By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – There were new faces at the annual HSSD community conversation with state legislators on Friday, May 11.
For the first time the business community joined the fray to express its needs, which are directly influenced by state and educational leaders in the area.
“In 20 years I have never turned away the amount of work I’ve turned away right now,” said Mark Kaiser, president and CEO of Lindquist Machine Corp.
Kaiser said the problem is not machines, but rather people to run them.
With an unemployment rate at 3 percent, the question in the room was how can politicians at the statelevel influence what schools can do to get more students into the skilled trades.
Jerry Wieland, director of special education and pupil services at HSSD, said the district currently has a partnership with SMT Machine & Tool that helps students learn about skilled trades hands on.
“Our commitment is to make sure we got options for all students, because we know one size doesn’t fit all,” Wieland said.
Rep. John Nygren said 12 years ago the discussion was about moving away from tech ed programs, now it’s about making them stronger.
“It’s not about politics, it’s not about state budgets, it’s about what the future of education will look like,” Nygren said.
Schools in the state could be feeling the pinch too in the near future, said Damian LaCroix, superintendent.
“We have the lowest percentage of freshmen students at the college level in the teacher pipeline in 45 years,” LaCroix said.
With the passage of the April 3 referendum, the immediate future looks bright for filling teacher positions at HSSD as the district has become a destination, he said.
Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of learning, informed the group that on average there were about 30 applicants per position for the teacher openings to reduce classroom sizes.
Like in manufacturing, bringing in quality employees to the district will create better results, LaCroix said.
“We know it’s about talent at the end of the day,” he said. “Out of all the things we control in our system, the thing that moves the needle the most is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. The second most important thing is the quality of the principal at the school level.”
Moving forward, there will be some breathing room for districts in the state, due in part to the work of Nygren and the passage of Assembly Bill 835.
The law will increase the low revenue ceiling per student from $9,100 to $9,400 in the 2018-19 school year.
Teresa Ford, school board president, called the passage of AB 835 “the first in 25 years that meaningfully promotes equity and access.”
“It’s probably the most transformative change to the formula since 1993. It would not have happened, 99 percent of it was due to this guy,” said Rep. David Steffen, pointing to Nygren. “ … Every single one of the school districts I represent are benefiting from what happened.”
While the change is positive, down the road, districts could still be in trouble, Nygren said.
“There’s still concerns about where we’re going to go in the future, because the way we fund education we’re only one downturn in the economy from having a problem again,” he said.
Nygren said it could have ramifications on taxpayers as well.
“Let’s be honest, there’s potential property tax increases for some people that will come from this, too,” he said.
Though the law does make the formula better, there still are some underlining flaws, said Jayme Sellen, government affairs director with the Greater Green Bay Chamber.
“All of our conversations about putting categorical aids into the formula isn’t going to help because the formula is the formula,” Sellen said. “You put more money in and it’s still going to spit out the same results.”
The Greater Green Bay Chamber leads a Partners in Education group of which Kaiser is a part of.
His work primarily focuses on the education of business leaders on school finance.
“Once we understood as business people what the formula looked like, what it was doing, how it is working, we got excited and wanted to make a difference,” he said.
Ford said business coming to the table for this discussion is critical because their productivity will increase with better employees, which the schools can provide when the funding is in place, which is what the Legislature can accomplish in Madison.
“Strengthening the bridges is what I think needs to happen and it’s what we’re interested in finding out, which engineer do we get to strengthen the bridge,” she said.