I received a forwarded message through my email regarding a new Wisconsin teachers’ handbook which sounded so unbelievable to me that, at first, I thought it must be a hoax. So I did some research and found, much to my amazement, that not only is it true, but somehow I missed this story at the end of August, and maybe you did, too. So, here is a tragic story that teaches a valuable lesson: How unfairly teachers can be treated when collective bargaining goes out the window.
At a hugely attended meeting in New Berlin, Wisconsin, on August 29, the school board of the New Berlin school district voted unanimously to approve a new employee handbook which took effect this year. It was the second public meeting to discuss the passage of this handbook, since the initial meeting became so raucous that police had to be called in.
This second meeting of the school board was more controlled (probably the appearance of police cars with lights flashing all over the parking lot helped to subdue the crowd a little) but it was still charged with emotion, as districts all over the state have been adopting new handbooks spelling out wages, work rules, and benefits, now that collective bargaining is a thing of the past.
The crowd that gathered represented the two factions in this heated issue: teachers and union supporters who were concerned that the harsh rules will negatively affect their work and the reputation of the district as a whole and those in the community who support Governor Walker and want to see lower taxes.
Education Association President Diane Lazewki said that the changes proposed by New Berlin were further-reaching than the handbooks being adopted in other districts in their state. She said, “I would be surprised to see any other handbook as punitive as ours.”
So, is the new handbook punitive? Well, before I go any further, let me share some of the handbook’s more surprising mandates, from the email I received:
* Workdays for elementary will increase by 60 minutes and Secondary by 30 minutes
* Staff must be available to students before and after student schedules for at least 30 minutes per day
* You can be required to work an additional unpaid 15 hours; no more than 3 hours a week
* No pay for subbing during your preps; Principals can assign you to sub
* Certified staff hours are 1520 per year full time (190 days for this year only)
* The 2012-13 school year starts on August 15th and runs until June 15th
* You may be required to start as early as 6:15 AM and end as late as 5:00 PM
* You may be required to attend in-service or other training, outside your regular work schedule
* Next year, if we do not change the political landscape, pay will be based on performance; pay is insured this year because of the NBEA agreement.
* You are not allowed to drop any licensure without the superintendent’s approval
* Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc.
* Be dismissed for having students as friends on Facebook
* Jury Duty: regular pay, but you must show documentation to the district that you’ve tried to change the jury duty time to July and August
* Evaluations: Done yearly without notice
* Collaborative time twice weekly for 2 hours a week.
* You must report all traffic incidents (except speeding) or any tickets you have received to the District within 3 days or face dismissal even if it occurs during your time off
* Take away all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers, even though each administrator and the District have these items.
* 4 initial sick days and earn l day per month based on good attendance
* However those who have accumulated over 45 days will not be awarded any days until they have used enough days to fall below the 45 day cap.
* Long term disability reduced from 90% of pay to 60% of pay. If ill or have had surgery and do not have any sick time built up, you will be short pay. You will also have to pay your insurance premium during any disability leave.
* No days will be added to sick bank, which will be discontinued after this year, erasing any safety net for those who become critically ill.
* Resign before first day of school, you must pay $200 plus board contributions of benefits (insurance).
* Resigns after the first day school, $2000 plus benefits payments if not 60 days notice given
Sound a little punitive to you?
Art Marguardt, New Berlin School Board member, said that the board and the administration had spent extensive time on the handbook and denied that they were trying to be punitive. He said that the atmosphere has changed in Wisconsin from the unions having their way to the elected representatives now having the dominant voice. That’s “hard for some people to swallow,” he said.
Leslie Potter, who is a teacher at New Berlin West, told the board that the new rules would require that she work more hours but would limit the time she spends with her students and expressed concern that it eliminated any reference to prep time for teachers. “The school board says that they value collaboration,” she added. “We request that they approach this handbook in the same manner.”
After teachers had their say, a community member spoke up, saying that he represented the 5.5 million taxpayers in the state who approved of Walker and were in favor of what he was doing. While many in the auditorium broke into applause, teachers and union supporters sat silently, and eventually they walked out before the man was done speaking.
The bottom line is this: the New Berlin school board unanimously accepted this new handbook, and it sends a chillingly, clear message to teachers everywhere about what may be coming to their state in the future.
My state of Ohio is another state like Wisconsin, whose governor has pushed for a bill to end collective bargaining. Our unions fought back, and the state has one more chance to keep what is happening in Wisconsin from happening in Ohio. I appeal to those of you who live in Ohio to vote no on Issue 2 this November, and spread the word to others to do the same.
I don’t care how you try to spin the facts; this new handbook sounds punitive, and it certainly will do nothing to improve the morale of the teachers who work in that district or the quality of instruction that the students will receive.