The Teacher's Dilemma

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The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby jonnygothispen » Fri Dec 07, 2018 4:25 pm

By Peter Krueger

I grew up 30 miles from the birthplace of the Republican Party. And I was a public school teacher in that state, the son of two public school teachers in that state.

Let me tell you what the Republican Party did to my first career as a public school teacher.

First, a little background, because this is actually relevant.

Teaching in Wisconsin up to 2010

When I was young in the 90’s, the economy was doing pretty well, and the teachers’ union was hauling districts to arbitration over pay raises.

See, the private sector was doing great. Folks were getting thousand-dollar bonuses just because the companies were doing awesome. Raises were common, often 4–5% a year.

Districts didn’t want to pay that, so the unions took them to arbitration, and arbitrators consistently came back with awards consistent with the prevailing wage increases of the private sector.

So Republicans passed a law called the Qualified Economic Offer, or QEO. Basically, as long as the districts and state offered a certain percentage increase, the unions were banned from taking it to arbitration. It was about 2.5–3%. At the time, all my folks’ private sector friends were laughing at my parents.

After the dot-com bubble burst and took a sizable piece of the economy with it in the early 2000’s, that laughing turned to resentment after a couple of years when the teachers were still getting raises slightly over the cost of living while the private sector had seen serious contraction.

Bush deregulated the health care industry, and premiums and deductibles started skyrocketing. When I was a child, a thousand dollar deductible was considered outrageous and only for catastrophic insurance at the fringes of the market. My uncle recalls that family health insurance when I was a child, whole family insurance with dental and vision, was $40 a month through his employer. By the time I was a teenager, that had more than tripled for the average family.

So, suddenly, this QEO was looking no longer like a way to stick it to the teachers and keep them from these massive arbitration awards and resentment grew at the “sweet deal” giving teachers a raise above the private sector every year. So, it was repealed by those same Republicans.

I graduated from college right about the Great Recession. I was student teaching while it happened. I watched the markets crash every day when I checked the Dow at the end of school.

My mentor teacher had been on a wage freeze for five years. (To pre-empt the peanut gallery, yes, Democrats were in charge of the state during that period. The question asked about what Republicans have done, and it’s not a binary white-hat-black-hat situation.) What she was forced to pay into health insurance had gone up by 10% in that span; literally every year she was making less than the year before in take-home pay.

It was pretty grim for teachers at that time in 2008–2009. We all thought it was the bottom.

Then the Tea Party took over.

Scott Walker and Act 10

In 2010, Scott Walker got elected. The very first thing that he did upon taking office in 2011 was to gin up a financial “crisis” for the state by using some accounting tricks to come up with a three-billion-dollar budget shortfall and claiming the state was flat broke. He used this justification to ram through, with as little public debate as possible, breaking multiple open meetings laws and open records laws, a bill called Act 10.

Act 10 was aimed at gutting public sector unions, particularly targeting teachers and municipal workers. The police and fire unions, in a naked display of political favoritism, were exempted because they supported Walker’s election bid.

The Act kept unions alive in name, but puts draconian restrictions on them. The only thing that the unions can bargain collectively for now is over base wages, capped at inflation and based on the lowest rung of any pay scale used. A 30 year veteran teacher with a master’s degree would only see a raise capped at inflation and based on a first-year teacher’s salary, if any raise were issued at all.

Unions now have to recertify every single year, not by a majority of votes cast, but a majority of possible votes. Anyone choosing not to vote is considered a no vote, in other words. Failure to recertify means that the union was dissolved and barred from re-forming for five years.

Public sector unions are barred under Act 10 from collecting “fair share” payments. Under Federal laws, unions must represent all workers in a place of employment, whether they are part of the union or not. Fair share laws were designed to fix the “freeloader” problem; they provided a reduced payment collected from non-union employees to offset the cost of the fact that the union had to negotiate their contracts as well.

Since the unions now had to cover the entire state’s public employment, but could essentially no longer collect any dues or fair share payments from anyone who didn’t want to pay up, and because they were relegated to essentially powerlessness over any working conditions, union enrollment dropped by more than half virtually overnight.

Oh, it gets better.

See, Walker made the assumption that teachers paid nothing towards their health care insurance and pensions.

Some districts, as a fringe benefit to make up for low salaries, had been paying the employee’s share of the required pension payments. Additionally, unions had made the choice to push for continued benefits like health insurance rather than salary increases over the years. Other districts, especially rural districts with declining enrollment, had been already requiring their teachers to pay more significant costs towards health care for several years already.

Walker’s assumption was that every school district had been giving their employees everything for free, and that’s how he sold it to the people of Wisconsin.

So, that justified a $1.6 billion dollar cut to public education, which would be “made up” by forcing all teachers to pay more for health insurance and pension costs. It barred districts from making up any of that cut by increasing property taxes. The average district cut was in the millions of dollars.

In the first district I taught in, this resulted in every teacher taking between a ten to twenty percent pay cut.

Act 10 gutted tenure protections and civil service protections, to “give districts tools” to manage these draconian cuts. It was supposed to make it easier to fire bad teachers. In the hands of honest administrators, it did.

In the hands of dishonest administrators, we ended up with what Hustisford School District chose to do: fire every single teacher in the district and offer them their jobs back… at first-year salary. A 30-year veteran teacher with a master’s degree would have to return to work with an effective 50% pay cut, and be paid the same as a teacher fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree.

The UW System

More cuts were leveled at the University of Wisconsin System, one of the oldest completely public higher education systems in the nation, and the most extensive system of technical colleges, 2-year colleges, and 4-year institutions in the country. My alma mater was saddled with enough cuts that it is now facing a five-million-dollar-per-year structural deficit. As with the public school districts, those cuts came with specific bars against raising tuition to make up any difference.

Walker’s justification was that all of these cushy professors were only teaching one or two classes and worked less than ten hours a week. This was rated “pants on fire,” but that didn’t stop Republicans from reciting the party line.

Wisconsin is now absolutely desperate for public teachers

After eight years of this, Wisconsin’s enrollment in teacher training programs is at record lows. Ten percent of the profession quit within the first year after Act 10 passed. The attrition rate still remains above the national average.

Rural districts with low tax bases are especially hard hit. High-tax-base communities like Mequon can afford to pay substantially higher salaries and benefits, and so they poach more qualified or highly-respected teachers from rural or lower-base areas.

My brother-in-law, an orchestra teacher, was offered a five-figure signing bonus and a 10% salary increase to switch districts across the state to a wealthier community. Great for him; can’t blame him for taking it. The more rural community he left is now considering cutting the orchestra program because they can’t find a teacher willing to take the job. They’ve been making do with a band director who doesn’t really know strings for two years.

It’s gotten so bad that legislators have considered multiple proposals to offer provisional licensure to people who have literally no educational or pedagogy training whatsoever if they have any experience tangentially related to the field they want to teach in.

Technology education has been especially hard-hit, because those teachers realized five years ago that they could make twice as much in the private sector as engineers and welders.

Morale is at an all time low

My friends who are sticking it out in education right now are reporting that morale has never picked up even a little bit in the last six years.

Communities in general continue to believe that teachers are getting a sweet ride at the public trough, even though more and more of them are needing to take up second jobs to make ends meet. One of my best friends works at Olive Garden three nights a week and on weekends to pay her bills. Another works the security gate for Fleet Farm so he can grade papers while at his second job.

In my last year of teaching, I was called a glorified babysitter by a parent at a conference. I did the math on the board right in front of them, just for their kid, for the amount of time I spent with that kid, at $5/hour. It was more than their property taxes. (That parent got pissy and left my room in a huff when I figured the final numbers.)

Why did I leave?

I was doing nothing but fighting battles for my students. I was putting in, on average, a 75–80 hour work week, and 90 hours a week was not uncommon. I’d get to school at 6:30 am to beat the copier rush, and typically stayed until 5–6 pm working with students, to go home and down a bite of whatever I had in my constantly-running crock pot, and grade and lesson plan until 10 PM to midnight. Lather, rinse, repeat. 12–14 hours on Saturday, often another 6–10 on Sunday; more if the end of a quarter approached.

And I made $35,500 for that.

The school board came out with a new wage schedule for us that it expected would cover the next thirty years.

If I got every raise, every pay scale step increase, got a master’s degree and National Board certification, never got married, had a child, or incurred any serious debts, and assuming the long-term average in the stock markets and that Walker didn’t screw up the pension system (something he’d been considering,) I calculated that I’d likely be able to retire at 76.


If I lived frugally and saved wisely and was very, very lucky.

I asked some of my friends what they thought. They all pointed out that I’d considered law school in the past, and that I had a passion for much of what I could do there.

I made the decision to apply to law schools, resigned my teaching position, and never looked back. And I have never regretted that decision for a moment.

The attitude towards education in the Republican Party has gotten worse, not better

I’ve attended various Republican Party meetings, trying to change things from the inside. I despair that nothing will change their minds, and if anything, anti-intellectualism has gotten more entrenched.

From fears over Common Core standards to the pervasive belief that public education is simply a waste of money and we should all go back to private schools and homeschooling, it is clear to me that the beliefs in the Republican Party right now are decidedly against public education.

I’ve heard nothing but praise for Betsy DeVos as she attempts to dismantle the Department of Education. (If only it weren’t for that “deep state” that stymies her! Actual thing heard at one of these meetings with knowing nods all around.)

A significant majority of the people at these meetings either homeschool their kids or send them to private religious schools. Those who do not are mysteriously quiet and will not meet my eye when I try to get their views on the topic.

When I ask about the local schools, most reply that their local public school is pretty good. However, they will invariably tell me that they are absolutely certain that public education itself is failing and that schools elsewhere are terrible because something something PARCC and international tests. Do they know how standardized tests work? No. Would they like me to explain it to them? Eyes glaze over.

I’m one of them, you see. Those edumacated folks. Those people who think they know more because they got a piece of paper hanging in their office. (I’ve been told this to my face and heard it plenty of times behind my back.)

The Republican Party doesn’t want to see public education. They want to see publicly funded education, and that as limited as possible. They want their children to go to schools that teach an ideology that they want, and to keep their kids away from certain other kids.

And so public schools will simply continue to become a dumping ground for high-poverty students and kids with special needs.

Elsewhere around the country

Republican stronghold Kansas has been forced to go to a four-day week amidst teacher shortages because they can’t even fund schools enough to keep the lights on that long. Teachers have to have the four-day week to get second or third jobs to afford to make it work.

Teachers are fleeing South Carolina and other typically red states to work in states that are adequately funding education and fostering public respect towards teachers.

Why is the Republican Party often portrayed as being against public school teachers?

Because my experience, the experience of my colleagues, and the evidence all suggest that they are.

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Re: The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby gargantua » Fri Dec 07, 2018 9:23 pm

I believe every word. There really is a class war, and it's being waged by the wealthy and privileged against everyone else. In addition to this post, look at how the Wisconsin Legislature just nullified the election results. As well as Michigan.

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Re: The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby jonnygothispen » Sat Dec 08, 2018 10:26 am

Teaching kids must be one of the toughest jobs just because of the challenge of dealing with so many different personalities, and the change over every year. They should be paid well. Rs act like teaching is supposed to be a service industry job. Dam... When's this episode of the Twilight Zone going to end?

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Re: The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby Sisyphus » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:23 am

[quote="jonnygothispen"]By Peter Krueger

"Act 10 was aimed at gutting public sector unions, particularly targeting teachers and municipal workers. The police and fire unions, in a naked display of political favoritism, were exempted because they supported Walker’s election bid."

Hello there. I keep seeing this claim on numerous comment boards online, and it is patently false. The only Police Union that routinely backed Walker was the Milwaukee PD's. The WPPA, by far Wisconsin's largest Police Union, endorsed Barrett in 2010, endorsed him again in the 2012 recall, and backed Burke in 2014. ... om-barrett ... acks-burke

As a member of WPPA and somebody who protested Act 10 multiple times on the Square, I would like to remind people of the "Cops for Labor" movement and our presence in and around the Capitol.

Please forgive any quote posting errors, I am new at posting comments, despite reading this forum assiduously since 2005. Thanks.

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Re: The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby jonnygothispen » Mon Dec 10, 2018 8:40 pm

Thanks. True, I did see dozens of cops for labor matching together with 'COPS FOR LABOR" T-shirts at very random times such as late on a Tuesday night, etc.

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Re: The Teacher's Dilemma

Postby Igor » Tue Dec 11, 2018 11:22 am

Part of the problem is that we as humans love to group people, and then project the attributes of part of the group onto the entire group. So if you were in Madison back in the day, and you watch a school board consisting of members who were all approved by the teachers union negotiating "against" the union, you might think that all teachers in all districts had the same setup. As anyone that knows teachers in other districts is aware, that was most decidedly not the case.

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