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Parents protest Fox Point-Bayside schedule and staffing changes that would cut art, music programs

District parent planning recall election of board president

April 23, 2013

Fox Point — In the Stormonth Elementary cafeteria Monday evening, a standing-room-only crowd of parents, teachers and students laid into the Fox Point-Bayside School Board over preliminary layoff notices and schedule changes that include cuts to the district’s physical education, art, technology and music programs — known colloquially as “specials” — in the coming 2013-14 school year. 

In total the district issued preliminary layoff notices to 10 staff members last week, primarily at Bayside Middle School, Superintendent Rachel Boechler said in an interview. Due to a combination of class enrollment and scheduling in the coming year, she said, one position will be fully eliminated, three will be reconfigured, and four will be reduced — necessitating the layoff notices, which districts are required by statute to issue to teachers who can’t be guaranteed the same level of employment. Those changes mean a 17 percent reduction in fifth- and sixth-grade physical education, a 38 percent reduction in fifth and sixth-grade art, a 38 percent reduction in DATA (technology) class, and a 38 percent reduction in fifth- and sixth-grade general music, according to documents circulating throughout the community which originated in the district.

Among those who addressed the board was district parent David Braeger, a Milwaukee-area financial sector CEO who has argued in favor of specials with nationwide studies that conclude those programs increase student performance overall. Additionally, Braeger said in an interview that he plans to initiate a recall election for School Board President Debbie Friberg, whose credentials he called into question in light of the proposed changes to specials.

“If I were to tell my (chief operating officer) that we were cutting aspects of my business by 38 percent or more, he would simply conclude that I had failed my employees and the company,” Braeger told the School Board on Monday, earning a standing ovation from the crowd at the conclusion of his speech. “You can correlate that to the fact that you have failed your employees — the teachers, and your company — the district and taxpayer.”

He said if his recall effort is successful he would try to take Friberg’s place.

“I want to join the board not to be a member of the club, but to be a policeman,” Braeger said in the interview. “We need a watchdog.”

Scheduling is key

Boechler said the changes result from a middle school curriculum committee, which formed last August and recommended changes that the School Board approved in December. The recommendations were to add additional math instruction, create a two-period “block” of language arts classes, add a period of “flex time,” keep specials in the curriculum, and keep advisory times and recess. The additional math and flex time — a multipurpose period in which students receive help from staff — are geared toward student performance, Boechler said, specifically in the Smarter Balanced assessments which is associated with federal Common Core standards.

The added fifth- and sixth-grade math period will be 43-minutes once a week, Boechler said, and the flex period will be daily for 30 minutes. Those additions result in the overall reduction distributed throughout the specials.

Making room for math

Specifically, the scheduling includes a one section reduction in fifth- and sixth-grade art, a slight overall staffing reduction in music, and a reduction in DATA which amounts to a less-than-a-class cut. Music will increase by one class based on an increase in students electing chorus. Physical education will be reduced slightly to create more time for math, and the middle school band and orchestra positions will be consolidated, which in emails circulated throughout the district Bayside band teacher Stephanie Traska has argued will be detrimental to the program. 

Boechler and district Business Director Amy Kohl both said the changes are driven by student enrollment and not necessarily financial reasons. Boechler estimated overall district staffing will likely remain flat or increase by the equivalent of part-time position, and overall staffing for band and orchestra goes from the equivalent of 1.1 full-time position to a full-time position, a one-tenth reduction resulting from a enrollment decrease of 34 students in the program.

Currently, all specials are aligned with the trimester system in the middle school, Boechler said, but fifth- and sixth-grade specials will be be offered more often throughout the week on a quarterly basis to keep class sizes in the neighborhood of 22-25.

“We have to find a place for kids and we don’t want to have class sizes of 30,” she said. 

Boechler added that in the wake of Act 10 the district prevented any layoffs in the current school year, but is now “right-sizing” staffing, as was the understanding at the time. 

 

 

 

GET INVOLVED

WHAT: The district will hold a public informational meeting on the scheduling and staffing changes.

WHERE: Bayside Middle School, 601 E. Ellsworth Lane

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 29

 

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