The Wisconsin Policy Forum last month released its 2019 School Data Tool.
According to a press release, announcing its findings, it allows Wisconsinites to compare all 421 school districts in the state on metrics relating to student enrollment and demographics, school district finances, district staffing, graduation rates, and other measures of student performance.
Statewide, graduation rates for the 2018-19 school year were up 89.6%, up from 88.6% a year earlier.
However, statewide enrollment is continuing its decline. In the 2013-14 school year, the enrollment total was 873,531; for 2018-19, the total was 858,833. The release also shows areas of concern for reading scores for Wisconsin third graders, for which proficiency rates declined for the third straight year.
What wasn’t noted in the release, but it’s something worth noting is the average length of teachers’ experience among area schools.
Since 2010, more schools than not are seeing the average length of teachers’ experience going down.
Baldwin-Woodville School District is an exception. In 2010, the average length was 12.2. In 2019, it was 14.8. The highest it ever reached was 15.0 in 2016.
“Our District has been fairly consistent,” said B-W Superintendent Eric Russell, noting the lack of turnover in its Administration as well.
Other area districts haven’t.
Some schools have seen a notable decrease over the last 10 years, when it comes to teachers’ experience.
In 2010, fellow Middle Border Conference school Ellsworth was just short of 16 years teachers’ experience. Nine years later, its average is now 11.6. Its neighboring school, Prescott, was at 16.5 in 2010 and as of 2016, was at 15.6. Now, in 2019, their total is 12.8.
St. Croix Central, which in 2010 wasn’t a member of the Middle Border Conference but became one in the middle part of the decade, saw its peak in 2011 at 14.1. For 2019, the total was 11.5.
Glenwood City, Baldwin-Woodville’s closest border school to the east, saw a high of 15.6 in 2018. A year later, the total is now 10.8.
Fellow Middle Border Conference schools New Richmond, Amery, Osceola and Somerset saw their average swing up and down over the last nine years, but the 2019 figure hovered back to within a point of its 2010 total.
The exceptions have been Boyceville and Spring Valley. In 2010, the Bulldogs’ total was 14.3. For 2019, it rose to 16.1. The average length of staff for Spring Valley in 2019 was 19.3, a modest increase from the 18.6 in 2010.
Russell said it’s a goal of every school district to have a mix of experienced and new staff members so the two can learn from each other.
While these numbers have always fluctuated due to staff retirements or taking a different job, since 2010, there’s been another thing to consider.
The 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, was proposed by then-Republican Governor Scott Walker and passed by the Wisconsin Legislature to address a projected $3.6 billion budget deficit.
The bill was targeted for the following areas: collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees.
After much protest, it was passed into law and ruled constitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in July 2014.
Russell opined one could add one more target: public perception of teachers.
“They felt disrespected and not valued,” he said.
The perception has filtered down to those entering the education field the last few years.
“We used to have hundreds of applicants for elementary teachers, now we have 20,” Russell said. He also added it’s been difficult for Districts, including Baldwin-Woodville, to fill staffing positions at the high school level, especially for Math, English, Science and Special Education.
And how do districts stand out from other districts when they’re looking to fill the same positions?
Russell believes it comes down to the environment and how they would get along with fellow staff members.
He did state there might be one good point of Act 10 for teachers.
“There’s a greater demand for them,” he said. “Before, they would never consider leaving their District. Now they can. It’s good for teachers, but not good for Districts.”