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Journal Times editorial: DPI should stay put in Madison
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: DPI should stay put in Madison

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A key pillar in President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign for the presidency was his pledge to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders, which he contended mucked up the wheels to achieve substantive change in federal affairs.

Deborah Kerr, who is running in the April 6 election for state superintendent of public instruction, seems to be borrowing a page from the Trump playbook by proposing that the DPI move out of Madison.

“Under DPI’s current model, agency staff are plucked from the Madison area, and that’s not inclusive of any of the diversity and the needs of our Wisconsin children,” Kerr said at a March 10 news conference, coverage of which was shared by the Associated Press.

Kerr said she would perform an “equity audit” of DPI staff and look to hire new staff who live in communities outside of Madison, possibly resulting in terminations of some current employees, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Kerr, a former superintendent at Wilmot Grade School in western Kenosha County and who lives in Caledonia, says she would not move to Madison and would work at offices around the state.

Although the concept will likely be appealing for some and also have face value merit in the concept of bringing government closer to the people, it is not a proposal based in practicality. The cost of having to rent and outfit offices across the state does not seem wise at a time when municipalities are struggling to fix roads and infrastructure and when schools are having a hard time keeping up with operating costs.

Kerr’s opponent, Pecatonica Area School District Superintendent Jill Underly, who previously worked as an assistant manager at DPI, told the Journal Sentinel “What people want are more resources so they can hire school counselors and nurses and teachers; they don’t want to waste resources on DPI.”

We agree.

Kerr said at the March 10 press conference that part of the intention with the shift would be to work more closely with private schools, including those that accept publicly funded vouchers that pay for some students to attend private schools. Kerr is a voucher supporter, her opponent, Pecatonica Superintendent Jill Underly is against expanding voucher programs in the state.

From our perspective, the vast majority of what the DPI does – teacher licensure, distributing state education aid, and tracking state student assessment data (among the responsibilities) – is best handled by a central office that is in proximity to the decision makers of the state.

By being in Madison, state DPI officials can travel when needed to most parts of the state within three hours. Current Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor before the pandemic even managed to visit the state’s smallest school district — Washington Island.

Also, in the digital era we reside, information is easily and quickly transmitted electronically.

Kerr’s intent does have merit. We would advocate the DPI better use the state’s Cooperative Educational Service Agencies to be a vehicle for sharing information and concerns back and forth to regions across the state.

According to an informational flyer used by the agencies, CESAs were created by the Wisconsin Legislature more than 50 years ago to serve as a link between school districts and the state. There are 12 CESAs across the state.

CESAs, although independent of the DPI, facilitate regional networks that encourage participants to share knowledge and diverse perspectives, and provide opportunities for rich collaborations. CESAs make it possible for schools to work together, regardless of size, to share staff and equipment, save money, and extend educational opportunities to all corners of the state and to all children, the flyer states.

We do agree with Kerr that in hiring DPI officials, it does merit looking at candidates outside the Madison area, although with the state’s main university there obviously that obviously provides a large pool of people with education expertise.

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