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.

Signatures of 35 Richards parents – Names withheld by AFE

School Board Notes

School Board Meeting Notes – 04/26/17

7:00 pm, WFBHS.  Anne Kearney instructed the 20+ community members in the audience about the procedure for public comment and emphasized that the Board was NOT going to be voting on staffing tonight.

Organizational Meeting.

The Board welcomed new member, W Brett Christiansen.  Anne Kearney was elected President, Kristin Yunker was elected VP and Clerk and Doug Armstrong was elected Treasurer.

Personnel & Policy Committee Meeting.

  • Salaries for classroom teachers in WFB:  Yde said range is $43,000 to $83,000 (relative to experience).  Average for a brand new teacher in this area is $41,000.
  • A significant change: Four library/media center secretaries will now be categorized as Paraprofessional I.  They will no longer get paid vacation (although they will get paid for what they’ve earned so far) and their hours have already been cut to 5.75 per day.
  • 2017-18 Staffing FTE’s (Full-Time Employment).  The staffing changes that are proposed are due to enrollment. State law requires that teachers receive notification of economic non-renewal by May 15th. Enrollment is declining due to the 220 program phase out and other factors.  The Board stated that class size is very important.  The enrollment numbers from November see a decrease of 60 students at Richards Elementary.  The Board will be issuing economic non-renewals to three teachers, including elimination of  a Richards 3rd grade teacher.
    • Superintendent Thomsen says the Board is issuing the economic non-renewals to “position the Board to add staff later if necessary.”  Thomsen and the other members of the Board repeatedly stated that this is very preliminary and setting the low end.  Yde stated that the non-renewals “came to the attention of people who do not understand our process.”  Board member Bencik-Boudreau asked the Board how information to the general public can be disseminated so there is better understanding.  Thomsen replied that they can read the School Board minutes. (If any of you have read the School Board minutes, you know they are not terribly detailed and are not available on a timely basis.)
    • After May 15th, the Board can only add (not cut) full time staff but they can both add and cut part time staff.  They also said they would reach out to the “let go” teachers to come back if we need to add staff. This could happen as early as June but could be as late as August. The Board will vote on the staffing FTE’s at the May 10, 2017 meeting.

Public comments

The first comment was from the Middle School library secretary about the handbook revision that would make her job classification go to Para I.  All the other comments (12 or 13 in all) were in reference to cutting a 3rd grade teacher at Richards.  The citizens implored the Board to reconsider.  They cited class size, demographics (not just numbers), personal experience with the current 2nd grade class, increased teacher expectations and student needs.  One parent asked that if the decrease is due to phasing out of 220 program, are we proactively working on replacing the lost students?  Also she commented that communication needs to be better and to happen sooner.

Instruction Committee

Elementary Time Study Report Update- Maria Kucharski shared the results of the study.  Click here for her report.

  • Survey Results- i.e. common team time (60 minutes/day) for collaboration and 2 recesses/day valued; met 70% of priorities
  • Refinements based on results: i.e. maintain face-to-face world language in 1st grade and up, no language lab in 1st grade, to be evaluated at other grades.
  • More to do: rename “specials” to “encore” so they are viewed as part of our core classes; common planning time for encore and special education teachers.

Equity and Excellence Update- John, Maria, Stacy reported on the work of the Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium which consists of 22 public/private schools which meet at Concordia.  Click here for their report, which includes DPI recommendations.  Recent census shows that school district is slightly more diverse than WFB village.

Board Learning- – Doug Armstrong read an insightful reflection on one of the Seven Thriving Dispositions: Effective Oral & Written Communication Skills.

Meeting adjourned 10:48pm.

Please note that these are unofficial school board meeting notes taken by an AFE board representative.  For full transcript of notes, click here.

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.

School Board Notes

School Board Meeting Notes – 04/05/17

Cumberland Principal Jayne Heffron and Buildings and Grounds Manager Brian Chase expressed thanks to the Cumberland PTO for their donation of $25,000 to purchase enhancements for the Cumberland playground. Large play cubes and a spinner will be installed on the east side of the existing playground. It will be installed before the end of the school year so that current 5th graders have a chance to enjoy it.

The board recognized the service of school board member Jennifer Dragseth, who is stepping down from her school board position. They also approved the election results and appointed Douglas Armstrong and W. Brett Christiansen to the school board.

The board approved the curriculum renewal of K-12 Art and Music. The board also reaffirmed their commitment to the arts as integral to our students’ education.

The board approved a district policy around the usage of drones on school property. They will seek to make this policy public by announcing it in local publications.

The board approved some economic non-renewals of teacher contracts. These teachers received preliminary notices of non-renewal based on current enrollment. Dr. Thomsen emphasized that these non renewals were not performance based. The district enrollment is projected to drop in the 2017-18 school year.

Kristen Bencik reported on the district communication committee. The district has recently put a new web site in place. There has also been an increase in Facebook traffic.

Pamela Woodward reported on the district’s membership in the Southwestern Wisconsin School Alliance. They are encouraging the alliance to be more proactive in response to Governor Walker’s  budget. The governor is pushing for an increase in spending. The governor is calling this a “reform” dividend.  One way that the governor proposes to fund this increase is to require teachers to pay 12% of their health insurance costs. This would impact Whitefish Bay teachers because currently they do not pay 12% of their health insurance costs. The board spoke about  the importance of clarifying the impact of the budget for our community members.

Please note that these are unofficial school board meeting notes taken by an AFE board representative.

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.

2017 Elections

AFE Endorses Tony Evers for School Superintendent

On April 4, 2017, Wisconsin will elect its State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  While this is always an important election, this year it is more critical than ever that Wisconsin Public Schools be led by a Superintendent who supports Public Education. In this election, there is only one such candidate -Tony Evers.  As such, Advocates for Education-WFB endorses the re-election of Tony Evers for Wisconsin State Superintendent.

2017 Elections

Marquette University Law School’s Candidate Forum for State Superintendent Race

On Tuesday, March 28th, Marquette Law School hosted a candidate forum for the State Superintendent race. The Candidates are incumbent Tony Evers and his challenger Lowell Holtz.

View of current budget proposal that includes an increase of $200 per child? Both candidates support the budget. Dr. Evers pointed out that the increased money needs to be distributed equitably not equally. The public supports public education which is clear by the number of school referenda that passed in 2016. Dr. Holtz believes that the State will provide adequate funding but notes that higher funding doesn’t correlate to higher achieving schools. Dr. Evers pointed out that schools need adequate resources. Choice school websites list small class sizes and facilities when they are trying to sell their school to parents. These are items that cost money.

Why aren’t things better in the Milwaukee Public Schools? Dr. Evers stated that MPS is improving. Test scores are up and instruction has been made more consistent across the district. This is important for the very mobile student population being served by MPS. There has been progress with special education, fewer suspensions, and an increase in students in summer school. The biggest problem in MPS is the abject poverty and student’s home life that affect learning. The district needs to provide more help to students with social and emotional issues. Dr. Holtz pointed out that Wisconsin is the worst state in the nation for graduation gap and has largest incarceration rate of black males. The failure is the fault of the current system in place. There are two ways out of poverty – education or crime. School improvement grants are not helpful. There needs to be more innovation and higher expectations. Parents should be given more control.

Alleged deal between Dr. Holtz and primary challenger John Humphries? Dr. Holtz denied that there was anything more than a policy conversation with Humphries. Dr. Evers stated he didn’t expect there to be an integrity issue in this race and was bothered by the idea that these two candidates would be discussing one of them backing the other to obtain a job to control the five largest school districts.

Vouchers? Dr. Evers pointed to studies indicating no difference in achievement between public schools and voucher schools. The reason for this is that the kids are still coming from the same place. Dr. Holtz pointed to a study that did make this claim. Dr. Evers stated that the study compares apples to giraffes especially because it did not take special education students into account. Dr. Holtz stated that he agreed with Dr. Fuller, prior MPS Superintendent, that parents shouldn’t be forced to send their child to a failing school. Dr. Evers stated that one reason for vouchers could be that we determine giving parents a choice is in the common good. He stated this was a fine idea so long as the goal is to make sure that public schools are not adversely effected by vouchers.

Closing of Failing Voucher Schools? Dr. Holz stated that Wisconsin’s voucher and choice system are the most regulated in the nation. Wisconsin has closed down voucher schools. Dr. Evers disagreed stating that no voucher school has never been closed due to failing students. They have been closed due to financial irregularities or building violations. He went on to point out that the State Superintendent has no authority to close voucher schools or even public schools.

Changes in federal policy with new administration? Dr. Holtz saw the Trump administration’s policies as an opportunity to remove federal overreach including common core and provide more local control. He was concerned about reduction in teacher training funds. Dr. Evers indicated that he was very concerned about the cuts proposed by this administration which includes $3.5 million to Wisconsin for teacher professional development as well as cuts or elimination of funding for after school programs, pre-college scholarship, public TV and radio, and public libraries. It is pointed out that many of these cuts may not make it through the Congress, but it should be noted that this is the first public policy position of this Administration.

Teacher pipeline? Dr. Holtz stated that we need to keep good people in the profession by eliminating unnecessary work such as entering data for reports. We need to return safety and discipline to our schools. We need to find creative ways to keep teachers in the profession. High school students need to see their teachers enjoying the job which will make them want to become teachers as well. Dr. Evers stated Wisconsin already has a teacher shortage born out of Act 10. There needs to be a change in rhetoric around the teaching profession. We need to start honoring teachers and increasing their pay. We need to start talking up teaching as a profession to our young people.

Notes taken by one of our AFE board members.

For Alan Borsuk’s takeaway on the debate, here’s a link to his blog post.