Wisconsin Budget reform saves teachers’ jobs

This is the message that needs to be constantly put out to voters between now and August 9th.  Great piece.   (H/T – Jerry)

With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan​—​such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)​—​saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

“Everything we changed didn’t touch the children,” Koczela said. Under a collective bargaining agreement, she continued, “We could never have negotiated that​—​never ever.” Koczela, a graduate of Smith College and Duke University Law School, is no Republican flack. She says she’s a “classic Wisconsin independent. I vote both parties. I voted for Senator [Russ] Feingold but I voted for [Republican state] Senator Alberta Darling too.”

In Brown Deer and school districts across the state, Walker’s budget repair bill, known as Act 10, is working just as he promised. To make up for a $2.8 billion deficit without raising taxes, state aid to school districts (the largest budget line) was reduced by $830 million. Act 10, Walker said, would give districts “the tools” needed to make up for the lost money as fairly as possible.

But union leaders argued that the fight over the budget repair bill had nothing to do with balancing budgets. It was all about stripping public employees of their “collective bargaining rights.”

What few people may have understood, though, is that these are “rights” that most people, including federal employees, don’t have. But Americans don’t like taking away anybody’s rights. The polls in Wisconsin showed voters overwhelmingly opposed to “weakening” or “stripping” or “eliminating” collective bargaining rights. President Obama called the bill an “assault on unions.” Democratic state senator Lena Taylor compared Scott Walker to Hitler.

But as the abstract debate over collective bargaining collides with reality, it is becoming clear just how big a lie the Big Labor line was. Now that the law is in effect, where are the horror stories of massive layoffs and schools shutting down? They don’t exist​—​except in a couple of districts where collective bargaining agreements, inked before the budget repair bill was introduced, remain in effect.

Those districts would be Milwaukee (which also had layoffs last year) …

In Milwaukee, nine schools are shutting and 354 teachers have been fired due to a drop in state funding and the end of federal stimulus funding. But if teachers there agreed to the 5.8 percent pension contribution, the school district says it would rehire 200 of those teachers. (Other changes could offset the rest of the layoffs.)

and Kenosha.

The only other district seeing such massive layoffs is Kenosha, where 212 teachers will be fired this year. “Kenosha is in the same boat as [Milwaukee], with a collective bargaining agreement signed before Walker took office that lasts until June 30, 2013,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on July 16. “But most other Wisconsin districts have avoided layoffs and massive cuts to programs.”

Across the state there is proof that Act 10 is was the right thing to do thanks to the flexibility it provides.

One striking feature of Walker’s budget repair bill is the flexibility it has given school districts to balance their budgets. For example, things are looking up in the tiny town of Pittsville in the heart of the state, where the district balanced its budget mostly through increased pension contributions and not replacing four retiring teachers.

“We didn’t change anything in our health care at all,” Superintendent Terry Reynolds told me. “If Act 10 hadn’t passed,” he said, “I don’t think the teachers’ union would have wanted to approve the 5.8 percent contribution” to pensions. “That would have been a hard battle to fight. I’m not sure we would have saved dollars there.” Enough money was freed up that Pittsville property taxes will decrease by 9 percent next year.

If you live in any of the State Senate District with a recall election on August 9th, make sure voters there understand their Senator did the right thing by voting “Yes” on Act 10 and should remain in office.

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