Monday, April 20, 2015

Some Days Others Say It Better - Jay Bullock On MPS High School Rankings

Something to think about with THIS report about MPS high schools being ranked by groups like the Washington Post. Especially their number one pick in Carmen South (which is a non-instrumentality charter school that can be selective in accepting students and can be exclusionary with students they don't think are "measuring up.")

As always, Jay Bullock is smarter than me:
I'm going with a little bit of both, but the simple fact that the Washington Post can say schools who are selective with enrollment can somehow be comparable to schools like mine is a bit of a smack in the face.

Or maybe it shows just how fruitless such comparisons really are.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Inner-City Friday

This week has been a painful one for Milwaukee. More on this when I have time to collect my thoughts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Assembly School Accountability Is Dead! Long Live Senate School Accountability!

So, yesterday's post about the comments on the radio by Fond du Lac Superintendent Dr. Jim Sebert sure seems like an exercise in futility today.

Just look at THIS Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article: 
Legislation to hold Wisconsin's publicly funded schools accountable for their academic performance came in like a lion in January, but appears to be going out like a lamb. 
Again, lolz the memories of Republicans wanting this to be passed by the end of January.
Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) introduced an amendment to a Senate version of the accountability bill Tuesday that drops the most controversial components of earlier versions — such as creating a new state oversight board and allowing publicly funded private schools to administer different types of tests to students than public schools. 
Sen. Olsen, I could hug you... Don't kid yourself, this is his doing, along with the tireless work of Superintendents across Wisconsin who are defenders of public education, while not being bleeding heart liberals. There are FAR more out there than many may want to admit.
And the amended bill does not include sanctions for chronically underperforming schools — an element that Assembly Republicans say is key for an accountability bill to have any teeth. 
Sanctions in their eyes, meaning turning schools over to charter operators who would then be able to funnel public money into their supposed "non-profit" and have the charter management operator ultimately make a profit off students and tax dollars.
A Senate education committee is expected to approve the amended bill Thursday. But without agreement from the Assembly to support a companion bill, the move signals that Republicans in both houses will not actually reach a compromise on the accountability bill this session. 
Just like they did in the 2011 session. Oh , and the 2013 session. This... This was supposed to be the session that conservatives got their wet-dream version of school accountability where they were able to take schools away from local districts and put them to charter operators.

And they failed... In a blaze of glory.
Whether that's a good thing for kids depends on whom you talk to. 
Farrow says their bill is better than nothing, and that the Senate is not willing to support the kinds of sanctions the Assembly wants, such as turning poor-performing public schools over to charter management companies. 
Don't you think Sen. Farrow is doing a hell of a job positioning himself for a run at Governor in 2018? Leader in the State Senate on education issues and now soon to be Waukesha Co. Executive? Keep eyes on this one folks.
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), head of the Assembly Education Committee, said the Senate bill lets chronically underperforming schools continue without dramatic changes. 
Yeah, like implementing limits in class size, forcing the number of paraprofessional to student ratio to increase, mandating psychological or sociological interventions, etc.
"I want to get something done, and I don't think this bill really accomplishes anything," he said. "An accountability bill isn't an accountability bill without accountability."
You know, like turning schools over the operators who want to make a profit. Rep. Thiesfeldt has said that he sees no issue with schools making a profit off of students.
John Johnson, spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, said the bill advances school accountability in some positive ways — namely, by not making major changes. 
Ummm, could you elaborate on that a little more? Maybe? Bueller? Bueller?
Currently only public schools and districts receive report cards, but legislation passed last session calls for them to be issued to private voucher schools starting in the 2015-'16 school year. 
Which is pretty damn important, especially because they are receiving taxpayer dollars.
While both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans, they have had trouble reaching consensus on the next step: What to do with schools that underperform on those report cards? 
Correction - Republicans have had trouble reaching consensus on the next step: What to do with schools that underpeform on those report cards that don't involve actually spending money and dedicating resources to those schools.
The Assembly and Senate introduced competing school accountability bills as their first pieces of legislation in January, featuring very different ideas for how to address chronically low-achieving schools. 
And it's been all downhill from there.
The Assembly wanted sanctions that would turn low-performing public schools into charter schools. The Senate wanted less-stringent interventions, such as giving the schools more money or creating a new state panel to work with them on turnaround plans. 
There's nothing about how "stringent" those interventions are, it's all about who actually controls public schools. Locally elected school boards, or charter management board who aren't responsible to local officials.
The amended bill 
The amended Senate bill introduced Tuesday would: 
■Revise the current school report cards to provide more information about each school's academic performance over time, then rate schools into one of five performance categories — rather than give letter grades. 
Yay for no letter grades. Hmmmm for what the ratings are "over time" and how do you measure that in a school like mine that has such high turnover of both students and staff every year?
■Allow the state superintendent to intervene in poor-performing public schools, but only after consulting with the school board and superintendent. 
Ehhh, I'm not sure about this, but consulting with local officials is a good thing.
■Subject all public, public charter and private voucher schools to the same report-card criteria. By Jan. 15 of each year, schools placed in the lowest performance category would have to mail a letter to parents to notify them of their school's low ranking. 
That seems like some form of shaming to me. I'm not sure I like that, but need to read the whole bill amendment.
■Require school boards to post on their websites all the educational options available to all children living in the district — including schools not run by the district. That component is a nod to the Assembly's wishes. 
But also 100% flipping insane. "Oh, if you don't like McDonalds, there is a Burger King, Wendy's, Hardees's and Culvers at the following locations...."

"At this point, we want parents to have as much information as they can get, so they can make the best choices," Farrow said. 
Agreed, but why are you forcing the public school to post those things, and not ALL schools?
Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) said he hoped Assembly Republicans would come around to their position because the Senate accountability bill is better than passing nothing. 
"We're not doing sanctions," Olsen said. "You don't get results with that. Just taking a public school and making it a charter school doesn't help anything." 
Sen. Olsen is a smart man. He's a Republican, but he's also just using common sense and not being blinded by ideology.
Olsen and other lawmakers expressed skepticism about putting school accountability policies in the state budget they are now working out. 
Remember, Sen. Olsen is on the Joint Finance Committee, and that matters. That really, really matters. Man alive, just wait until 2016 when he gets primaried from a conservative on the right who will throw all of this in his face. Just you wait...
Gov. Scott Walker had some school accountability proposals in his budget, such as issuing letter grades to schools on their report cards. Critics called letter grades polarizing. 
Olsen said nobody else wants letter grades for schools.
Well, except for Rep. Thiesefeldt. That is, until he became irrelevant in this whole thing at this point.
Thiesfeldt said the Senate accountability bill is much weaker than the version the Assembly proposed.
Weaker, being a very relative term.
"It just doesn't seem like there's a willingness on the Senate version of this bill to come our direction. They're expecting the Assembly to go all the way to them," he said.Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) also doesn't support the Senate version, according to his spokeswoman.
Maybe that's because the Senate has already decided to tread pretty damn far to the "right" when it comes to the conservativeness of actually ranking, rating, and doing things to federally mandated public schools.
Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, also expressed skepticism about the issue. 
"We are so far apart, I don't know how we'd get there," he said. "I'm pessimistic at this point."
Which is mighty interesting, because the provisions in the state budget will pass through his committee and vote before the end of May.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fond du Lac Area School Leaders Meet With Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt On School Accountability

Yesterday, Fond du Lac Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Sebert was on the radio program "Between the Lines w/ Greg Stensland" in Fond du Lac. 

You can listen to the interview HERE, but I would fast-forward to just after six minutes when the conversation shifts to a meeting that happened this past Friday between Sebert and Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt.

After a quick review of the proposed legislation already on the table, and mentioning that in addition to Sebert, the Superintendents of North Fond du Lac, Campbellsport, and Lomira were also in attendance, the meeting is dissected by Sebert.

Sebert says that Thiesfeldt was "very open to our suggestions" and is committed to trying to find some "second level" of "support" for schools that would be impacted by the accountability bill. Sebert mentions that Thiesfeldt is "open" to a federal turnaround model that has been proposed by Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan. I'm not sure what exactly that is, but that's got to be mind-blowing and explosion setting in Rep. Thiesfeldt's mind, as he's someone who's repeatedly said he doesn't think the federal government should have any oversight power in education.

Sebert then casually goes on to say, "... he's open to turning it into a charter and turning it into an instrumentality charter like our STEM schools that are part of the district."

If that's true, that's news. Big news, because that's a shift from what overtures Thiesfeldt has made in the past about instrumentality charters not really being able to innovate because they are still under the auspices of a local school district. (Never mind there is nothing in terms of evidence backing up this line of thought.) 

I'm not saying I like the idea of chartering schools, because it still means that students aren't brought back and kids are kicked out. But, the fact that the school would still be a part of the district, and would still be able to operate with their own employees, is important. 

Sebert then closes his thought with the quote, "I think some of that sanction part has softened."

Remember when this bill was supposed to be passed by the end of January? Lolz...

Sebert then was asked about his specific concerns, and went right at the letter grades vs terminology (Meets Expectations, Meets Few Expectations, etc) language for use on report cards. He said that the superintendents in attendance all agreed the current use of terminology is better than letter grades. He even cited that it was better for economic development, which I guess is true, but I think is a slight stretch. Either way, if that's what it will take to get rid of letter grades, I'm okay with it.

"Why do we want to do things that make it look like we're struggling?" was probably one of the more powerful quotes I've heard against letter grades. And this is coming from a school-district leader I've often vehemently disagreed with and in no uncertain way should be considered a liberal. He then noted that Fond du Lac would be considered a "C" school district under Thiesfeldt's measures.

Here's the sticky rub with grading, and something that I butt up against EVERY DAMN DAY when assessing my students. Should I grade them against high school standards? Their own potential? Their peers? If I grade them against students who are at the college-prep schools in MPS, I would likely have over 95% of my students failing. But are they? Should I measure them on their growth?

Here's the funny thing about grades, you can grade against a standard, or you can grade what you "feel" is right based on what's demonstrated, or you can grade based on gut. All can be truthful. If "C" is average, then Fond du Lac likely is accurately assessed. It's an average district with lots of good, some 'meh' situations, and some low points to improve on. Sure, they do a good job, but isn't a good job what you should expect? You know, average?

What even is average anyway? Mean? Median? Mode? How's Standard Deviation fit in?

Huh, welcome to why I had to do college level work on assessing students to receive a teaching license... I've had to do research on these types of issues. (Ever wonder why we teachers can't stand those who somehow only think it's content knowledge that matters?)

On letter grades, the conversation was brought back around to this:
Stensland: "Do you think he is changing his mind on it?"  
Sebert: "I think so, I think he is having more thoughts about whether or not that's a, that's a deal-breaker." 
Again, that would be the first I have heard of this being the case.

Another point of discussion between the superintendents and Thiesfeldt was debating even the need for sanctions, or whether just providing support for schools was appropriate. Sebert notes there was some "really great discussion" about the rationale behind the accountability bill. When Stensland asked what Thiesfeldt's answer was, Sebert danced around a little, and admitted that they never really got a good answer.

The cynic in me believes that's because there really isn't a good one, other than ALEC wanted it.

Hey, I'm not saying I agree with everything Sebert is saying, I'm just relaying what I'm taking it as.

Sebert then noted that North Fond du Lac Superintendent, and noted opponent to the accountability bill, Aaron Sadoff would press Thiesfeldt about how the funding of private school vouchers played into the perceived need for this bill. (Oh Mr. Sadoff, how I adore you.) Sebert noted that none of the public school superintendents shied away from school report cards and reaffirmed their desire to see this negotiated outside the budget.

As for "take-aways" from the meeting, Sebert took away that Thiesfeldt was open to ideas. He noted that Thiesfeldt opened up to them somewhat about how the legislative process works (in reality, not just textbook) and to that, I just smile. Rep. Thiesfeldt has burned a lot of bridges with us in the cheddarsphere, and while I know the legislators are always working, swinging deals, etc, I can say that Theisfeldt isn't going to get handled with kid-gloves by those of us in education. That pony has long since sailed. (Yes, I said that.)

If he is open to true change, I'm going to look for it in the next version of this bill.

I find it peculiar that AB 1 isn't fully dead, but I'm baffled that meetings like this are happening in April, and not August. I'm also miffed as to why someone from the Senate, like say Sen. Luther Olsen, wasn't there as well, so the early stages of compromise bills could be formed. Sure, individual meetings are fine, but this getting out of the budget and put back into the trust of the legislature means that gaps are going to have to be bridged with more than just educators, but also the State Senate.

Either way, the saga continues..

Some Days Others Say It Better - Kelly Wilz

I do not know Kelly Wilz, but boy do I wish I did. She is an Associate Professor at UW Wood County, one of the UW Colleges. I was acquainted with her on Facebook through some of my former professors and found myself going to her page time and time again.

Today, she shared the following to her followers. At the time of this publication, it had been shared no fewer than 49 times. I leave it here for you unedited:
Dear Wisconsin: 
Here are some things I think you should know.Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, even if the $300 million cut to public education is reduced to $150 million, or $2 million, or zero, cuts have already been made and the damage that has been done is simply irreversible. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, people have already lost their jobs. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, some of our most talented educators have retired or found new jobs. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, searches to replace those who have left have been frozen, or will no longer be replaced. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, most students are registering for courses that may not even be offered in the fall. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, entire departments have been eliminated and those who worked in those departments are now unemployed. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, my students are already talking about transferring to other states to finish their degrees. One of my brightest students told me today that she's ready to pack it all up and go to Minnesota. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, and yearly divestment in education, each year, UW-Eau Claire has to turn away 50-80% of qualified nursing applicants because they don’t have enough faculty to teach the courses. Just this week, someone who applied to work as a faculty member in that program withdrew her application because of what's happening in this state. 
Because of Governor Walker's budget proposal, most people truly believe we are in crisis mode and have a hard time remembering that we face a $2.2 billion budget hole for 2015-17 because Governor Walker and his fellow Republicans helped pass $2 billion in tax cuts since 2011.

Because of this memory lapse/inability to see reality, the majority of the citizens in this state accept the fact that cuts need to be made.Because of this memory lapse/inability to see reality, the majority of the citizens in this state refuse to see that we actually don't need to cut anything. No, really. Stay with me. 
We are choosing to refuse federal funds. If we were to accept the Badgercare Expansion, we'd not only cover $80,000 more people, but much of this "crisis" would go away.
"But what happens when the federal government stops paying for the program," you ask? 
Fun fact: any state can request a waiver that after we no longer receive 100% of the funding from the federal government, we can go back to the current situation and not be on the hook for keeping the program going. (Same argument Walker made for high speed rail, same one they’re making now.) 
Did you catch that? If we request a waiver, we get all that funding, and have 3 years to figure out how the state will fund it, and, worst case scenario, go back to where we are now. But either way, we still get federal money and won’t have to find a way to fund it. Iowa figured it out and other states have, too. This is not rocket science.
The recent report from the Wisconsin Budget Project outlines numerous ways we could be making better decisions.
But in the end, friends, people are suffering now. As a state employee, I am told that I cannot use state resources or class time to tell my students what's going on in their state unless they ask a direct question. And even if I only offer base level factual information as to what is in the current budget, I will still, to most, be seen as an evil liberal professor hellbent on indoctrinating my students and turning them into socialists. 
So, not only are we being cut, are these cuts affecting students, staff, faculty, and *will* affect every citizen in this state, there are currently students on my campus who have no idea this is even happening because we are silenced by policies or fear of losing our jobs.
So if you ask me why I come home every night exhausted, why my relationship with my amazing partner has suffered, why I take anti-anxiety medication just to function at work and do my job, and why the ONLY place I find solace is in the classroom where I get to do the job I love, that's why.
I'm tired. We all are just tired. And while I'll still engage with my legislators and write them letters every day, I know that this time around, the battle is lost. Decisions have been made. People's lives have literally been upended.
I just hope we remember history. This will happen again. In one year. In two years. I hope we remember what it feels like right now to be completely powerless over the decisions that will fundamentally change what public education in Wisconsin looks like and we start being proactive. Why we keep deluding ourselves into thinking it'll get better or that it can't get any worse is beyond me. 
Cutting public education has proven to be politically easy as we've seen throughout the past few decades. Let's start finding solutions to stop the decline in state funding for public education. Let's start electing officials who give a shit about education and about their constituents more than their shot at becoming the leader of the free world. Checking out simply isn't an option anymore. Let's take all of the anger, frustration, demoralization and focus that into reframing the debate and no longer accepting tax cuts as a "given" or something we need "relief" from. 
Let's mobilize our energy and invest in people and policies that will restore Wisconsin to where it was when I was a kid. A place I was proud of. A place that rivaled most in the nation in terms of policies and policy makers who set standards for how government should work. I will forever be an optimist and know that all of this requires a lot of hard work. But I've seen the brilliance of strangers I never knew until a few months ago able to persuade thousands of people to see the human face of these cuts. And I see the leadership in my students who are aware of what's at stake fighting vigorously not only for themselves but for all who will come after them. And that gives me hope. I don't have the answers, but I'm listening, and I'm willing to work with anyone and everyone to stem the tide of the fall of my great state.

UW Colleges Chancellor - What The Budget Means For Them

Last week, the UW Board of Regents was at UW-Waukesha to hold a two-day meeting, at which one of their primary functions was to formally swear in Cathy Sandeen as Chancellor of the UW Colleges and UW Extension. You can read the formal press-release HERE.

You can view her video that explains the UW Colleges HERE:

I'm a proud alumni of UW-Fond du Lac and an an adamant defender of the UW two year schools. While I'm not one to try and pit UW school against UW school, the very real threat to the UW Colleges in this budget is real. Just hearing about budgeting reports coming from former professors, and the timbre of their voice is enough to cause concern, to say nothing of the mathematical facts.

Those comments were echoed today in THIS report from the Wisconsin Radio Network:
Wisconsin’s system of two-year UW College campuses, along with UW Extension, will struggle if Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts are implemented. Cathy Sandeen, who was officially inaugurated last week as Colleges and Extension chancellor, said the 13 freshman-sophomore campuses located around the state offer an important educational gateway. 
“The majority of our students are first generation college students, first in their family to go to college. A good number of them come from low-income families,” said Sandeen. 
While not the first person in my family to attend college, it sure seemed like it at times because my mom was the one who did not attend college.
Sandeen said the UW Colleges share of the governor’s proposed $300 million cut to the UW System will amount to some 20 percent of the budget for the two-year campuses. “These are huge cuts that come on the back of other cuts over many, many years, and these in particular are very large and very sudden,” she said. 
20% of the budget to operate 13 schools. That, is a VERY tall order, especially for a set of schools that are not designed to be research institutions, who's professors teach classes without the help of TA's, and who have a limited, if any, sort of support staff.
Sandeen said there’s already little fat to be trimmed on the two-year campuses. “Our faculty teach a very high workload, four courses each semester, plus advising, plus the other activities that they do,” she said. “We are already very frugal.” 
I cannot stress enough how frugal they are. Four courses may not seem like much, but when you realize it's between 150 and 200 students they are responsible for, you begin to put the workload in perspective. This isn't middle-school worksheet correction time. This is mutli-page, book report, essay style writing they are correcting. Oh, to say nothing of being an advisor to students, and advising committees and groups for both faculty and students on campus.
Full implementation of the cuts will be felt in various ways, including fewer classes, less class selection, increases in class size, less personal attention for students who need it, and difficulty in hiring instructional staff due to increased workloads, according to Sandeen. 
You know, the exact reasons why students pick the UW Colleges, and why even though the tough budgeting cycles of the 1970's and early 80's, the Colleges continued to offer a high return on investment to students who moved on to a four year program.
At least some member’s of the governor’s own party appear to share Sandeen’s concerns. The two-year schools would be “hurt immensely from those budget cuts,” said state Representative John Spiros (R-Marsfield), who is proposing a motion that would exempt the colleges from the cuts.
And I cannot tell you how badly they are needed.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Assessing Where We Are With The 2015-17 Biennium Budget

WKOW-Tv's Greg Neumann sent out this Tweet this afternoon:
I don't know about all of you, but that seems MIGHTY quick, especially because I haven't heard a single session date yet where agencies have had their Executive Session and the budget marked-up, amendments offered, etc.

Which, that forced me to take a peek at the Legislative Schedule of Committee Activities. Lo and behold, we have our first date coming up next week for the budget in the Joint Finance Committee. Starting on April 15th (tax day none the less) you will see:
The Joint Committee on Finance will meet in Executive Session on the 2015-17 biennial budget on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, at 10:00 a.m. The meeting will be held in Room 412 East, State Capitol. The Executive Session will be held on the budgets of the following agencies: 
Secretary of State Public Service Commission State Treasurer Department of Revenue – Lottery Administration Department of Administration – Division of Gaming Supreme Court Circuit Courts Court of Appeals Judicial Council Judicial Commission Employment Relations Commission
But still, according to Rep. Kapenga, he thinks it will pass the Senate by Memorial Day?

That forced me to take a look at the Senate Calendar of when floor periods would fall during the session:
April 14 to 23, 2015 Floorperiod 
May 5 to 14, 2015 Floorperiod 
June 9 to 30, 2015, OR budget passage Floorperiod 
August 6, 2015 Nonbudget Bills sent to Governor 
August 6, 2015 (or later) Budget Bill sent to Governor
Yes... almost the entire month of June is blocked off because that period historically has been for the budget. It even notes it in the calendar! Plus, if the Senate wants to have the budget passed, that means they have just under a month to get it through the Joint Finance Committee, which is almost a monumental task considering the Governor is AWOL from Wisconsin so frequently now.

I know the Neo-Stalwart conservatives who run the legislature have had this fixation with a quick budget passage since last fall, but sorry folks, when you botched AB 1/SB 1 and left the Governor twisting in the wind so he couldn't make his formal budget address any earlier than it normally occurs, you lost your chance at a quicker budget passage.

If the budget somehow DOES manage to the out of JFC before Memorial Day, look for some of the shadiest shenanigans you have ever seen in JFC, and the utter disregard for "late night sessions" where debate goes until all hours of the night/morning.

Usually that's only reserved for the education side of the budget, because, you know, that stuff isn't really important. 

Young Friday

This just feels right today.

This week has been relaxing, yet also busy with other things such as grad school applications, finishing renewing my teaching license by submitting a rather complex portfolio, scoping out the elections Tuesday and planning for 2016.

But also, there's something missing for me right now. We all wage our own battles in this life, and the adage of being kind to others because we are all in our own struggle is very real. I saw Neil with my dad when he was at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee a few years ago, and it was an incredible setting.

Like I said, this just feels right today:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

UW Colleges Two-Year Schools Spared? PLEASE SAY YES!

Another slight glimmer of hope this week.

Sounds like legislators are starting to understand the unique relationship between the UW Colleges and the state budget. From the Wisconsin Radio Network:

A proposed $300 million state funding cut to the University of Wisconsin System budget would be too hard on the system’s two year campuses, like Marshfield and Wausau. That’s according to State Representative John Spiros (R-Marsfield), who is working with other lawmakers including, Representative Dave Heaton (R-Wausau) to try saving the two year campuses from the budget cuts. 
It's like... Republicans are reading my blog! Or listening to the small megaphone that the UW Colleges professors are trying have their voices heard through.

The numbers may not be as large as UW Madison or UW Milwaukee, but make no mistake, an almost $400,000 cut to each of the two-year schools would be devastaing. These schools are serving over 1/3 of their students as "first generation college students" and are very, very often the entry-point for adults who are returning to school. They are the embodiment of the "Wisconsin Idea."
“In our two year schools, I know that we have one in the campus here at Marshfield, there’s campuses throughout that would be hurt immensely from those budget cuts,” Spiros said. The motion would exempt these smaller campuses from the cuts. 
Mind you, these are Republicans talking!
Spiros said he’s willing to look at the UW budget cut plan offered by Governor Scott Walker, but that the larger four year campuses like Madison are more able to adapt to the losses than the smaller two year campuses. “The UW being an institution, you know, in Madison, as big as it is, I think we’re going to look at the budget cuts, but no matter what they do, I want them to understand that these two year colleges are funded a little bit differently. They’re not going to be able to withstand things as much as a large college like them.” 
No kidding!!!

You mean, like how the counties are also partners with the UW Colleges, and funding for them also comes from local sources?! I'm about to start a masters degree at UWM, believe me, I'm looking at taking it up the yoohoo with respect to tuition increases. However, I'm adamant in believing that my start at UW Fond du Lac, and ability to build lifelong connections with professors there is a reason why I was able to be successful at UW Oshkosh, graduate with an overall GPA of 3.5, and be able to afford the experience of a lifetime in visiting Berlin and Auschwitz.
Spiros said the UW budget cuts proposed by the Governor will likely not pass in their present form. Several Republicans want smaller cuts, and most Democrats want no cuts at all to the University of Wisconsin budget. Spiros recently held listening sessions in his district regarding the budget on March 23rd in Marshfield and April 6th in Rib Mountain. He said over 200 citizens came out to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the state budget.
While seeing no cuts to the UW System is almost impossible, seeing a reduced cut to the UW Colleges is very, very necessary.

I'm still in the middle of reading the excellent "The University of Wisconsin Colleges 1919-1997" book, which is the definitive history of the two year schools. I'm presently in the 1970's, when then consolidation between the UW and WSU, along with budgets that were strained by stagflation plagued the UW Colleges. It's amazing how an ardent Democrat like Pat Lucey had to make tough budgeting decisions with the UW System, and how so much of what we are debating now was at issue then.

I mean, why should we have history classes? Should the two year schools just be folded into the technical college (at the time still called vocational schools) system? I mean, wow, it's almost like we have had these debates before.

And people wonder why, as much of a rancorous old man he was, Sen. Mike Ellis didn't like having some of these discussions come up.

Please, please... I'm a partisan to no end on this blog, but I URGE bipartisan work at lessening the cuts to the UW Colleges two year schools.

Tuesday Was A Good Day For Bench Building - Now Lets Actually Build

Tuesday gave a glimmer of hope to usually distraught Democrats and Progressives in Wisconsin.

Case in point, Linda Uselmann winning a seat on the Fond du Lac School Board and knocking off a conservatives conservative in Eric Everson.

In Fond du Lac. A conservative lost in a spring election.... In Fond du Lac.

That's right, by exactly 100 votes, incumbent Eric Everson lost.

How sweet is this? Well, Everson won a fairly bitter election in 2012 against former Attorney General, lifelong Fond du Lac Resident, and daughter of popular teacher Peg Lautenschlauger. Both Everson and longtime (but relatively quiet non-boat rocking Susan Jones) were on the ballot again that year and the results were that both incumbents got to keep their seats.

Not now though.

Linda Uselmann first ran for school board last spring with a relatively weak organization and campaign that sought to build name recognition. She lost, but set her sights on this year and the prospect of picking off a member of the board who prided himself on appearing in a video with Gov. Scott Walker and praising 2011 Act 10.

Just check out THIS page from Gov. Walker's reelection website:

Uselmann worked doors, built a coalition of people who could oversee her campaign, and continued gaining name recognition. (Take note others who are seeking to make in-roads in areas that are turning red-to-blue, taking more than one shot at a seat ISN'T A BAD THING!)

Throw in a kerfluffle in town about how the school district and youth baseball came to an ugly impasse and was seen as partially Everson's fault, and you have conditions ready for change:
Fond du Lac School Board (Vote for 2): 32 of 32
Eric Everson (I) 3292
Susan Jones (I) 3377
Linda Uselmann 3392
Take note of this race, and take note of how to build a bench Democrats.
Also, you REALLY, REALLY should listen to her interview today with Greg Stensland on WFDL's "Between the Lines" HERE. 

In Stevens Point, Rep. Katrina Shankland noted that the Stevens Point city Government will look considerably different after these elections. From the Stevens Point Journal: 
More interesting, perhaps, is the slate of progressive-minded candidates who will join the City Council. In every contested race on the council, the incumbent was ousted. That means Mary Kneebone, Mary McComb, Garrett Ryan and Bryan Van Stippen will join the council — all of whom have brought new perspectives and new areas of focus to their races. Their victories may mean concrete changes to the way the city approaches bike and pedestrian issues, sustainability practices and other matters of policy. We thank all of the incumbents for their service to the city, but we're also excited about what the new class will bring.
Stevens Point has always had a left-bent, but the complete reshaping of local government went all the way down to the school board. In short, people were looking for changes in Stevens Point.

In the northeast suburb of Madison that used to only be known to me for the smallest hockey rink in existence and a water tower, Sun Prairie has exploded in recent years and Tuesday, progressives blew up the ballots. From the Sun Prairie Star:
Rainy, cold weather didn't dampen the enthusiasm of progressive candidates as they swept Sun Prairie aldermanic and mayoral races on Tuesday, April 7.
Later, the article breaks down the numbers:
A quick look at the numbers for the mayoral race show that challenger and current Dane County Supervisor Bill Clausius did not win a single district, coming within 33 votes of winning in District 4, where Esser tallied 569 votes to Clausius' 536. 
Esser did the best in District 2, where he tallied 722 votes to Clausius' 493. 
Citywide, voter turnout was 26 percent, but was highest in District 1 (28 percent) and lowest in District 3 (24 percent), according to figures prepared by the city. Roughly 105 new voters registered at the polls on Election Day, according to Sun Prairie City Clerk Diane Hermann-Brown.
Then in my neck of the woods, a race I care deeply about, and was lucky enough to vote in, was that of Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors District 2. That race pitted community activist Wendall Harris and longtime Director, Milwaukee-esque conservative, friend of charter schools, and disgusted with teachers having input in anything, Jeff Spence. We won that too! From the Journal-Sentinel:
Eight years ago, Harris lost to Spence in a race for the same school board seat. Spence beat Harris 53% to 47%.

"Harris' triumph this year was in large part because of support from public unions, particularly the Milwaukee teachers union."
I didn't get out and do doors this election due to a lot, lot of work at school. But plenty of my fellow union members did, and I cannot even begin to describe how powerful this is for Milwaukee. The school board at this very moment is incredibly strong and seeking positive change in a collaborative fashion. Harris' election only continues that trend, and instead of having bitter divisiveness towards employees, seeks to find collaboration and common ground as primary tenants in advancing education forward for students.

It truly was a good night for many progressives in Wisconsin Tuesday.

But, but, I thought April elections were supposed to be conservative and Republican victories?

Okay, let's be frank, these numbers are only a small percentage of the races that actually existed on Tuesday. But, they represent a notable building moment for Democrats in 2018, 2020, and beyond. Democrats aren't going to make massive gains in the State Assembly in 2016, but they do hope to pick up some seats from the historic low we are at now. What  they are focusing on is continuing to build their bench with candidates for 2018, 2020, and making an avid push towards the future.

We can't fixate too much on the "here and now" when discussing political strategy. Policy yes, politics, no.

This is what bench-building looks like. All too often across Wisconsin recently we Democrats have rested on the (very real) notion that we "don't have a bench of candidates." Well, that needs to stop being the case. We CAN win in April, and we MUST win in April if we want to have future candidates for higher office.

Plus, now that we have people in office, we need them to actually DO things! People get elected to office because they say they will "fix the potholes" but they are kept in office when the pothole actually gets fixed and the local newspaper/radio station/blogger picks up the story about all the potholes getting filled in. It's not enough to just get elected, now we need people who will take votes, make connections with the community on a deeper level, and maintain that relationship.

If you were recently elected we need you to once every two or three months, write an op-ed for the local newspaper about an issue in the community. Generate conversation. Keep your name out there!I saw this happen with both Jeremy Thiesfeld and then Rick Gudex, they wrote for the FDL Reporter and people knew their name. They were go-to interviews on local issues and people who generated buzz.

We got elected, now we need to fix the potholes, and point out the bill of goods we've been sold locally from Madison with local budgets. That is how we build for 2018 and 2020.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The New Milwaukee Arena - Let's Get This Done!

The plans for a new Milwaukee arena were unveiled this morning, and all I can say is wow. Just wow, what a tremendous opportunity for the city of Milwaukee.

Read about it from the Bucks site HERE. The stories online are so numerous it's hard to keep track, but HERE is the Journal-Sentinel article. 

We need to get this done, and we need to get this done now. The possibility of $1 Billion in investment in downtown Milwaukee is incredible.

I would love an all private-financed arena as well, but that's just not the reality of the situation. The hyper-liberal in me knows that this is taking taxpayer dollars and putting it into the hands of millionaires who are going to keep making money, but reality is reality, we won't have a team to enjoy if they don't have a venue to play in, and venues don't make money. Things that aren't designed to make money are part of the public trust. I would love to see some "public" provisions in the allocation of tax dollars, but that's just being greedy on my part.

To those who say "let them go" or "why are we funding this as taxpayers" it is very, very worth keeping this in mind - Herb Kohl picked these guys for a reason. Herb could've sold the team for more, and easily could've sold to people who'd be Seattle or (pick your city) bound. He didn't. Herb's the Godfather in this whole saga. He's been a guiding light in this whole proposal to redevelop a part of downtown that is in need of it and work at making Milwaukee a destination city. These guys are in finance and land sales for Pete's sake! They know what they're doing...

To those who talk about poverty and this helping it, it likely won't. Sadly, economic development and eliminating poverty-issues we have, particularly on the north side, don't go hand-in-glove. However, without this development we just have more land (and money) off the tax rolls, an no vision of what Milwaukee could be. I work for MPS as a teacher on the north-side, believe me, the need to develop economic opportunities for my students, in their communities weighs heavily on my mind. (Considering the owners of Northridge Mall were dicks to Bill Penzey, can we get some financing for him to develop a new plant in the 35th St. corridor? PLEASE?!)

Develop a new arena and comprehensive neighborhood plan with hotels, and see the possibility of the convention center becoming more utilized than it already is. (Hotel rooms are a very real issue.) That can help lead to an expansion there (which is needed to attract conventions of significance) and the ability to house things of a larger scale, and suddenly you have a city that becomes more than just another city north of Chicago. You have a city where the prospect of bypassing the expensive and crowded Chicago market looks amazing. Throwing money at issues isn't the answer, but directing good money at a master plan is smart.

You can't negate the fact these things take money.

The Brewers weren't a great team in the mid-90's, but don't tell me that the bump in attendance they got in the early 2000's didn't help their payrolls, and ability to field a team in the mid 2000's to today that has been a huge draw. Those are real dollars people spend when taking shuttles and buying things at Miller Park. It's been fifteen years that Miller Park has been open, and can any of you honestly say that you imagine still playing in County Stadium? Sure, the lore of pole-views and Uecker seats is strong, but really, have you looked at the weather today? Miller Park is just what the Brewers needed and has built a legion of young baseball supporters in Wisconsin.

I'm not a basketball fan, but I am a hockey guy. The Bradley Center is uncomfortable, cramped, and was built in the wrong era. (And supposedly was built for hockey!) It is time to develop a new arena where the NCAA Frozen Four can be played, where concerts can be held, where the Admirals and Marquette can feel at home, and where the Bucks can thrive. I wrote about my feelings on this HERE a few years ago when I went to the BC for the first time in years.

This project won't solve all of Milwaukee's problems, but it will, it most certainly will help pull this city ahead. We have so much development downtown right now that we are seen as a destination city by young professionals. To keep that, we need to move into the future.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Good! Get Ald. Bob Donovan Out...

Current south-side of Milwaukee Democratic Assembly Person Josh Zepnick has announced that he is seeking Milwaukee Co. Alderman Bob Donovan's seat in 2016.

Praise the Lord, whatever lord that is. 

Bob Donovan's the exact type of legislator who's a problem and stifling Milwaukee. Sure, he's done things to promote some development, but his oddball-ish, old coot mentality screams corruption of some form and makes me wonder how or why anyone in business takes him seriously. More on that later. 
South side legislator Josh Zepnick is expected to announce on Tuesday — one year in advance of the 2016 election — that he is seeking the Common Council seat held by Bob Donovan. 
Donovan, who is serving his fourth term, announced in July that he will challenge Mayor Tom Barrett in the 2016 election. Donovan confirmed on Monday that he is at the same time seeking re-election to the 8th Aldermanic District. 
Because he knows running against Tom Barrett is a farce race in and of itself, so he wants to hold on to what he has.
Zepnick said he considered it bizarre of Donovan to run for two offices in the same election. Zepnick said he would seek re-election to the Assembly in fall 2016 only if he loses the city race in the spring. 
"The reason I'm running for mayor is I want to improve Milwaukee," Donovan said.
"The best way to do that is to get elected mayor," he said. "If that is not possible, I at least want to keep up the fight as alderman."
And by fight, he means staging random, odd press-conferences and statements that show an unenlightened twinge. Like HERE, or HERE,  or HERE, or HERE, or HERE, etc...

Seriously, watch this press-conference from 2012 about the streetcar:

Ald. Joe Davis has also announced he is running for mayor. 
Zepnick was elected to the state Assembly in 2002 and has been re-elected ever since. He ran unopposed in 2014. 
About 75% of Donovan's aldermanic district is in Zepnick's Assembly district. 
"My focus as alderman will be squarely on the 8th District citizens and taxpayers concerns," Zepnick said. 
Zepnick is the second candidate to announce his bid to represent the 8th District. Political newcomer Justin Bielinski announced his candidacy in February.
Justin Bielinski was actually recently interviewed by Zach at Blogging Blue, and that interview was just posted this morning HERE.

From that interview:
Bielinski, who moved into the district in 2007 and fell in love with the area, chose to stay in the 8th District when he got married and he and his wife bought their first home together. Asked how he came to the decision to run against Ald. Donovan, Bielinski said his decision to run came about because as he lived in the district and started paying attention to Ald. Donovan, he found himself first confused and then angry about the manner in which Ald. Donovan conducted himself and chose to do his job. Bielinski cited Ald. Donovan’s scuffle with an apparently drunken man who had urinated in front of a grocery store in Donovan’s district as just one example of Ald. Donovan’s irresponsible behavior. Bielinski also noted when he attempted to contact Ald. Donovan’s office as a constituent, he was dismissed by a staffer in Ald. Donovan’s office, leaving him to wonder how many other constituents of Ald. Donovan’s had been dismissed by his staff.
Ald. Donovan is a prime example of how people from outside Milwaukee draw the worst possible conclusions about Milwaukee politics.

Just yesterday when driving back to my west-side apartment from UWM, I was amazed at the palpable transformation, spirit of growth, and renew that was seen across the city. From wood chips being placed at community gardens, to the latest round of construction starting at Water & Humbolt. Then, the North End, The Brewery, and overall continued development of condos and apartments (sadly, out of my single teacher income price range) that show people are choosing to move to Milwaukee and live near downtown.

With the new developments along the lakefront, the streetcar, the Northwestern Mutual tower, continued development in the Menominee Valley, Walkers Point, and across town, there is a real sense of the greatness that could very well lie ahead for Milwaukee. We have problems, we have the need for more renewal and improvements on our north side, we have a need to not just retain and attract white suburban 20-somethings, but build our class of strong middle-class black and Latino families. But we are on the edge of great things.

What can hold us back though, are tired old politicians who perpetuate delay, add nothing of substance to the conversation, and come across as more out of touch, than bleeding-cutting-edge.

Josh Zepnick is no spring-chicken. Justin Bielenski may not have the name recognition or organization of elected officials. But both are upgrades for the community I now call home.

Monday, April 6, 2015

UW Oshkosh Condensing Sports - Walker's Budget Affecting Colleges

I'm an ardent supporter of the UW Colleges due to my tenure and graduation from UW Fond du Lac. However, the university that conferred me a bachelors degree, UW Oshkosh today just announced that it is reducing it's sports offerings for the coming school year.

That is a direct result of the upcoming biennium budget, and if you've ever set foot in the Kolf Sports Center on campus, you'll see banners of multiple WIAC tournament appearances from some of these sports

The entire announcement is quite long and provides a detailed explanation of how Title IX plays into the decisions. You SHOULD read the whole entry HERE, however the first two sections sum up the basic cuts:

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh announced today that it will reduce the number of its intercollegiate athletic programs by two, effective after the 2015-16 academic year. The action will mean a more financially sustainable experience for its remaining student-athletes, and realigns UW-Oshkosh with the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and with Title IX guidelines regarding gender balance in sports. 
Affected by the action are the men’s soccer and men’s tennis teams; both men's and women’s track & field and men's and women’s cross country will also be combined under a restructured coaching staff. The action brings UW-Oshkosh’s total from 21 to 19 varsity sports and will result in the loss of two coaching positions.
At the end of the release it continues:
An open forum is scheduled for the campus community and the general public on Wednesday, April 8 at 12 p.m. in Reeve Union room 307.
We can have a great discussion about the need for sports programs at universities and what educational benefit they have. However, with the Badgers in the NCAA Men's Basketball National Title Game, I think we need to remember that the Division III schools are important and the athletes that compete there are the utter definition of student-athletes. Depriving such a large university of such sports programs is incredibly sad and a painfully clear example of how Wisconsin does not wish to support students HOLISTIC development.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

What's A Riot Anyway

Teaching inner-city, almost exclusively black, high school students in Milwaukee has really, really opened my eyes in so many ways.

I don't watch an episode of COPS the same way I would've when I was living in Fond du Lac. I'm not saying the cops are wrong in the show and the people they chase down are right, but it certainly has changed my perspective of tactics, perception, and clouded what "reality" really is.

I also have completely changed my views on how the media frames stories. Sure, that change started in 2011 when many of the journalistic institutions that I held in such esteem did an abysmal job of reporting the palpable energy and desires of those in Madison, but it's only grown in my move to Milwaukee.

That perception shift can be summed up with Twitter comments like this:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Stones Friday

Be it resolved, that my family will be acquiring Rolling Stones tickets for Milwaukee this June.

Some things in life you won't have the opportunity to ever do again, and this is one of them. Much obliged to my parents for saying, yes, we will go to this concert.

Call us crazy for paying the money. I don't care. I never had the chance to see them in 2005, or 98, or 97, and was clearly not alive in the 60's, 70's or even early 80's, so deal.