Updated to include comment from recall organizer David Braeger.
Fox Point — After two rounds of public hearings last week over potential layoffs, the Fox Point-Bayside School Board spared seven of the 10 teachers who had been in danger of losing their jobs in the coming school year.
The decision came in the wake of weeks of public outcry over proposed staffing and schedule changes which amount to reductions in the district's arts, music, technology, and physical education — known colloquially as “specials” — in the coming year. The furor came to a head last week when district parent David Braeger turned in paperwork to begin the process of recalling School Board President Debbie Friberg alongside board members Tim Melchert and Alice Lawton.
On Tuesday Braeger called the board’s decisions a “good first step.” Since he turned in the recall papers, statewide arts special interest groups have contacted him in an effort to attach themselves to his campaign, Braeger said.
Braeger has extended invitations to School Board members to meet and come to some resolution over staffing and scheduling. He said he has put the recall effort on the back burner for now, in an effort to find a solution without the limelight the interest groups would invoke, should the recall move forward.
“By no means is it my intent for Fox Point-Bayside to be the poster child of cutting the arts and the repercussions of that,” Braeger said. “I think a meeting could resolve that. If I walk away with the feeling that (the board) has listened to the residents, and they have the best interests of taxpayers and children in mind, I will be satisfied.”
Popular teacher gets cut
Sixth-grade math teacher Sue Haferkorn, on whose behalf teachers, parents and students spoke out at a layoff hearing May 7, was laid off by the board in closed session. Newly elected board member Michael Weidner, himself a math teacher at Nicolet, cast the lone vote to keep Haferkorn. Two part-time teachers, Katie Tyk and Laurence Mala, were laid off, though they are encouraged to reapply for their jobs, both of which are set to expand to full-time positions in 2013-14.
At present the plan is for Haferkorn’s classload to be distributed among other Bayside Middle School math teachers, though the change means there will no longer be a dedicated sixth-grade math teacher.
Middle school band teacher Stephanie Traska was not laid off, though her band teaching load will be reduced from 0.8 of a full-time equivalency to 0.7, the result of lessened enrollment in band. As a result of the board’s actions, the district will not combine the band and orchestra positions, as had been the plan when Traska was in danger of being laid off.
Orchestra teacher Laurie Asch, sixth-grade social studies teacher Lisa Schaub, sixth-grade reading teacher Johnny Allen, Spanish/creative writing teacher Erin Lorenz, library/media specialist Jill Schlifske, and art/reading teacher Julie Trump were all spared by the board in their May 9 closed session deliberations.
“In the end, we didn’t think the administration provided the burden of proof, and we couldn’t with a clear conscience approve the layoffs,” Friberg said. “While fiscally not sustainable, with the evidence we were given it was the right decision.”
After the School Board committed to keeping all staff in the current school year regardless of whether they had a full teaching load, to ease concerns over Act 10, the proposed layoffs were meant to “right-size” staffing levels. Now that the School Board has decided against seven of the 10 proposed layoffs, it will again in the coming year be staffing more than it needs.
'Drastic measures' coming
Friberg said that, while the board reacted to the vocal desires of the community, the staffing will create budgeting issues.
“This is a community that wants it all,” she said. “It’s hard to get it all when we only have so many hours in the day and so much money in the bank. Doing the math, drastic measures are going to have to happen.”
Though the over-staffing is the sum of small amounts spread throughout a number of district positions, Superintendent Rachel Boechler said the district is staffing four full-time-equivalencies more than it needs. The rationale behind the proposed layoffs, she said, was to reduce that by two FTEs. The layoffs approved by the board amount to a reduction of one FTE, Boechler said, reducing the amount to three.
“We do need to rightsize. I do support Dr. Boechler. She is correct,” Friberg said of the board’s compromise. “But we also listened to the community who said ‘we love these teachers.’ We're doing this to unite everyone and hopefully bring everyone together and have this common goal and make this work.”
Flex period not settled
Still up in the air are the scheduling changes that would add a “flex” period for teachers to work with students, extra math time, and a problem-solving based humanities course referred to as STEM.
“Until (the board) tells us, it doesn’t make any sense to redo the schedule,” Boechler said. “This is a new board and they clearly have new priorities, and we have to understand that before we make any decisions.”
Both Friberg and Boechler acknowledged the coming budget difficulties resulting from the combination of the board’s approved staffing and Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed biennial budget, which would freeze the district’s spending in the next two school years.
Friberg said that the district may need to go to referendum in spring 2014. Boechler said residents need to talk their state representatives, who have the authority to address the proposed spending freeze.
“The kind of energy that has been put forth on this issue of staffing, and of layoffs, is the same kind of energy that needs to be put forth to our legislators,” Boechler said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get money to fund public schools, is if everybody speaks up.”
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