Reality Check

Reality Check: Walker Ad Inaccurately Portrays School District's Budget Situation

Monona Grove School District Sees Increased Class Sizes

MADISON, Wis. - Another teacher is appearing in an anti-recall ad for Gov. Scott Walker.

This time, the teacher is local, but WISC-TV found that he doesn't portray his district's situation accurately in the ad.

A Monona Grove teacher makes his case for the governor in the ad. Although he explains what he thought about Walker's budget changes, he may not be speaking for his fellow teachers.

"When the state budget passed in Madison, a lot of us thought we might lose our jobs," said a man in the ad identified as "Jeff, fourth-grade teacher."

Jeff Knutson teaches fourth grade at Cottage Grove Elementary School, and WISC-TV found his statement is misleading.

Although the elementary school Knutson teaches at did not see layoffs, the Monona Grove School District did reduce its staff by about 11 full-time positions. Some were eliminated through attrition but four of those people lost their jobs or had hours reduced.

"So we figured if we didn't get laid off, our class sizes would become unmanageable," Knutson says in the ad. "But that didn't happen."

WISC-TV found this is also misleading. Some teachers did lose their jobs and, on top of that, class sizes did go up to a size that Superintendent Craig Gerlach called "unacceptable."

Gerlach said high school class sizes were increased and, in some cases, more than 30 students are being taught in one class. Middle and elementary school class sizes also increased by several students, and Gerlach said the district is now up against its self-imposed maximum class sizes at almost all levels.

"I don't agree with Gov. Walker on everything, but thanks to his budget reforms, hundreds of teachers like me still have their jobs," Knutson says in the ad.

But according to Gerlach, who spoke at a Department of Public Instruction news conference in early November, that was not the case in the Monona Grove School District.

Gerlach said the district saved about a $1 million from Wisconsin Act 10 changes to increase teacher contributions to their pensions and health care, but the district ended up with a $1.7 million deficit from other state budget cuts.

"The numbers in Monona Grove clearly don't work," said Gerlach at the Nov. 10 news conference. "We made significant cuts in terms of programs, laying off teachers, and we've closed a building. Next year, quite frankly, will be brutal."

The superintendent said that next year Monona Grove will likely face about a $1.5 million deficit, and the board will have to decide what to cut once again.

In a statement to WISC-TV, Knutson said he was glad that he did the ad and would do it again. He said he felt like he spoke on behalf of those who are afraid to do so.

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