New Laws Impact School Districts

By D|K’s School and Higher Education Law Team

Last week, Governor Scott Walker signed five (5) education-related bills (below) that will impact Wisconsin school districts in a variety of ways. A number of the changes will provide more efficient school operations. School districts should review and revise their policies, procedures and practices to ensure that they are consistent with the new laws.

A. Notice of Habitually Truant Students

Act 52 expanded the methods by which school districts are able to provide notice to parents/guardians about their habitually truant student(s). Prior to Act 52, school districts were limited to providing notice to parents/guardians via registered or certified mail. After Act 52, school districts are able to send notice via first-class mail as well as send a simultaneous electronic notice, such as through an e-mail, to a habitually truant student’s parent/guardian.

The expansion in notice methods is intended to streamline the process for schools to communicate with parents regarding student nonattendance. The changes in the law related to notice will also apply to open enrolled students. In light of Act 52, school districts should review and revise their compulsory attendance policies and procedures related to habitual truancy notices, as well as any related policies for open enrolled students.

B. Schools Have More Time to Adopt and File a Resolution for a Referendum

Act 37 made various election law changes expanding the time by which school districts can adopt and file a resolution for a school district bond referendum. Prior to Act 37, school districts had forty-five (45) days to adopt and file a resolution for a school bond referendum. After Act 37, school districts now have seventy (70) days to adopt and file such a resolution. This twenty-five (25) day extension not only gives school districts more time to adopt and file such resolutions but also reduces the number of differing deadlines that school districts have to comply with.

School districts should review the procedures to ensure that their bond referendum timelines are accurate with current law.

C. New State Law Requires a Certificate in Food Protection Practices

Act 46 requires at least one (1) food service operator or manager of private schools, charter schools and public school districts to hold a certificate of food protection practices. This new law became effective July 3, 2015.

In addition to the changes in state law, new federal regulations issued by the Food and Nutrition Service begin July 1, 2015, and will impact school districts participating in the National School Lunch and/or Breakfast Program.

1. Hiring Standards for New School Nutrition Directors

School boards will be required to meet minimum educational requirements based on a district’s enrollment for “school nutrition program directors” defined as those persons directly responsible for the food service operations for all participating schools under the jurisdiction of the school board. Current directors are “grandfathered” from meeting these new requirements.

Various combinations of academic degrees, coursework, certificates, and experience are required depending on a district’s enrollment.

2. Training Requirements for Food Service Staff

The regulation specifies certain coursework that must be taken, such as eight (8) hours of food safety training for all new school nutrition program directors. Annually, these employees must also complete at least eight (8) hours in 2015-16 and twelve (12) hours in 2016–17 in various food service areas.

School nutrition program managers must have six (6) hours of annual training in 2015–16 expanding to ten (10) hours the following year.

The school nutrition program staff, who work an average of at least twenty (20) hours per week, must have four (4) hours of annual training in 2015–16 and six (6) hours in the following year. Employees working less than twenty (20) hours per week must complete four (4) hours of annual training.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has authority to modify the federal requirements. The DPI issued guidance on April 30, 2015. Highlights of the guidance are:

1. Deadlines

The DPI guidance notes that the federal regulations include several built-in timeline flexibilities intended to facilitate the first year of implementation. However, school nutrition program directors hired after July 1, 2015, will need to meet the new federal hiring standards.

2. Continuing Education/Training Requirements

The continuing education and training requirements in the federal regulations apply to all current and newly hired personnel. The continuing education and training hour requirements for school nutrition program directors, school nutrition program managers, and school nutrition program staff have been increased. The federal rule now also allows for a variety of training formats, including on-line and in-person sessions.

D. New SAGE Option

Act 53 creates a new program titled “Achievement Gap Reduction” (AGR) similar to the Student Achievement Guarantee Program (SAGE). SAGE provides funding to school districts who maintain small class sizes for low-income students.

The AGR program provides districts with flexible options including the use of different strategies such as one-to-one tutoring, instructional coaching, maintaining small class ratios and providing professional development on small group instruction. Unlike SAGE, AGR requires schools to create performance goals and track progress every semester.

The DPI is prohibited from entering into any new SAGE contracts or renewing any existing ones. The DPI is allowed to offer a one-year extension on existing SAGE contracts set to expire at the end of the 2014–15 school year.

E. UW to Report Students Needing Remedial Courses

Act 28 requires the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to submit an annual report to the state legislature, DPI and, in turn, every school district, as to the number of students (more than six (6)) who were required to take remedial courses in English or mathematics. The law becomes effective February 1, 2016.

More Legislation on the Horizon

There’s been a flurry of legislative action as the Joint Finance Committee finishes its work and the Senate and Assembly conduct their respective votes. We are continually monitoring the new laws as they become effective and analyzing the impact that they will have on Wisconsin school districts. There is also a pending item that we are watching closely that relates to union elections.

The budget bill contains a provision that would require a general municipal employee union to receive 51 percent of the total number of employees in the bargaining unit to be chosen as the initial and exclusive representative. This change would make the voting standard consistent with unions who seek annual recertification as the exclusive representative. Previously, unions seeking initial representation of employees had a lower voting standard; i.e., 51 percent of those voting must support. Now, whether it is an initial vote for union representation or the annual recertification, the voting standard will be the same: 51 percent of the total number of employees in the bargaining unit.

Given the pace of new legislation, the attorneys at Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. are prepared to assist school district officials to implement the changes by assisting with the review of policies, procedures and implementation in local school districts. The Davis & Kuelthau team can assist in conducting a food service program audit in your district to ensure that you are in compliance with the new state and federal law, as well as answer questions school officials may have about compliance with the new federal law.

The attorneys at Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. provide a broad range of bond referendum services to school districts. We are ready to assist school districts in reviewing bond referendum procedures as well as assisting schools in the public finance process.

If you have any questions, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney.