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Record retirements mean lots of new faces

Fewer funds prompt leaders to be more 'creative'

Aug. 30, 2011

With another school year beginning today across the Waukesha School District, there are mixed feelings among students, teachers and administrators given what has happened in the state and district recently. When students begin filing into schools today after a three-month break the ritual will be the same for many. The ritual, however, has changed for more than 100 teachers who called it quits at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

In total, 130 teachers retired across the district with Waukesha West and Waukesha South being the biggest schools hit.

Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray, who has been in administration for 25 years, said it was the most retirements the district has ever seen. While this meant some school's history was lost when they stepped down, it also meant some new eras were to be begin.

It also meant that Gray was in for one hectic summer that would include one interview after another. Outside of a three-day stretch to attend his son's wedding in California last week, his schedule has been booked.

"Between the hirings and the principal moves and with all the contract issues, it's by far the busiest summer I've had," Gray said.

Many of the teachers left due to Gov. Walker's budget-repair billwhich makes public employees pay more toward their pension and health insurance, and took away collective bargaining rights."I'm not a politician," Gray said. "I didn't get involved in the situation in Madison. You just have to take it. It's tough and it's hard when the last three years we were anticipating issues."

District facing reductions

Under the new budget, state and local funding for Wisconsin public schools has dropped by 5.5 percent for the new school year and $834 million would be slashed in state K-12 education spending over the next two years.

The district's budget for the new year is $160.2 million, which is down by $10.3 million from last school year. Waukesha will also receive less in state aid. It will receive $44.8 million, which is about 10 percent less than what it received last year.

Moreover, the revenue cap - meaning the maximum amount of money a district is allowed - was decreased by 4.9 percent from $131.8 million to $126.3 million.

Decreases in revenue also include reductions in:

Regular curriculum budget (art, reading, language arts, foreign languages, math, music, science and social studies)

Teachers who teach multiple subjects to the same class such as in elementary school teachers

Special education curriculum

"Other special needs," which includes services for gifted and talented students, homebound instruction, at-risk services, the school age parent program and the GED Option program

Vocational curriculum budget (business/marketing, family and consumer sciences, technology and engineering and the building trades departments)

Physical education curriculum

Pupil services (school health and social work programs and psychological services)

Instructional staff services such as library services

General administration (school board and district administrators)

School building administration, business administration and central services.

New Waukesha West High School Principal David Towers said the reductions present some obstacles, but ones the district will overcome.

"[The budget] worries everyone," Towers said. "I look at it as a challenge. I'm excited to take these challenges on. These are the cards we are dealt, and we're not going to let our students suffer. As educators, we need to adapt, because we can't sacrifice for our students.

"We'll have to be creative. Every district is in the same boat … We'll have to ask ourselves, 'What kind of resources are out there?' It doesn't just have to be monetary resources. It might be resources a company might not be using or they might bring ideas on how to do things. You can relate some of those things to education."

Youth movement at schools

Gray said the district is pleased that it did not have to lay off any teachers. And he added most of the teachers who retired have been replaced. However, the replacements aren't veterans who have loads of experience in the classroom. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

"A majority of who we have coming in are recent college grads or are a couple years out of college," said Gray, who added the youth movement has helped the district save money in the wake of the new state budget.

Although Gray said the retirements will affect the district, it doesn't have to hinder the learning process.

"You never want to see that many experienced teachers leave at the same time," Gray said. "What I'm hoping for is that the energy and the new ideas the new teachers bring will make up for [that loss].

"You're talking about 3 to 4,000 years of experience," Gray said. "It's going to take a big learning curve. It will be a tremendous learning process. But we expected that. And with new faces, brings new techniques."

New leaders in charge

In addition to the new teachers entering the district, Gray and his staff dealt with one of its high school principals leaving in the middle of the summer. Melissa Thompson, the former principal at Waukesha West, resigned to become the superintendent of the Swallow School District in July. Gray said he was not short on applications or qualified candidates before happily choosing Towers, a former associate and assistant principal at Germantown High School, to succeed Thompson.

Eight other principals are new to their positions, with three new to the district. Aidia Cruz-Farin, who was the gifted and talented coordinator for the Franklin School District , is the new principal at Blair Elementary School. Lori Schultz, the new leader at Lowell Elementary, comes from Sun Prairie. And Banting Elementary welcomes Brian Babbits, who was a principal in Milwaukee.

The other new principals moved within their schools or the district.

Tony DeRosa has been promoted from the assistant principal at Butler Middle School. Chris Kluck moved from Rose Glen Elementary to Waukesha STEM Academy-Randall Campus. Jill Ries replaces Kluck at Rose Glen after having the same position at Whittier Elementary. Her replacement at Whittier is Cynthia Gannon, who was Banting's principal during the 2010-11 school year.

The final change is at Heyer Elementary where Michael Sukawaty, who served in the district in the past, takes over as the principal.

Gray said moving principals within the district is common; he anticipates the teachers coming from outside the district to be good fits.

"We like to move principals around," Gray said. "It brings new ideas to different schools. The principals from the other districts bring lots of good ideas and experience. They are great additions, and it's good to have that outside influence."

By the Numbers

$160.2 million The district's budget is $10.3 million less than last year

$44.8 million The district's state aid is 10 percent less than last year

130 Teachers who retired after the 2010-11 school year

22.9 District's ACT average score from 2011

9 New principals within the district

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