This got some notice in the media a few months ago when it was first discussed, but the Milwaukee Public Schools officially said today that there would be no teacher layoffs this fall, and hardly any layoffs at all, thanks in large part to savings realized through collective bargaining in 2010.
In a press release today, MPS announced that the savings, which totaled about $20 million between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, will pay for 88 teaching positions this coming year. (The funds from last year’s savings bought supplies.)
Even though the district is still cutting 146 teaching positions due to declining enrollment, cuts in state aid, and school closures, teachers who held those positions are not being laid off because MPS is in the middle of an exodus: They announced today that as of July 2, 223 teachers had retired. Many more are leaving for other opportunities, too, including friends of mine.
MPS also said today that they expected even more retirements at the end of the coming school year because, as they put it, “the aging baby boom generation continues to leave the workforce.” The bigger reason, in this teacher’s opinion, is that the collective bargaining agreement from 2010 that created these savings is the very last one MPS will ever enter into with its employees.
Republicans in the state legislature, with Gov. Walker’s approval, have now made it illegal for public employees like teachers to bargain over anything but small salary increases–not working conditions, not retirement benefits, not anything. Including health insurance benefits–the very bargain that is saving teachers’ jobs today. Bargaining works, not always perfectly, of course, but it does, and has for decades. Indeed, even before the most recent contract, MPS and its teachers had repeatedly re-bargained health insurance to make it more cost effective for taxpayers (and more expensive out of pocket for teachers like me).
Without bargaining, what the MPS board plans to impose on teachers for 2013-2014 is an enormous burden; combined cuts in take-home pay for health insurance and pension contributions will equal 10% to 20% of salary, depending on how much a teacher now makes. And the board has also voted to freeze salaries – the one thing we’re allowed to bargain for! – for three years, meaning take-home pay will continue to decrease as insurance premiums climb.
Who wouldn’t want to retire, or escape otherwise, from that?
So, yes, joy for jobs saved this year through the magic of collective bargaining. But no joy for the rush of teachers to the exits as the bargaining ends. MPS said today that this rush is “expected to create a significant need to hire teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools.” That’s an understatement; collective bargaining could have continued to keep experienced teachers in the classroom, but now that it’s illegal, no more.
Postscript: When thinking about who might take the place of all those teachers, don’t count on the New Teacher Project. 2012-2013 is TNTP’s last year with MPS; they had been a steady source of 40-50 new teachers in tough-to-fill specialities every year.