Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Recession Chops Local Chess Program

Like many other communities in many other states, Sheboygan, Wisconsin has been particularly hard hit by lay-offs, plant-closings, businesses going bankrupt and plant relocations to other states. The City budget has been decimiated and, under Wisconsin law, all municpalities (and the state itself) must balance its budget through a combination of raising money through taxes, fees and borrowing (issuing bonds). The problem is, of course, that during a recession how can taxes and fees possibly be raised? The short answer is - they can't. In Wisconsin, school budgets are paid out of local real estate tax levies, with some assistance from the state. But the state has drastically cut back on its funding for local school aid for the budget period 2009-2011 (Wisconsin is a biennual budget state) - it is in a funding crunch of its own. In a climate with deflationary real estate values and unemployment rising to levels we haven't seen since the Great Depression, raising real estate taxes to make up funding short-falls is NOT an option. That leaves increasing various fees and perhaps instituting new fees (such as a local wheel tax and implementing a local sales tax) to try and make up for the funding shortfalls - never politically popular and definitely NOT popular when thousands of your citizens are losing their jobs with no prospect for obtaining new employment. With no prospect of attracing new employers to the region, I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that Sheboygan could bleed out 50% of its population to more "promising" areas. Sheboygan is dying. That means a mad scramble in a stagnant real estate market to try and sell your home and suck out as much equity as you can, while competing against homes being marketed at 70% of their far market value. Good luck. When the economy does turn around and employment starts to rebound, about 12-15 months out - who will be left in the city? Gang bangers (who have been moving in from other areas, looking for better pickings and a police force not equipped to deal with them) and pensioners. It is against this backdrop that today's announcement from the local Sheboygan school district was made. Story from sheboyganpress.com: UPDATE: SASD to cut $28K from co-curriculars, continue slashing administration jobs BY KATE MCGINTY • Sheboygan Press staff • April 29, 2009 Sheboygan schools will cut $28,000 in co-curricular activities, increase some classroom sizes — and continue slashing administration jobs, district officials said today. The Sheboygan Area School District briefly laid out its plan last night to cut $5,010,000 from its budget for the 2009-10 school year. That includes $3 million from the teachers union, $876,000 from support staff and $370,000 from administration.The district issued layoff notices this morning to 21 members of the teachers union and 11 educational assistants. No administrators or maintenance staff will be laid off. “Everybody has been bracing for this day. There have been a lot of pins and needles for Wednesday, and we knew that,” said David Gallianetti, School Board president. The district also released today a more specific breakdown of the cuts, which include cutting the equivalent of 24 classroom teachers. Sports, clubs face cuts The district will cut $28,000 from its co-curricular activities, most of which will be eliminating assistant adviser or coach positions. Assistant advisers or coaches from cheerleading, gymnastics and radio will all be cut. The diving coaching spot will be eliminated, and divers will fall under the swim program. Mock trial will be cut altogether. The program — whose South High School team once won a national championship — has dwindled to totally inactive the last two years. The chess program, which has become a social club, will also be cut. The cuts were based on recommendations from athletic directors, who said most of the affected groups have low levels of participation. “If for some reason we start having kids more interested in something, we will revisit it,” Superintendent Joe Sheehan said. Administration to face more cuts All employee groups cut the same percentage of money from their budget. That includes the administration — even if their cuts look small on paper, Gallianetti said. Part of the problem is that administrators are on a two-year contract, he said. All 70 administrators are midway through that contract. “There will be more personnel reductions at central office. We’ve heard that loud and clear from our community and from our employees that that’s what they expect,” Gallianetti said. The administration will consolidate and cut positions, but did not face layoffs. Gallianetti pointed to the elimination of the instructional coordinator — who was paid $133,000 in salary and benefits — as a model the School Board hopes to follow. Harlan Weber, whose salary landed in the top 10 among district employees this year, will retire this year. As coordinator, he led programming of science and math, scheduled monthly meetings with grade-level chairmen and was the health department chairman. That work will then be split among employees. “It’s a huge ball of wax kind of a position. The challenge for us is now going to be to farm all the pieces out, but we will,” Gallianetti said. As part of the long-term plan, the administration will begin surveying all district schools to ask what services they do and do not need from central district office, Sheehan said. By August, the district will lay out a plan to restructure its administrative office. Teachers lose 45 spots The Sheboygan Education Association — which represents teachers, guidance counselors, librarians and other non-classroom positions — will lose the equivalent of 45 full-time positions. That will include cutting the equivalent of 24 full-time teachers, like a fourth-grade music teacher, an elementary art and music enhancement teacher and three special education staff members. Two guidance counselors — one from each high school — and 11 media specialists in the library will also be cut. “Today is a very sad day, not only for the teachers affected by the cuts, but for the students they work with, their colleagues and the community as a whole. These people are our neighbors … Just like with any layoff, it’s going to have a ripple effect through the entire city,” said Tony Johannes, president of the Sheboygan Education Association. The district student-teacher ratio will remain within the School Board policy, but some classes will have more students, Sheehan said. None will be significant changes, he said. Johannes, who is also chairman of the math department at North High School, said his department will see classes jump by five to eight students per class — and as high as 36 students to one teacher. “Class sizes are going to be considerably larger than they were as compared to this year,” he said. “It makes the entire job more challenging, because our goal is to try to teach each student to their level. The more students who are in classrooms, the harder it is to do that.” More cuts would have been necessary if not for cutbacks the teachers volunteered, Gallianetti said. Teachers agreed to work one less day next year — cutting a paid staff development day in August — to save $300,000 in next year’s budget. Johannes said the teachers volunteered to change its contract in interest of the school district and its students. Despite the frustration among the school buildings today, the School Board “did the best job it could” and listened to public input, Johannes said. “For the teachers who are affected, there is a lot of frustration,” he said. “It’s easy to point the finger at other groups, but when it’s all said and done, it’s something that’s out of our control. That was the decision of the administration and the School Board.” Most support staff safe from layoffs The district will cut the equivalent of 21 educational assistants, which mandates 11 layoffs. That saves $590,000. The maintenance staff will adjust their schedule to clean buildings every other day. That will save $238,000. Dean Dekker — president of the local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon. Certain cleaning, like bathrooms and lunchrooms, will still be cleaned daily, and emergency or maintenance will continue as needed. The district will also make some more minor changes, like providing a staff directory only on its Web site to save $3,000 in printing costs. The district will also print a black-and-white only calendar, saving $6,000. “We need to be more creative and smarter on things like that. Even in the best times, to be honest, you should look at things like that just to be more efficient,” Gallianetti said. “Some of these are not huge, but they’re recommendations that people recommended. … It adds up,” Sheehan said. More than 80 percent of the cuts came directly from the two public input sessions and suggestions from staff, district officials said.

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