Brown Deer - Gov. Scott Walker visited Dean Elementary School on Monday, using the district's story to highlight his budget reforms, which he said have amounted to $1 billion in statewide savings for taxpayers.
"The timing could not have been better for us in Brown Deer," Superintendent of Schools Deb Kerr said. "We spent the eight previous years trying to figure out how to upgrade our facilities."
Focusing on students
Because of the reforms and the willingness of the community to approve a levy identical to the previous year's levy rather than realizing a 4 percent drop in their school taxes, the district was able to move forward with a $22 million referendum.
Under the facilities plan, an addition will be built on the high school, the middle school will be remodeled to include elementary grades that will move there from Dean School. Dean School will eventually be razed. The plan also includes an ambitious upgrade to the campus itself, parts of which will have new passive recreational opportunities and other sections that will serve as outdoor classrooms.
"We had been facing a choice of a catastrophic raise in taxes or layoffs," Finance Director Emily Koczela said. "Act 10 turned us loose to talk about every dollar in terms of children."
Other school and municipal representatives at Walker's news conference told similar stories. The audience for the news conference included a number of Republican Party members of the State Senate and Assembly, including Robin Vos, Alberta Darling, Mary Lazich, Jim Ott and Dan Knodl.
Asked about concerns that school districts would have a more difficult year developing the 2012-2013 budgets, Walker said there are some initial concerns but he believes there will continue to be saving in health insurance as districts change health insurers.
Walker also visited a fourth-grade classroom where he read a story, answered questions from the children and listened to a musical performance.
"I had a wonderful time with the fourth-graders," Walker said. "They had a whole bunch of questions and were much nicer to me than the media."
He drew a laugh from the media with that comment.
Residents question secrecy of visit
At Tuesday night's School Board meeting, two residents objected to the secrecy surrounding Walker's visit and the use of the district as part of his recall election campaign.
"I don't like what he did to public employees and union members," John Gibbs said. "We had a right to know he was here."
Both Gibbs and Ann Griffin said the district should not be involved in the campaigns of candidates regardless of political party, but member Lisa Zielinski said she thought it was an honor the governor came to visit the district.
"That it looked like a campaign stop is evidence of media bias," she said.
The School District’s story appears to be unique in the state. By using Act 10, the district was able to avoid laying off any teachers and realize a $600,000 reduction in employee pension contributions, $200,000 from health plan changes and $200,000 by making changes to the work day and increasing the number of classes taught by high school teachers. The district was then able to use the prospect of a reduced tax rate to make the case to residents the time was right for building improvements.
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