Wisconsin State Journal... you had me at hello, you ol' sidewinder! Good job: You were the first Wisconsin newspaper to get this story right.
The State Journal today reported that Barry Forbes of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards says that some (I would say many, if not most) schools districts will be forced into a position of either making cuts to teacher pay or laying people off because of the Walker Budget Crunch:
School districts hit hardest by state revenue limits and reduced aid may seek more savings in employee benefit costs, but it won't always be enough, especially in districts where teachers and others are already paying more for health care and pensions, said Barry Forbes, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
"They could choose to give no pay increase," Forbes said. "Act 10 gives almost all the bargaining power to the employer. Could schools find themselves in a situation where they had to make a choice between cutting teacher compensation and cutting staff? Definitely there will be some school districts in that situation."
Kurt Kobelt, general counsel for the Wisconsin Education Association Council union, said many members are worried, so he sent a memo Wednesday reassuring them that Walker's rule on base wages didn't make pay cuts mandatory. Still, Act 10 has left employees vulnerable unless school boards are "sensible," Kobelt said.
Walker agreed that despite Act 10's strict limits on negotiated pay raises, employers can add whatever they want. In a meeting with the State Journal editorial board Friday, he used an example in which the contractual cap was $50,000.
"If they want to pay them $70,000, they can do it," Walker said. "There's nothing to stop that."
Davis said unskilled workers are less likely to see such extra pay because there is less competition for their services.
"Things may be tighter for them. I would guess that the local politics could be a little more rough and tumble and taxpayer groups may hold a little more sway," Davis said. "You may hear them say, 'If we were to reduce the pay and, say, lose a truck driver, there would be a hundred people lining up for the job.'
The reality is even worse that that. As the State Journal article points, because interest-arbitration rights have been stripped away from unions, the school board can tell teachers they want to cut their salary by ANY AMOUNT --and there isn't a thing workers can do about it. As Walker-Appointee WERC Commissioner Jim Scott points out:
"Is it the bargaining that we used to have? No. Is it an utter sham? I'd say it's always worthwhile to talk," said Jim Scott, chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. "But in the end, clearly if an impasse is reached, the school board (or other public employer) will be free to implement their last best offer."
Most school boards, however, wouldn't have the political cover with their constituents to make a huge cut and tell the teacher unions to "take it or leave it." The point of Walker's new implementation rule, though, is that it gives school boards the political cover in their communities to make the cuts necessary to balance their budgets. Yes, again, as I've said all along, they don't have to make the cuts, but it allows them to sell it to the locals as something that Walker made them do it or that the implementation rule in Act 10 made them do it.
Don't believe that will happen? We need only to look to the Democratic frontrunner for governor, Tom Barrett, who has said he had to use Walker's tools because he was "painted into a corner" and his "hands were tied" because of Walker's deep budget cuts.
Whether you feel Barrett was right or wrong to make cuts instead of lay-offs, know this: Your our community's leaders will be forced to make the same decision and you will hear more and more about how Walker's Act 10 implementation rule "painted them into a corner."