In a direct contradiction to Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) claims, Wisconsin school officials discussed the negative fall-out they expect from the 2011-13 state budget cuts to education in a Wednesday press conference. Eighteen school administrators criticized the $800 million shortfall the state’s school districts will have to cope with in the coming year and warned students could see “larger class sizes, fewer arts and library programs, and lower-quality services.”
In his budget address, Walker asserted that schools will see more in savings than they would in reductions. His website claims that most of the state’s districts are “in good financial shape.” Greenfield School District Administrator Conrad Farner denied the claim yesterday:”
“Contrary to news reports, school districts are not in good financial shape so whoever is saying that, it is not accurate. We need our legislature and our governor to recognize that we are not in good financial shape…Districts are surviving. Surviving is not the same as thriving. We can’t forget that we are coming off of 18 years of revenue caps that have already forced us to tighten our belts, make drastic reductions and to lower our services.”
Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw highlighted the financial strain his district — the state’s fourth largest with 21,000 students — is already working under this year. After the state slashed $13.2 million in state aid to the school district, Shaw faced down a $25-million budget shortfall, forcing him to make substantial cuts in special and bilingual services:
“We have students with above-average needs in Racine, but we already spend below average,” he said, citing Unified’s high percentage of minority students and students living below the poverty level. “We’re facing a $25 million dollar problem in Racine for the 2011-12 budget year. Next year we’re going to be facing another $10 million deficit for 2012-13. [...]
“We’ve done all the accounting tricks we can, but we’ve exhausted our solutions. I’m especially concerned about how this effects poor children and diverse children in Racine.”
After laying off 125 staff members, cutting $19 million out of educators’ benefits and freezing wages for the district’s remaining teachers this year, Shaw acknowledged the district may have to increase class sizes and cut more jobs in the coming months. Rob Heilman, the superintendent of the Eau Claire Area School District, echoed Shaw’s concerns, saying, “All schools are going to be negatively impacted in the coming year” by Walker’s defunding of education. Heilman’s district received less than half of the money it needed this year to control its 2011-12 deficit.
Although Walker would have his constituents think otherwise, the budget cuts to education will prevent Wisconsin’s schools from providing quality education to its children, particularly its low-income and special-needs students — those who need the support the most.