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April 21, 2015

Wisconsin lawmaker wants easier process for truancy notices

Sen. Nikya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee)

Sen. Nikya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee)

Legislation being considered at the state Capitol would make it easier, and cheaper, to let parents know if their child is frequently missing school.

Under current state law, school districts are required to notify parents about habitual truancy using a certified letter. The method requires a signature for delivery, and state Senator Nikya Harris Dodd (D-Milwaukee) said that can be difficult for parents who are working multiple jobs or have unreliable transportation to get to a post office. As a result, Dodd told a legislative committee last week that many parents never get the message that their child is habitually truant.

The Milwaukee Democrat is sponsoring a bill that would allow schools to notify parents through regular First Class mail, along with email. She said that would make it easier for parents to become aware of attendance issues. It could also result in savings for school districts. Sending a certified letter cost $6.48, while a First Class stamp is just $0.49.

A legislative committee is considering the bill.

UW chancellor Blank proposes job and program cuts

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

UW-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank announced a package of drastic program and staffing cuts on Friday, as a response to Governor Scott Walker’s $300 million, two-year cut to the University of Wisconsin System.

“Our $36 million plan includes $21 million in budget cuts and redirects an additional $15 million from other campus units to our overall educational mission,” Blank said in a statement. “This plan includes the elimination of approximately 400 positions. It begins to bridge, but does not fill, a structural deficit that may be as much as $96 million as a result of state budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year. The nonresident undergraduate tuition increases approved by the Board of Regents on April 10 will provide another $17.5 million in new revenue. There will remain, however, a significant deficit.”

Blank said the reductions have been planned and will be carried deans and directors on the Madison campus, who know best which programs can be cut while minimizing the impact on students and the university’s core educational mission. She said campus leaders are sharing information about their plans for budget cuts in their units.

Blank said that all parts of campus will feel the effects of these cuts. Among the areas affected

  • Program closures and mergers: Several programs across campus will be ended or restructured, including in the areas of information technology, agriculture, and the arts.
  • Academic offerings and services: The job eliminations will likely lead to larger classes and fewer course options. Reductions in advising services may hurt time to degree and retention.
  • Support services: Services that support students, faculty and staff, such as information technology, will be reduced. We will invest less in maintaining our buildings and facilities.

The Republican governor announced the cuts to UW System earlier this as part of his proposed two-year state spending plan. Walker also proposed creation of a public authority to provide the UW System with greater autonomy, but legislative leaders have been cool to that idea. And the most recent Marquette Law School opinion poll indicates that voters may not be on board with the cuts. The poll found that seventy percent oppose cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System budget; 26 percent support this.

Speaker Vos open to capping UW tuition

Speaker Robin Vos (WRN file photo)

Speaker Robin Vos (WRN file photo)

A proposal from Governor Scott Walker to cap future University of Wisconsin tuition increases at the rate of inflation is winning support from one key lawmaker.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Tuesday that he’s open to the proposal, which was included in a letter the governor sent to the Joint Finance Committee on Monday. Vos said having a cap in place would take the “stress out of worrying about an eight, nine, ten percent tuition increase for parents across the state.”

Walker’s budget does call for continuing a freeze on undergraduate tuition for another two years.

The Board of Regents last week did vote to increase tuition for some graduate students and out of state undergraduate students on several UW campuses. Vos said he supports that plan, as long as the UW remains competitive with other institutions.

The Rochester Republican remains skeptical though of a plan to give the UW System more autonomy. He voiced concerns that regents will not use that authority to make the system run more efficiently. “I have been frustrated by the regents’ lack of enthusiasm for using many of the authority’s ideas to save money,” he said.

Budget cuts will limit UW Colleges

Cathy Sandeen

Cathy Sandeen

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

‘Wisconsin Idea’ officially remains intact

Dedication to Wisconsin Idea on Bascom Hall (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Dedication to Wisconsin Idea on Bascom Hall (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker is asking the legislature’s budget writing committee to remove from his budget any indication that his office had rewritten the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement.

Back in February the governor was criticized for changing the century-old public service concept to something that focused on meeting the state’s workforce needs. Walker was quick to call it a “drafting error.”

On Monday the governor’s office sent a letter to the Joint Finance Committee to formally ask members to restore any proposed deletions to the Wisconsin Idea.

Ray Cross, president of the UW System, said in a statement he welcomes the governor’s correction.

JFC meets to start voting on the budget Wednesday.