MADISON (AP) - The number of teachers and other staff working in Wisconsin schools dropped 2.3 percent this school year, the state Department of Public Instruction said Wednesday.
The new data comes in the middle of an ongoing political fight between Gov. Scott Walker and the state teachers' union and others over the impact of cuts he made to public school funding last year and changes to collective bargaining rights that he says helped districts make up for the losses in aid.
State Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement that there must be a bipartisan investment in public education because losses in school staff erode the public education system.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told the Wisconsin State Journal that districts could have saved money by having teachers take on an additional class period each day. He highlighted that 43 percent of the staff cuts came in Milwaukee, Janesville and Kenosha, which account for 13 percent of the state's student population.
Those three districts didn't negotiate employee pension and health insurance contributions that most districts around the state used to prevent deeper staff cuts because they had union contracts that were untouched by the new law.
"DPI's data is further proof that Governor Walker's reforms are working," Werwie said.
Overall, schools cut more than 2,300 positions, which was the steepest decline in the nine years that DPI has been consistently reporting staffing levels. Between the previous two school years overall staffing dropped 1.5 percent.
Nearly three out of four districts reported staff reductions heading into the current school year. More than half of the districts with increasing staff also had increasing student enrollment.
Teaching positions made up more than 60 percent of the cuts.
The student-teacher ratio increased from 14.33 to 14.66, the highest level in nine years.
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