State Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) walked out of a Monday meeting with representatives of three local school districts, upset when an Eau Claire School Board member stated that Wisconsin’s economy compared unfavorably with Minnesota’s.
“Fundamentally, Minnesota is beating us,” said Wendy Sue Johnson, citing a Jan. 20 article written by state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), who also attended the meeting.
“Our (school) funding formula is broken,” Johnson added.
Bernier then got up to leave the “Breakfast with Our Legislators” session involving the Chippewa Falls, Altoona and Eau Claire School Districts at the Avalon Hotel and Conference Center in Chippewa Falls.
“It is not helpful to compare Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Bernier said, remarking that this is what she experiences with Altoona, Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls each time she attends the districts’ breakfast.
Bernier later said she hears the same theme when she meets with representatives of the three districts: “We want more money, we want more money and we don’t like this or that.”
She compared that with her meetings with rural superintendents in her Assembly district, where she said she receives helpful suggestions.
“This vile political speech is not helpful,” Bernier said before leaving.
Johnson said she checked with other school board members to see if she had made an offensive comment by making the comparison.
“They didn’t feel that I had,” Johnson said. “It’s clearly disappointing when our representatives are not willing to engage in conversations about the issues.”
She thanked the two other Republican legislators, state Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) and state Rep. Warren Petryk (R-Eleva), for staying another 35 minutes to the end of the meeting and discussing issues.
“Sweeping partisan statements coming out of a non-partisan member just ticked me off,” Bernier said.
She was upset when Williams stated thar Minnesota’s prison system was faring better than Wisconsin, because that wasn’t on the agenda.
“This is not productive,” Bernier said. “I want to have a conversation on how we can work together to make a difference.”
She said she favors school choice, and hopes at some point the three local districts will accept that it is part of state law and work to make it better.
Petryk said some comparisons are worthwhile and some are not. He pointed out that Wisconsin has Milwaukee while Minnesota has two major metropolitan areas, St. Paul and Minneapolis.
He said he was told by school officials in 1994 that the state school district funding formula was broken.
“Scrapping it might be an option, but I don’t think so,” Petryk said.
Democratic state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire said: “The bottom line is that we have a state that’s being run on a theory (of tax cuts expanding the economy) and the theory doesn’t work.”
Minnesota has a surplus, Wachs said.
“When you build a tax policy where you are not afraid of taxing the wealthy, that’s what you can do,” he said.
The area school district representatives briefly talked about a bill that did not pass that would have prohibited districts from holding a referendum for two years after having a failed referendum.
Petryk said he was against that bill.
“It will probably rear its ugly head in future terms,” he predicted.
Moulton, however, did not believe the bill was going to go anywhere.
Some school district representatives complained about having to give out three state standardized tests in three years. Having new tests makes it hard to compare results from year to year.
“Why are we doing this when we aren’t getting valid results anyway?” Moulton asked.
Eau Claire Superintendent Dr. Mary Ann Hardebeck said that every time the test changes, there is an additional cost to school districts.
“There doesn’t seem to be financial support for supporting these changes,” she said.
Shortly after Monday morning’s meeting started, Bernier noted that state Rep. Tom Larson (R-Colfax) was absent. Larson is recovering from chemotherapy he received Friday for lung cancer.
Chippewa Falls Superintendent Dr. Heidi Eliopoulos also did not attend the session. She instead was part of an effort to console students at Chippewa Falls Senior High School after senior Joshua Pampuch was killed in a snowmobile crash Saturday.
“It is not helpful to compare Minnesota and Wisconsin.” Rep. Kathy Bernier,
68th Assembly District
“It is not helpful to compare Minnesota and Wisconsin."
Rep. Kathy Bernier, 68th Assembly District