July 12, 2011
KAUKAUNA — About five dozen teachers and community members packed a Kaukauna Board of Education meeting Monday night to express their frustration with a recently adopted employee handbook.
The handbook incorporates mandates from a new law that eliminates most collective bargaining powers for public employees throughout the state.
“You’ve alienated the very people (you) need to help and work together collaboratively to improve (state and national) testing scores,” said Kate McConnell, 42, an education professional who transferred her children out of the Kaukauna Area School District over what she called a “lack of support” for teachers.
“This way that you’re doing it — this is not the answer,” McConnell told the school board. “I urge you to reconsider passage of this handbook.”
In a 6-1 vote on June 27, the Kaukauna school board approved changes to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums — up from 10 percent — and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.
Board member Sue Gertz cast the lone dissenting vote against the new policies.
The rules also reduce teacher sick days from 10 days to five days, eliminate teacher pay for emergency school closings, such as snow days, and give district leaders the option of furloughing staff members. An updated operating budget also institutes $300,000 in merit pay for staff, to be awarded at the school board’s discretion.
Business manager Bob Schafer estimates the school district will swing to a $1.5 million surplus next year from an anticipated $400,000 budget deficit amid a $2.7 million cut in state aid.
Todd Arnoldussen, the school board president, shrugged off criticism of the board’s decision to apply the Act 10 changes and reject teachers’ union concessions estimated to save the district $1.8 million.
“I feel extremely confident in the decision we made,” Arnoldussen told The Post-Crescent on Monday. “I think Kaukauna’s in a better place. I think the school district’s in way better shape because of it. Only time will tell.”
Though the teachers’ union argued the changes would sully the workplace climate in Kaukauna, Arnoldussen said there’s no evidence to support that claim. In fact, he said, some 400 people applied for a recently posted elementary school position.
“I guess that should sum it up pretty well,” Arnoldussen said. “I could sit and banter back and forth, (but) the point is we made a decision … Change is sometimes difficult. But for Kaukauna, we just felt it made a lot of sense.”
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has touted the district’s projected budget surplus as proof Act 10 is already working.
“The school district took our savings (and) was able to not raise their property taxes,” Walker said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on July 3. “And looking ahead to the next school year because of the reforms we gave them (the district) will actually add more teachers, lower the classroom size, set money aside for merit pay because now they can pay for performance and hire and fire based on merit.”
Patrick Meyer, a Kaukauna High School teacher who co-chairs the negotiations committee for the Kaukauna Education Association, the teachers’ union, rejected the governor’s characterization.
“I think what they’re trying to portray is that (the collective bargaining law) is a good thing and that it has rescued this one district from financial trouble,” Meyer told The P-C on Monday. “The part that gets left out is that Gov. Walker created the crisis by his budget. To me there’s a fallacy of logic there. How can you claim that Act 10 saved people when you’re the one who made them need saving?”
In a Monday email, Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, defended the governor’s policies.
“Like many other states, Wisconsin faced a massive budget deficit,” Werwie wrote.
“States that are governed by both Democrats and Republicans alike are cutting state aid to local units of government to balance their budgets, without giving them any ability to deal with the reduction of state aid. Instead of having massive public employee layoffs, Gov. Walker balanced the budget while protecting middle class taxpayers and middle class jobs. His reforms balanced the budget and gave local governments the ability to handle the reduction in aid,” Werwie wrote.
Meyer predicted a “negative climate” would “permeate” classrooms when school resumes in the fall.
“I worry about the mental and physical health of our members,” Meyer said. “Education is a people services sort of industry. If people are unhappy, that filters through … For the sake of the almighty dollar, I don’t think it’s worth it.”
— Michael Louis Vinson: 920-993-1000, ext. 368, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @MichaelVinson
» Approximately 230 teachers are expected for the 2011-2012 school year in the Kaukauna Area School District. During the 2010-2011 school year, there were approximately 4,000 students.
» 15 members of the Kaukauna Education Association retired at the end of the school year. Five other staff members retired as well.
» Kaukauna Education Association members will now pay 12.6 percent of their health insurance premium, up from 10 percent. This equates to a $520 year-over-year increase for members on a family plan. For those on a single plan, that amounts to a $231 increase for the year.
» The average teacher salary for the 2010-2011 school year was $64,690, not including benefits. The average benefit package was $28,611. The average total compensation package in ’10-’11 was $93,301.
» Class sizes are expected to drop from current levels across the board. Elementary class sizes will shrink from 26-27 students to 23 students. Class sizes for River View Middle School are expected to fall from 29-30 students to 26 students. Kaukauna High School classes could be reduced from 30 students to 25 students.
Source: Kaukauna Area School District Business Office; Wisconsin Department of Instruction