Signs of spring


Signs of spring


Sunday, April 27, 2003

The harbingers of spring are usually seen as promises that warmer days and the golden light of summer are just around the corner. Think of the first robin, early buds on trees, tulips pushing through dirt. Now think teacher layoffs: Not all of this spring’s harbingers are signs of better times ahead.

The Kettle Moraine School Board last week approved several teacher layoffs to help balance the district’s budget. This week, the Waukesha School Board is expected to start trimming its budget. Among the cuts that have been suggested — and opposed — are library and teaching staffs. Expect those early signs to blossom into even larger layoffs as school districts try to come to grips with budget shortfalls that will be exacerbated by a state budget crisis. Which means that concerned parents and taxpayers need to get involved now because odds are the news will only get worse as June approaches.

In trying to fix the state budget crisis, Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature could reach a budget compromise that will remove the qualified economic offer from district-teacher negotiations (which teachers say has put a brake on their salaries) but retain spending caps or even add levy limits. If that happens, the only way for districts to cope will be through layoffs.

Maybe that’s a good thing — although we tend to favor the idea that students learn better when class sizes are smaller — but it still will have an impact that parents need to start thinking about.

It’s also likely that some legislators will try to address the state’s massive budget shortfall by cutting state aid to schools and shared revenue to municipalities. Municipalities can raise taxes, although not many municipal officials are likely to survive the recalls or elections that will follow a tax increase. But school officials won’t have that option. All they’ll be able to do is cut programs or teachers. And since programs are run by teachers, that amounts to the same thing.

Again, maybe that’s a good thing; maybe there are too many teachers and staff members. It’s just that parents better be ready when the layoffs start because with the layoffs will come changes in the way their schools are run and their kids are educated.

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