Whitehall School District    

19121 Hobson Street   ~ P.O. Box 37  ~ Whitehall, WI  54773-0037  ~ FAX:  715-538-4639

May 13, 2015

Dear residents of the Whitehall School District,

I am writing today to both share information and ask for your assistance in determining the course of our collective future as it relates to our children and the educational system that serves them.  Please understand that this will not be a partisan political message nor will I ask for anything but your sincere and conscientious thought about our current state budget landscape as it relates to public education.  We remain committed to doing what you, our community members, want us to do and doing it in the manner you expect it to be done.

Beginning today, our state’s Joint Finance Committee will take up the educational portions of the Governor’s 2015-17 State Budget.  Today’s discussion will be centered around a program referred to as the School Levy Credit.  Under the proposed budget, this program will be expanded by over $200 million dollars.  Unfortunately, you will often hear this being referred to as an increase in school spending.  That is simply not the case.  The School Levy Credit is simply a property tax reduction program that is geared at the more property wealthy areas in our state.  This program is part of a combined $319 million in “school funding in name only” that simply results in property tax relief.  Schools like ours cannot spend a single dime of it on the educational needs of our students.

Other areas of educational funding will be addressed by Joint Finance on Tuesday, May 19th.  Included in these discussions will be one of the more popular media sound bytes you have probably heard and it relates to an item called per pupil aid.  In the proposed budget this aid was cut by $150/student/year.  This would result in a reduction of over $100,000 for our schools here in Whitehall.   What this really means is that schools would be basically frozen at the same revenue as last year.  This will leave us to again make reductions to cover increases to our fixed costs as there is no increase proposed in the revenue limit that allows schools to continue to deal with inflationary increases.

If this is the basic desired vision you share for our state and our educational system, then there is nothing you would need to to do and if that is the majority view, we as an entity will continue to make the adjustments necessary to continue operations.  However, if you are not comfortable with the path our state is moving toward, there are some things you can do and it would begin with contacting our legislators as well as members of the Joint Finance Committee. As I mentioned, this committee will begin its debate on school funding today and there are some key questions that one ought to be asking.

They are as follows:

  1. While you can thank the members of the committee for the positive comments about  restoring the $127 million cut to the per pupil categorical aid, we can and should ask them to ensure that this change truly happens.
  2. You can emphasize that restoring that cut still only gets public schools back to a freeze in allowable revenues. We should ask for an inflationary increase in per pupil revenues (the revenue limit) to meet the needs of students.  Continued freezes will only create bigger issues as we move forward.
  3. You can ask our representatives to oppose all private school voucher expansion proposals in the budget. The current under-funding of our public schools shows we simply cannot afford two systems of education in Wisconsin yet a significant amount of money would be required to fund this expansion and it would come from our local public schools.
  4. You can also ask Joint Finance to oppose all independent charter school expansion proposals in the budget. These proposals will siphon state aid away from public schools and likely result in property tax increases.

If you choose to make contact with any member of the Joint Finance Committee here is another link to their contact information as well as contact information for our legislators.

Joint Finance Committee        Senator Kathleen Vinehout                Representative Chris Danou

In closing, I will leave you with some thoughts from Mr. John Forrester who works on behalf of our school children as a representative for the School Administrators Alliance.  “Our state’s history of success over the years is built on a shared commitment to public education made by generations of Wisconsin citizens and past elected leaders. “While some (political) leaders continue to boast about our state’s high ACT test scores and graduation rates, we all must understand that this success was made possible because past leaders from both political parties made public education a priority.”

Please take a few minutes to give our school children and our schools some sincere thought and then make a conscious decision on what our state’s education system should look like in the future.  One way or the other, we have some serious decisions to make and they must be made quickly as either direction will require major changes and may have significant impacts.

If you need any assistance or have any questions regarding this letter or our schools, please feel free to contact me at (715) 538-4374 or you can email me at [email protected] .

Respectfully,

Mike Beighley

Superintendent of Schools