Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 18:02
PW-S summer program draws a crowd of students interested in creative classes
It’s back to school Monday for the more than 1,150 elementary and middle school students enrolled in the Port Washington-Saukville Summer School program.
“Enrollment is higher than normal with registrations still coming in,” said Thomas Jefferson Middle School Principal Arlan Galarowicz, who oversees the summer program.
But it’s not business as usual at the school during the six-week summer session that runs mornings from June 25 through July 27. Even traditional classes like reading and math are a little more laid back, and many of the offerings are designed to make learning fun.
For instance, courses such as engineering and design, digital photography, fishing and gardening fill up quickly. The Kitchen Capers cooking class, nature science and swimming, just to name a few, are also popular offerings.
“The smiles on the faces of children engaged in learning during the summer are just incredible,” Galarowicz said. “I wish I could bottle those smiles and use some during the regular school year.”
With about two-thirds of the Port Washington-Saukville School District’s elementary and middle school students enrolled in summer classes, going to school in June and July has become the thing to do, but that’s not the case in other districts, Galarowicz said.
“We’re not a typical public school system, and this isn’t a typical summer program,” he said.
The district owes its robust summer session, which is so large it requires a staff of about 100 teachers and other staff members, to a long history of offering both remedial and enrichment programs outside of the regular school year and a continued commitment to the summer program, Galarowicz said.
“Summer school illustrates this district’s focus on education,” he said. “By offering a full complement of both remedial and enrichment courses, we are really trying to meet the needs of every student.”
The summer session also gives the district the opportunity to experiment with new teaching techniques that can be incorporated into the regular school curriculum if they are successful. For instance, the middle school debuted a computer-based math course designed to better address the individual abilities of students last summer, then added it to the regular school year in fall with great results, Galarowicz said.
Classes at Port Washington High School began Monday, June 20, for the 150 students enrolled in the summer session, Assistant Principal Dave Bernander, who coordinates the summer program, said.
The school, which historically only offered remedial summer courses, has worked over the years to add preparatory and enrichment offerings.
And instead of six-week sessions that can be impossible for working high school students to fit into their schedules, several of the courses take the
form of one or two-week seminars.
Among the more popular classes are those that prepare students for advanced placement classes, Bernander said.
“A lot of kids are discovering that it’s really worth it to come in for a week and get a really good jump on courses like AP literature,” he said.
Students can also earn credits in elective courses like art and physical education over the summer to free up their options during the regular school year.
“When I started here, all we offered were remedial classes and kids hated it,” Bernander said. “Now we’re doing it a little differently by offering courses they need and want, and they like it.”
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 18:36
After 13 years of spending cuts, PW-S Board OKs plan that funds new positions, technology improvements
A Port Washington-Saukville School Board that has fought for more than a decade to protect educational programs, class sizes and teaching jobs approved a 2012-13 budget Monday that will fund two new district-wide positions, an ambitious technology initiative and an energy savings improvement fund designed to pay future dividends.
It also predicts a modest tax rate decrease. The budget — the first in 13 years that has not required spending cuts and, in fact, calls for a $58,000 surplus — benefits from significant changes to employee benefits, federal job-creation money and the retirement of all referendum debt.
“This is a unique budget,” Supt. Michael Weber said during Monday’s budget hearing. “This is the first time in 13 years the Administrative Council has not needed to reduce the budget because of a structural deficit.
“Now we have an opportunity to focus on program needs, student needs and some areas of achievement that we need to beef up for the future.”
Although district expenses are projected to increase $745,721 (2.33%) for a total of $32.8 million next school year, the tax levy is expected to decrease $257,873 (1.82%) to $13.9 million.
That translates to a tax rate of $9.19 per $1,000 of equalized value, a 17-cent (1.8%) decrease from this year. That means the owner of a $175,000 house would theoretically pay $29.83 less in school taxes, assuming no increase in property values. The impact of the school tax rate will vary among taxing entities within the district, depending on changes in property values.
Director of Business Services Jim Froemming stressed that the budget is based on several assumptions and could change slightly by the time the board approves the tax levy on Oct. 29. State aid, property values and student enrollment are among the key variables, and hiring decisions that have yet to be made will impact salary and benefit costs.
But even with changes, it’s clear that the 2012-13 budget provides the best financial outlook the district has seen in years, in part because of significant employee benefit savings.
This is the first budget that reflects changes required by Act 10, the controversial state law that ended most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Shortly before that law was enacted last year, board members approved a one-year teacher contract extension, saying they needed a year to revamp benefits. Since then, the board has decided to end the district’s long relationship with WEA Trust, the health insurance provider affiliated with the state’s largest teachers union, and contract with Humana for considerably less expensive benefits due in part to higher employee and retiree deductibles and co-pays. Those as well as other changes, such as paring the cash in lieu of insurance benefit, are expected to result in a $600,000 savings to the district, Froemming said.
Weber said that although the district has been able to use Act 10 to its advantage, it’s strong financial outlook shouldn’t be attributed to the law.
“I get very uncomfortable when I read about how a district is in good or bad financial shape because of Act 10. There’s more to it than that,” he said. “Our key has been strong financial management long before Act 10.
“The districts that are in the best shape under Act 10 are the ones that were in good financial shape before Act. 10.”
The budget also benefits from $544,789 in federal grant money intended to create and retain jobs. If the district chooses to use its allocation, it must do so during the 2012-13 school year.
Some of that money will be used to create two new positions — a district-wide math specialist and a technology education specialist.
The math specialist will track and improve student achievement.
The technology specialist figures into a broader technology initiative and will help teachers use computers and software to educate students.
The district has budgeted $88,695 in salary and benefits for each position.
Another important component of the budget is what’s missing — an annual referendum debt payment of $473,529. That debt was retired earlier this year.
The district will set aside just less than half that amount — $217,000 — in a new energy savings capital improvement fund. Administrators intend to contribute annually to this fund, which will be used to pay for cost-cutting improvements.
“This is another investment in the financial stability of the district in the future,” Weber said.
In addition to investing in personnel and energy efficiency projects, the district has budgeted for technology improvements that include the installation of wireless Internet equipment at Port Washington High School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School. That project is expected to cost $144,345.
The technology initiative also includes the purchase of 90 netbooks — small laptop computers specifically designed for accessing the Internet —
and 140 Apple iPads for a pilot project in middle school math and communication classes. The district will pay $700 per netbook and $458 per iPad for a total cost of $153,000, which includes storage carts and covers for the iPads. An additional $163,720 has been budgeted for teacher training.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 18:37
Promising budget gives PW-S District room to negotiate pay under new law
A Port Washington-Saukville School District that has slashed employee benefit costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars is poised now to focus on negotiating employee wages.
Although the School Board and Port Washington-Saukville Education Association have yet to open negotiations because of confusion about the state law regulating public employee compensation, the proposed 2012-13 budget can accommodate pay increases, Supt. Michael Weber said. The board will also have to negotiate wages with the union representing secretaries and paraprofessionals.
“We have a group of teachers stuck at step one that we need to move off there. They need to see an increase,” Weber said. “We want to continue to attract and retain strong teachers because that’s what makes the difference in the classroom.”
The current starting salary for teachers is $36,877, Weber said.
A hearing on the proposed budget will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 11, at the District Office, 100 W. Monroe St., Port Washington.
Act 10, the controversial state law that prompted Tuesday’s failed recall of Gov. Scott Walker, stripped public employees of the right to negotiate benefits but permits them to bargain for wages. Wage increases, however, are capped at an amount not to exceed the consumer price index, which measures inflation.
But how wage increase caps are to be calculated and what components of raises are subject to negotiation was unclear until Tuesday, when the district received clarification on these issues, Weber said.
The district must first calculate a base wage, then multiply it by the consumer price index, which is currently 3.16%, Weber said.
The overall salary increase and how that increase is distributed throughout the pay scale is subject to negotiations with unions, he said.
“We want to attract and retain the best teachers, but salary is only one component of staying power,” Weber said. “The biggest factors are job satisfaction and working environment, and we’re leaders in those areas.
“All of this is very manageable in the proposed budget, which puts the district in very good financial shape.”
Although Act 10 was enacted last year, it will not affect most district employees until July 1. That is because teachers, as well as secretaries and paraprofessionals, are working under contracts until June 30, when the agreements expire.
Teachers were granted a one-year contract extension in April 2011, shortly before Act 10 was enacted. That contract contained several concessions, including a partial pay freeze that allowed increases only for educational advancements.
Board members said the contract extension would give them a year to draft an employee handbook to replace the contract and overhaul benefits in a new post-collective bargaining era.
Last month, the board took its most significant step in that direction by ending its long-term relationship with WEA Trust, the insurance carrier associated with the state’s largest teachers union, and giving its roughly $4.5 million worth of health insurance business to Humana.
The change in carriers and benefits is expected to reduce the total insurance premium by $919,000 next school year. Most of that savings — at least $700,000 — is expected to be realized by the district, which pays 87% of the premium for most employees. The balance of that savings will benefit employees, most of whom pay 13% of their premiums, and retirees, whose health insurance benefits are frozen at retirement.
Under the new insurance plan, employee premiums, which are now $100 and $200 for single and family coverage, respectively, will increase to $500 and $1,000. The new plan also introduces a $20 co-pay for office visits and increases the co-pays for urgent care and emergency room services.
Also last month, the board reduced the benefit that pays employees cash in lieu of health insurance benefits.
Currently, employees who opt not to be covered by the district health insurance plan receive an annual payment equal to the district’s portion of the single coverage premium, which is $8,380. Beginning July 1, employees are eligible for a cash payment of $5,400.
The board also changed the criteria for the cash payment eligibility. Employees will have to work at least 80% of full time to qualify for the benefit, even though those who work 60% qualify for prorated health benefits. Currently, employees who work as little as 50% qualify for a prorated cash in lieu of insurance benefits.
In addition, the cash option will be eliminated for employees whose spouses also work for the district. Currently four employees who are covered by the district insurance also receive the cash in lieu payment because their spouses are district employees.
The board also eliminated cash in lieu of insurance payments for retired teachers and hourly workers beginning in 2013.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 17:59
Port Historical Society poised to acquire building and convert it to museum
The Port Washington Historical Society was expected to buy the historic Business Man’s Club building in downtown Port Wednesday, Society President Jackie Oleson said.
“It’s a big day for us,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Two weeks ago, plans to renovate the facade of the building at 118 N. Franklin St. were approved by the city’s Plan Commission.
Members were enthusiastic about the project and its anticipated effect on the downtown.
“I think this is awesome,” commission member Ron Voigt said May 17. “Having someone who wants to invest in this kind of work is awesome.”
An anonymous donor is providing the funds for the Port Washington Historical Society to buy and refurbish the structure, recreating its original facade.
“The schematic is impressive,” Mayor Tom Mlada, chairman of the commission, said as the panel reviewed a rendering of the building. “It goes a long way in caring for the rich history of our city.”
Architect Mike Ehrlich told the commission much of the facade was destroyed when the building was incorporated into the neighboring bank building decades ago. Any stonework that jutted out was cut off when metal panels resembling the white facade of the bank were installed, he said.
The society, Ehrlich said, is intent on restoring that work.
“So much has been destroyed,” he said. “The details are extremely intricate in the stonework. We’re looking to remake all of it.”
However, he said, the goal is not to make the building look newly renovated.
“The idea is not to make it look brand new but to look aged,” Ehrlich said.
Construction is expected to begin in late summer or early fall and take nine to 12 months to complete, he said.
The improvements to the building and those being made at the neighboring Schooner Pub will complement changes the city is contemplating making to the alley between the structures, Ehrlich said.
“One thing that will be kind of integral is the alley improvements and making it more of a pedestrian walkway,” he said.
When completed, the building will have 3,500 square feet devoted to interpretive exhibits as well as an area devoted to educational programs.
The Historical Society also plans to purchase the building at 205 N. Franklin St. immediately south of the former Lueptow’s Furniture store.
The society is about $45,000 away from its $350,000 goal to purchase and renovate that building, Oleson said. That purchase is expected to be completed Aug. 31, with interior renovations completed this fall and occupancy by the end of the year.
“Hopefully, we can raise the funds earlier than this fall and get started on that ahead of schedule,” she said.
That building will house the Society’s offices, archives and resource center. There will also be a small display area in the building.