Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wisconsin's Public Schools Under Siege

This week’s guest perspective comes from Trygve Danielson—a school teacher at Parker High School in Janesville, Wisconsin for almost 40 years. Danielson gave the following speech at The State of Rock County Rally on January 26, 2012 as an educator's response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s State of the State Address.

I was raised on a small farm in southeastern Wisconsin. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, but they believed in the American Dream that if you got a good education your life would be better.

As a result, all of my brothers and sisters, all seven of us, went on to college. One retired as the principal oboist of the Seattle Symphony, another was a pilot for United Airlines, one was a nurse, one a steamfitter, and three of us are teachers. All products of two, decent, hardworking Wisconsin farmers whose kids were given the opportunity to attend Wisconsin’s public schools, one of the finest school systems in the country, even in the world.

But today that school system is under siege. I have been asked to speak today about the damage done to my school by the ill-conceived budget cuts made by the Governor and the Wisconsin State Legislature. The most obvious impact has resulted from those things most of you already know about. I’m sure you all know the story of the freeze on basic supplies when teachers returned to work last fall. We at Parker were left to scramble to find materials to get the year started. Thankfully, a makeshift plan was established to get by, but there is no doubt it affected planning at the start of the year.

Parker has also been affected by the reduction of support people and guidance counselors in our building. Grade checks, credit checks, and simple emotional counseling have been reduced. More students who need guidance will fall through the cracks because fewer counselors are available.

Most significant, of course, is the loss of quality teachers. If you lay off teachers, programs are affected. Parker has one of the finest choir programs in the state. Eliminate one of the two choir instructors—as happened at Parker—and you have damaged the education students will receive. If you raise class sizes or eliminate sections, student learning is diminished. Dozens of teacher’s were laid off in Janesville. You do the math.

That does not include the number of excellent young teachers who saw what was coming and now give the experience and expertise they learned at Parker to another school district. Nor the excellent veteran teachers—two in my own department—who decided that they had seen enough and retired. To suggest that our schools will be the same is a lie. If you believe that excellent teachers make a difference then you must know that Parker High School has been damaged by the Governor’s budget cuts.

I should also point out that my wife Jeanette is a teacher in the Orfordville-Parkview District. Her salary—along with all the teachers in her district—has been cut and her payments for health care and retirement have gone up. Has this helped Parkview solve its education problems and keep quality teachers in the classroom? Read the paper and you know it has not

The Governor’s budget cuts have put the Parkview School Board in an impossible situation and split the community. Why? The Governor believes it is more important to give tax breaks to the wealthy – including the money taken from hard working teachers – than it is to support quality schools and education. As my Dad used to say, “You can call a jackass a race horse, but everybody knows it's still a jackass.” The Governor can say he is improving schools, but everybody knows that is a lie.

The worse part about this whole mess is the damage it has done to the morale of our young teachers. They are losing faith in the promise that Janesville has made to teachers and to students in the past. The Governor will try to convince you that collective bargaining is the reason for the problem, but common sense and long experience tells us that Wisconsin schools are excellent BECAUSE collective bargaining gives a voice to the teachers and students of our state.

After listening to Governor Walker last night, it is clear his vision of  Wisconsin and its schools are a long way from the vision offered to my mother and father not so long ago. You know that Janesville has one of the finest school systems in the state simply by looking at the citizens who are graduates of Parker and Craig. You know that everyday children in this community are finding their way with the help of the skilled people who make up our schools. You know the very future of our children depends on the quality of their education. 

Our Governor is willing to sacrifice our public schools because he does not understand what education provides. Please stand with those of us who have committed our lives to the Janesville Schools to resist this misguided plan and keep the Wisconsin promise of excellent schools for our children a reality.


  1. Thank you. Well said. As a veteran teaching working in Stoughton, I admire your eloquence in stating the obvious. Teachers and unions have been portrayed as villains, while all we really want is decent wages, decent working conditions and a little rest after our twenty to thirty years in the classroom, preferably not spent at the food pantry or soup kitchen.

  2. Agreed. Social mobility, the American dream you refer to, is no longer a commonly-held value. There is also a movement to get rid of public schools.

  3. So proud of my Dad for speaking about what he believes in and teaching me to do the same :)

  4. Honored to know Tryg, honored to have taught for 7 years in Janesville, honored to have graduated children from the district.