The state Department of Public Instruction is reporting that the number of teachers and other staff working in Wisconsin schools dropped 2.3 percent this school year. In Wis. Rapids, that number is twice as high among all staff and almost three times as high among teachers alone.
"Our staff decline for teaching staff was 6.3 percent," said Daniel Weigand, the district's director of business services. "We declined 27 teaching positions."
Weigand says of the state's largest districts, Wis. Rapids experienced the second greatest employee decrease and lost 204 students, the most it's ever seen.
"The reason our staff decline went down so much was because one, our student decline went down, and one, that our revenue went down," Weigand said.
The data released Wednesday comes in the middle of an ongoing political fight with Gov. Scott Walker over the impact of cuts he made to public school funding last year and changes to collective bargaining rights that he says helped districts make up for the losses in aid. The governor's budget, which cut $749 million from school's state aid to help balance the deficit, forced districts like Wis. Rapids to cut programs and people. But school and city leaders say the root of the reductions stems from a much larger issue.
"Today's meetings are about economic growth and how we cannot wait for opportunities," Wis. Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink said. "It's really trying to get on the ground floor and build a foundation, a solid foundation right now."
While the mayor's office focuses on bringing jobs to the area, the district is working to retain the families it already serves.
"It does mean we'll have to continue to increase our class size," Weigand said. "We think this last year may have been--hopefully--was an anomoly. But we still anticipate further declines in the future."
Weigand says the district is not looking at closing any schools for next year, but says they may have to consider the option down the road if the trend continues.
State Superintendent Tony Evers says in a statement there must be a bipartisan investment in public education because losses in school staff erode the public education system.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie tells the Wisconsin State Journal (http://tiny.cc/e2qycw ) that districts have more flexibility thanks to Walker's changes.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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