By Steve Gunn

MADISON, Wis. – When given the chance to cut labor costs without union interference, Wisconsin school districts took advantage in a big way, according to a new study released by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
As a result most districts avoided painful spending cuts that might have resulted from reductions in state aid, and managed to hold the line on property taxes.

In the end, everyone was a winner except the teachers unions that refused to offer financial concessions several years ago when they first became necessary, and the quality teachers who have been stuck in those unions for years.

Public school districts across the state collectively cut spending on employee benefits by about $366 million in the 2011-12 school year, according to a story about the Taxpayers Alliance report published by the Marshfield News Herald.

Total school spending dropped by $584 million, the report said.

Those type of savings were made possible by Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s landmark legislation that limited teacher unions’ collective bargaining power and put more budget control in the hands of local school boards.

Act 10 also forced school employees to pay about 5 percent of their own pension costs, as well as 12 percent of their own health insurance premiums.

The savings could have been accomplished sooner if teacher unions throughout the state had been willing to cooperate when the budget crisis started hitting public schools. Union labor costs sometimes take up as much as 75 percent of a district’s general fund budget, but most unions around the state were hesitant to give anything back.

Act 10 removed the unions as a roadblock to savings and allowed schools to cut labor spending by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Not everyone is happy about the effects of Act 10.

“I think that the kids that are being educated to be teachers now may search for jobs elsewhere,” said Jerry Rosso, superintendent of the Mosinee school district. “Wisconsin starting salaries are at about $34,000. In other states like Texas and Arizona they start their teachers at $45,000, so why teach in Wisconsin?”

If losing a few bucks per year during an economic downturn is enough to make teachers leave Wisconsin, we say good riddance. The economy will improve and better salaries are down the road for those who are dedicated enough to wait out the bad times.

In the meantime, the cut in labor costs have allowed Wisconsin schools to avoid mass layoffs and major cuts to student programs. What could possibly be wrong with that?

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