District Losing Almost 4,000 Years of Experience
Parents worry about quality of programs as district replaces experienced staff and rumors fly about potential program changes.
The Waukesha School board approved an extensive slate of staffing changes and new hires Wednesday night as it begins to replace what could be almost 14 percent of its professional workforce.
Over the last two months, 130 out of about 950 teachers and teaching professionals have retired effective the end of this school year.
Superintendent of Schools Todd Gray said that is almost 4,000 years of experience that the district is losing, something that concerns at least one parent.
“Any type of organization that loses that type of institutional knowledge suffers from it," said parent Tariq Akmut in open comments to the school board Wednesday night. "You have new people coming on board. That may in some instances affect the quality of education that our kids receive.”
Even with the appointments and hiring approved on Wednesday night, the district has much further to go.
About 40 positions out of 130 have been accounted for as of last night’s board meeting, according to Gray. However, this district won’t have to hire 130 new people because they kept some staff instead of laying them off as they’ve done in the past. Some of those people would be appointed to these vacant positions.
“Obviously that leaves a lot to go," Gray said. "We have had ... our principals working very hard to try to fill vacancies.”
Gray hopes they will be able to hire people for most of those positions but exactly how many depends on the state budget, which is up in the air due to the court challenge of Governor Walker’s budget repair bill.
“Some of it’s going to depend on the budget turmoil in Madison," he said. "If we don’t get those tools the governor says to help manage the (Wisconsin Retirement System) costs, we’ll be probably not be hiring all them back. If we get them, we’ll be in good shape to hire most of those positions back.”
However, Gray said the district is being careful to protect the progress it has made over the past couple of years in lowering class sizes and building programs.
“We worked very, very hard the last couple of years to reduce class size and teaching staff from the big cuts they had years back, so I would hate to undo that," Gray said. "I hope that we can maintain as many teaching positions as possible.”
But for the district there’s a big difference in the amount of money they have to work with depending on the outcome of the state budget.
“I’m looking at a $4 to $5 million issue here," he said. "If it comes true, great. If not, then we’re having to look at class size."
About the amount of shifting administrators and staff from one building or position to another, Gray said that those moves are done according to where the people are needed the most, depending to their teaching licenses and certifications and also to save expense.
The district is looking for people who most closely – in many cases, exactly – match the license that the district needs or is recommending for the position, Gray said.
“We typically move people around – we move principals around, we move teachers around – to where they can best serve students or where they’re most needed," Gray said. "And also to create some efficiencies. If we have a teacher who is in a number of different buildings, we try to consolidate that wherever possible.
“But if it means providing courses or certain opportunities, we’re not going to eliminate the traveling teacher if it means eliminating the programs."
He is not concerned about new staffing impacts on newer district initiatives like the STEM school or the Waukesha Engineering Prep Academy or newly-revitalized programs like the gifted and talented program.
At the STEM charter school, the district is adding a new principal to the Randall Campus. Currently principal at both campuses, Ryan Krohn will be principal only at Saratoga.
For the gifted and talented program, Gray informed parents in a letter that current coordinator Ben Hunsanger is being reassigned to coordinator of the environmental education department. The vacancy in that department was created by the retirement of Joe Smogor.
Gray said he wasn’t worried about the change for gifted and talented because Hunsanger will still be with the district and they have some “top-notch” people they’re looking at for the position.
At the high school engineering charter school, the district is bringing in someone from outside the district because they didn’t really have someone from within, according to Gray.
“You want someone with that technical education background and those people are very hard to find," he said. "We put offers out to a couple of different teachers in that discipline and we thought we had them but they went to other districts. We have really had to work hard to get [that filled]."
In the music program, parents can expect changes for next year but Gray is optimistic that they will be able to preserve the quality of the programs as they are, despite whatever happens in Madison.
“Some changes going on there but we’re hoping to maintain or improve the programs,” he said.
The district will try to maintain orchestra at the three highs schools and are considering ways to enhance orchestra at the elementary and middle school. Gray said that they would like to expand the community strings program if possible, because it starts the kids out at an early age and is a very inexpensive program. They will also continue to have band/music component at the middle schools.
“If we could possibly move [band] back down to elementary, we would do that,” he said.
Still, parents are uneasy about the projected changes for next year.
At Wednesday night’s board meeting, Akmut also said that there were rumors flying around about potential changes. He said he understands the district will have to make hard decisions soon and knows that many of the parents will not be happy.
He urged the board to make its cuts or changes in manner that “keeps the quality of the programs.”
One set-back in hiring for the district is that a candidate they had chosen for its information technology director has chosen another district. Gray said they would be interviewing candidates over the next couple of days for that position, expecting to find someone from outside the district.