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Education Takes Center Stage During Pridemore Visit

Falls residents voiced concern that Gov. Scott Walker's proposed would unfairly punish schools in the village and other suburban districts.

The debate on education in Wisconsin is caught between a figurative rock and a hard place, and that predicament was brought to the forefront during a listening session Thursday with state Assembly Rep. Don Pridemore.

Pridemore, who in April was soundly defeated by Tony Evers in a run for state superintendent of schools, visited the Menomonee Falls Public Library to gain feedback on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, and education took center stage with the group of 15 residents that attended.

Skills Gap, Funding Gap

Pridemore emphasized a growing gap between the skills students possess after graduating high school and college, and the skills demanded by high-tech employers. Pridemore said businesses are struggling to find workers with the level of skills to fill many of the jobs that are out there.

“We need to raise the bar in the high schools. We have a lot of jobs out there that are going unfulfilled and we have a skills gap,” Pridemore said.

But residents, who spoke, said closing the skills gap is difficult to do when Falls schools are unfairly penalized in the state funding formula. Residents were upset that the budget freezes revenue limits for suburban districts while voucher and charter school funding is expanded.

“We’ve done everything we can. The biggest thing you need to do is get rid of the revenue caps and tie them to the Consumer Price Index,” said Jeff Thompson, a math teacher at the high school. “It’s killing us. We’ve cut through the fat, and we’re down to the bone.”

Menomonee Falls has seen state funding drop by the maximum allowable amount for several years, and annually plugs a multi-million gap between revenues and expenditures. The district faces a $2.4 million deficit for next school year. 

Thompson lambasted Pridemore’s support of increasing judicial spending by 34 percent in the budget. Pridemore said in order to keep the best district attorneys in public sector, the state needs to increase their salaries to make them more competitive with the private sector.

“We’ve been neglecting that area for a number of years. If you don’t pay (district attorneys) enough, you can’t keep them around. They’ll make more in the private sector,” Pridemore said. “You aren’t getting the best people if you are offering low pay.”

Thompson applied the same logic to education.

“You are increasing pay so we can retain quality attorneys, wouldn’t that be the same for our educators?” Thompson asked.  “If students are deficient in their skills, and if we continue to attack teacher pay, you won’t retain the teachers who prepare students for those skills.”

The MPS Drag 

Residents also sharply criticized the decades-old state education funding formula, which they said has long been broken. Menomonee Falls is considered a property-rich district, and property taxes are on an upward trend but local school budgets remain frozen. Essentially, Falls residents would send more tax dollars to fun private school vouchers rather than keeping the money local in the budget proposal.

“The cuts being made in our public school system based on the constraints are having a significantly negative effect,” said University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee educator and Falls resident Sharon Daly. “I’m sad that if MPS is failing I need to bail them out, and it’s coming off the back of my children.”

Pridemore said roughly $0.80 of every $1 the state spends on education is funneled to Milwaukee schools. He agreed that the funding formula is broken and said the state Assembly would take up a discussion on it this year.

Pridemore said that local School Boards have the option of going to a referendum if they wish to increase the taxpayer contribution to schools, and the community could decide if increasing education funding is a worthy investment. He also claimed Menomonee Falls erred when it signed a two-year contract with the teachers union and failed to fully utilize Act 10.

“If the community values education, I don’t see why a referendum wouldn’t pass.” Pridemore said. “Furthermore, the School Board should have taken full advantage of the tools in Act 10 rather than extend the contract. I don’t have the numbers for Menomonee Falls …”

Thompson interrupted Pridemore.

“Then don’t talk about what Menomonee Falls did if you don’t know,” he said.

Despite extending its contract with the teachers before Act 10 was law, the School Board implemented many changes the legislation allowed. The district switched health providers from WEA Trust, created a tax sheltered annuity to lower its retirement obligation, and shifted toward a self-funded insurance model.

Pridemore said he would like to create a reward incentive for the most frugal school districts by allowing them to save the funds they don’t spend. He would also like to eliminate redundancy in the technical school program, and encourage districts to partner with local businesses to train students. 

Valley View PTO member Cecilia Lillegard left Pridemore with one last thought before the session ended late Thursday night. 

“Keep in mind the investment in education,” she said.

Nuitari (Grand Master Editor) April 19, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Sounds like this broke down into a mini blue fister pow wow.
Mike April 20, 2013 at 02:38 AM
Pridemore said he would like to create a reward incentive for the most frugal school districts by allowing them to save the funds they don’t spend. Interesting... how often in business do you hear departments buying silly things just to finish spending their budget so it doesn't get cut next year? This would give them a benefit for saving money that they get to take advantage of instead of buying dumb things to spend the money. It's sad that 80% of education money goes to MPS. When talking to educators from northern Wi in my family, they can never understand why the state is doing some of the things it does. I've found that when you frame with Milwaukee's issues in mind, it all makes sense to them, but they end up suffering for Milwaukee's problems.
W . Benz April 20, 2013 at 03:33 AM
The union Prez says were down to the bone and no revenue ( taxes ) limits are needed . Maybe now you can see what these blue fisters are all about. MONEY ...... You'll get new revenue after all those TIF dist come due in 30 yrs thats if Fitz and your buddies don't create or extend more TIF's. Don't forget to support the Hotel they need revenue too . Hey lets raise the Room tax @ the Hotel.
Nuitari (Grand Master Editor) April 20, 2013 at 11:33 AM
You can thank Tony Evers for that. Then ask him why his policies promote racism against whites.
red April 20, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I believe the University of Wisconsin was similarly crying about the pain of Walker's budget cuts. They also said they had cut to the bone. http://m.jsonline.com/more/news/wisconsin/117193223.htm They could have avoided a lot of pain if they had kept track of ONE BILLION DOLLARS!!!! Ooops. http://menomoneefalls.patch.com/articles/1-billion-uw-surplus-has-state-lawmakers-outraged
Keith Best April 20, 2013 at 10:46 PM
The more money thrown at the schools systems the worse the education for the children. And Teachers Unions will be "for the children", when children pay union dues.
Jeff Christensen April 23, 2013 at 01:12 AM
You sound like the kind of man who hates local control. Why should you tell Menomonee Falls residents how to run their schools?
W . Benz April 23, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Local control ! sure just don't take state aid and close the state dept of Ed. Spend local monies on local kids .... Sounds good to me.

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