Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Assessing reforms.wi.gov -- Part 2: WI School districts and Act 10

Taxpayer-funded (campaign) site touts Walker's "accomplishments" for schools across the state, ignore complications

More analysis from the recent "Reforms and Results" site set up by Gov. Walker's campaign committee the State of Wisconsin.

The Kaukauna School District has been exemplified on the reforms.wi.gov website as being "saved" as a result of Act 10 -- the law that stripped state workers of collective bargaining rights, including teachers, in Wisconsin. What happened in the northeastern Wisconsin town of Kaukauna was seen as a miracle, vindicating the actions of Gov. Scott Walker for having held a firm line against unions that caused such a "problem" for school districts.

From the site:
Shortly after Act 10 took effect, Kaukauna emerged as an early example of how concessions can change the financial landscape of a school district, and now the board wants to be a leader in taking actions to reward its best teachers.

The school board took advantage of the Governor’s reforms and turned a $400,000 deficit into a $2 million surplus.
There are a few things wrong with that analysis, however (aside from the surplus only being $1.5 million). Kaukauna was facing a huge budget hole -- nearly $400,000 for this fiscal year. Because of Act 10, it's said, the district was able to make substantial savings in both curbing the amount of pay given to the teachers and faculty (forcing them to contribute more towards their health care plans) as well as other nuances that go along with budgeting (limiting sick day allocations, for example).

The problem is, that $400,000 shortfall wasn't the result of unions -- it was a projection based upon proposed cuts in Walker's own budget proposal, a prediction from Kaukauna on what it was about to lose as a result of the governor's steep cuts to education across the state.

From Badger Democracy:
The forecast Kaukauna 2011-2012 budget (PDF) (page 5) cites a revenue loss of nearly $2 million from state shared revenue - a result of Governor Walker’s budget impact on public school revenue cuts. Conveniently, this impact has been ignored as a basis of the deficit “crisis” facing the District. The District also faced an $840,000 loss in Open Enrollment (page 10) from students enrolling outside of the district and subsequent shared revenue adjustments. The summary shows a nearly $3 million deficit in revenue to expenditures before any adjustments are made (page 12).
Emphasis added.

What's more, there was an alternative solution presented to the school district, one that the teachers had submitted that was virtually ignored but would have given the district a $1.4 million surplus -- nearly the same surplus now being touted by the Governor and the Kaukauna School District.

From mykeystrokes.com:
But here’s the thing: The collective bargaining ban, in and of itself, was not responsible for achieving these savings and this surplus. As the Appleton Post Crescent reports, the teachers union had already offered up financial concessions that would have produced almost identical savings and an almost identical surplus.
After assessing the true effects of the original deficit in Kaukauna, and the ignored offer by teachers there, the spinning that the Walker administration has done on reforms.wi.gov, a tax-dollar backed website, is appalling.

But it's not the end of it: Walker ignores key aspects of Act 10 that have acted negatively for state workers. Focusing on teachers again, let's shift from Kaukauna and move to New Berlin. Earlier this year, after Act 10 became law, a revision to the teachers' handbook was bitterly debated, with severe penalties and new provisions added that were downright nasty.

Some of the changes include a new dress code (no skirts above the knees) and the removal of kitchen appliances (no microwaves, coffeemakers, or refrigerators). Others were more drastic than that, such as added hours for teachers -- 95 annually for secondary and 205 annually for elementary, the latter the equivalent of more than a months' work, all without any added compensation whatsoever. (Imagine being told that you had to work into your schedule an entire months' worth of hours within a years' time. Oh, and you won't be seeing a penny more in your paycheck [in fact, we're taking money from you, too].) Another provision "eliminates retirement insurance for teachers with less than 20 years in the New Berlin school system and who retire after 2021."

There's no doubt that money will be saved as a result of Act 10 -- we shouldn't try to say it won't be. But how those savings will accumulate will likely depend upon the benevolence of the local governments involved. As was the case in New Berlin, there wasn't much benevolence to speak of -- teachers were given an incredibly raw deal, in some cases being asked to work an additional months' time without any just compensation.

Stating that surpluses are created after severe deficits were made without explaining those deficits is also a grave mistake to overlook -- and a spin beyond epic proportions. It's improper to say that savings couldn't have been found had Act 10 never been implemented, as would have been the case had Kaukauna taken the teachers' proposal before passing their new teachers' handbook.

There will be savings found within the state's school districts -- savings that very well could have been found without having stripped the rights of thousands of workers. The governor's campaign page State of Wisconsin's Reforms and Results page is wrong to tout such savings without pointing out the effects of those changes on teachers' workplace conditions.


  1. Wow. Thanks for putting it in layman's vocabulary.

  2. One huge problem with this article.
    Collective Bargaining isn't / wasn't a "Right"
    We needed to break the links between tax collection and local school boards that were giving away the farm.
    Sure the numbers could have been added up differently - But without taking away collective bargaining we would be right back in the same boat in no time.

  3. Collective Bargaining is a right! The same right as my neighbor and I going to McDonald's and requesting same hours and same pay. Of course McDonald's probably wouldn't hire us, but we still have the right to apply collectively. If you don't like the teachers union, then go about ending it through proper channels and not because a couple of rich brothers funded a college drop out to do their bidding. Just for the record, I am not a Union member but I fully understand what unions has done for the middle class.