By Steve Gunn
JANESVILLE, Wis. – Education officials in a rural Wisconsin school district find it “disturbing” and “upsetting” that someone had the nerve to spread public information to the public.
A flier distributed last weekend reportedly contained salary figures for hundreds of teachers in the Janesville school district. The salary information was obtained through a legal freedom of information request, then distributed to the public by the Milwaukee-based Citizens for Responsible Government.
The flier also contained a “parents rights protection form,” which was designed to be detached and sent to Janesville Superintendent Karen Schulte. The form requests that “my child be assigned to a classroom taught by a non-radical teacher during the 2012-13 school year.”
Schulte told the newspaper that if she receives any of the forms, “they’re going in the trash.”
So much for respecting the feelings of concerned parents and taxpayers.
School and union officials acknowledge that the salary information contained on the fliers is public information. People have an absolute right to know compensation figures for all public employees, from President Obama all the way down to the kindergarten teacher who lives down the street.
Yet somehow the education establishment in Janesville found the flier deeply offensive.
“It’s disturbing, it’s upsetting,” Janesville Education Association President Dave Parr told Channel3000.com.
“I feel like it’s vindictive against teachers,” Schulte was quoted as saying.
Janesville union has been nothing but greedy
What hogwash. School spending has become a topic of great public concern in recent years, as tax revenues have slowed and school budgets have shrunk.
Citizens who previously knew little about school spending are suddenly starting to ask questions. And they’re learning that roughly 75 percent of a typical school’s general fund is spent on salaries and benefits for union employees.
Given that fact, a growing number of people believe school unions should accept some concessions to help their districts get through the recession without making budget cuts that negatively impact students.
Union concessions have been a particularly touchy subject in Janesville.
In most school districts in Wisconsin, a new state law (Act 10) has taken away most collective bargaining privileges from teachers unions. That means most school boards are free to manage their budgets (including labor costs) without union interference.
Recent reports indicate that Act 10 has saved Wisconsin schools millions of dollars, and state taxpayers more than $1 billion.
But the Janesville teachers union signed a new contract with the district about a year before Act 10 became law. That means Janesville teachers can sidestep Act 10 and keep the full salaries and benefits mandated by their contract until it expires in 2013.
Over the past year the school board has repeatedly asked the union for some type of concessions to help erase a $9 million deficit, but the union, protected by its contract, has repeatedly refused. That led to the layoffs of 100 employees last fall, including 70 low-seniority teachers, and larger class sizes.
More layoffs and program cuts are anticipated for the 2012-13 school year, according to officials.
At one point the school board offered the union a deal. It guaranteed no layoffs and no increases in the small amount that teachers pay toward their insurance costs, if the union would allow members to pay more toward pension costs over the next few years.
The union again said “no.” So it’s no surprise that there’s a sudden interest in the amount of compensation going to Janesville teachers. A debate over local school spending priorities is not only proper, but long overdue in Janesville and the rest of Wisconsin.
For more details about the Janesville standoff, and similar union-created dilemmas across Wisconsin, check out our report, “The Bad Old Days of Collective Bargaining: Why Act 10 Was Necessary for Wisconsin Schools.”
Parents have a right to demand non-political teachers
Wisconsin parents have every reason to be concerned about politically zealous teachers. Since the adoption of Act 10, the state has been awash with reports of teachers using class time to rail on Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans who passed the new law.
In Racine, several radical teachers recently helped a group of teens write a “Student Bill of Rights,” which was presented to the local school board. Somehow this list of proposed student rights included a demand to reinstate full collective bargaining for union teachers.
When a former Racine school board member accused the teachers of coaching the students, he was threatened with a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union.
There are plenty of other examples. Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, is a major contributor to “Rethinking Schools,” a national publication that promotes the teaching of the left-wing interpretation of “social justice” in public school classrooms.
That means feeding students a steady diet of pro-socialist and anti-American rhetoric.
One of Peterson’s readers is Kate Lyman, a Madison third-grade teacher who spent hours of class time leading a discussion of Act 10, all from a pro-union point of view. At one point she showed students a PowerPoint presentation, with photos from the Madison Act 10 protests next to photos from the 1960s civil rights movement.
As if the two protests had anything remotely in common.
“We talked extensively about rights, in the context of both the civil rights movement and the capitol protests,” Lyman wrote in an article for Rethinking Schools. Of course the third-graders were given no opportunity to hear the other side of the story from an Act 10 supporter.
If school administrators won’t stop this type of nonsense, parents have every right to request – or even demand – that their children be assigned to non-political classrooms. If Schulte refuses to respect those demands, the school board should closely reconsider her fitness for the job.