Wisconsin’s 2015 Teacher of the Year and Whitewater citizens group battle school referendum restrictions

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Diana Callope

A Whitewater citizens group and a prominent Whitewater educator – the state’s 2015 Teacher of the Year – are publicly urging the Legislature this week to oppose a bill that would severely limit school districts’ ability to raise needed funds through local referendums.

On Thursday, Whitewater YES for Education representatives will present a petition, signed by more than 1,200 people, to the Assembly Committee on Education, saying Senate Bill 355 and Assembly Bill 481 would “make it potentially very difficult for school districts to maintain programming and educational opportunities. Public education is the cornerstone of our communities. Please don’t take away the rights of our school districts to go to referendum.”

On Tuesday, Wisconsin’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Diana Callope, a math teacher at Whitewater Middle School, submitted a letter to the Assembly Committee on Education saying the bills would “take away the rights of citizens in a community to vote on whether or not to support their local public schools.”

“The impact of waiting one or two years after a failed referendum before restructuring and asking a community again to support its schools through referendum will be irreversible,” Callope wrote. “It is time to stop stripping the rights Wisconsin’s citizens. Allow the local voters to determine how to best support schools in their communities. Support bills that reflect continued commitment to public education in Wisconsin and help put Wisconsin public schools back on top.”

The Assembly Committee on Education will hold a public hearing on the bill at 9:30 a.m. Thursday (December 17) in Room 417 North of the State Capitol.

Ron Binning, a member of the leadership team of Whitewater YES for Education, said, “We are concerned about these bills which curb local control and restrict a school district’s ability to go to referendum. We are encouraging all citizens of Whitewater and the entire State of Wisconsin to sign this petition. This petition has also reached other folks from across Wisconsin who are very concerned and want to make sure that their communities have local control over referenda.”

The Whitewater Unified School District held a referendum in 2014 that passed by 65 percent, allowing the Whitewater Unified School District to continue to provide vital educational programs to all students in the community.

“Without this referendum, our schools would be hurting. If this passes, our children, and children from around the state of Wisconsin, could be at an educational disadvantage competing for entry into universities, two-year colleges and the job market. The state’s recent drastic decisions to cut funding to public schools, coupled with these restrictions in referenda, could cripple our district and many others in Wisconsin. We hope that legislators do the right thing and keep local control where it should be kept – in our local communities,” said Binning.

Read Diana Callope’s entire letter to the Assembly Committee on Education:

As a parent of two former Whitewater Unified School District students, a 24-year veteran of the Whitewater Unified School District, a member of the Whitewater community and the 2015 WI Teacher of the Year, I urge you to vote against the proposal for Assembly Bill 481.

In 2011, the rights of Wisconsin’s public school teachers were stripped under the guise of “providing school districts with the tools they need,” (quoting Governor Scott Walker) to manage their budgets. Since that time, our state legislature has repeatedly raided the toolbox. Deep cuts to public education continue to impact the number of highly qualified teachers in public schools as teachers leave the profession in search of better pay and as fewer college students declare education as a major. Vouchers utilize more and more of our tax dollars to send students to private schools having little to no accountability compared to the demands made on public schools for performance outcomes. Public schools are expected to continually do more with less as our public funds go private.

Now before you is a proposal that would take away the rights of citizens in a community to vote on whether or not to support their local public schools. The impact of waiting one or two years after a failed referendum before restructuring and asking a community again to support its schools through referendum will be irreversible. Once programming and staff are cut from a district’s budget, they are gone, but the students remain. Students who deserve the same support for their public education that others received prior to 2011.

Enough is enough. It is time to stop stripping the rights Wisconsin’s citizens. Allow the local voters to determine how to best support schools in their communities. Support bills that reflect continued commitment to public education in Wisconsin and help put Wisconsin public schools back on top. I urge you to do your part – vote no on the proposed Assembly Bill 481.