All teachers in the Weyauwega-Fremont (W-F) School District received a preliminary layoff notice late last week, as the school district waited to see Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal and what it means for schools in the state.
District Administrator Scott Bleck said the district’s 72 teachers received the notices on Friday, Feb. 25.
“Our administrative team handed them out in their prospective buildings,” he said.
Teachers were invited to attend an informational meeting at either 7 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. that day to ask questions, and Bleck told teachers that his door remains open if they have more questions.
“We had about 30 take in the a.m. and p.m. meeting combined,” he said.
Approximately 30 teachers attended the special meeting of the school board that was held Thursday, Feb. 24, in the middle school library.
The board voted 5-0 to issue universal preliminary layoff notices to the district’s teachers. Board members Tony Beyer and Jim Stuebs were absent.
“I don’t think this vote should seem as a vote to support Governor Walker. It’s a vote to protect the district,” board member Sandy Smith, who is a former teacher and principal in the district, said after the board’s vote.
Before its vote, the school board discussed whether to issue preliminary universal layoffs – an action taken by many school districts in the state – or whether to issue preliminary notices to a particular number of teachers like others districts have done.
Preliminary layoff notices had to go out to teachers by Monday, Feb. 28, and the governor planned to unveil the next state budget on Tuesday, March 1.
In January, the W-F School Board voted to issue six preliminary layoff notices to meet the projected revenue shortfall for the 2011-12 school year.
Those notices had to do with 4-year-old kindergarten, the SAGE program and the special education area.
“There are districts in the area that are making resolutions with their education associations to extend the window for the preliminary layoff notice,” Bleck told the board.
Greg Gill Sr., of Gill & Gill in Appleton, is the district’s legal counsel and he cautioned the board about entering into an agreement with the education association to extend that window.
“The recommendation I have made to the board is not to extend,” he said. “I’d be concerned that if it were later challenged or overturned, the district wouldn’t be in the position to make the necessary budgetary changes it had to make.”
There was discussion about increasing the number of preliminary layoff notices, but Bleck asked how the district would choose which teachers to issue those notices to and at what effect to the environment in the schools.
“My feeling is universal layoffs is a tool that protects both the union and the district,” said School Board President Neal Loehrke. “Everyone knows we’re not going to layoff all the teachers in the school district. We don’t know what will happen.”
Jeff Gabrilska is the president of the Weyauwega-Fremont Education Association, and he said that he understood the position the school board was in due to the ramifications of the state budget.
“Our angst comes from the unknowns,” he said. “If (the budget repair) bill passes, there will be no collective bargaining.”
Loehrke said the universal preliminary layoff notices were most fair, and Gill said that without this action, the school district would have no options.
“No private business would make this decision without having the numbers locked in, and you don’t have those numbers now,” Gill said.
Some school districts have also based the number of preliminary layoff notices issued on the basis of the number of teachers planning to retire after this school year ends.
Bleck said Monday that no retirements have been presented yet but that the district does anticipate that there will be some.
“When that does happen, as an administrative team, we will look at the need to replace or fill from within,” he said.
Whenever there are retirements, the district looks at filling those positions from within as long as those being considered to fill them have the proper certifications, he said.
Bleck said he is proud of how the school community is dealing with the present unknowns.
“People, I believe, have an understanding of the why – for the betterment of the district. They have a sense of understanding of why the district is doing it, why it chose that route,” he said.
The school board’s decision to issue universal preliminary layoff notices means the district will be able to look at the governor’s budget from all angles.
“If we would have chosen to send out preliminary notices based on seniority, we may have identified individuals that ultimately, we would have needed their services. We might have identified a person or program that we could not be without,” Bleck said.
On Friday, Feb. 25, letters were sent to all staff, explaining what happened at the Feb. 24 school board meeting. In addition, a letter for parents was sent home that same day with students and was also posted on the school district’s Web page.
Once the governor presents his budget proposal, Bleck said the school district can begin to break it down. The next notification of layoffs to teachers is due March 15, and he said the district could issue another universal layoff notice on that date if it needs additional time to process the impact of the state budget.
He also said the district will work with other area school districts to interpret the local effects of the state proposal.
“We want to know how it affects Weyauwega-Fremont,” Bleck said, “but we also want the perspectives of what is happening to other area school districts.”
He said that while each school district is unique and has its own programs, they will have to look at it together as an educational community.
Bleck said the school district will also look to CESA 6 for its interpretation of the state budget.
“Right now, it’s sit and wait until we can truthfully look at the budget and what it means for us,” he said.