Thursday, March 17, 2011

You don't have to be invited

Governor Walker had a news conference on Wednesday about his proposed biennial budget and invited some school superintendents to appear with him.
Many people asked me whether I was invited.  For the record, I was not.  But I have spoken to the Governor a few times over the past months, and I am confident that we will talk again. 

Governor Walker stated in that news conference that despite the cuts he calls for in public education, school districts would be able to cover their losses because of the provisions in his budget repair bill.  He’s talking about the dissolution of collective bargaining and the increased ability of some districts to boost employee contributions to health insurance and pensions.  Of course, MPS settled a contract with its biggest union before the Governor was elected, and that contract extends through 2013. 

The Governor showed a spread sheet and stated that the financial picture is not so bad for districts such as MPS.  But the governor’s figures were not complete.  He left an entire column of figures out of the equation.  The chart showed only how much of the cut in state aid is offset by the potential savings, and his figures do not include the total reduction in spending authority.  This is a key difference, since the magnitude of the revenue limit reduction, along with the reduction in categorical aids, is much, much greater.  

We will take some additional time to analyze the Governor’s figures, but we stand by the preliminary analysis that has been provided by our Finance Department that the district faces $74 million in cuts proposed by the governor in the coming school year. As some additional financial information becomes available, it is likely that the cut will grow larger.  

I will also assert that there is a greater impact looming, and few people are discussing it.  The lifting of the income limits for parents participating in the voucher program will continue to erode MPS student population, thus further reducing state aid.   And the funding flaw is still not fixed – it has Milwaukee taxpayers picking up more than a third of the cost of each voucher student, even though no voucher students can be counted for the purposes of state aid.  When anyone talks about the full impact to our schools of the Governor’s budget repair bill and the proposed new budget, these things must be mentioned.

There is good information about potential budget impacts circulated by the Department of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

I think it is important to read as much as you can right now, attend listening sessions and get involved in the discussion.  And you don’t have to be invited to a news conference to do that.