Tag Archives: taxpayer

Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids

I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of the issue exhibited in the recent Appleton Post-Crescent editorial, Bill could hurt special-needs students.  Obviously, in spite of the misleading title, the newspaper is only interested in doing the bidding of powerful, paid education and disabilities lobbyists hoping to maintain the public schools monopoly and status quo, instead of supporting a promising effort to truly reform special needs education. 

As a mother of three exceptionally challenged children and as a member of my local Board of Education, I wholeheartedly support AB110 and SB486, and the Special Needs Scholarship Program it establishes.  I commend Representative Michelle Litjens and Senator Leah Vukmir, as well as each Assembly and Senate supporter and cosponsor for recognizing the genuine need for this law.

Will Wisconsin legislators cast their vote in favor of special needs children and empower their parents... or side with powerful paid lobbyists?

About fifteen to twenty years ago, my children, who are vision impaired, with physical and mental challenges, attended public schools.  Our daughter was, in effect, warehoused, spending most days scribbling with crayons on scrap paper, usually half-filling a paper grocery bag each week… yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns.  It wasn’t unusual for her to arrive home bruised or with a bloody face or broken glasses, yet the school was unresponsive to our concerns for her safety.

Exasperated, I expressed my frustrations to my doctor and was asked what I thought the school would do if I sent my daughter to school in the condition she arrived home… the lightbulb went on! I returned home, picked up the phone and reported them to Child Protective Services. That felt so good, I followed up by filing an assault and battery report with the local police. The elementary school wasted no time in politely calling us, requesting a meeting. My husband and I arrived a few minutes early and witnessed the school attorney castigating the principal… and from then on things improved, significantly. That was, until she started middle school and it began all over, again.

Our family didn’t have an opportunity to use a Special Needs Scholarship.  But knowing I could do far better than what our children experienced in public school, I homeschooled them. They not only learned, but did so even beyond my expectations.

In public school, our youngest son was illiterate at third grade when we began homeschooling.  By fifth grade, I had brought him up to grade level. I’ll never forget how after he learned to read – and even became proficient in spelling – he confessed how he always felt “dumb” in public school.  Our daughter excelled at history and geography.  Give her the name of a city and she will tell you it’s country and continent with an amazing level of accuracy. These children can learn, if they are given the right opportunity to do so.

One of the reasons I ran for a seat on our school board was to ensure other families do not go through what we experienced.  Attending the Senate hearing last week and listening to so many parents testify about their situations, it became quite clear things haven’t changed all that much, at least for some.

There are many dedicated special ed teachers in Wisconsin and public schools which do a fine job with special needs students.  However, each child has their own, unique challenges.  Try as they may, no school can be all things to all children.  Parents love their children and know what’s best for them… they are the experts.  But when the local school district is not meeting their child’s needs, parents must have options.  The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides those options by empowering parents.

Special Needs Scholarship Program detractors cite the fact a public school losing a student would likewise lose general aid equal to the amount of the voucher.  Should schools be paid for services they do not provide?  Absolutely not.

Typically, public schools are only partially reimbursed from the state or federal governments, in our district’s case it’s about 27 cents for each dollar spent on special ed services, with local taxpayers footing the bill for the lion’s share at 73 cents. If Special Needs Scholarships become a reality and some parents choose to send their children to another school, far more dollars are freed up than what the school loses.

Parents of exceptionally challenged children pay their property taxes, yet if their local public school district is failing their child, is it right or fair they should have to pay a private school, also? Absolutely not.

When a special needs student’s education is stagnant or she is being victimized by bullies, is it right to trap the child in the ineffective, unsafe or unresponsive school for the remainder of the school year, until the parents can file an open enrollment request… for the following fall, which the local school boards can – and often do – decline? Absolutely not.

Public schools will continue receiving state aid for special needs students they educate.  If they are truly doing a good job, they have nothing to fear – and may actually stand to gain new students.  At the very least, the passage of AB110 or SB486 will force public schools to look inward and make positive changes by improving special needs students’ learning, ensuring they are not victims of bullies, being more responsive to the parents’ concerns and guaranteeing these programs operate at a higher level of fiscal responsibility.

Another benefit could result from public school districts partnering and working cooperatively in providing special education services more efficiently and with greater effectiveness.  Instead of each public school operating in a silo and reinventing the wheel for their pool of special ed students, much could be gained with a collaborative or reciprocal approach.  Cooperative efforts between public school districts could be a win-win situation for all:  the children and families served, participating public schools and taxpayers.

This is not a Democrat vs Republican issue. It is a matter of elected legislators setting aside their partisan politics and doing the right thing by listening to and representing these children and their families. After all, it is the parents who know what’s best for their own children… not powerful education-related organizations or paid lobbyists standing in opposition to this bill, desperate to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle while maintaining the status quo.

I firmly believe all parents should have the opportunity to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code, and regardless of the child’s standing as a special needs student or not… be it public, private, charter or homeschool.

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Shoes and Golden Parachutes

Making a quick stop at the grocery store one December evening, I glanced at the community Christmas tree in the entrance dressed in handmade paper ornaments, making a mental note to come by again when I wasn’t in such a rush. But the word, “shoes” scrawled on one slip of paper as a Christmas request from an eight-year old girl, caused me to stop in my tracks. And she wasn’t the only child asking for basic necessities:  a seven-year old boy wanted “clothes”… a nine-year old girl, also hoping for “shoes”… and dozens more. Nearly every scrap of paper was the same story. It was heartbreaking and drives home the reality of poverty, which is a fact of life for so many in our community.

Contrast that with overly-generous compensation packages for administrators upon parting service and extravagant early retirement benefits for both administrators and teachers. In the case of the latter, they may retire at 55 years old after completion of at least ten years (for administrators and 15 years for teachers) employment and taxpayers fund their insurance costs over the next decade, until they qualify for Medicare, which is expected to cost $328,000 per 2012 retiree a golden parachute in a town where parents can’t afford shoes for their children. This one lavish perk drives our structural deficit and annual necessity to cut in excess of $1 million dollars from the budget.

Public schools can't afford to fund Golden Parachutes

By all means, they should be free to retire early… at 55… if they so chose, as long as they  pay for their own insurance costs like everybody else.

This isn’t an isolated problem. I have it on good authority the backloading of unbelievable golden parachutes has reached new heights in Madison area schools and is catching on like wildfire across the state. It’s a ploy often used to offset what, on the surface appears to be “lower” administrative salaries.

Such contracts are unconscionable.

A few recent examples of school administrator golden parachutes from across the state include:

It’s not just a problem in Wisconsin. Other state legislatures have actually passed laws to ban public school superintendents and administrators from being paid for work they do not perform in an effort to ensure tax dollars go into the classrooms. Before the situation becomes any worse, we need similar legislation here.

Generally, these types of payouts end up being siphoned off the districts’ general fund. The domino effect is far-reaching:  from forcing some districts into short-term borrowing in order to meet payroll and pay the light bill, to aggravating their structural deficit and pushing them closer towards the brink of insolvency.

As much as I’m a firm believer in local control, the unfortunate reality is too many school boards are simply ill-equipped to ensure their administrators’ contracts are written to protect the school district and taxpayers’ best interests. Too often, boards lacking fiscal savvy are eager and willing to sweeten the pot in excess of their districts’ ability to pay. Consequently, I believe it is necessary for the state to consider addressing the issue in the interest of fiscal responsibility, accountability, transparency to our taxpayers… and the future of public education in Wisconsin.

Most people are unaware their school administrator contracts are subject to open records requests. They are public documents. What public school administrators are being paid – salary and benefits – is the public’s business.

All school board meetings where any administrator contracts are discussed should likewise be subject to open meetings laws. Allowing these discussions to take place behind closed doors is the root of the problem. Perhaps a requirement to actually publish administrators’ contracts in local newspaper legal notices and provide PDF versions on the school districts’ websites would also serve the public’s interests. Also, a one-year limitation on administrators’ contracts, without provisions for automatic renewal or the non-renew process, would benefit school districts through the avoidance of these types of costly early buyout deals.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant… especially for golden parachutes.