Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 30, 2010

684 MPS Jobs Cut With Proposed Budget

Filed under: School Finance — millerlf @ 3:30 pm

MPS budget would eliminate 260 teaching positions

By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Posted: April 29, 2010

The ominous predictions of staff cuts that have circulated for months in Milwaukee Public Schools came true Thursday when the district proposed eliminating 682 jobs next year in its 2010-’11 school year budget.

The proposed $1.3 billion budget details a grim financial situation next year in which personnel will be eliminated at all levels, from painters and IT workers to aides and assistant principals and teachers. Outside MPS, suburban districts have been able to trim budgets mostly through program cuts, but some might have to cut teachers as well.

The MPS budget calls for eliminating 260 teacher positions, a 4.5% reduction in the teaching staff that, if approved, would be the first time the district has laid off an educator for budgetary purposes since the 1980s.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said the number of employees affected by potential layoffs could be “into the triple digits.”

Generally, staffing reductions each year mirror the projected reductions in the number of students in the district. MPS expects enrollment to decline 2.1% next year, but staff cuts will be three times that much, or 6.4% of the workforce.

The financial crisis in MPS is largely the result of the increasing cost of benefits for employees, especially for health insurance. Next year, the district estimates that it will pay 74.2 cents in benefits for every dollar it pays its employees in salary.

“If the rate remained at 68.7%, the already extraordinarily high FY10 rate, MPS would spend about $28 million less on fringe benefits in FY11 than is now budgeted,” according to Andrekopoulos’ overview of the budget.

“That is money that could be used to staff classrooms with more teachers, with more supplies and support,” he said. “That money, as is now budgeted, is opportunity lost.”

But Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Mike Langyel does not think layoffs are a long-term solution.

He said Thursday that if the union accepted “subpar salaries and benefits,” it would not be able to attract and retain the kind of highly skilled teaching workforce that the city needs.

“We view cutting resources as a race to the bottom,” Langyel said. Instead, he said, the union and the district should work together to lobby Madison for a more adequate funding stream for schools.

Michael Bonds, Milwaukee School Board president, said that if the MTEA would agree to changes in the health care plans – the two sides are in contract negotiations – it could ease the severity of the projected staff cuts. At the moment, teachers can choose from two health care plans, but there’s no financial incentive to take the lower-cost plan.

“There are avoidable layoffs with concessions on health care,” Bonds said.

There is some good news: Some schools that received extra funding to host a class-size reduction program in the lower elementary school grades can keep their programs. This school year, Andrekopoulos said the district could no longer support the SAGE program at 11 elementary schools, which keeps class sizes small for kids in kindergarten through third grade.

Now, because the city did not require the district to put $7.5 million into a pension fund, that money has been brought back to support SAGE in the schools originally targeted, except for Burdick, Cooper and 95th St. elementary schools, Andrekopoulos said.

He added that most of the new programs in the budget have been put together by re-allocating money from other areas, or through the use of stimulus funding, which will run out after next year.

Budget highlights

Some elements of the proposed budget include:

• $6 million for a districtwide preschool to eighth-grade reading curriculum.

• A $1.2 million proposal to expand early childhood programming to 120 children in six more school sites.

• $2 million for an initiative to better prepare ninth-graders through a summer orientation and other academic supports.

• $2.8 million to support a special fund for art, music, physical education and career and technical education in schools.

• $2.7 million in stimulus funding targeted at increasing parental involvement in 35 elementary schools.

•  $9.8 million in bond proceeds to establish a central food production facility in MPS that can produce up to 40,000 pre-packaged school meals a day.

Seven MPS schools will close next year, and two will merge. Those closings and others over the past four years have saved the district about $7.1 million, which will be redistributed to other schools. There are about 198 schools in MPS.

Outside of MPS, most districts have kept cuts to their teaching force to a minimum. Most have trimmed budgets through cutbacks in programming, not personnel.

For those anticipating cuts to teaching positions, districts won’t know how many of those reductions will lead to layoffs until they know the number of retirements and what the contract settlements entail. In MPS, preliminary layoff notices won’t go out until at least mid-May.

But the Elmbrook School District, which gave preliminary layoff notices to 41 teachers this year, might reduce its teaching force by the full-time equivalent of 16 to 22 teachers. Twelve of those reductions are the result of enrollment losses, and the rest are due to budget concerns, said Melinda Mueller, Elmbrook’s communications manager. And not all of those reductions will lead to layoffs, she said.

In the West Bend School District, which reached a tentative agreement on a contract with its teachers, Superintendent Patricia Herdrich said the deal could save the full-time equivalent of 7.4 of 27 teaching jobs that had been under consideration for elimination in 2010-’11.

But those districts that get through next year relatively unscathed face a tougher time the next year, when the state no longer receives federal stimulus dollars to subsidize its aid to schools. Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said the state could lose as many as 3,900 teaching and teacher support staff positions in 2011-’12 without more federal aid.

Teachers unions are supporting an effort by some U.S. Senate Democrats and the U.S. secretary of education that would provide more stimulus aid just for public schools.

“We know that the economy is coming back, but it’s not coming back that quickly,” Bell said.

Amy Hetzner of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.


MPS budget hearings

Public hearings on the budget will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and at 7:30 p.m. May 11, in the auditorium of the Milwaukee Public Schools central services building, 5225 W. Vliet St.


Proposed budget eliminates

  • 260 teacher positions, down 4.5%
  • 87 general education assistants, down 32.7%
  • 95 paraprofessionals, down 10%
  • 22 assistant principals, down 16.7%

April 29, 2010

Doyle Signs Bill Giving Increased Power to DPI

Filed under: MPS Governance Debate — millerlf @ 4:18 pm

Ronald Reagan High School: Governor enacts law giving state superintendent more power

By Amy Hetzner of the Journal Sentinel April 29, 2010

Surrounded by legislators and Milwaukee high school students, Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law Thursday a measure that will give the state’s schools superindent more authority to intervene in struggling school districts and their schools.

“This bill really makes a major step forward for us to begin to give the superintendent real power to make major changes,” Doyle said.

The new law will give the state’s superintendent of public instruction the authority to direct school boards in failing districts to adopt new curriculum, provide early intervention services for children, extend student learning time and implement professional development programs for teachers and principals. The law also requires the state superintendent to enact rules for how school districts and schools will be identified for this intervention.

In addition, the law specifically requires that Milwaukee Public Schools draw up a master plan to analyze aging facilities and buildings, collaborate with non-profit organizations to provide social services and develop alternative routes to high school diplomas for at-risk students.

The law also removes tenure for MPS principals, the only principals in the state to have such a protection provided by law. MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said that was a positive.

But he criticized the new law as being too weak on the school system’s teachers, by allowing them to avoid accountability.

“There’s a section in there that gives the teacher a million excuses for not performing,” he said.

He called the measure “a bit racist” because “I don’t think this would be in the bill if these kids were white kids.” If the same teachers were failing kids in suburban schools, Andrekopoulos said he thought the Legislature would take more definite action.

But Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Mike Langyel said that the new law makes sure that teachers in struggling schools are provided the proper support they need to do their jobs.

“I think what this bill does, it moves us beyond the blame-the-teacher mentality that is prevalent in the administration of Milwaukee Public Schools,” he said.

D.C. teacher contract undercut by doubts on private funding

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 4:08 pm

Washington post 4/29/2010

The District’s chief financial officer has rejected an unusual plan to fund a portion of pay raises for teachers with private foundation money, saying conditions attached to the donations are unacceptable, a top District official with knowledge of the issue said Wednesday.

Natwar M. Gandhi’s rebuff of the unorthodox $21 million financing arrangement is one of two problems that have city officials scrambling to complete financing of the proposed five-year pact with the Washington Teachers’ Union. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty unveiled the contract three weeks ago as a national model of education reform.

Fenty (D) and Rhee also must fill a $29 million gap in the contract that opened two weeks ago, when Gandhi told Rhee that a budget surplus she was counting on to help fund the 20 percent raise promised in the new agreement with teachers does not exist.

All told, Rhee and the administration must find an estimated $50 million in new financing to make the contract acceptable to Gandhi in advance of his appearance Friday before the D.C. Council. Rhee is also scheduled to testify at that hearing.


Overhaul of Special Education in New York City Public Schools

Filed under: School Reform,Special Education — millerlf @ 8:10 am

New York City Public Schools: Enrollment in special education programs has climbed to some 177,000 students, or more than 17 percent of the system, up from roughly 13 percent in 2003. Experts in special education say it is difficult to know what has caused the increase. Theories include better identification of students with learning disabilities, particularly autism; parents being less reluctant to see their children identified as disabled; and the possibility that more children might actually have difficulties than in years past.

The city now spends $4.8 billion annually on special education, up from $3.8 billion five years ago. That includes $1.2 billion to send students to private schools.

City Pushes Shift for Special Education

By JENNIFER MEDINA Published: April 28, 2010

The Bloomberg administration, struggling to address the needs of a growing number of students with learning disabilities, is overhauling special education by asking every principal to take in more of the students and giving them greater flexibility in deciding how to teach them.

This fall, more than 250 schools will be asked to accept more students with disabilities rather than send them to schools that have specific programs for special education, as has been the case for decades. By September 2011, principals at each of the system’s 1,500 schools will be expected to enroll all but the most severely disabled students; those students will continue to be served by schools tailored exclusively to them.

The shift echoes one of the central philosophies of the administration, giving principals more responsibility and control over their schools. It is also an effort to bring New York more in line with the nationwide trend of allowing special education students to benefit from regular classroom settings.


April 28, 2010

Arizona Immigration Law Blasted by Milwaukee Leaders

Filed under: Uncategorized — millerlf @ 9:39 pm

Latino leaders here condemn new Arizona law

By Georgia Pabst of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: April 28, 2010

Local Latino and civil rights leaders Wednesday denounced Arizona’s new law that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and pledged action on the streets and in the courts to halt the law before it goes into effect this summer.

“The Arizona law has galvanized the immigrant rights movement across the country,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, who predicted thousands will take to the streets again on Saturday to protest the new Arizona law and to call for immigration reform.

Milwaukee and more than 70 other cities across the country will hold marches Saturday to protest the Arizona law that Neumann-Ortiz and others said would lead to “institutionalizing racial profiling.”

Some 15 buses from around the state will be coming to the march here, said Neumann-Ortiz, who has led four other massive marches here.

Similar marches will be held in Madison and Beloit. she said at a press conference at Voces offices, 1027 S. 5th St.

Darryl Morrin, the state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said national leaders of his organization are asking the governor of Arizona and the Arizona legislature to rescind “this hostile legislation that pre-empts the Constitution and violates everyone’s liberties.”

LULAC also is calling on the Obama administration and the Wisconsin congressional delegation to immediately pass comprehensive immigration reform “to put this behind us once and for all,” he said.

Morrin said the national LULAC staff also is looking at legally challenging the law on constitutional grounds and is prepared to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are now 46.9 million Hispanics in the country, or 1 in 7, Morrin said.

“We are too large to be taken for granted, ignored or overlooked,” he said. “And if you fail to pass immigration reform this summer, we will remember and take this into account in the fall,” he said, a reference to the Latino vote.

The Arizona director of LULAC, Ana Valenzuela Estrada, also spoke via teleconference call.

“People here are afraid,” she said, adding that her own son, who had his birth certificate, was stopped by authorities. She called the new law “mean-spirited” and “devastating.”

Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin, emphasized that being in the country illegally is a violation of civil laws, not criminal laws.

“There no crime called being illegally present,” she said.

States and cities do not have the authority under the constitution to create immigration laws, she said.

Henry Hamilton, of the NAACP branch of Milwaukee, said the new law will make people feel less safe in their communities.

And Pastor Andy Oren, of Faith United Methodist Church, said the law creates “fear and false patriotism.”

When asked why polls show indicate that 60% to 70% of Arizonans support the new law, Estrada said that 80,000 signed a petition to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asking he not to sign the law, and that calls ran 11 to 1 asking her to veto the measure.

But Rotker added: “Regardless of what polls say, you can’t take away people’s civil rights.”

Thousands of High School Students Demonstrate in New Jersey, Organized Through Facebook and Texting

Filed under: School Finance — millerlf @ 12:26 pm

By WINNIE HU Published: April 27, 2010

It was a silent call to arms: an easy-to-overlook message urging New Jersey students to take a stand against the budget cuts that threaten class sizes and choices as well as after-school activities. But some 18,000 students accepted the invitation posted last month on Facebook, the social media site better known for publicizing parties and sporting events. And on Tuesday many of them — and many others — walked out of class in one of the largest grass-roots demonstrations to hit New Jersey in years.

Michelle Ryan Lauto, 18, a college freshman, joined students who walked out of High Tech High School in Bergen County. It was Ms. Lauto’s Facebook message urging students to take a stand against budget cuts that led to the protests around the state. “All I did was make a Facebook page,” she said. “Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard.”

The largest turnout was in Newark, where thousands of students from various high schools converged on City Hall.

The protest disrupted classroom routines and standardized testing in some of the state’s biggest and best-known school districts, offering a real-life civics lesson that unfolded on lawns, sidewalks, parking lots and football fields.

The mass walkouts were inspired by Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year-old aspiring actress and a college freshman, and came a week after voters rejected 58 percent of school district budgets put to a vote across the state (not all districts have a direct budget vote).

“All I did was make a Facebook page,” said Ms. Lauto, who graduated last year from Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, N.J. “Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard. I would love to see kids in high school step up and start their own protests and change things in their own way.”

At Columbia High School in Maplewood, that looked like 200 students marching around the building waving signs reading “We are the future” and “We love our teachers.”

In West Orange, a district that is considering laying off 84 employees, reducing busing, cutting back on music and art, and dropping sports teams, it was high school students rallying in the football stands.

At Montclair High School, it meant nearly half of the 1,900 students gathered outside the school in the morning, with some chanting, “No more budget cuts.”

In the largest showing, thousands of high school students in Newark marched past honking cars stuck in midday traffic to fill the steps of City Hall under the watchful gaze of dozens of police officers.

With their protests, the students sought to send a message to Gov. Christopher J. Christie, a Republican whose reductions in state aid to education had led many districts to cut staff and programs and to ask for larger-than-usual property tax increases. Mr. Christie, who has taken on the state’s largest teachers’ union in his efforts to close an $11 billion deficit, has proposed reducing direct aid to nearly 600 districts by an amount equal to up to 5 percent of each district’s operating budget.

“It feels like he is taking money from us, and we’re already poor,” said Johanna Pagan, 16, a sophomore at West Side High School in Newark, who feared her school would lose teachers and extracurricular programs because of the governor’s cuts. “The schools here have bad reputations, and we need aid and we need programs to develop.”

Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, released a statement on Tuesday saying that students belonged in the classroom. “It is also our firm hope that the students were motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever,” Mr. Drewniak said, “and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey.”

Bret D. Schundler, the education commissioner, also urged schools to enforce attendance policies and not let students walk out of class. State education officials said they had a call from one district that had moved students taking standardized tests to another part of the building because of potential noise.

Not every school had students walk out. Nancy Dries, a spokeswoman for the top-ranked Millburn district, which has used surplus money to avoid major cuts, said it was “business as usual” there.

But in many other places, students came to school ready to make a political statement. Emma Wolin, a junior at Columbia High, walked out of second-period Spanish with several classmates, even though the school had warned that they would face detention.

“It’s the activities and school spirit that make Columbia a great school, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

Judy Levy, a spokeswoman for the South Orange and Maplewood district, said that teachers did mark protesting students absent, and that some students went back and forth between the walkout and their classes, while others chose not to participate because their classes were reviewing for Advanced Placement exams that begin on Monday.

Ms. Lauto, whose message inspired the walkouts, said in an interview that she was amazed and gratified that so many students had responded. She said the state education cuts had really hit home because her mother and sister both work in public schools in Hudson County.

Ms. Lauto, enrolled at Pace University, said she has always had an activist streak. In seventh grade, she tried — but failed — to organize a protest over a new dress code, and after President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, she wrote “Going to Canada, Be Back in 4 Years” on a T-shirt and wore it to class.

But until now, Ms. Lauto said, she has used Facebook only to keep in touch with friends and let them know when she is performing in shows. She alerted those 600 Facebook friends to her message calling for a student walkout and asked them to pass it on.

Within a week, Ms. Lauto received hundreds of responses, not all of them positive. In fact, so many students insulted her and said the walkout was a stupid idea that she disabled the message function on her Facebook page. On Tuesday, Ms. Lauto joined students who walked out of High Tech High School in Bergen County. She said she was not planning any more protests, but hoped that students learned that their voices could be heard.

“I made this page with the best of intentions,” she said. “The fact that it has become so wildly successful — I’m so overwhelmed.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting from Newark, and Lois DeSocio from Maplewood.

April 27, 2010

View Videos of Protests of Thousands of Students in New Jersey Over Cuts

Filed under: School Finance,School Reform — millerlf @ 9:24 pm

To view videos go to the following link:

States, Teachers’ Unions Clash Over Race to the Top

Filed under: Race to the Top — millerlf @ 2:36 pm

With the second-round deadline for federal Race to the Top Fund grants less than six weeks away, states are rushing to raise the stakes on their education reform plans as they fight over the remaining $3.4 billion in prize money.

But in doing so, states from Massachusetts to Colorado are tangling with their teachers’ unions as they test how far they can go to meet federal officials’ demands that they be aggressive, yet inclusive, in devising a road map to dramatically improve student achievement.


Join Voces da la Frontera This Saturday: March for Immigration Reform

Filed under: Immigration — millerlf @ 8:45 am

March this Saturday May 1st for Immigration Reform

March starts at 12 Noon at 1027 S. 5th Street

To view a recent article on Voces de la Frontera and its leader Christine Neumann-Ortiz

go to the following link:

For the flyer for the march go to:

Voces May 1 Flier

Calls for Arizona Boycott

Filed under: Immigration — millerlf @ 8:37 am

In Wake of Immigration Law, Calls for an Economic Boycott of Arizona


Published: April 26, 2010

A spreading call for an economic boycott of Arizona after its adoption of a tough immigration law that opponents consider racially discriminatory worried business leaders on Monday and angered the governor.

Several immigrant advocates and civil rights groups, joined by members of the San Francisco government, said the state should pay economic consequences for the new law, which gives the police broad power to detain people they reasonably suspect are illegal immigrants and arrest them on state charges if they do not have legal status.

Critics say the law will lead to widespread ethnic and racial profiling and will be used to harass legal residents and Latino citizens.

La Opinión, the nation’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, urged a boycott in an editorial Monday, as did the Rev. Al Sharpton, and calls for such action spread to social media sites. The San Francisco city attorney and members of the Board of Supervisors said they would propose that the city not do business with the state.

They followed the lead of Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who had urged conventions to skip the state, though other Democrats who oppose the law, including Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix, pleaded for people not to punish the entire state.

Tourism and convention managers, struggling to rebound from the recession, said it was too soon to tell if the effort would have an impact, but some businesses said people were turning away from the state.

At the Arizona Inn in Tucson, the manager, Will Conroy, said that over the weekend 12 customers canceled reservations or said they would not return to the state because of the law.

“This is a very scary situation that the police can now just come up to you for no reason and ask for papers,” Joy Mann, a prospective guest who had previously stayed at the inn, wrote him in an e-mail message. “My son is a construction worker and is very suntanned. I cannot ask him to join us there now, as I would fear for him.”

Tourism officials said such accounts were not widespread, but they were concerned that the rancor was tarnishing the state’s image and were mindful of the boycott in the 1980s that led to Arizona’s officially observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday after initially rejecting it as a holiday.

“Arizona tourism is currently in a very fragile state of recovery, and the negative perceptions surrounding this legislation are tarnishing Arizona’s image and could easily have a devastating effect on visitation to our state,” the Valley Hotel and Resort Association in Phoenix said in a statement.

Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed the bill on Friday, calling it an important step toward public safety that would help control immigration and give the police a tool to root out criminals.

She criticized opponents for not offering more solutions to problems related to illegal immigration and called the idea of a boycott “disappointing and unfortunate” at a time when the state is reeling from the recession and suffering from border-related crime that “continues to harm our economy and stifle trade.”


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