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July 25, 2011

Wisconsin's Budget Reform Plan Continues Having Odd Result of Saving Teachers' Jobs

In the New Jersey fight with teachers' unions, of course the unions would not agree to diminishments in pay or, more importantly, contributions to benefits.

The unions, then, forced school districts to lay off lots of teachers.

This may seem like an odd choice for a union, but it's what they always choose. For one thing, who gets laid off is often a matter of seniority or political pull within the union. There is the "union," then -- every teacher forced to join it -- and then there is the real union -- the teachers who are favored by union rules and can therefore choose to hold out for maximum pecuniary advantage, even at the cost of seeing other "union members" lose their jobs, because, hey, who cares about those other union members.

They say every profession is a conspiracy against the laity. And every union is a conspiracy against its management, by necessity. But every union is also a conspiracy against its less-well-protected members, because the more-protected members of it will sell out the less-well protected members almost every time.

Getting other teachers fired is also, the union thinks, a smart political move, because parents get very angry when, say, coaches are laid off, and they now have to pay for private sports leagues for their kids because the schools have cut back on organized sports. The unions think this will eventually break the public, and force them to accede to yet more salary and benefits, so they don't have to pay for sports leagues out of their own pockets.

But that only works up to a point. At some point, the public looks at the tax bill for the teachers' unions' ever-increasing demands and decides they're going to have to pay through the nose either way.

In Wisconsin, the budget reform bill has avoided all the teacher-union-caused turmoil NJ's parents faced, because now school districts are able to balance their budgets... without firing anyone at all.

Emily Koczela had been anxiously waiting for months for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill to take effect. Koczela, the finance director for the Brown Deer school district, had been negotiating with the local union, trying to get it to accept concessions in order to make up for a $1 million budget shortfall. But the union wouldn’t budge.


“We laid off 27 [teachers] as a precautionary measure,” Koczela told me. “They were crying. Some of these people are my friends.”

On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill​—​delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court​—​was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared.

With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan​—​such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)​—​saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

“Everything we changed didn’t touch the children,” Koczela said. Under a collective bargaining agreement, she continued, “We could never have negotiated that​—​never ever.”

Teachers' unions claimed they were willing to make concessions -- but not about collective bargaining on all their other perks.

And it turns out they were crafty to make this their Rubicon, because they were getting a lot of hidden benefits through these means. This month-old report by Byron York noted that the teachers' unions were extracting money from the public the public probably didn't even know about.

Of course, Wisconsin unions had offered to make benefit concessions during the budget fight. Wouldn't Kaukauna's money problems have been solved if Walker had just accepted those concessions and not demanded cutbacks in collective bargaining powers?

"The monetary part of it is not the entire issue," says Arnoldussen, a political independent who won a spot on the board in a nonpartisan election. Indeed, some of the most important improvements in Kaukauna's outlook are because of the new limits on collective bargaining.

In the past, Kaukauna's agreement with the teachers union required the school district to purchase health insurance coverage from something called WEA Trust -- a company created by the Wisconsin teachers union. "It was in the collective bargaining agreement that we could only negotiate with them," says Arnoldussen. "Well, you know what happens when you can only negotiate with one vendor." This year, WEA Trust told Kaukauna that it would face a significant increase in premiums.

Now, the collective bargaining agreement is gone, and the school district is free to shop around for coverage. And all of a sudden, WEA Trust has changed its position. "With these changes, the schools could go out for bids, and lo and behold, WEA Trust said, 'We can match the lowest bid,'" says Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke, who represents the area and supports the Walker changes. At least for the moment, Kaukauna is staying with WEA Trust, but saving substantial amounts of money.

Teachers unions always, always claim that they are compelled to demand more taxpayer money for the children. They are only thinking about the children, you understand.

But in Wisconsin, here is the net effect of the budget repair bill:

1. No teachers are being laid off.

2. Teachers are teaching (in many districts) an additional period per day. They're doing their jobs -- for the children -- an additional period per day, rather than overseeing a study hall while they read Steven King books.

3. Putting 1 and 2 together, class sizes are being reduced in districts, since there are more teachers, teaching more classes, thus realizing what the unions always claim is their Holy Grail -- fewer kids per class, and thus more personalized instruction.

4. Budgets are balanced and teachers' salaries won't be coming out of the children's college funds. Um, isn't that a good thing too? Isn't it nice to leave parents some money to save for their kids' futures?

But the teachers' unions, and the left, and the media (but I repeat myself twice), wants you to believe this is all the most horrible thing ever.

Remember, everything they do is for the children, even if it often appears they are doing things expressly against the interests of the children and entirely for their own pecuniary gain.

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posted by Ace at 02:37 PM

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