School Board Convention

School Board Convention
Posted on 01/30/2015

On January 20, Menomonie school board members Colleen Davis, Jeff Jaeger, Amy Riddle-Swanson, and Tammy Schneider, and I, traveled to Milwaukee for the annual Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) State Education Convention. There were numerous learning and networking opportunities for administrators and school board members during the 3-day convention. Here are some highlights of what we learned:

Networking with Superintendents, Business Managers, and Board Members
Many school districts across the state are working on similar initiatives and experiencing many of the same challenges that we are in Menomonie. Having the opportunity to discuss topics such as curriculum and instruction, technology integration, fiscal management, and facility needs with other school leaders and officials from around the state was very beneficial.

How to Implement a K-12 One-to-One Initiative
Board members heard about the process used by a school district for improving their technology. The process included adopting technology standards, site visits, choosing a device, and engaging staff, students, and community members. The district started by leasing iPads and is considering moving to Chromebooks in grades 6-12 when the current lease expires. To fund the initiative, the community approved a referendum for a robust wireless infrastructure.  Devices were purchased using common school funds and Title funding, but most of it was financed by reducing building budget allocations. The district purchased protective cases and planned for 5% contingency for lost/broken devices. According to school officials, students appeared to be more engaged once the technology was implemented, but they do not necessarily have achievement data that links the 1:1 initiative to higher student achievement.  Challenges for effective implementation included training teachers, setting expectations for keeping the iPads charged, and figuring out how to handle situations when the devices were stolen, lost, or broken.  

Capital Project Funds- Fund 41 & Fund 46
Representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, along with two Wisconsin school districts, shared information related to new strategies for saving for future capital improvements. Fund 46 provides the ability to authorize a Capital Expansion Fund, which is a “trust” funded through a transfer from the general fund to save for future projects (WI statute: 120.137). To establish the fund, the district needs to develop a 10-year capital improvement plan, have the school board approve a resolution to establish the trust, and create a segregated bank account.  Funds under the revenue limit may only be accessed until five years after the establishment of the fund. Impact on state aid, the potential loss of flexibility, and the politics of saving tax revenue need to be considered when deciding how much to allocate to Fund 46. 

Solving our OPEB Challenge
School district representatives shared information about how their district dealt with challenges associated with large early retirement benefits. The presenting school district provided seven years of insurance (90% of premiums) and a stipend equal to one year of salary spread over five years. Due to the increasing cost of health insurance, the district had to either make a change in benefits, make budget cuts to fund the benefits, or consider a referendum to generate more revenue. Working with the staff, the district reduced the large OPEB liability by creating tiers of employee classifications based on age and experience and capping health insurance benefits. The district also set up a sustainable plan for funding the remaining benefits.

Ask the Experts: School Board Roundtable Discussions
Time was designated for several board members and administrators to discuss school-related issues. SDMA Board President Colleen Davis was a facilitator at one of the tables.

School District Budget Cycle
School finance officials shared information for board members related to the school budget cycle. Discussion included topics about revenue limits, the state equalization aid formula, the state aids payment schedule, etc.

Delegate Assembly
At the Delegate Assembly, there were several resolutions considered by WASB membership. The actions of the delegate assembly give guidance to the WASB for their interaction with the state and federal government. The assembly was a very long session, but there was a lot of good discussion between fellow board members. Some of the resolutions included provisions for allowing retirees coming back to teach in high need areas, added flexibility for the use of SAGE funding to create ways to help improve the achievement gap, and the possibility of board members serving as volunteer coaches or student advisors.

Exhibit Floor
This year the convention had a very robust demonstration of vendors, which provides district representatives with a unique opportunity to converse with a variety of salespersons at one time. Areas of particular interest to our school district were in the areas of building security, technology, school supplies, and school business services.

Open Session on School Law Issues
This session gave participants an opportunity to ask questions and hear discussion related to school legal issues. The attorneys gave advice about the correct way to present agenda items on meeting notices and what is and isn't allowed in closed sessions. There was also discussion about transgender students and how some schools are handling related issues.

Impact of Voucher/Charters on Wisconsin Public Schools
Officials shared that the negative impact of private school vouchers on the Menomonie Area School District budget is approximately $292,000. Private school vouchers will likely increase in the new budget biennium. Legislation is currently being discussed on how to propose accountability for all schools receiving public funding.

Visit to Milwaukee French Immersion School
Board member Amy Riddle-Swanson visited a Milwaukee 4K through grade 5 French language immersion school. This public school, which has 450 students, was a very welcoming environment. Participants were told that language immersion is the best way for students to learn a language. Challenges for this particular school were the higher class sizes in the lower grades—30 students in each of the four sections. 

Listen to your Employees to Learn
School district officials shared information about their hiring practices and strategies used to keep employees engaged and part of the community. New teachers to the district were provided with a whole week of orientation, and many opportunities are provided to support employees and promote satisfaction on the job. Teachers work together and recognize each other on a job well done.

Keynote Speakers
Some very informative and energetic speakers addressed the convention’s general assembly.  Kevin Honeycutt’s and Richard Gerver’s themes were about change and creative innovations.  Richard Gerver believes standardized testing is not a very good use of instructional time.  Rosalind Wiseman talked mainly about bullying and ways to work with students— both the victim and the perpetrator.

Governor Walker
The Governor spoke to the general assembly on Friday morning with three main points: school accountability, alternative pathways to teacher certification, and the importance of utilizing the state’s technical colleges for getting students into the workforce quicker. It is expected that the governor will release his state budget proposal during the first week of February.

The Annual WASB State Education Convention was a good learning opportunity for school officials from around the state to learn more about how we can better serve the children in our schools and our communities. Should school stakeholders have any questions about the Menomonie Area School District, I invite you to visit the Administrative Service Center located on Pine Avenue, or contact me at 715-232-1642.  More information about our schools can be found on the school district website ( and on Twitter (