To the Editor:
Voters, please consider a vote to reject the LUHS referendum that will increase your school levy by 28%, forever. The increase is only warranted because the administration and school board are following the age-old maxim: “It is easier to spend and waste other peoples’ money than their own.”
The 28% increase is, in my view, outrageous, unjustified, and wasteful. The LUHS Board of Education and administration have failed to economize and practice sound stewardship of public tax revenue. Why, you might ask, should you consider my opinion?
I am a year-around Minocqua homeowner. I have a BA from Madison, an MA from the Univ. Missouri-Columbia, ABD with five years of grad work, and I am a retired AP economics teacher (28 years at Park Falls High School). I was the first person in Wisconsin to teach UW college-credit courses to high school seniors. I am an experienced head coach and I’ve been a National Honor Society advisor. My students consistently earned awards in state-wide academic competitions. Before retirement, I held DPI licenses as a principal and district administrator, having taken 120 credits in educational administration. In short, I know something about education.
Why is the referendum unjustified, wasteful, and outrageous?
1. LUHS teacher pay schedule is egregious and totally unrelated to student academic performance. Example: The LUHS DPI Report Card score was 67.5 in 2012-13, but declined to 65.3 in 2018-19. So, in 6 years, LUHS scores have gone down, even though teacher pay has gone up.
During the last five years, the proportion of LUHS students who scored Advanced or Proficient in English Language Arts has declined by 8%. In math, there has only been a 1.2% increase. Even now, the proportion of students who are proficient or advanced in English and math is below 50%. Why are we being asked to pay more to teachers whose students' scores have declined? The referendum does not directly address the problem of weak student academic performance.
2. View the taped LUHS board meetings for the past many months about discussions for a referendum. You’ll learn, as I have, that demands for more money are totally unrelated to declines in student achievement scores. Worse, LUHS pays its teachers and staff massively greater salaries than surrounding districts, but the educational performance of LUHS graduates is not better. In short, greater pay does not produce better academics or student outcomes, even though teachers and administrators enjoy Cadillac-incomes.
3. Total inflation from Sept 2008 through Sept of 2017 was 12.8%. From 2008-09 for the next nine years, the average annual cost to educate a student in Wisconsin rose 7.7% (from $12,346 to $13,305). Yet, LUHS increased spending 27.6% — or 350% more than state averages ($16,645 to $21,238). Yet, above and beyond that, the referendum would force homeowners to pay 28% more for the school's levy on our property tax. This is not reasonable by any standard.
4. LUHS has many options to economize to meet the educational “needs” of students before taxing property owners more. Cost-of-Living increases in teacher pay, added to full payment for medical insurance (over $20,000 per year) and retirement contributions for each teacher are too generous, especially since teachers have 12 weeks of paid vacation each year.
5. Compare spending/student in Phillips to LUHS from 2008 to 2018-19.
Phillips: Total educational cost per student rose from $12,244 to $13,038 in 2017-18, or 6.6%. During the same period, LUHS increased spending/student from $16,645 to $21,238, or an increase of 27.6%, more than twice the total inflation rate of 12.8%. Even though LUHS increased spending by 400% more than Phillips, LUHS failed to exceed the DPI school Report Card score (77.3) of Phillips High School — compared to (61.3) for LUHS.
6. I could provide more contrasts, but the realities are clear and pronounced. LUHS taxpayers are being asked to increase the school tax levy by over 27% because the LUHS Board of Education and the LUHS administration have failed in their stewardship of educational spending for almost a decade. Previous unjustified wage increases were far above the cost of living. The effect of previous over-spending underlies the primary reason voters now have been presented with a referendum.
“Yes,” you might think “but our property taxes are low.” Compared to Madison, yes they are, but is that a good reason to approve wasteful taxation and spending?
Since most of us will soon face 9% rate increases by WPS for electric and natural gas rates, please consider a no vote regarding the LUHS referendum.