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Passing Notes: Restructuring the Way Schools Provide Services

Every few weeks, WUWM education reporter Rachel Morello opens up her notebook to give us the scoop about what's happening in schools around the greater Milwaukee area. Test your knowledge of headlines big and small with her news quiz!

There's often a trend in the news cycle -- particularly the education news cycle, I think -- where it feels like nothing major is happening and then 'Wham!' A big headline hits you from what feels like way out of left field.

That seems to be the case as October kicks off. Back-to-school stories are 'so last month,' and we're not yet in holiday break territory...but wheels are still turning behind the scenes in many school districts and higher education systems. 

Here are a few of the big headlines that broke over the past couple of weeks...

Shrinking In Order To Grow

The proposed reorganization of the University of Wisconsin Systemis easily the biggest story in education so far this month. 

As we reported, UW leaders unveiled preliminary details for a "restructuring" plan to help boost enrollment at state schools. 

What is the hallmark move in that plan?

Credit UW-Waukesha/Facebook

Earlier this week, news leaked that UW President Ray Cross planned to announce his plan to restructure the system. State schools have seen declining enrollments over the last several years -- which means they've also missed out on revenue from tuition and other fees. Coupled with shrinking state budgets, that's spelled trouble for the state's public universities. 

Cross' suggested fix: to absorb the system's two-year programs (the UW Colleges) into their nearest four-year universities. For example: UW-Waukesha and UW-Washington County would fold into UW-Milwaukee, as "satellite" campuses of sorts. The changes wouldn't take place until July of 2018. 

The mergers, Cross says, would allow schools to share resources and talent -- providing cost-savings for the UW System. In addition, Cross promoted the idea that students would also save money -- with the option to spend their first two years earning an associate's degree at a UW College (where tuition tends less than at the state's four-year schools), and then transfer to a four-year institution to finish their bachelor's degree. 

No campuses will close as part of the proposal; and five of the two-year institutions will not take part in any mergers. 

Karen Herzog, higher education reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reports there is potential for shifting of personnel: 

Under the merger proposal, tenured faculty could be moved or split teaching time at another institution within their new regional cluster, but they would maintain tenure, Cross said. Faculty from UW-Waukesha or UW-Washington County, for example, could be transferred to UW-Milwaukee, and vice versa. "Job savings will be in consolidation, streamlining and regionalization of shared services to support the academic enterprise," Cross told the Journal Sentinel, referring to administrative functions such as human resources, student services and IT operations.

The plan also includes ideas for ways to rethink UW-Extension.

The restructuring proposal will go to the UW Board of Regentsfor approval in November. 

Celebrate Good _____, come on!

You know those calendars that alert you to "national holidays," like "National Ice Cream Day" or "National Hug Week"?

This week, there's a celebration happening nationally that relates to a service schools provide for their students. What is that celebration?

  1. National School Bus Week
  2. National School Lunch Week
  3. National Recess Week

Credit lunar cat/fotolia

Clink those milk cartons, and wish your neighbor a Happy National School Lunch Week, everybody! 

The celebration is timely, because of something going on in Milwaukee Public Schools...

People have debated the quality of the school meal program in MPS for some time now. In particular, there is a "Food Justice Task Force" that's come together -- a collection of students, parents and teachers' union members, in collaboration with the Hunger Task Force -- to come up with some solutions for what many see as sub-par nutrition options. 

Here's how the group describes their mission:

"The Food Justice Task Force is a coalition of concerned families, students, educators, and community members who believe all students deserve access to high-quality, nutritious foods at school. Together, we advocate for strong MPS nutritional standards that will support and encourage healthy student eating habits, boost student achievement, and reduce waste. We believe that MPS can be a leader in high nutritional standards while delivering affordable meals to every MPS student."

As a bit of background: MPS provides free breakfast and lunch to every one of its 80,000 students. The district qualifies for 100 percent federal funding under the "Community Eligibility Provision" of the national school meals program -- basically, enough individual families meet the income limit for free and reduced price meals that it makes more sense to fund the district as a whole.

And, as a public school district, MPS has to meet all kinds of federal guidelines about what food they can and can't serve -- while still trying to appeal to kids. 

So, the Milwaukee School Board (the group that governs MPS) is trying to figure out how to best direct their efforts in trying to meet those guidelines and meet community demands for nutrition. After meeting with that Food Justice Task Force, MPS Director Paula Phillips drafted a resolution with some suggestions of ways to do so. And the board is spending the month of October traveling around the district, gathering community input. 

So far, two meetings have taken place -- and seven more are on the calendar through the end of the month. You can find a list of meeting dates, times and locations on the MPS website. 

What's Coming Up?

What is coming up? I'm interested to hear from you about what's going on in your district, dorm or parent-teacher association.

Meanwhile, you can submit your questions about schools and learning in southeastern Wisconsin below!