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Stop crunching school budgets

Funding education has long been a top priority for Wisconsin. Even when faced with state budget shortfalls, there has been an effort to protect our schools and look for spending cuts elsewhere.

That is why the action taken by the budget-writing committee this week as they wrapped up their work on the budget bill is so alarming.

In a time when state government should look for ways of doing more with less, the Democratic-controlled budget writing committee passed a budget bill that would take away tools that help schools control costs. The budget bill, largely intact from the governor's proposal, now goes before the state Assembly and Senate for consideration.

I have heard from school board members and administrators who are rightly concerned about how this budget bill would affect local schools.

The policy measures included in the Democratic budget bill erodes school boards' ability to control costs.

It would reduce a school board's ability to negotiate contracts with unions by repealing the Qualified Economic Offer in 2010.

Most concerning is the removal of the ability to consider economic conditions and taxpayer ability to pay during labor negotiations.

Actual reductions in funding along with policy measures that will increase costs are a recipe for disaster for our public schools.

We should be helping school boards deal with tough budgets.

Instead the Democratic-budget proposal is going to make matters worse -- much worse. Teacher layoffs are likely to increase and students will lose out on valuable opportunities.

It is my hope that as the budget bill moves through the Assembly and Senate, legislative leaders will take time to listen to schools that are looking at their own budget options and ask where the state can be helpful.

Obviously, revenue is down dramatically and this is as tough a budget as we have seen.

We need to look back only a couple of budgets ago when a different Legislature passed modest increases with reforms to help schools save money, such as public employee health insurance reform and mandate relief.

Unfortunately, these cost-saving reforms were vetoed by Gov. Doyle.

The budget shortfall should be an opportunity to reform government, so taxpayer dollars can stretch further.

We all knew cuts were coming, but the Democratic-budget bill stands to make the effects of the cuts much worse than they should be.

Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, can be reached at (715) 232-1390 or sen.harsdorf@legis.state.wi.us.

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