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April 26, 2012

Governance: Changing Expectations in Oconomowoc - Paying Fewer High School Teachers More

Erin Richards:

In a move sure to capture the attention of school districts across the state grappling with how to reallocate resources in a time of reduced funding, the Oconomowoc Area School District administration on Tuesday proposed a profound restructuring of its high school, cutting staff and demanding the remaining educators take on more teaching duties.

The kicker: Those remaining staffers would each get a $14,000 annual stipend.

The plan requires reducing Oconomowoc High School's core teaching force by about 20% - from about 75 to about 60 people - across the departments of math, science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, physical education and art, Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker said Tuesday before a school board meeting where the plan's details were released.

Oconomowoc's dramatic step reflects a district responding to reduced resources amid an urgent push to reshape teaching, with newfound leeway to adjust compensation, staffing and school structures without having to bargain with unions.

"We haven't ever moved around the pieces in education like this," Neudecker said, adding that even with the stipends next year, the district would save $500,000 annually under the new plan.

"Our expectations are changing for teachers, but we're also going to deploy resources to help them change," Neudecker said.

Structural change rather than just ongoing, overall spending increases.

Oconomowoc's 2011-2012 budget is $51,381,000 for 5,211 students results in per student spending of $9,860, 33% less than Madison. Madison's 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student.

Update: Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan "the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession." Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.

Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.

Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that's because you haven't done it.)

There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes - the four pillars of school cost cutting.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at April 26, 2012 7:51 AM
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