WI School Board Association Confirms Some Schools Will Be Forced to Cut Teacher Pay or Lay Teachers Off

Printer-friendly version

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, the general counsel for WEAC says that while cuts are not mandatory unless school boards are "sensible" teachers are vulnerable to pay cuts:
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.
But don't worry teachers, Scott Walker says you can still get a raise!  A big fat one! No siree, Walker isn't just talking about a cost of living increase, he's saying the sky's the limit: schools districts can pay as much as they want outside of the collective bargaining agreement:

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."

Pause for a collective spit take. 
Ahhh yes, Governor Walker, there's nothing to stop that.... except for the fact that you've slashed state aid funding to schools that, on average, rely on about 2/3 of their funding from the state.  And at the same time, you've prevented local school districts from raising property taxes to fill in the massive funding hole left from removal of state aid.
The truth is that Act 10 and the Walker rule to implement it prohibit "educational add-ons" and therefore cut an average of 30% of the money out of the 'pot of money' that school districts can pay in their union contracts. 
Yes, the school district can restore the 30% that Act 10 and its implementation rule remove, and that's where the rubber hits the road.
Many school districts simply won't have the money to restore that funding and will use this "tool" to prevent lay-off of teachers.  Keep in mind that many schools can't lay-off any more teachers because they are already at their bare minimum of one teacher per elementary grade or already have riculously high class sizes. 
Many school districts will have the money to restore the funding, but the school board will use this as an opportunity to chase-off older, more-experienced, more educated and therefore higher paid teachers by cutting their pay, while at the same time increasing the pay for cheaper teachers right out of college.
Many school districts, as the WERC General Counsel Peter Davis points out, will use Walker's tools to essentially maintaining their teacher salary budget on the backs of school janitors, cafeteria workers and bus drivers:

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 bottomline here is that the conventional wisdom of most Wisconsinites, that Act 10 simply froze the salaries of teachers and other public workers, and permitted their unions to negotiate for for cost of living increases is far away from real.
The reality is that something has to give. 
Walker balanced the state budget mostly on the backs of schools, through deep cuts to state aid, while at same time putting a property tax freeze at the local level.  Now, he comes out with the Act 10 implementation rule that says the school boards have to remove 30% of their teacher salary budget from union contracts and it is completely at their disgresion whether to replace it.  Another one of Walker's "tools".

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."