Sacrifice & the work ahead

I am one of the parents praising the “bold” steps taken by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) leadership in their willingness to open their contracts for discussion that could aid in the efforts to funnel more resources into our classrooms. According to this article dated March 16, 2012, the MTEA leadership is asking members to take a pay cut to keep more teachers in the classrooms.

As a point of clarity here the union leadership is NOT actually asking members to take a pay cut, they are asking members to forgo a previously voted on pay increase that is set to take affect next school year. The cost savings (ideally) would be spent on more teachers thus reducing bulging class-sizes.

I applaud this task. I applaud Superintendent Thornton and Board President Michael Bonds of MPS for asking the State to allow our teachers contract to be opened up for discussion without penalty. I applaud the Union leadership for starting this very difficult conversation with its members. As a Milwaukee Public Schools parent, I consider these actions less than “bold” more desiderata.

That does not mean I think teachers are not “worth” all that they make or receive – and much, much more.  The reality is that pot of funds is only so big.  No teachers should be expected to teach classes in excess of 30 children and in schools without support staff. No child should be expected to actually thrive in a class of 45. No child should go to a school without art, physical education and music education.

In this time of historic slashes to school budgets across the state, the MPS administration and Board Governance has approached the Union leaders and has asked them to implore their members to consider looking at the details of their current contract. Contrary to popular retelling and distortion- the MTEA did not RAM through their current contract ahead of the Walker administration’s ACT 10.

Now some (who happily voted in favor of historic cuts to education) are touting this as a victorious “use of the governor’s tools.” I view this as a reasonable result of adults coming together to collectively discuss where they are and where they want to be, while functioning in a funding reality that is fully unreasonable. I have often said in the last year that if the MTEA were so much in support of collective bargaining – they have had a strange way of showing in the recent past – collecting a lot and bargaining very little. I do not blame the MTEA for working for and standing strong for very healthy benefit plans for their members. I do not blame them for wanting to provide pay increases to their members. I do however believe that the successes of collective bargaining come in bringing something to the table in which to bargain with and the MTEA has historically dug their heels in for some causes which I have viewed as frivolous or unrealistic, especially given the decline in state funding for schools over the last 20 plus years.

As a Milwaukee Public Schools parent I am delighted that the MTEA is willing to look for cost savings, just as I hope Superintendent Thornton’s administration and the Office of Board Governance is looking deeply into their budgets for savings as well. I believe what the MTEA is doing is exactly as it should – listening to the concerns of its members; Teachers in MPS have seen their individual school budget presentations, they are recognizing that cutting trusted adults out of our buildings is not safe for kids, it is not good for education and is not good for their own working conditions.

Union members, in theory, elect leadership who are charged with being open to the needs and concerns of their members, they make the difficult choices, and advocate for the workers. I believe this is what Democracy looks like. Now, with any organization there can be corruption or back-scratching, but overall Unions in our Nation work for workers. If you are a Union member and you do not like the leadership – you do not have to re-elect them. If your Union members bend the ear of leaders enough – you can get them to make big moves – bold ones … like the MTEA possibly looking at their contract again.

Full disclosure; I am union-born and raised. I believe the power of any work-force should belong in the hands and minds of the workers. I cannot tell you how many times people I know in the “private sector” have expressed their disdain for the rules/policy and regulation forced upon them from higher-ups at work who have no idea how those rules/policies and regulations affect production, ability for success or are just plain counter-intuitive to the actual work being done. I cannot tell you how many times I have said, “You should unionize.” My flip (yet very much real) response is met with a laugh from more liberal friends and a hearty scoff from the more conservative circles.

Unions have played a critical role in establishing workplace health, safety and production guidelines in the U.S. Workers and groups have unionized to help our nation establish a “more perfect union.” Unions give a collective voice to workers because sadly we seem to require 1,000+ worker voices to somehow be equal to the voices of the select bosses/owners or even our elected officials.

Unions do protect people – they protect them from unsafe work conditions, they assist in creating rules to govern the operations of facilities – outside of unionized workplaces, I believe most workers wish they had a ‘collective voice’ in their workplace. Unions protect people who are willing to speak up.

Teachers do need and deserve a union – a union that lends a voice to protecting the sanctity of the classroom – that includes resources. The union should assist in providing children with a safe and productive classroom setting. In my opinion, unions should not protect a self created health insurance company. Teachers take on the task of educating our young people across our state and country, every day. The vast majority of teachers are very good at their job and would be even better with proper support.  Teachers deserve a voice.

I believe in a free and open democracy – unions have a vital role in transparency. I have had MANY conversations with MTEA members and leaders in the last five to 10 years and I truly never saw this day coming. I believe we sit here in the midst of a storm and as a parent I welcome the teachers to channel money back into the classrooms. I hope that the Administration and Board Governance follow suit.

The caveat to my excitement over this most recent development is as follows – even when ALL of the MPS players give, there will be some positions saved, but we will not recuperate all of the losses suffered in our school that are a direct result of the systematic de-funding of Public Education in Wisconsin. The use of a convoluted funding formula, that NO ONE (except maybe Tom Beebe) can explain (including your Wisconsin legislators and governor), has short changed the public school children of Wisconsin. Schools across Wisconsin do not look like the schools you knew 20 or 30 years ago, even ones in very affluent areas.

I hate to ask any teacher to do anymore than they already do in these impossible times, but a generation of children is hoping you step up and give and then continue to fight for education!

The current funding system is punitive. It starves and castigates schools/districts and we the people have to the power to change it.

Now for my shameless plug and call to action!


Opportunity to Learn Wisconsin:
Building the Movement Statewide Meeting – Madison
Saturday, March 24, 2012

This isn’t a workshop to debate whether or not schools are underfunded or what more can be cut from education programs and services. This is a statewide conference for all people who want to engage in efforts to get more resources for our K-12 public schools. The Opportunity to Learn Wisconsin Statewide Conference and Kick-off is the first step.

The action meeting costs $15 and includes lunch.

If you agree that public schools need resources so that they can give all children the opportunities they need to learn and succeed in life — no matter what their zip code or their special circumstances — then you want to attend this event. The campaign being kicked off is focused on guaranteeing five core resources for all Wisconsin children:

  • High-quality early childhood education
  • Highly prepared, effective and supported teachers
  • Solid and challenging curriculum
  • Equitable instructional resources
  • Expanded learning options


I look forward to seeing you there.

If you cannot make it Saturday, join the e-newsletter and stay current on what is happening at the State level. Every vote on education in Madison affects the classrooms in every community – and now more than ever in every public and private school.

This oneMKEmom applauds MPS Administration, the MTEA and Board Governance for being bold for our children. I invite all of you to take action, any action in support of public education: join a committee, volunteer, tutor/read with kids, call/email your legislators and tell them you support equitable, comprehensive (and intelligible) funding reform for Wisconsin schools.


  • jmdmilw says:

    Jenni, you managed to untangle part of a snarled mess without making anyone cry! Good work! Union relationships are so complex and complicated! Have you or any others in this sphere heard of MTEA scaling back their administrative infrastructure? Rather than asking the classroom teachers to make the sacrifice, I’d prefer to see their administration take the hit. I believe there’s a lot more that could be done at Central Office as well, to reduce the size and scope of administrative services. You can provide “services” to schools all day long, but if the teachers are overwhelmed and classrooms unruly, those services have no impact.

    If the classroom really is the most important place in the district, that is where the majority of funds need to go, to provide more teachers in smaller groupings of children, especially in the schools that are struggling. Of all the things we could do (and have tried) to raise student achievement, that is the one move that makes a difference.

  • bigrogerdan says:

    Thanks for the information. I agree with jmdmilw.
    To have Mr. Walker tell us the jobs are here but we
    are not trained for them, while cutting education
    spending, is just….what’s the word I’m searching for..?
    ahh….SILLY! (Sorry, that’s the word I came up with).
    bigrogerdan, USW Local 2-42

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