Wisconsin School Boards Evaluate Governance Focus

Amy Hetzner:

Under the model, used by a number of school boards in the state, the board develops a set of expectations and then holds its administrators accountable to achieve those goals and report on progress.
The result is a more focused board that has more objective criteria for evaluating the performance of the school superintendent, said Sue Kutz, president of the Racine Unified School Board, which began using policy governance this year.
Monthly monitoring reports and a review of the board’s goals are used to evaluate the superintendent’s performance, she said, rather than a subjective evaluation that focuses on “the last great fiasco that happened.”
Boards are also spared the details and decision-making on issues for which they have little expertise.
“As a way of doing business, it seems to make so much more sense than the old way,” Kutz said.

Interesting. Serving on a school board is perhaps one of the most difficult public service positions “available” today. The recently revealed $6M Madison School District structural deficit (in place for 7 years) along with ongoing curriculum questions and a recent lack of oversight obligations such as reviewing the Superintendent requires a vigilant, active board.

2 thoughts on “Wisconsin School Boards Evaluate Governance Focus”

  1. The structural deficit “recently revealed” was, or should have been known to board members years ago, because Rainwater was open about it — that is, it’s not recently revealed.
    I had a brief meeting with the Supt some three years ago, prior to running for school board and asked him about the decreasing reserve. I’m almost certain the board at that time understood, was aware of and agreed with the administrations’ cutting into the reserve to avoid more significant cuts in programs. That is, there is nothing “recently revealed” about this structural deficit.
    Here is how he explained it to me — and this is how I related it before and during my board campaign.
    The administration believed that MMSD was in far better shape financially than other state school districts, and especially school districts in Republican assembly and senate districts. He believed that by the time MMSD would be running into true financial difficulties, the other school districts would be in such dire financial straits that the State (under control of the conservatives) would have no choice but to make the necessary financial changes to preserve the public schools, in general, and the public schools districts within Republican-controlled assembly/senate districts in particular.
    The necessary changes at the State have not come about, and I don’t see any such changes in the future.
    On hindsight, the administration’s reliance and belief that politicians would eventually exercise rational thought was clearly mistaken, as well as the belief that politicians support public schools, rather than handing education over to for-profit companies whose first priority will be their investors (companies are remiss if they place any policy before the wealth of their investors — this is their fiduciary responsibilty).
    That is not to say that MMSD has been run or the public schools generally are being run most effectively. We’ve been discussing changes that should be made in the schools and on the Board for years — but, all in support of public school improvements, not their destruction.

  2. Larry:
    I’m not entirely sure that Art’s prediction hasn’t — at least partially — played out.
    I tend to be pretty cynical about the state of school financing in Wisconsin, and how it got that way. My own analysis: the major change in state education funding in the early 1990s did one major, major thing — it put in place a system (largely driven by the QEO and it’s near-mandate of minimum 3.8 percent wage increases for the district’s largest share of employees) in which expenditures were at some point likely to exceed revenues (capped at the local level at an annual rate lower than the QEO-3.8 percent) for many, if not most, school districts in the state. Districts really could avoid the expenditure/revenue clash in only two ways — dipping into reserve funds (not exactly good fiscal stewardship, one might argue) or through enrollment growth.
    Who put the QEO/revenue cap system in place? Republicans, when they controlled both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Where has most of the state’s public school enrollment growth occured? With the lone exception of Dane County suburban districts, it’s been in suburban Milwaukee, much of the Fox Valley, and western Wisconsin suburbs getting spillover from the Twin Cities. Guess which party holds most legislative seats in those areas of the state? Which school districts have complained the most about the QEO/revenue cap dilemma? Those with declining enrollments. Guess who represents those districts in the Legislature?
    I’m not suggesting a direct quid-pro-quo, but the old “looks like a duck, walks like a duck…” holds some truth here, it seems to me.
    That’s why I thought the results of this past fall’s election were pretty interesting. Because now, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of districts (out of the state’s 426) that haven’t been impacted by the QEO/revenue cap in some way. Look what happened. The Democrats, who have criticized the school financing system much more agressively than Republicans, won the Senate and picked up seats in the Assembly. Most notably, to me, is that the Democrats picked up seats long-held by Republicans, particularly in some rural areas (the Freese seat in southwestern Wisconsin, the open seat near Ft. Atinson) where districts really are being squeezed. Connection? Talk to the candidates there — I bet they think so. And look what’s happening now — the likes of Dale Schultz, who helped craft the current school financing system, and represents a bunch of small, rural districts, is talking about ways to keep rural districts afloat by exempting them from revenue cap constraints in areas like bussing. Hmmmm.
    I don’t really have a great idea about what to do about school financing in Wisconsin. But I’m not surprised at all by the political fallout resulting from the inevitable squeezing of school budgets brought on by the system we’ve had for more than a decade.

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