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Inside the Beaver's Dam

The Dam Insider is keeping an eye out for you, tracking the elected leaders of Beaver Dam, Dodge County, Wisconsin and beyond. Email your thoughts or tips. Emails may be published unless otherwise requested. Requests will be honored.

Location: Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, United States

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Message from the Mayor

From Beaver Dam Mayor Jack Hankes, in response to recent posts about service costs and collective bargaining:

There’s too much nonsense and too many factual errors in here to reply to all of it, but I’ll offer a couple of general thoughts.

First, I never say we should run the city like a business. The reason is that Enron and Worldcom were businesses. I do say, however, that there is always room to apply some business principles. Doing so is neither risk nor error-free. One option we don't have is to do nothing.

Businesses have to satisfy customers with a suitable combination of things – product, price, value, fit, finish, etc – you name it. If they stray too far from what their customers want, or they don’t listen to their customers, customers go elsewhere. Taxpayers are customers, too. I know that rubs some people wrong, but they are. Many of them tell us they want to keep all of the services they get now (a rational position), but that the price is too high. They say that with their votes (the Council is far more conservative now than it was two years ago), and with their feet (they simply move to the township, where taxes are an eighth of what they are in the city). According to the Citizen, Beaver Dam’s population actually declined a smidge since 2000.

In bargaining, it takes two parties to agree. The city has offered raises it can responsibly afford, but it is clear the BU’s see the offers as inadequate. I understand everybody’s frustration, believe me, but anger and name calling and finger-pointing doesn’t change the math, thus the negotiation process continues.

Some prefer to ignore the effect of levy limits. For ’07 it appears we’ll be able to bump the levy about $230K. We learned this week that our health insurance increase alone may be more than that. We still need an updated police station, we need to ramp up street repair, and we need to invest in some systems. This morning’s paper explained that the legislature may push for even tougher spending limits, so it is clear this movie is going to continue.

The conditions we face today took thirty years to put in place; we won't be able to change them overnight.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

QEO just not cutting it

Most taxpayers have no idea how public schools are funded. Most, when they discover the truth, are incensed. Take this recent comment for example:

The biggest problem is the QEO law........a mandated 4.2% raise every year??
That's incredible! Anyone else here who would like a job with that kind of a guarantee? Guess it helps to have the Governor and legislature in your pocket, eh Teacher's Union?

Well actually, the QEO was put in place in the early 1990's by conservative legislators in an effort to control annual teacher compensation hikes that reached into the double digits! In addition at that time, laws were passed that put revenue caps in place, limiting a district's ability to raise property taxes, and the state "promised" it would provide 2/3 of the money needed to run local school ("2/3 funding," as it's known).

Ever since then, WEAC, the teacher's union, has worked tirelessly to remove the QEO. That effort continues to this day. To them, a 4.2% annual compensation raise is a pittance. Just listen to this song (if you can stomach it) called "The QEO Blues," from a member of the Kohler teacher's union.

In their comments to the last post, Joe Militello and Azor were both partially correct. District funding (specifically the state funding formula) is based in part on enrollment as Joe stated. But Azor's right too. Districts with a faster growing property tax base have greater headroom to raise their property taxes. So even if Milwaukee Public Schools sees an annual increase in enrollment, the property tax base of that district probably isn't growing as quickly as it is in districts like Brookfield or Oconomowoc (whether from new construction or increases in property values), so those districts have more available funds each year.

Here in Beaver Dam we've had modest property tax base growth over the past five years, and relatively flat enrollment. However, given the restrictions in place (revenue caps, school funding formula), the 4.2% QEO increases costs beyond our revenue gains, leaving the district annually short of funds.

There are three solutions to this problem:

1. Pass a funding referendum. The district tried this and the taxpayers put their foot down. Good for them.

2. Lay off staff, cut back on hours, slash programs. This is what is called, "eating your young," as the Mayor puts it. Since the employee union's won't accept anything short of a QEO, the district is forced to make cuts in programs and staff to balance the budget. This is where the children lose, and this is the result of a decisions made by the teacher's union and the school board.

3. Don't offer the QEO, go to arbitration. As closely as one can parallel financing a school with financing a city, this is the direction the City of Beaver Dam has gone with its police union. It's what is called "playing hardball," and it's what taxpayers want to see happen. Last fall's referendum vote and this spring's aldermanic and mayor's races clearly indicate taxpayers are not willing to sit by as public employees get carte blanche access to their wallets. Yes, WEAC will accuse the school board of spending valuable district resources on lawyers (just as AFSCME did earlier this week in their arbitration hearing), and yes, WEAC will cry that the district will never be able to recruit quality teachers with such terrible pay (as AFSCME did Monday), and yes, WEAC will gush about how important and difficult a teacher's job is, and how no one "out there" could possibly do their job (as AFSCME has said), but it's all rhetoric.

The comments in this post will absolutely inflame nearly all teachers. However, there are certainly a few out there who understand finance, and realize public funding is not a bottomless pit. These few teachers are silenced in nearly every district through intimidation by coworkers. Teachers earn, on average, about $43,000 a year in Wisconsin. That's slightly above average for the nation. However, when you consider the value, or cost, of teacher's benefits in this state, Wisconsin ranks in the top three in compensation. Wisconsin teachers have the best pension system in the nation (Often it's totally free to enroll in, with very high payouts starting at 55 years), and one of the top health insurance packages. Wise teachers who don't buy into WEAC's rhetoric understand they are very well compensated and go about doing their jobs with a smile on their face. As for the rest of the sad, angry bunch, you can bet they are red in the face and ready to spit venom at the contents of this entry, and that should tell you something.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The gauntlet

My last post about Beaver Dam's public school administration stirred up quite a few reactions, many apparently from teachers or school employees, including this one:

"None of these public employees, based on what we are seeing in the political agendas of our current leaders, can expext any more compensation. So what is there to look forward to and live on, at the end of a career which through their work and self sacrifice has provided so much for so many. [sic]

What is the motivation to perform, excell or just plain come to work everyday for these highly skilled educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, DPW or Highway department employees, or any other staff member in public service who have had or feels they are about to have the rug, for which they have put in many years to attain, jerked out from under them. [sic]

I would like to hear some comments back from members of the school board, the Mayor and Alderpersons from the City of Beaver Dam, members of the Dodge County Board or any other persons holding public office in this area having control over another persons job, benefits and retirement.

I throw the gauntlet down to you to participate in this discussion. As political leaders, elected by your constituents, you have an obligation to come forth with answers."

Any political leaders willing to answer the call?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

You get what you ask for

The Troika has been in office for just over three months, and in that time four administrators have left the Beaver Dam School District.

Superintendent Brian Busler
High School Principal Chris Ligocki
Activities Director Todd Sobrilisky
Director of Business Services Scott Ecker

Is this what the residents of Beaver Dam had hoped for back in April? Apparently.

From the Feb 16, 2006 Daily Citizen:

He (Kirst) and fellow challengers, Jorgenson and Berkvam, repeatedly
stressed the need to cut administration first.
Voters knew what they were getting with the Troika. Or should have.

If you want further evidence that the Troika is a teacher's union puppet, just survey current faculty members. You'll find that the vast majority are ecstatic to see these four administrators go, but why? It's a classic case of the inmates running the asylum. When it's labor versus management, us against them, us always wants to see them suffer.

The irony is these four aren't suffering. They are moving on to better situations. Places where the community didn't just elect board members like the Troika.

During the next couple of months, watch closely as the board struggles to find replacements for these district and school leaders. Many who would otherwise apply will undoubtedly be scared off by the board's current composition. So, the district will have to waive a carrot to attract candidates and Beaver Dam will end up getting what it asked for: subpar administrators costing more than they are worth.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The 9-11 Debate

Monday, administrators at the UW-Madison announced they would keep part-time lecturer Kevin Barrett, scheduled to teach a course this fall on Islam. Here's the rub: Barrett is an outspoken member of 9-11 conspiracy groups that believe the US Government was behind that day's tragic events. He believes the US strategically created these events to justify launching a war on Islam in the Middle East. And he plans to teach these views in the classroom.

Certainly, 9-11 conspiracy theorists are out there. Yes, it's a small segment of society that believes in these way-out views. But, the group has its body of evidence, it is fairly well organized and generally civil.

Wisconsin politicians, including Republicans and Democrats, have spoken their displeasure with the situation, urging the University to disallow Barrett to teach the course. Barrett responded by stating, "We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas."

He's right.

The consideration here shouldn't be whether Barrett's views are popular, mainstream, or agreeable. Rather, is the amount of time in the classroom being devoted to these views commensurate to their role in the greater discussion of the course topic?

In this case, Barrett says he plans to spend one week of the semester "studying a variety of viewpoints on the 9-11 attacks including the theory that '9-11 was probably an American operation to launch a war on Islam countries.'"

If you are concerned that your tax dollars are being used to support views you may vehemently oppose, reconsider your focus. Universities are, among other things, places where students and teachers should engage in the free exchange of ideas, no matter how radical. Topics that might turn the stomach of some, should not be excluded from classroom discussion simply because they are disagreeable.

Politicians like Governor Jim Doyle and gubernatorial candidate Mark Green have been outspokenly opposed to allowing Barrett to continue in his role. These two and others know better than to limit free speech on University campuses. But, their position is a sound one in today's political climate. The majority of residents, and people reading this post, agree with limiting Barrett's role, and for the politicians, it's simply a matter of playing to the masses.