etc?See above response
  5. What is the District/Board doing to better anticipate these changes in enrollment?Our enrollment trends are being further studied so we gain a better insight on future projections and the “why” behind the apparent dip in student enrollments at Richards.
  6. Are the cause(s) for the declining enrollment at Richards being tracked and if so, what are they?Our initial look reveals that most families have relocated to another community and are sending their children to those public schools. We will know more once we complete a more detailed analysis.

Sincerely,

John W. Thomsen, District Administrator

Anne Berleman Kearney, School Board President

AFE Board Discussions

Letter to the School Board on Possible Class Size Increase

In a letter to the school board, a number of concerned parents questioned and/or urged school board members to reconsider the reduction in staff at Richards Elementary School.  

Dear Dr. Thomsen, Mr. Yde, Ms. Kearney, Mr. Armstrong, Dr. Bencik-Boudreau, Ms. Yunker, Ms. Woodard, Ms. Saltzstein, and Mr. Christiansen:

I’m writing on behalf of a group of parents and community members who are interested in keeping class sizes small at Richards and maintaining the quality of Whitefish Bay’s foundational education to our youngest students at the K4-5th level.

We come to you wanting to collaborate and work creatively to come up with a solution that accomplishes the District and School Boards’ needs to address enrollment, and work within the budget while still maintaining the small class sizes, quality teachers, and quality families & students that are integral to the reputation Whitefish Bay has developed and maintained for so many years. We live in Whitefish Bay because of the quality of its schools! We are very concerned that a loss of 3 teaching positions at Richards will have a negative, long-term impact not just on our children, their families and our schools but also our community as a whole.

We have compiled a list of questions that we would like answered by the District and/or the School Board for the sake of having a better understanding of the District and Boards’ position and to hopefully enable an ongoing discussion of how we can come up with alternatives to the elimination of these positions. We would appreciate responses to these questions as soon as possible as we understand final decisions will be made by May 10th.

  1. What is the current projected 2017-2018 enrollment, by grade based on most current data? E.g. where are we seeing the distribution of non-returning students by grade?
  2. What is the current K4 enrollment data (if not included in the above response)?
  3. Based upon the most current registration/enrollment data (“current data,”) what grades will see teacher elimination?
  4. Based upon current data, are losses of sections the only option to absorb the loss of these teaching positions?
  5. If not, what alternatives are being considered? Have multi-age classrooms, redistricting, or a temporary pause on non-essential electives been considered?
  6. Could the increase in teachers to the other schools be temporarily postponed instead of the loss of the teachers at Richards?
  7. What type of enrollment numbers would be required to reinstate these positions? E.g. if there were 25 new registrants before May 10th, would that be enough, or what numbers do we need?
  8. What is the number of students per section the District/School Board is comfortable allowing, per grade?
  9. What information is being used to make determinations on optimal class sizes per grade?
  10. Are you willing to collaborate with parents to get creative on how to not eliminate these positions and meet budget challenges?
  11. Does the District intend to communicate with the impacted families the approximate class sizes they will be facing in the fall? If so, when? How often will it be updated? How will this be communicated?
  12. If the District does not intend to communicate prospective class size increases in advance of the school year, they will likely be faced with additional families leaving the District; has the District/Board considered the long term effects of the loss of these families to the District?
  1. Has the District/Board taken into consideration that enrollment and class sizes fluctuate significantly year by year and a one-year “fix” may result in much longer term impacts- loss of families, quality teachers, reputation, etc?
  2. What is the District/Board doing to better anticipate these changes in enrollment?
  3. Are the cause(s) for the declining enrollment at Richards being tracked and if so, what are they?

We thank you in advance for your prompt response and again restate how much we all appreciate your work on behalf of our students and community.

Respectfully,
Signatures of 35 Richards parents – Names withheld by AFE

AFE Board Discussions

Will WFB School Board Approve Increased Class Sizes?

Tonight the Whitefish Bay School Board will be asked to approve pending staffing changes for the 2017-2018 school year. While there is a net-zero loss of district staff, there is a significant cut at Richards, which plans to eliminate three teacher positions. This means consolidation of sections, presumably resulting in larger class sizes and the loss of teaching staff.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, community members are invited to speak.  We encourage you to participate and offer the following issues for consideration:
  • The importance of manageable classroom sizes;
  • The value of retaining high quality teachers in our district;
  • The potential impact on teacher morale when teachers are left to manage large classrooms;
  • The loss of opportunities for teachers to give one-on-one attention and work with small groups;
  • The possible shift in public perception of the quality of WFB education.

Specifically, we encourage you to ask the board to clarify- 

  • What their class size projections are, and what grades will be impacted? 
  • Will the teachers impacted be offered other employment in the district?  
  • Is there a plan for additional support staff to compensate for larger class sizes?

AFE has reached out to district staff for clarification on the plans for next year and received the following response from District Administrator, John Thomsen: “Right now our Richards student enrollment is trending down.  There remains many unknowns to our enrollment. State statute non-renewal timelines require us to make these non-renewals (staffing adjustments) at this time and not later.  If student enrollment trends go back up, we can always add staff back in as we have done in the past.”

We appreciate Dr. Thomsen’s prompt response and would suggest to parents that even in light of this additional information, they may want to attend tonight’s meeting to share their concerns and learn more.  Much like the state budget process currently taking place, it is important to make sure our representatives know that our priority is to provide the best education possible to all of our children.

AFE Board Discussions

Why Does the Wisconsin Budget Matter to WFB Schools?

Whitefish Bay School District has a tradition of academic excellence, a standard that is reflected in its ranking this year as one of the Nation’s top 100 schools.  Our district has maintained this standard despite experiencing significant cuts to the state’s education budget since 2011.  The Governor’s 2017-2019 proposed budget includes a $200 per pupil increase that is tied to several contingencies. The Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN) has determined that this increase falls short of what students across Wisconsin need to ensure a quality education.

Our School District has experienced funding challenges that have resulted in tighter budgeting and program refinements. Without a sufficient funding increase, further cuts-beyond what has already been cut- may need to be considered. 

Make sure your local legislators know that the quality of your children’s education is a priority. Although a $200 per pupil funding increase may help our district avoid deep cuts, Advocates for Education-WFB agrees with WPEN that the increase should be closer to $300 per pupil statewide to sustain and enrich quality programming for children across the state. Lawmakers also need to understand that this funding must be free from conditions and granted outright for all Wisconsin public school students.

Here’s what you can do:

Submit Testimony to members of the Joint Finance Committee;

Testify in person at the JFC Hearing on April 5th at the Wisconsin State Fair Park Exposition Center (Register in advance with WPEN if you wish);

Contact your State Legislators.

AFE Board Discussions

Get Vocal on the Budget at Public Hearing on April 5

On April 5, 2017* from 10:00 a.m.-6 p.m. the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is scheduled to have a Public Hearing on the proposed 2017-2019 state budget at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis.  This public hearing is one of a series held by the JFC prior to it making its final changes to the proposed budget before submitting it to the legislature for its review.  Once this step is completed, the opportunity for public testimony and advocacy is no longer available.

This is your opportunity to let the JFC, which includes our Local Representative, Senator Alberta Darling, know what you think of the proposed 2017-2019 budget, and its impact on Public Education.

Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN) has put together a series of helpful tips in preparing to give Public Testimony or submitting testimony if you cannot attend:

How to prepare effective testimony:

  • Start with a clear ask: make explicit exactly what change you want to see. BE SPECIFIC.
  • Tell your story. Why do you care so much about this issue? Why does it matter to you? Share specific moments that demonstrate the impacts of this issue in your life and your community or school.
  • Connect it to others. Why should others care? How does the issue that matters to you matter to all of us?  SHOW this through specific examples of how we are connected.
  • Demonstrate the urgency. What change do you want to see and why does this change need to happen now?
  • Get the facts. Talk to your superintendent or business manager and understand what your district needs. Is $200/pupil enough? How much spendable aid per pupil does your district need? Take advantage of our team of experts ready to vet your testimony for accuracy.
  • Practice! 2 minutes of testimony is about 250 words. Make sure your story is clear, vivid and paints a local picture of why you care — and that you include your budget request. Be prepared to deliver your testimony in 2 minutes, as public testimony is usually strictly timed.
  • Amplify your message!  Once your testimony is ready to go, share it widely! It’s not enough that legislators hear what you have to say. Make sure your friends and neighbors know why you are standing up and speaking out, and what concerns are most pressing for your schools. Consider submitting your testimony as a letter to the editor of your local paper, share it online on your team’s website, post it on social media, and make a video sharing your concerns! Use #GoPublic and #WIBudget2017 and send your stories to hdb@WisconsinNetwork.org to help us track the show of support for our public schools.
  • Make it official!  When submitting written testimony (by email or snail mail), be sure to ask that your budget testimony be entered into the public record. Bring hard copies of your testimony to the JFC hearing with you to present for the same purpose.
  • Let YOUR elected officials know you testified! Even if your elected officials aren’t members of the Joint Finance Committee, they will vote on the budget and need to know your concerns. CC your own legislators on all email correspondence to the JFC, and send them written copies of your oral testimony if you present it at the hearing.

 

In an effort to streamline and organize the hearing WPEN has also requested that if you intend to testify you register with them here.  WPEN has put together a Budget Headquarters webpage, which is full of additional resources and tips on testifying and why it is important for citizens to be involved at this stage of the Budget Process.  Be sure to review it fully and often.

*Public Hearing dates are subject to and often do change dates/times, without much notice to the public.  Be sure to check back to the Budget HQ webpage regularly to confirm the date.  You can also check the JFC legislative hearing schedule here.  Advocates for Education-WFB will also update as information becomes available.

AFE Board Discussions

Revenue Cap – School Funding 101

A Basic Component of Public School Funding 

FACT: One of the most important aspects of the Wisconsin’s school-funding laws is the revenue cap. This cap was instated in 1993, and still exists today. A revenue cap is a state-imposed control on the amount of money a Wisconsin district can receive through a combination of state general aid, local property taxes, and computer aid. Since 2011, revenue-cap levels have been reduced while expense levels and inflation levels have continued to increase.

FICTION: Despite revenue limits, many people think we’re “doing ok” in Whitefish Bay since we have relatively high property taxes. Wrong!  Because state funding levels are still well below where they were about a decade ago, the Whitefish Bay School District budget faces ever-tighter constraints.

Though the proposed state budget is positive news for Whitefish Bay, AFE supports a policy of funding of ALL public schools both sufficiently and equitably.  AFE will continue to monitor budget proposals through Joint Finance Committee meetings. For more information on the logistics of school funding, visit this link.

AFE Board Discussions

82 Percent of School Referenda Pass

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With this year’s rollercoaster of an election behind us, it’s important to celebrate news that brings us together. One of those uniting topics across the state of Wisconsin is school funding referenda. On November 8th, 82.09% of referenda that support financial needs to enhance public schools was approved by Wisconsin voters.  Although Whitefish Bay has not proposed a referendum since the 2009 $22 million request, it is important to reflect on the current climate of the state of Wisconsin. This November’s vote is affirmation that, regardless of political affiliations, communities in our state recognize the need to support our public schools. In the words of state superintendent, Tony Evers, “Put simply, people have come to expect that kids have access to a quality education and they are willing to pay for it—that’s a good thing.”

For more information on the recent referenda results across Wisconsin, click here.