'It's time to write letters'

Rhyan decries cap impact on district
by Dave Cary Review Correspondent

PLYMOUTH - School Board President Mark Rhyan interrupted what he had to say concerning the proposal to name the Horizon softball field after coach Gale Grahn to show a newspaper to the 80-plus who attended Tuesday's School Board meeting.

Saying it was wonderful that so many came to a meeting - largely to support the Grahn naming - he asked whether anyone had seen a major story concerning schools in that paper.

"The vouchers," a voice answered.

Rhyan said that was right, vouchers was the main story - but almost buried in it was a hard fact that had major import.

"Now there's a little fact in this article that should concern each and every one of you," Rhyan said. "This little tidbit talks about the (state-imposed) revenue cap and the fact that Gov. Scott Walker is proposing that we freeze it."

The revenue caps put a limit on what each school district can spend in a year without a referendum. In recent years, the cap has been raised by a modest amount and school districts regularly assume an increase in drawing budget plans for the year.

"Great idea," Rhyan said. "Great idea if you support not raising spending - which I am a big fan of. I've been very conservative since I was a little kid and I like saving money."

Checking visually with District Business Manager Jon Miller, Rhyan continued, "Over the last three years we've saved a million and a half - good, we need that. And over the last 30 years - maybe longer - the district has been extremely conservative."

In support of this, he held up a document. "I have here a 26-page report. We're on the front page. This (document) is a ranking of the spending of the 424 school districts in the state. Plymouth is number 27, in the bottom 7 percent in the state (in spending per pupil).

"This is not a bad thing. Especially when you consider our students perform in the 89 to 90th percentile in literally every test we give.

"We spend in the bottom 7 percent and we score in the 89-90 percentile range."

"That's a tribute to all the faculty, administration, and previous boards who made sure we have a strong school system. It's also a testament to all the parents and all the kids for the work they do."

"Here's the important part of this. Over the last five years - my tenure here - this board has fought each year to figure out how we're going to manage through this difficult financial time and they've done a great job. They've found a way to strengthen the education model in this district and do it without spending a lot of money.

"But ... this is coming to an end.

"The last balancing of the budget was done mostly by passing costs on - from one pocket to another. The tools (given in the state budget for budget use) have been more than fully utilized in this district. This revenue cap freeze will cost this district some $900,000 over the next two years - $900,000 that we hadn't planned on.

"What does it mean?

"If the plan goes through as proposed, gentlemen enjoy your basketball because I don't know how we're going to pay for it in the future. The softball things: we can name any field whatever we want, but there aren't going to be any games - and the school system that you know today will not exist.

"And I'm not kidding.

"This is a very serious matter. To penalize the lowspending districts like this one, frankly, is nothing short of a crying shame."

Rhyan addressed the Grahn-supporting audience, who had been motivated to write and cause to be written some 120 letters to the board in support of the renaming. Earlier, this audience had applauded a presentation on what Riverview School was doing to improve its teaching effectiveness.

"If you value the educational model that we have here today," Rhyan said, "if you want to protect it go going forward, then I need your help." He said it was important to see a flood of letters go to state legislators from governor on down in the next week.

It will take the public at large, he has said before, as legislators get quite used to faces they see often, such as board presidents and principals.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch had been here a couple weeks ago, Rhyan said. He showed her what Plymouth High School was doing, including the tech ed center and "she could not say enough about what we're doing in this district. I made it clear to her that things like the tech ed center cannot sustain themselves and that that kind of ed programming can't be advanced in districts like this if we're going to put proposals out there like (the revenue cap freeze). And I was very certain when she left that I would see a more favorable result published in the paper."

Riverview Principal Chris Scudella and several staff members updated the board on what Riverview was doing to improve its performance on the state's school "report card."

Riverview's performance, Scudella said, had not been subpar but rather good. Still, the "report card" data - based largely on the state's WKCE tests - offered insight on where effort could probably be best applied.

Scudella said her team had come up with an idea called "integrated studies" in which curriculums are made to respond to test score results. For example, if reading scores were low, more reading would be added to the curriculum in classes that may not have as much. In addition, newer methods of engaging students are used and student downtime - exemplified by the study hall - is minimized.

The results, Scudella said, have been very good; and she backed this assertion up with ample data. In general, the data consistently shows progress on two fronts: a greater number of proficient students at the beginning and end of a school year, and a smaller number of non-proficient ones.

• • •

In other matters, the board unanimously approved naming the Horizon softball field after Gale Grahn, who founded, coached and managed Plymouth girls softball for over 20 years.

The board accepted:

• A donation of $200 from board member Pam Holzhaueser for the high school art department;

• A donation of $2,000 from Millenium Technologies for the Community Ed fitness center;

• A donation of $500 from Millenium Technologies for the cross country team;

• A donation of $1,248.29 from Plymouth Rotary Club for chemistry supplies for the PHS science department; and

• A donation of $3,764.76 from the Parkview PTK for classroom supplies and student transportation.

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