Colfax school board reviews WASB resolutions ahead of state convention

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The Colfax Board of Education reviewed 17 resolutions, ranging from text amendments to existing resolutions to resources for summer school to gender identity, prior to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards’ annual state convention January 17 – 20.

One of the text amendments the Colfax school board reviewed at the January 16 meeting focused on a resolution to remove outdated language in an existing resolution referring to maintaining the state’s commitment of two-thirds funding for schools. 

The state Legislature had committed to providing two-thirds of the funding for public schools from the 1996-1997 school year through the 2002-2003 school year. 

The two-thirds funding commitment was repealed in the 2003-2005 biennial budget.

Removing the words “maintaining the current two-thirds funding commitment for schools” creates a WASB resolution asking the state Legislature to “properly fund existing mandates” and emphasizing WASB’s recommendation to develop a well-balanced tax system that lowers Wisconsin’s “heavy reliance on the income and property taxes.”

The reference to properly funding existing mandates relates to the fact that the Legislature has created many mandates that are not funded, leaving local school boards to find ways to carry out those mandates in the absence of funding.

Summer school

The proposed resolution to increase resources for summer school recommends the state Legislature include “100 percent of full-time equivalent (FTE) summer school membership for each of the years used in the computation of the revenue cap.”

Current state law allows school districts to count 40 percent of the FTE summer school enrollment in academic classes or laboratory periods toward the revenue limit.

Research indicates that summer school programs can lead to growth in learning and social skills while at the same time reducing the “summer slide.”

“Summer slide” occurs in reading, math and other skills when students are not in school over the summer. Teachers end up spending a certain amount of time at the beginning of the new school year helping students regain the achievement they possessed at the end of the previous school year.

Revenue limits

WASB supports legislation that would increase per pupil revenue limits by a dollar amount equal to the increase in the consumer price index.

The Legislature first imposed revenue limits in the 1993-1994 school year as a way to control increases in school property tax levies. 

Since then, legislators have typically provided annual per pupil adjustments in the amount of money the school district could raise through property taxes, which helped school districts keep up with the inflation of operational costs.

Per pupil adjustments to the revenue limits have not kept up with inflation since 2009, and in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years and beyond, the Legislature has provided no per pupil adjustment.

Weapons possession

An amendment to an existing resolution that opposes initiatives at the state or federal level to further legalize anyone, except sworn law enforcement officers, to bring weapons into school zones would add the language “including a facsimile or ‘look-alike’ weapon.”

The amendment also supports allowing locally-elected school boards to make decisions about whether Carrying Concealed Weapon license holders may possess weapons in school buildings. 

Proposed state legislation last year, that is expected to be reintroduced this year, would allow someone with a CCW license to possess a firearm on school grounds but would prohibit a CCW license holder from possessing a firearm in school buildings where instruction is provided to students, provided that the building has signs posted at all entrances notifying the CCW licensee not to enter or stay in the building while in possession of a firearm. 

Education accounts

WASB opposes the creation of Education Savings Accounts.

ESAs would provide students with public funding that could be paid toward a private education. 

While vouchers provide interested parents with funding for tuition at a private or religious school, an ESA would allow parents to direct public education funding to tuition and fees for private schools, learning programs available on the Internet, private tutoring, education therapies for students with special needs, textbooks, dual enrollment or expenses for higher education. 

Advocates say ESAs would give parents greater control over their children’s education.

Critics wonder if educational providers who accept ESAs would provide high-quality services or if ESAs would allow low-performing private schools access to millions of dollars in government funding.

Gender identity

WASB encourages each school board to assess their individual policies and practices to make sure they do not deny equal opportunities for all students and employees. 

“In this period of unsettled law, school districts may be well advised to address the needs of transgendered students to ensure their transgender status does not interfere with their ability to access educational programs. The proposed resolution suggests that while the legal battles swirl, a review of district policies and a thoughtful, case-by-case approach to addressing these needs is advisable.”

Other resolutions

Other resolutions or amended resolutions the Colfax Board of Education reviewed included the start date of the school year for districts with PreK through eight classes; transportation aid to address student mobility; narrowing disparities in allowable revenue under the revenue limits; impact aid, which is a federal program created in 1950 to provide financial assistance to school districts impacted by federal activities and which was fully-funded by the United States Congress from 1950 to 1969; educational goals and objectives that do not over-emphasize the importance of reading and mathematics; measuring college and career-readiness, again not by over-emphasizing reading and mathematics; Medicaid direct certification to qualify children for free or reduced-price meals; mental health support that would include professional development for all school staff and comprehensive student screening in every school; sparsity aid; WASB’s opposition to recovery school districts, which refers to a school district turned over to a state-created authority designed to take over public schools or school buildings and to remove governance from locally-elected school boards. 

Other business 

In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:

• Learned that Bill Yingst, superintendent of schools, has had, or will have, multiple planning meetings with SDS Architects, MEP Associates and Market and Johnson regarding the projects for the $7.2 million referendum approved in the November election. Construction on the projects is expected to begin in May and will be finished by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

• Accepted a $5,000 gift from the Sanger Foundation. For the past several years, the Sanger Foundation has made a donation to the Colfax school district, and the money has been placed in Fund 21 (student assistance) in the past.

• Approved summer school programs in swimming and regular classroom instruction in all areas, including music, agriculture and “summer saunters.”

• Accepted the resignation of Kimberly Myers as the girls’ golf team coach. Myers has been the girls’ golf team coach for several years and started the Colfax High School girls’ golf team. In her letter of resignation dated December 22, Myers said it had come to her attention her English students had indicated “they felt that I was often unavailable for help when they needed it. This is unacceptable for me, and should be for the school district, too. I was hired as an English teacher, and I should do everything that I can to be the best English teacher that I can be.”

• Accepted the resignation of Melissa Prince as the Colfax High School cheerleading advisor. In her letter of resignation dated January 5, Prince noted that only eight girls had tried out last year, six made the cheerleading squad, and only three remained at the end of the football season. “Perhaps now is the time to consider the future of cheerleading at Colfax. A ‘Spirit Club’ has been discussed, but again, I think this has to be led by a professional on the high school end. It should be open to males and females who wish to promote spirit in the high school, make signs, plan dress up themes for games, etc.,” Prince wrote. 

• Approved hiring Melissa Nehm as the play director.