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Retirements average after last year's record

Lack of state aid will be challenge for schools

June 5, 2012

Two words can probably be used to best sum up the 2011-12 school year for the Waukesha School District and Superintendent Todd Gray: Challenging, but also rewarding.

Challenging because state aid continues to drop for his district. And rewarding since he and his staff helped navigate one of the largest school districts in the state through it.

"I think we had a very, very good year despite some of the negative things that have happened," Gray said. "The teachers stepped up, ignored the problems, and I think the community can be very proud of the teaching staff and what they do on a day-to-day basis.

"The same thing can be said about the administration. I was really happy with everyone in the district. I'd like to believe we came together for a common purpose."

New teachers stepped in

The year opened with plenty of new faces roaming the halls at the 27 elementary, middle and high schools as the district replaced a record number of teachers who retired after the 2010-11 school year.

In total, 130 teachers stepped aside, many of whom cited the passage of Act 10 by the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker as a reason for retiring.

Act 10 curbed collective bargaining for most public employees and required that they pay 5.8 percent to their Wisconsin Retirement System funds and 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums.

This year, however, the retirement number for Waukesha School District employees dropped back to more average numbers.

"I think we'll have between 35 to 40," Gray said. "Typically, we have between 35 and 50. Last year, with everything going on with Act 10 (budget-repair bill) and Act 32 (2011-13 biennial budget bill), many teachers thought it was best to retire. But this was after we had a very low number two years ago."

According to the district Human Resources Department, 35 teachers will retire, and an additional seven staff members will step down from their posts to put this year's final number at 42.

"There will still be interviews; they just won't be as intense this year," Gray said with a laugh.

When asked about the effects of the retirements on the schools, Gray said, "Anytime you lose lots of experience, it does have an impact, as they served as mentors and had years and years of experience.

"But our new teachers were excellent. You hate to lose that much experience, but we had a strong pool of new teachers. There were a few blips along the way, but nothing we couldn't deal with."

Trying to save jobs

Another challenge that Gray said the district faced - and continues to face - is a lack of state aid.

In addition to the 10 percent in state aid that it lost this year, it will receive 10 percent less in state aid once again for the 2012-13 school year.

But this was not just Waukesha, as 410 out of the 424 public school districts in Wisconsin received less aid for the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Gray said the district has managed to avoid cutting staff, but if it continues that could change as well as other important services.

"We've made some really, really tough decisions," Gray said. "We've made reductions and that's caused some financial sacrifices by literally everyone in the district.

"I feel pretty good about protecting all the jobs. Butdoing this for a third year would make it extremely tough and almost impossible for the 2013-14 school year if that were to happen."

The district's budget for this school year was $10.3 million less than the previous year.

One way the district is saving a significant amount of money is by closing White Rock Elementary and transferring those students to other schools. Gray said it will save the district close to $400,000.

"Hopefully, this cuts down on the busing cost," Gray said. "Across the state, we are higher than the state average, and when schools in rural areas have a lower cost, that's something we have to work on."

As a district, Gray said it will continue to work on its proficiency standards as it finished around the state average in the Wisconsin Student Assessment System tests this year, the standardized tests taken by students statewide.

A highlight for the district once again was Waukesha West High School winning its 11th straight academic decathlon state championship and taking fourth at the national competition.

Deputy superintendent leaving

While the district won't lose as many teachers as it did the year before, Gray will lose his chief academic officer/deputy superintendent, Dana Monogue, who has worked by his side for the last four years.

Monogue has accepted the same position with the Elmbrook School District. Her last day is June 30. Monogue has been with the district since 2000, with her first role as a special education services coordinator. She then spent two years as principal of Horning Middle School before moving up into a higher administration position.

"I've been in Waukesha for 12 years and had lots of opportunities here, but I'm just looking for a different opportunity to learn and grow with different people," said Monogue, who worked eight years in Stoughton as a speech-language pathologist before coming to Waukesha.

As a multifaceted district, Monogue enjoyed the challenges it brought.

"The wonderful thing about Waukesha is its size," Monogue said. "There's tremendous opportunity, and who wouldn't want to be a part of that?" Monogue said. "The other amazing thing is the people. The teaching staff is second to none."

Gray, who came to the district in 2008 (the same time Monogue stepped into her administration position), wishes her the best - even if he would have liked to have continued their working relationship.

"She's played a very large role within the district, and it's been a great partnership with her," Gray said. "I'm sad to see her leave, but it is a good opportunity for her."

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