WASB heads concerned about education financesJohn Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, visited western Wisconsin last week and expressed concern about financing public education in the years ahead.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, visited western Wisconsin last week and expressed concern about financing public education in the years ahead.
With him was Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for WASB.
WASB is a non-profit organization designed to further the educational interests of Wisconsin citizens by informing, educating and inspiring public school board members.
Unlike the labor side of education, represented by the well-known and powerful Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the WASB follows the less-publicized interests of school board members.
The pair visited the region Wednesday, in preparation for a regional WASB meeting in Menomonie Wednesday night.
“Wisconsin public schools are facing a convergence of challenges which hold the potential for meaningful change to our public education system if we keep our children and their future at the forefront of our decision making,” Ashley said. “Our members want to preserve the quality of education.”
He said, however, that Gov. James Doyle’s budget was tough on school boards.
“There we a number of changes – reduced state aid, removal of the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer) and changes in collective bargaining language,” Ashley said.
On top of that, Doyle used economic stimulus money to help close the state education aid gap.
“That is a good thing on one hand, but it does not eliminate the problem,” Ashley said. “In two years we’ll have to make up that stimulus money in the next budget – the one-time money will be gone.”
Ashley was not sure of the future impact of eliminating the QEO, but since it became law in 1993, teacher salaries (and cost of benefits in some cases) have been limited to 3.8 percent per year. The teachers union, WEAC, has been attempting to eliminate the law since it was implemented. The union finally got its way in the Doyle budget passed this year.
“The governor has said the QEO is an impediment to education,” Ashley said. “The reality check is that most citizens would love a 3.8 percent increase during these economic times. Education is a labor-intensive institution and eliminating the QEO could have a huge economic impact. There are a lot of unknowns.”
One impact he is sure of is that the arbitration process will be elevated to a much bigger role.
“Under the QEO, there wasn’t much need for arbitration,” Ashley said. “If the district offered 3.8 percent, there was no recourse.”
He believes teachers will now incorporate the arbitration process in the years ahead. In the process, an arbitrator chooses one offer (Board or staff), with no room for compromise.
Changes in the collective bargaining language will also make it tougher for school boards to settle contracts with teachers.
“The governor removed the cap on revenue limits and took away some of the language that allows arbitrators to consider local economic factors.” Rossmiller said. “For instance, in Janesville, the arbitrator will not use the closing of the auto plant as a factor in his/her decision.”
What will be used is “comparables.” That concept sends union representatives scurrying around the state to find comparably sized districts with the highest pay.
He said it is important to remember that revenue for schools comes from only two sources – the state and local taxpayers.
“As state money is reduced, there is only one other option,” Rossmiller said. “How do students benefit in a district that spends more than taxpayers can pay?”
Ashley said that most school board members around the state are responsive to citizens.
“We talk to a lot of board members and they all attempt to focus on doing the right thing – doing what they have to do,” Ashley said. “They know that public education continues to widen as the expectations continue to expand.
“It is no longer enough for high school graduates to meet local and regional employment needs. They are expected to hit national and international benchmarks and be prepared for jobs that do not exist in today’s world.”
He encourages citizens to run for school board and make an impact on education.
“It’s not like the old days where a citizen would be on the school board for 30 or 40 years,” Ashley said. “There is always a need for conscientious citizens to step forward.”