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Up to seven Bay teachers could lose jobs
Preliminary notices result of uncertainty over budget bill effect

by Chris Schultz

March 03, 2011

Williams Bay — Seven teachers received preliminary notification from the Williams Bay School Board that they may not be rehired by the District for the 2011-12 school year.

Phil Sanborn, president of the Williams Bay Teachers Union, said there is little the School Board or the union could have done to avoid this.

Those cuts are the result of the failed referendum, and the school district is following the contract, he said.

And the School Board wasn't nearly as radical as other districts in the state he added.

"Some school districts have handed pink slips to their entire staff," Sanborn said. "I think ours was a lot more decent than that."

The School Board met in special session Feb. 23 to approve sending the letters of nonrenewal. Board members were reluctant to make the move, but felt compelled by uncertainties in Madison to take the step.

The uncertainty is over how much of Gov. Walker's budget repair bill will finally become law. While the bill passed the state Assembly, 14 Senate Democrats are hiding out in Illinois, preventing the 19 Senate Republicans from having a quorum and voting on the bill. The bill doesn't become law until it is approved by the Senate. Meanwhile, thousands of union supporters are marching on the capital and camping out in the Capitol.

The unusual action of sending out the preliminary letters of nonrenewal was taken at the recommendation of the Wisconsin School Board Association. The association warned school officials to decide their staff cuts by Feb. 28, or face the possibility of having those layoffs challenged in court, Superintendent Fred Vorlop told the School Board.

Under the teacher contracts, the School Board would not have had to make preliminary decisions on layoffs until April 15, Vorlop said.

But those later layoff deadlines, set by contract, might be wiped out if the state Senate approves Gov. Walker's budget repair bill, which eliminates most collective bargaining rights for teachers, the state School Board Association warned.

If contract language is no longer in effect, then the deadline for layoff notices must follow state law, the association said.

State law requires notices by March 15, and teachers must receive preliminary notice 15 days before that. The board voted 4-0 to approve sending the letters. A sad-sounding Dianna Woss abstained.

Teachers receiving preliminary notice of nonrenewal were:

- Buddy Breen, physical education instructor, football coach and assistant baseball coach.

- Hanna Coddington, first grade.

- Nancy McCabe, kindergarten.

- Dawn Raufman, third grade.

- Joshua Reed, high school technical education.

- Jessica Reinstad, second grade.

- Gordy Roth, junior high school science.

Vorlop said the letters are not exempt under the state open meetings and open documents laws, and the names of the teachers receiving the letters are part of the public record.

The letters emphasize to the recipients that the board's action is not a reflection of their performance as teachers, but a result of fiscal constraints faced by the school district.

The potential layoffs would equal about 4.6 full-time-equivalents, Vorlop said later. That's more than the 3.6 teacher FTEs proposed earlier for budget reasons. Another FTE was added to the list of cuts because of the uncertainty over what effect the governor's budget repair bill may have on state school aids and school district revenue caps, Vorlop said.

While the letters are unusual, they're not unheard of, Sanborn said. He said the School Board sent out preliminary letters of nonrenewal in 2003, after voters rejected an attempt to raise the district's spending cap in 2002.

State aid isn't that big a factor for Williams Bay schools. Vorlop said it totals about $60,000 annually.

However, the budget repair bill has a provision that would cut school district spending caps by another $500 per student, resulting in a loss of another $250,000 in income for Williams Bay schools, Sanborn said. If that happens, it could have a devastating effect on Williams Bay, he said.

Sanborn said while the union reluctantly accepts staff cuts will be needed to balance the Williams Bay School District budget for 2011-12, the union is not ready to accept provisions of the governor's budget bill that would restrict public union bargaining rights.

"It's very clear to me and anybody who looks at this that the laws governing collective bargaining rights have nothing to do with balancing the budget," Sanborn said. "The governor is using this budget crisis as a way to destroy the unions."

Later, Vorlop said not all of the teachers receiving the letters may be laid off. And even if teachers receive notices of nonrenewal by March 15, by law, they could be reinstated as late of Aug. 30, he said.

The uncertainty in Madison over state budget cuts and teacher contracts couldn't have come at a worse time for Williams Bay schools, as the district struggles to bridge a $609,000 shortfall for the coming school year.

At a Feb. 7 public meeting, the district announced that up to 8.5 full-time-equivalent positions (not all teachers) would have to be cut.

Not all the cuts would have to take place this year. Potentially, the board could cut less this year and more next year.

But this would be just the beginning, as the district will face increasing costs and shrinking revenues in the future.

Cuts made this year would not preclude the need to cut 12 fulltime positions over the next four years, Vorlop has warned.

One of Vorlop's recommendations has already been implemented by the board. Starting Jan. 24, the company that provides the Williams Bay schools with their hot meals cut three positions in the schools' lunch lines. Food choices were reduced and the cost of meals increased by 30 cents, to $2.40 per meal for grades K-6 and $2.50 for grades 7-12. That is expected to save the District $55,000.

Other proposed cuts include:

- Reducing field trips ($14,000).

- Cutting the seventh-grade incentive program ($3,500).

- Eliminating outdoor education ($6,000).

- Increasing student fees for grades 7 to 12 to $75, (an increase of $11,000 in income.)

- Cut the athletic uniform budget by $2,000.

- Reduce teacher requisitions by $6,000.

None of the cuts have been approved by the School Board, yet.

School budget reductions became necessary on Sept. 14, 2010, when the voters turned back a request by the School Board to increase the District's revenue cap over the next three years.

The referendum asked voters to approve spending cap increases by $498,000 for the 2010-11 school year, $498,000 for 2011-12 and $890,000 for 2012-13 and thereafter.

Complete returns showed the Williams Bay district electors refused with 698 voting no, and 411 voting yes.