Rhyan cautions board on impact of voucher system

by Dave Cary Review Co respondent

PLYMOUTH – It is getting to a very critical time in state budget matters, Dr. Clark Reinke, district administrator, Plymouth School District, told the School Board on Tuesday. Critical, he added, not just to school finances but from a policy standpoint as well.

Although the level of alarm raised by Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed school revenue cap freeze has not matched School Board President Mark Rhyan’s wondering last February whether there would be funds for school sports, there is still intense interest not only in the freeze but in its companion proposals, as well.

One of these, Reinke said, was the private school voucher initiative that is still in the governor’s proposal. Reinke said he had heard “an interesting and impassioned presentation about it” from state Rep. Steve Kestell, RHowards Grove, who chairs the state Assembly Education Committee.

Kestell’s concern, Reinke said, was that it had not been given sufficient thought and analysis, even though it carries a huge potential financial impact for the state, and a likelihood of strong future property tax hikes if adopted as is. This is because what the proposal would do is give education vouchers to people who have private school children (including parochial school) – and that these funds would come from current public school aid sources. This would require, he said, property tax hikes just to maintain the support for public schools required by the state constitution.

Board member Pam Holzhaeuser, who had attended the same presentation Reinke had referred to, said she wondered whether taxpayers felt they could afford to fund two different types of schools.

Reinke said a good sign was that instead of talking about no increase in school revenue limits for next year, lawmakers were now talking about $100-$200 per student. Another was that from the end of the University of Wisconsin statewide system there appeared to be funds that could be used for education; a fear though, he said, was that these funds might be used to cut a deal that would allow the voucher plan to pass.

There is still time, Rhyan said, to contact your lawmakers with a respectfully written communication.

• • •

Jessica Mella, nutrition and wellness coordinator in Community Education, and Plymouth High School agriculture teacher Walter Taylor told the board that their Greenhouse Committee – formed a year ago – was getting a firmer grasp on what might be possible in the district. Starting with a $500 grant to begin its work, the group had visited a private greenhouse complex as well as the Denmark School District to see what others were doing. The work had taken on a more serious meaning when an anonymous $100,000 donation toward the project was received. Now, an architectural professional is looking into what might be proposed, and a group of students from Lakeland College is developing a business plan. This, they said, was to make sure that the project would be sustainable and not have to tap district funds to a significant extent.

The resultant greenhouse or greenhouse complex would not only be of significant value in the agricultural studies, but in many areas of food processing and manufacturing as well.

• • •

In personnel matters, the board approved retirement requests from what Reinke said was likely to be the “last wave” of such requests this year. The eight new retirees represented a total of 204 years’ experience within the district. Approved were the retirements of:

• Eileen Brooks, 18-year Riverview vocal music teacher;

• Sue Williamson, 22-year school psychologist;

• Katie Rortvedt, 33-year Riverview fifth-grade teacher;

• Stephan Kiszely, 19-year social studies teacher;

• Barbara Thaldorf, 32-year 5K teacher;

• Anita Williams, 22-year 5K teacher;

• Faye Hughes, 26-year counselor; and

• Benjamin White, 32-year elementary special education teacher.

The board also accepted the resignation of Daniel Parks, PHS vocal music teacher, who has been with the district for a year and a half.

The board formally adopted the 2013-14 Teacher Employment Framework, which establishes employment expectations, procedures, policies, salary and benefits.

• • •

Second readings of policies are usually cut-and-dried affairs, but the board devoted a signifi- cant amount of time to explaining how the Laude system worked and how it would be blended in and gently supplant the present system, which was termed “valedictorian and class rank.” A major difference between the systems is that the “Laude” system relies not just on grade-point average, but of what could be termed (to borrow a phrase from sport) the Degree of Difficulty of the course work completed. Under the Laude system, three degrees of achievement are recognized and termed, high to low, Magna Cum Laude, Summa Cum Laude and Cum Laude, and the system recognizes all who perform to these high levels. With the second reading completed, this system, and its phase-in plan, are now district policy.

• • •

In other matters, two bids were awarded at the meeting. A roofing project at the high school was awarded to JRT Top Notch Roofs with a 30-year Tremco roof for $211,101, the low as-specified bid; while a 48-month lease agreement covering two-thirds of the district’s copy machines was awarded to Ross Imaging over seven other bidders.

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