Neighborhood Public Schools Strive to Make Up for Budget Cuts

by Eryn Moris / photo by Tess Reiss

On May 1, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos submitted his first budget proposal as administrative leader of Milwaukee Public Schools to the Board of School Directors. Andrekopoulos’ draft of the budget included a harsh combination of increased property taxes and layoffs, which will eliminate as many as 663 positions throughout the district. $12 million was cut from the operating budget for Central Services, while the property tax levy was increased 8.8% to $197 million. Schools here in Riverwest, like public schools throughout Milwaukee, are struggling to deal with the effects of the new budget on their individual operations. Though our public schools — Frederick J. Gaenslen, Franklin Pierce, and Escuela Fratney — were able to hold on to most of their classroom staff, teaching positions in programs such as art, music, and physical education were either cut from full-time to part-time or eliminated altogether. Concerning the cuts, Superintendent Andrekopoulos stated: “Developing this budget was a very difficult task. We remain committed to the belief that the classroom, where real teaching and learning occur, is the most important place in the district. This budget reflects our efforts to support the classroom as much as possible by increasing efficiency and reducing spending at Central Office.” But schools are feeling the cuts as well. “The smaller the school, the harder you’re hit,” laments Celin Arce, principal of Escuela Fratney, the only school in Riverwest to provide a bilingual education to children from throughout the city in grades K4 through 5. Though the school was able to retain a full-time art teacher, Fratney’s librarian was cut from full-time to part-time, and teachers in both physical education and music were laid off. Sacrificing their music teacher, and effectively, their formal music program, resulted in the school losing a grant through a program called “Save the Music” that would have provided low-income families with musical instruments for their children to loan out and learn. Fortunately, one of Fratney’s staff members is a musician who Arce hopes will help shoulder the burden of incorporating music in the classroom. Franklin Pierce School, which has an enrollment of around 570 students in grades K-4 through Grade 5, had to eliminate two full-time positions, a reading teacher and a teacher’s aid. Positions in the art, music and psychology departments were also cut from full-time to part-time, meaning students’ participation in those classes will be reduced from five days a week to three. Pierce’s principal Alice Somers is fully confident that her staff will be able to cover the holes in this year’s teaching roster. “I believe we’re still going to be able to give a quality education to each and every student who walks into this building,” says Somers. “We’re going to do what we have to for our children.” Jeff Rosen is the principal at Frederick J. Gaenslen School. As a SAGE school, Gaenslen has an agreement with the state that provides them with additional funding and relatively low (15-1) teacher-student ratios. Rosen has decided to purposely downsize enrollment this year by about 100 students. “We can do a much better job of educating kids if our enrollment is appropriate and our student-teacher ratio is appropriate,” says Rosen. With a new enrollment of about 665 students between grades K4 and Grade 8, and a large percentage of special needs students, Gaenslen has survived the budget cuts with minimal changes. The only position cut was that of someone who happened to be retiring, but like Pierce, positions in the art, music, and industrial education programs were cut from full-time to part-time. If this year’s enrollment should fall short of the new maximum, Rosen will look into maintaining those programs full-time. Many who are affected by these budget cuts have found themselves questioning the way our city and state spend money. After all, the proposed budget for expanding our freeways is six times that of the budget for the entire Milwaukee Public School System. If you find yourself among those who support giving our children the well-rounded educations they deserve, there are ways to help. See below for information on how you can help. The staff at Fratney, Gaenslen and Pierce welcomes artists, musicians, and others willing to volunteer their time to help our children. If you have time or services to volunteer please contact Celin Arce at Escuela Fratney at 267-1100, Jeff Rosen at Frederick J. Gaenslen School at 267-5700, or Alice Somers at Franklin Pierce School at 267-4400. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003