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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Over the past six years, far fewer candidates have been enrolling at University of Wisconsin campuses to become teachers.
Some school district administrators believe the passage of Act 10 in 2011, which all-but eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees and encouraged a climate where some state residents believe it is acceptable to denigrate teachers, has caused people to shy away from teaching.
Out of fear that the state Legislature also would take away the retirement benefits for which they had worked their entire lives, many teachers have retired, as soon as it was possible for them to do so.
The combination of fewer candidates seeking teaching degrees and more teachers heading into retirement has created a teacher shortage, and because of the teacher shortage, the Colfax Board of Education at the March 22 meeting increased “liquidated damages” for breaking contracts to $1,500 and $3,000.
Ten years ago when the Colfax school district needed to hire a history teacher, there were 80 applicants. The last time the school district hired a history teacher, there were three applicants, said Bill Yingst, district administrator.
The Colfax school district implemented liquidated damages for breaking contracts due to a lack of a pool of candidates to hire new teachers, he said.
Under the current contract in Colfax, teachers receive a letter of intent for the following school year by May 15 and must return the letter with their signature, indicating they are accepting employment for the following school year, by June 15.
If the teacher breaks the contract between June 15 and July 31, a damage clause requires the teacher to pay the school district $1,000.
If the teacher breaks the contract after July 31, the damage clause increases to $2,000.
“The purpose of the liquidated damages is to get ample notification of a teacher leaving. It’s tough to hire teachers in August,” Yingst said.
Urban school districts often have more money available to spend on salaries, and the situation tends to leave rural school districts in somewhat of a bind.
In one instance, Yingst said, he learned that a teacher was leaving Colfax three days before school started.
Increasing liquidated damages to $1,500 for breaking a contract between June 15 and July 31 and increasing liquidated damages to $3,000 for breaking a contract after July 31 might provide more incentive for teachers to give an earlier notification of leaving the district, Yingst said.
In the southern part of Wisconsin, liquidated damages are often $4,000 or $5,000, he noted.
School board member Christie Hill wondered if the liquidated damages clause applied to teachers who had a medical issue or an injury that might prevent them from teaching.
“I try to be reasonable, and there are some exceptions,” Yingst said.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved a motion to increase liquidated damages for breaking a contract to $1,500 and $3,000.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education:
• Learned that the annual staff recognition banquet will be held May 24 at Whitetail Golf Course.
• Learned that the school district’s worker compensation insurance though Security National Insurance Company has increased by 1.03 percent. Yingst said he has talked to school staff about them not demonstrating various athletic activities to avoid injuries. “We’re really trying to push safety,” Yingst said.
• Approved two youth options applications for the fall semester of the 2017-2018 school year.
• Approved spring co-curricular contracts for Kirk Secraw, baseball head coach; Michael Hodel, junior varsity baseball coach; Rich Meredith, head softball coach; John Dickinsen, junior varsity softball coach; Mike Dombrowski, head boys golf coach; Tim Devine, middle school track coach; Laura Lowe, middle school track coach; Ryan Krall, head boys and girls high school track coach; Tina Rothbauer, assistant coach (throws); Brittany Rothbauer, assistant coach (distance); Lexi Hennen, assistant coach (jumps); Dannielle Dachel, assistant coach (jumps/distance); Alycia Dickinsen, assistant coach (general team assistant); Jamie Buchholtz, assistant coach (pole vault volunteer).
• Approved a shared services agreement with CESA 10 in the amount of $12,950 quarterly for items related to distance learning and $4,750 quarterly for e-rate support and planning, which is related to telecommunications and Internet access.
• Approved a shared services agreement with CESA 11 in the amount of $5,725 for consulting and networking services; $885/day for one day of district level consulting services; Title III Consortium for English Learners paid with federal funds; audiology services, hearing impaired program teacher, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, all of which are calculated on an individual district basis; school based services for $73 per Medicaid eligible student; special education consultation at $885 per day; and the supporting students with disabilities network for $2,295.
• Accepted a request for retirement from Eve Suckow, who is retiring after teaching in the Colfax school district for 38 years. Suckow is a sixth grade teacher in the district. All together, she has been teaching for 43 years, Yingst said.
• Approved purchasing three Bluebird liquid propane buses for $93,500 each from Wisconsin Bus Sales LLC for the 2017-2018 school year. The liquid propane buses are part of the $7.2 million referendum approved by voters in the November election. The school district plans to buy six buses all together, but the Board of Education agreed to purchase three buses now and three at a later date to help put the bus fleet back on a rotation cycle for replacing buses. The previous LP buses were purchased for $96,000 each, and Yingst said he had budgeted $100,000 for each bus. The school district has three years to spend the referendum money, he noted.
• Learned that Yingst would like to update the camera systems on the buses so that each bus has four cameras: a dash cam, two internal cameras and one camera pointing out the rear of the bus. During a recent incident on county Highway B, a bus was stopped with the stop-arm out, and the driver had already waved the youngsters to cross the road, when a driver coming from the opposite direction blew past the bus at 60 mph. Fortunately, the children were paying attention and stopped, or otherwise the situation would have involved fatalities, Yingst said. If the bus had been equipped with a dash cam, the school district could have turned the tape over to authorities so law enforcement could deal with the driver who had such reckless disregard for the bus and the children, he noted. Updating cameras was not an agenda item for the March 22 meeting.
• Learned that there are eight candidates for the head maintenance position and agreed that members of the administration should screen the applicants and bring the top three forward for an interview with the Board of Education.