Wisconsin schools gird for state aid cuts

Feb. 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM
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MADISON, Wis., Feb. 25 (UPI) -- School districts across Wisconsin are preparing for the worst in advance of Gov. Scott Walker's release of the 2011-13 budget proposal, superintendents said.

School officials already anticipate major funding cuts that could jeopardize jobs and programs. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards and other education groups have warned Walker's budget proposal could reduce the state's general aid to schools by $900 million in the next biennium and lower the amount of revenue districts can collect by as much as $500 per pupil, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday.

"I'm completely nervous," Cudahy School District Superintendent Jim Heiden said. "Walking into buildings and seeing teachers break into tears when they see you -- I mean, that's the level of anxiety that's out there."

Protesters flocked to Madison for nearly two weeks to try to stop Walker's proposal that would eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights, which Walker said is necessary to plug a $137 million gap in the biennial state budget that ends June 30. The Assembly passed the budget fix early Friday, but Senate Democrats have fled the state to block consideration of the measure in the upper chamber.

School administrators throughout the state have been issuing enough preliminary layoff notices this week to shield themselves from whatever state-aid cuts and reductions in state-imposed revenue limits may come, the Journal Sentinel said.

School officials said they have been advised to issue such notices by Monday, the day before the governor is to release his proposal, to meet the statutory deadline for non-renewal of teacher contracts. If the budget-repair bill containing the provisions that would end most parts of the collective bargaining law, layoff provisions and later deadlines now in many contracts might be voided, officials said.

Several of the state's school districts have issued preliminary layoff notices to their entire unionized teaching force, the newspaper said, including Hustisford School District in Dodge County, where the wife of state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is a guidance counselor.

"It's not something I take lightly," said Fitzgerald, who supports the governor's budget-repair bill and rollback of collective bargaining rights for public workers. "It will have an effect on our life."

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