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Controversy continues over Fox Point-Bayside staffing, schedule changes

April 30, 2013

Bayside - Fox Point-Bayside district parents, staff and students again made their case against planned 2013-14 school year scheduling changes that would reduce art, music and physical education — known commonly as “specials” — to make room for added math and one-on-one time between students and teachers. 

As a town hall-style meeting wore on in the Bayside Middle School gym Monday evening, from a planned one hour long session to a nearly three hour long affair, and nearly 30 district parents, area and district teachers, and even students grilled middle school Principal Don Galster and Superintendent Rachel Boechler, the standing-room-only crowd many times roared, cheered, whooped, clapped, scoffed, whistled and jeered its assent and outrage. 

District officials are planning a new “flex” period meant to satisfy a federal requirement of response to intervention, a teaching method used to provide direct instructional time between teachers and students who need help, as well as a problem-based humanities class meant to prepare students for the statewide smarter balanced assessment, which in the coming years will replace the WKCE tests students take each year. For fifth-graders and sixth-graders, the added classes mean that physical education will meet half a day less each week and specials will meet five days a week on a quarterly basis instead of two days a week for the whole school year; sixth-graders and seventh-graders will have the new math class replace general music. As a result of student enrollment in music electives, staffing for band and orchestra will go from the equivalent of 1.1 full-time positions — 0.8 and 0.3 across two positions currently — to one full-time position taught by one person. A total of 10 teachers have been issued preliminary layoff notices a result of scheduling and enrollment changes.

“If you look at the whole picture, there are very challenging choices,” Boechler said. “Ultimately this community will choose where we want to spend our resources, but there are limited resources. What we were all able to do in education several years ago is no longer the case.”

Claims contested

Yet, those who addressed Boechler and Galster called into question the legitimacy of the district’s claims, saying the changes amount to cuts in specials, the effects of which will ripple out across students’ experiences and performance for years to come. 

“I’m telling you guys that this is not a transparent meeting, that the things that are going to happen over the summer and after this meeting are going to directly affect your kids, but they’re not going to tell you the truth,” Bayside Middle School seventh-grade math teacher Mark Conforti said, referring to the fact that district administration is asking teachers to come up with flex period ideas now and over the summer.

Boechler has said the driving force behind the scheduling changes were recommendations from a curriculum committee formed last fall which included teachers, parents, administrators and a member of the School Board. Boechler said the committee recommended that the district: make a two-period block of English/Language Arts/Reading; add math time; add the flex period; keep world language at all grades; keep specials, advisory time and recess; and increase choice for upper-grade students. 

Trying to keep everything included in those recommendations, she added, meant that something would need to be cut back, which resulted in the specials reductions to accommodate the addition of math and flex. 

However, middle school counselor Jill Lesch and middle school Spanish teacher Amy Magee, both of whom served on the committee, said no recommendations were made by the committee at its November meeting, and that its December meeting was canceled abruptly, after which the administration began falsely attributing recommendations to the committee. They said, and Boechler acknowledged, that the teachers on the committee all signed a letter stating they did not agree with the recommendations. 

“It came down to a point where we could not figure out how to get it all into the schedule,” said Magee, prompting an uproar of applause at the end of her speech. “We felt (saying the schedule changes were endorsed by the committee) was not truthful.”

School Board and committee member Timothy Melchert commented after the meeting that, while he wouldn’t say the committee made “recommendations,” the state and federally mandated components like flex and math were begrudgingly accepted by committee members. 

“Everybody understood that,” Melchert said, “but nobody was comfortable with it.”

He added in a later email to North Shore NOW that the changes can be beneficial despite the tough trade-offs.

“There are major improvements in kids’ learning that could come out of the proposed changes,” wrote Melchert. “If done right, these changes could greatly add to kids’ learning experience.”

Recall may move forward

District parent and Milwaukee-area financial sector CEO David Braeger, who observed the meeting on Monday and spoke out last week at a School Board meeting, said after the meeting he intends to continue his recall effort against board President Debbie Friberg and members Timothy Melchert and Alice Lawton. 

“It was made abundantly clear by numerous parents and teachers, that the massive cuts in the special programs as well as the layoffs are a responsibility of a District Administrator and School Board that lacks leadership and creativity to the standpoint that they are laying off teachers and cutting the special programs to add a class in which they have not even made a curriculum for,” Braeger wrote in an email to NOW. “This is utter disrespect to the teachers, our community and, most of all, our children.”

He said the recall will go forward if a number of requests aren’t met by the administration and board: layoffs are rescinded by either Boechler or the board; the district furnish public records of conversations between board members and administration regarding layoffs and changes to specials, as well as budget records, superintendent travel records, insurance documentation and other expense logs; a new schedule be proposed that includes full scheduling of specials; a system be put in place to increase transparency of the board and community input; and all communications between Galster and Boechler regarding scheduling, layoffs and the district budget be provided. 

According to documents from the state Government Accountability Board, after registering a recall, petitioners have 60 days to gather signatures. A recall petition must have 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

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