OK

Wisconsin State Journal... you had me at hello, you ol' sidewinder!  Good job:  You were the first Wisconsin newspaper to get this story right.  

They interviewed Barry Forbes of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards who says that some (I would say many, if not most) schools districts will be forced into a position of making cuts to teacher pay or laying people off because of the budget crunch:

School districts hit hardest by state revenue limits and reduced aid may seek more savings in employee benefit costs, but it won't always be enough, especially in districts where teachers and others are already paying more for health care and pensions, said Barry Forbes, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

"They could choose to give no pay increase," Forbes said. "Act 10 gives almost all the bargaining power to the employer. Could schools find themselves in a situation where they had to make a choice between cutting teacher compensation and cutting staff? Definitely there will be some school districts in that situation."

Kurt Kobelt, the general counsel for WEAC says that while cuts are not mandatory unless school boards are "sensible" teachers are vulnerable to pay cuts:
 
Kurt Kobelt, general counsel for the Wisconsin Education Association Council union, said many members are worried, so he sent a memo Wednesday reassuring them that Walker's rule on base wages didn't make pay cuts mandatory. Still, Act 10 has left employees vulnerable unless school boards are "sensible," Kobelt said.
 
But don't worry teachers, Scott Walker says you can still get a raise!  A big fat one! No siree, Walker isn't just talking about a cost of living increase, he's saying the sky's the limit: schools districts can pay as much as they want outside of the collective bargaining agreement:
 

Walker agreed that despite Act 10's strict limits on negotiated pay raises, employers can add whatever they want. In a meeting with the State Journal editorial board Friday, he used an example in which the contractual cap was $50,000.

"If they want to pay them $70,000, they can do it," Walker said. "There's nothing to stop that."

Pause for collective spit take. 
 
Ahhh yes governor Walker, there's nothing to stop that.... except, for the fact that you've slashed state aid funding to schools, which on average, rely on about 2/3 of their funding from the state.  And at the same time, you've prevented local school districts from raising property taxes to fill in the massive funding hole left from removal of state aid.
 
The truth is that Act 10 and the Walker rule to implement it prohibits "educational add-ons" and therefore cuts 30% of the money out of the 'pot of money' the average school district uses to pay teacher salaries. 
 
Yes, the school district can restore that 30% that Act 10 and its implementation rule remove, but that's where the rubber hits the road.
 
Many school districts simply won't have the money to restore that funding and will use this "tool" to prevent lay-off of teachers.  It should be noted as well, that many schools can't lay-off teachers because they are already at their bare minimum of one teacher per elementary grade or already have riculously high class sizes. 
 
Many school districts will have the money to restore the funding, but the school board will use this as an opportunity to chase-off older, more-experienced, more educated and therefore higher paid teachers by cutting their pay, while at the same time increasing the pay for cheaper teachers right out of college.
 
Many school districts, as the WERC General Counse Peter Davis points out, will use Walker's tools to essentially maintaining their teacher salary budget on the backs of school janitors, cafeteria workers and bus drivers:

Davis said unskilled workers are less likely to see such extra pay because there is less competition for their services.

"Things may be tighter for them. I would guess that the local politics could be a little more rough and tumble and taxpayer groups may hold a little more sway," Davis said. "You may hear them say, 'If we were to reduce the pay and, say, lose a truck driver, there would be a hundred people lining up for the job.'

The bottomline here is that the conventional wisdom of most Wisconsinites is that teachers salaries and other public workers are being frozen except for cost of living increases is far, far, far away from reality. 
 
The reality is that something has got to give. 
 
Walker balanced the state budget mostly on the backs of schools, through deep cuts to state aid, while at same time putting a property tax freeze at the local level.  Now, he comes out with the Act 10 implementation rule that says the school boards have to remove 30% of their teacher salary budget and its completely at their disgresion of whether or not to replace it.  Another one of Walker's tools.

In fact, reality is even worse that that.  As the State Journal article points, because arbitration rights have been stripped away from unions, the school board can tell teachers they want to cut their salary by 50% or anything and there isn't a thing the union can do about it. As Governor Walker WERC commissioner Jim Scott points out:

"Is it the bargaining that we used to have? No. Is it an utter sham? I'd say it's always worthwhile to talk," said Jim Scott, chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. "But in the end, clearly if an impasse is reached, the school board (or other public employer) will be free to implement their last best offer."

Most school boards, however, wouldn't have the political cover with their constituents to make a huge cut and tell the teacher unions to "take it or leave it." The point of Walker's new implementation rule, though, is that it gives school boards the political cover in their communities to make the cuts necessary to balance their budgets.  Yes, again, as I've said all along, they don't have to make the cuts, but it allows them to sell it to the locals as something that Walker made them do it or that the implementation rule in Act 10 made them do it. 

Don't believe that will happen?  We need only to look to the leading Democrat frontrunner for governor, Tom Barrett, who has said he had to use Walker's tools because he was "painted into a corner," "hands were tied," ect. because of Walker's deep budget cuts.   

Whether you feel Barrett was right or wrong to make cuts instead of lay-offs, know this:  Your our community's leaders will be forced to make the same decision and you will hear more and more about how Walker's Act 10 implementation rule "painted them into a corner."

 

Originally posted to Jud Lounsbury on Sun Apr 29, 2012 at 10:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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