Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 9:07 am
With funds available to public schools shrinking, many schools in the upcoming months are going to be forced to shrink their staffs. In many cases, schools determine which teachers to let based on seniority – known as the “Last In, First Out” philosophy, as described in this Politico profile of education crusader Michelle Rhee.
The problem with “LIFO,” however, is that it automatically jettisons young, energetic teachers in favor of older teachers that may be more set in their ways. Recently, the Refocus Wisconsin project addressed this issue by talking to an art teacher who was let go simply because of the timing of her hiring:
Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 12:09 pm
Mickey Buhl, courtesy Madison.com
Over at the mothership, Sunny Schubert has a wonderful column about a teacher she knows that has attempted to infuse his school with a little class. Zach, the fresh faced 22 year old newbie, decided he needed to set himself apart from his 7th grade students, so he started wearing a tie to school. For this transgression, he was mocked by the veteran teachers, none of whom saw any reason to dress up for school. In a show of solidarity with their teacher, Zach’s students actually started wearing ties to school – while the other teachers took time out of their day to trash his classroom with gaudy neckties.
This story is good enough – but Schubert also mentions a wildly entertaining “scandal” brewing at Glendale Elementary School in Madison, which serves a large number of African-American children. (In fact, Glendale has the highest percentage of poor and minority students at any Madison elementary school.)
In 2005, Mickey Buhl took over as Glendale’s principal, with the purpose of instilling the school with a new attitude and more innovative techniques. Since he took over, the school’s test scores have risen dramatically.
Yet Buhl’s techniques haven’t sat well with a handful of the school’s teachers, who have filed a number of complaints against the principal. Schubert points out these complaints are summarized in this 27-page attorney report posted at the Madison.com website.
It is an astounding document. It details the travails of a principal merely trying to provide the best education for his kids, yet having to spend most of his time refereeing the most banal, petulant disputes between teachers and himself. Even when Buhl attempted to mediate disputes between teachers or between a teacher and himself, the teachers generally lawyered up and demanded a teacher’s union representative be present.
Among Buhl’s transgressions that earned him complaints:
Upon taking office, he urged teachers to stop “gossiping” amongst themselves. Teachers found that the term “gossip” made them “uncomfortable.”
He often tried to talk to uncooperative teachers who either insulted him or simply walked away. Many thought his insistence that he be treated respectfully were “intimidating” and it made them uncomfortable.
An attempt to tell a food service worker to stop raising her voice to the kids eventually led to that worker contacting her representative at the food workers union to file a grievance. The worker also refused to do any tasks that went beyond her duties as a food service worker, even for a few minutes.
Sometimes, Buhl would attempt to compliment his teachers by comparing them to his former school. He would tell them they do this-or-that much better than he had seen in the past. According to their complaint, some Glendale staff members were “uncomfortable with Mr. Buhl’s use of comparisons as compliments.” They believed he shouldn’t be “putting down” people in order to “build them up.” (A hearty eye roll and head shake is warranted here.)
One teacher who had previously resigned offered to return as a volunteer. Buhl thought it was a good idea. Of course, the union objected and filed a complaint, as they generally oppose volunteers doing the jobs of paid teachers. That teacher then gave up and never volunteered.
At field day in 2008 and 2009, Buhl would play with the kids, picking up a hose and squirting them with water. Some of the teachers were squirted, as well. Uncomfortable. Complaint.
Buhl and many of the teachers disagreed over the school’s bullying policy. Buhl thought bullying was repeated instances of unwanted touching, while the teachers thought one touch was enough. To demonstrate, Buhl pushed one of the teachers as a demonstration to ask if that was “bullying.” Uncomfortable. Complaint. (Although it doesn’t say the teacher herself complained – it merely says the fact he touched her made “some staff members” uncomfortable.)
In other instances, Buhl is accused of “raising his voice” or using “threatening body language.” Yet after reading through all the snarky insolence he had to endure, it’s a wonder he kept his cool as well as he did. (In many instances, problems arose with the school’s interpreters for deaf students – had I been principal, I may have sent them an unmistakable signal in sign language.)
Someday, someone is going to write a great movie contrasting how elementary students learn the basics of how to interact and relate with one another – while each disagreement their teachers have with one another ends up in a soap opera-style drama or a union grievance. Clearly, the 4th graders are more mature than many of their teachers.
And as for Buhl, this is the thanks he gets for trying to give kids the best education they can get. He was exonerated on all of the complaints mentioned in the report, yet he clearly spent hours and hours trying to mediate the BS the teachers slung at him. It’s mind-boggling to think what goes on at elementary schools that don’t have principals as dedicated to the children.
UPDATE: Here’s a Wisconsin State Journal story that gives a more detailed account of Buhl’s tenure. The teachers’ union is trying to get his style classified as “bullying.” Rational people would call it “having a boss.”
Filed under: Budget,Debt — Christian Schneider @ 3:57 pm
This week, Milwaukee Magazine’s Bruce Murphy cites a recent New York Times analysis to make the point that Wisconsin’s budget deficit isn’t really so bad after all. According to the analysis, Wisconsin’s $1.8 billion deficit in 2012 represents 12.8% of the previous year’s budget, which puts us right in the middle of the 44 states that reported budget deficits.
Fair enough, but that’s not the whole story.
Wisconsin is well behind the nation in the tools it grants itself to deal with budget deficits. As I laid out in this lengthy research paper in 2009, most states require healthy “rainy day” funds to help ameliorate revenue shortfalls. Wisconsin’s is virtually nonexistent:
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), nationwide ending balances reached 10.4% of expenditures in 2000, and 9.4% in 2001. During the 2001 recession, states were able to draw on $25.8 billion of reserves to help balance their budgets. As a result, ending balances were reduced to 3.7% of expenditures. Balances built up over the previous years helped ameliorate many of the budget problems caused by lagging revenue.
Following the recession in 2001, most states set aside significant amounts of money in budget reserves. In 2006, nationwide ending balances in state budgets had reached $62.1 billion, or 10.9% of expenditures. Increased revenue due to a growing economy contributed to these new funds, as states learned the importance of setting aside money for emergencies.
Wisconsin never learned its lesson. Wisconsin remains one of only four states with a minimum statutory balance under 1% of expenditures. Wisconsin had ending balances of 0.4% of annual spending in 2006 and 0.6% in 2007, and budgeted a minimum balance of 0.4% in the fiscal year 2008 budget. This compares to a nationwide average of 8.2% in 2007. By the standards set by other states, Wisconsin’s government has been running on fumes.
Furthermore, Wisconsin has been using debt to finance more and more of its state government operations. When the state issues bonds, the debt service on that borrowing is inviolate – it cannot be reduced unless the bonds are refinanced:
In the past three budgets, the Governor and Legislature have generously used debt to fund ongoing appropriations indirectly. Additionally, new types of bonds have been created that allow government to circumvent the constitutional prohibition on bonding for general operating expenses. In several instances, Wisconsin’s elected leaders opted for short-term gain over long-term fiscal responsibility, and their creation of new types of borrowing carried risks for the future.
In 1969, when the state constitution was amended to allow the state to issue bonds, Wisconsin had $392.8 million in outstanding debt. In December of 2006, Wisconsin had $19.3 billion in outstanding debt, or $3,476 for every state resident. Shortly before the 1969 constitutional amendment passed, Wisconsin ranked 40th in the nation in state debt per capita. By 2003, Wisconsin had risen to 10th in per capita debt outstanding – and state debt has increased substantially since then.
Furthermore, the state has issued debt in excess of taxpayers’ ability to support that debt. In 1979, outstanding GPR supported GO bonding was 16.1% of state GPR revenues. By 2006, that number had more than doubled, to 33.9%. GPR funded GO bonding has grown substantially in relation to tax revenue.
Increased debt further ties the hands of the Governor and Legislature when trying to address budget shortfalls. Debt service simply can’t be cut like other government programs. General obligation bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the state, and defaulting on those bonds is not an option.
So while Wisconsin may appear to be in the middle of the pack, it has far more restrictions on dealing with budget deficits than other states. The lack of long-term planning over the years has caught up with the state, and makes earnest attempts to balance the budget all the more painful.
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 12:22 pm
Wisconsin isn’t facing a $3.3 billion deficit because taxes aren’t high enough. Revenue has dropped because, due to high unemployment, there simply aren’t enough people paying taxes. To fill the deficit, instead of creating new taxes, Governor Scott Walker had decided to create new taxpayers.
It’s been well publicized that Walker intends to create new workers by luring businesses from other states. One piece of catnip he has dangled in front of out-of-state businesses is found in SS SA2 to SB3 and SSAB3 (which, if said out loud, sounds like someone falling down the stairs), the tax break for business relocation.
The bill, as amended, creates both a tax deduction and a tax credit for businesses that relocate to Wisconsin. Under the bill, “locates to this state” means moving either 51% or more of the workforce payroll of the business or at least $200,000 of wages paid to such workforce to Wisconsin during the first taxable year to which the deduction relates. In a nutshell, businesses that move here get to be tax free for two years.
According to the bill’s initial fiscal estimate, the cost of letting new businesses go tax-free is a fairly marginal $280,000. (A revised Fiscal Bureau estimate puts the cost at $500,000, with the expansion of the credit into an accompanying deduction.) The Department of Revenue came up with that estimate by figuring that the average tax liability for first-time filers in Wisconsin was $2,700, then figured that 25% of the 416 new filers in past years have been from out of state. ($2,700 * .25 * 416 = $280,800.)
Let’s hope this bill is a lot more expensive than that estimate.
The bill is meant to lure businesses from other states, which announces a change from past practice. If the tax credit/deduction is effective, the number of businesses relocating should be a lot higher than the 104 the DOR estimates has occurred in the past.
Furthermore, the mere number of new businesses brought in doesn’t tell the whole story. Size matters. If the lure of being tax free pulls in some big businesses (especially in the wake of Illinois’ recent massive tax hike), that will skew the cost upwards significantly. One also imagines many of the “new filers” in Wisconsin were startup businesses, which may account for why their liabilities only averaged around $2,700. Just a couple big fish in the Wisconsin pond will skew those numbers significantly.
Of course, if all goes to plan, the “cost” of the bill (which doesn’t really “cost” the state anything – it merely deprives them of taxpayer money) will be much higher – but the state will recoup that money and more by the number of new taxpayers created. Ratcheting down the unemployment rate from 8% to, say, 4% will have the state swimming in money once again. It will more than pay for the marginal cost of giving businesses a temporary tax holiday.
The bill has passed both the Assembly and Senate, and now heads to Governor Walker for his signature.
And if the tax break doesn’t help the state recoup its money, Wisconsin should just go bet $280,000 on the Packers in the Super Bowl.
UPDATE: After passing the relocation tax cut bill, the Senate engaged in some partisan sniping over who was to blame for the state’s high unemployment rate. Democratic Senator Bob Jauch stood and argued that the recession was a global one, Democrats weren’t to blame, and that the effects were being felt in states like Indiana and others.
Yet an analysis by the New York Times shows that Indiana’s budget deficit is the smallest in the nation, at 2% of spending. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has shown that balancing a budget can be done in times of economic distress – in Wisconsin, we just haven’t felt like it.
I give you “Roadmap to my Heart,” in honor of Congressman Paul Ryan:
When Atlas shrugged I knew you’d carry the weight
That PX90 program has you in great shape
But more than than you’re stimulating my brain
Your Roadmap to the Future has lit this girl’s flame
Paul R-Y-A-N, he’s gonna cap that spending
Budget Hunter, Surplus savior’s got me dreaming
Paul R-Y-A-N, he’s got the camera’s waiting
Raise those polls and ratings
It’s more than a crush
It’s a wonky fascination
Driven by fiscal reformation
If you’re deficit or debt, he will tear you apart
Paul Ryan has the Roadmap to my young gun heart
You’ve got the way to make me fall
And the means to follow through
Entitlements are something made for me not you
Obamacare repeal is seduction for free
The Patient Choice Act is victory
Paul R-Y-A-N, he knows money
Like a bad romance, he makes a dime worth a damn
Paul R-Y-A-N, he’s talking savings baby
He’s a hawk, don’t get caught
Thinking that money is free
(Hold it right there, let me make this clear)
The cards are dealt, the facts are bad!
China up and owns our ass
Social welfare’s warped the brain
Raise the debt? Are you insane?!
Inflation? (Whoa!) Boy cut that junk.
Deflation? (Whoa!) Which way you goin’?
GNP ain’t just for tax mon-ey.
This dollar right here? (hey that ain’t yours)
This dollar right there? (that was mine before)
Better grab your man! (all wonk not wank)
Better understand! (yeah, one more time)
It’s…..their…money! (it’s their money honey)
I actually prefer the original Steppenwolf version, myself.
As states struggle with enormous deficits and exploding pension costs, some analysts are urging Congress to enact a law enabling states to declare bankruptcy the way municipalities can under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code. This is a bad idea. A state bankruptcy provision could create more problems than it solves.
Bankruptcy proponents understandably worry that states such as California and Illinois are so deep in the hole they may end up petitioning Congress for federal relief. To forestall this possibility, the argument goes, even the threat of bankruptcy would give governors and legislators a powerful new weapon for forcing concessions from recalcitrant public employee unions.
At least 18 states already outlaw collective bargaining with some categories of government employees; Virginia and North Carolina prohibit it for all public workers. Two newly elected Republican governors, Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio, have threatened to dismantle their state bargaining statutes if unions fail to make concessions.
Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 10:36 am
Governor Scott Walker appeared on “Up Front with Mike Gousha” this weekend to discuss many of his plans for the upcoming state budget. At the end of the interview, Walker mentioned his openness to providing “flexibility” to the University of Wisconsin System in exchange for less state aid. This echoes many of the recommendations I made in a research paper released just before Christmas.
Walker stops short of endorsing full tuition flexibility for the UW, despite the system having the second lowest tuition in the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s tuition has traditionally been held low by providing generous state subsidies; a system taxpayers simply can’t afford anymore. Yet Walker is likely concerned that a large tuition increase by the UW would seem to violate his pledge to not raise taxes in the upcoming budget.
Filed under: Politics — Christian Schneider @ 10:03 am
In my WPRI column today, I engage in a little Rex Ryan-style interstate smack talk. (I will also be filming a foot fetish video this afternoon.)
These days, it’s great to be a cheesehead. Here’s what I learned about Wisconsin:
Recently, United Nations inspectors discovered the presence of “fried cheese curds” in Wisconsin, which the state had previously fought to keep top secret. Unleashing this delicacy on the nation would trigger an arterial armaggedon, likely trimming the U.S. population by 37% within one year. (Merely saying the words “fried cheese curds” out loud has been known to cause heart murmurs.)
Wisconsin’s most recent heyday occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when its sports teams ruled the national landscape and its breweries cranked out enough beer to inebriate the nation. (If you’re an ugly American male who ended up smooching on a girl out of your league between 1930 and 1985… Milwaukee says, “you’re welcome.”)
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 1:16 pm
Governor Scott Walker appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” today to detail his plan to pilfer jobs from Illinois:
Perhaps most controversially, Walker claimed that Aaron Rodgers is “just as good” as Brett Favre ever was, and “without the interceptions” to boot. If he somehow just jinxed the Packers against the Falcons, I might actually sign on to the goofball campaign to recall him.