Budget repair bill creates concerns

As a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, a long-term University of Wisconsin employee and an alumnus of two UW institutions, I worry about the future of our institution, the UW System, and the state of Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin System, whose 26 campuses include UW-Baraboo/Sauk County, serves more than 180,000 students. It is a system of public higher education that is the envy of other states and the world. The UW System produces graduates, research and outreach programming that plays an important part in growing Wisconsin's people, communities and future jobs.

But in order for us to continue to serve our communities, we need to be able to attract and retain high-quality faculty and staff. Even on a relatively small campus like UW-B/SC, we conduct nationwide searches to bring highly talented employees to our communities. To do that, we need to offer competitive wages and quality benefit packages.

Consequently, I am concerned about the budget repair bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and its possible implications for our employees. This bill contains drastic changes to the way state employee benefits are financed in Wisconsin. The bill also proposes unprecedented changes for employees represented by collective bargaining and removes the option for future UW faculty/staff unionization.

Although the majority of UW employees are not represented by collective bargaining, this bill has the potential to have long-term consequences for the UW System and by extension, for the state of Wisconsin. There are many unknowns at this point, but the bottom line is that the proposal would significantly reduce take-home pay for our employees at a time when they have endured unpaid furloughs on top of multiple budget cycles without pay raises.

UW employees have been willing to do their part to help the state during these challenging times by taking unpaid furlough days and by serving record numbers of students, but we have reached a point where our compensation will no longer be competitive. Many of our employees have stayed on because of the benefits that we can offer in order to offset their comparatively low wages.

UW System has also taken the position that it is time for state government to reduce the restrictions and rules placed upon the UW so that it can have greater autonomy in the way that it does business. The System is asking for greater flexibility to manage its own affairs and finances so that we can operate as efficiently as possible.

I am working to represent our campus and our community in this process. I encourage you to become involved and to also voice your concerns.

Tom Pleger, dean/CEO, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County

Let's not forget

the state motto

My name is Mark Giese, and I have lived in Wisconsin the entirety of my life. I love this state, as it is my home. As an alumnus of UW-Baraboo/Sauk County and current student at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I have grown in ways which I would not have otherwise. I am planning to be a teacher in this great state.

The thing which inspires me most with this state is our motto, "Forward." Forward, as a motto, seems to stress the importance of progressive changes to improve the quality of life and education in this state. Wisconsin has a proud tradition in this, as can be seen by Robert La Follette Sr. and the "Wisconsin Idea," which brought the state government intimately close with the University of Wisconsin.

This proposed budget "repair" bill, however, is perhaps one of the worst decisions which this great state can pass. This bill, to put it bluntly, is fundamentally flawed. It will castrate this state and leave it in a much withered and ineffectual state.

As a current student of one of this state's universities and a responsible citizen, I feel as though I must voice my opinion. During the governor's State of the State address, he stated that "Wisconsin is open for business!" Additionally, he made several appeals to our neighbors in Illinois to create job opportunities in Wisconsin. It seems, however, that the only thing which came at this request was "Chicago-style" politics, of a sleazy back-room politicking type. That can be seen by the bill's removal of bargaining agreements for state unions, except for those that supported the governor.

A fundamental requirement for a democracy is the ability to have the government and the people converse and be included in decisions which affect them. By removing the rights of those who did not support him, he is breaking a principle held true since the founding of this nation. Either this rather ludicrous notion should be applied to all unions or none at all. A progressive state such as ours should not revert back to questionable practices.

Additionally, Gov. Walker stated in his State of the State that "I hear too many stories of families struggling to put food on the table." If the governor had noticed, then he would not be as draconian with his scheme. I plan on becoming a teacher in this state. Looking at statistics compiled by the National Education Association, Wisconsin has one of the lowest starting wages for teachers (North Dakota comes in last at $24,872; Wisconsin comes a close second at $25,222). I fail to see how making these educators pay more into their pension with one of the lowest starting salaries in the nation.

This bill, if passed, will lobotomize this state's educational system. It will go from being one of the largest and best university systems in the nation to mediocre, at best. Simply put, this bill will destroy Wisconsin's value on quality education, therefore, oppose it.

Mark Giese, Rock Springs

All must sacrifice to balance budget

Wisconsin citizens hire our public employees and in large part protect them from competition in a changing world economy. "Negotiation" in the private sector has risks very different than the public sector - there is no "parity" in public sector negotiation. The assumption that "two are better than one" is an easy sell when considering law enforcement, teachers, social workers and just about any other public sector job - but the risk of losing that job is so far removed from the negotiation process that it is a non-issue. Parity can somewhat be restored by the referendum process, but even then there are examples of public employees holding the public "hostage" in the process.

"It takes a community to educate a child." What lesson are we teaching our youth by mortgaging their future? Many in the private sector have seen their standard of living reduced, even home foreclosures. Our public servants and everyone in government must see the need and participate in balancing our budget in Wisconsin and the nation. Let's start at home.

Fred Kruse, Baraboo

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MZ
MZ

So I have to ask, do Wisconsin school districts and Universities have a hard time hiring teachers? Is there a shortage of qualified applicants at the current starting wage?
Next; I fully support the right of teachers to protest the budget bill. Will the protesting teachers be docked pay for walking away from their jobs to protest? Or are the taxpayers paying for their political activities?

TTcheese
TTcheese

[quote]MZ said: "So I have to ask, do Wisconsin school districts and Universities have a hard time hiring teachers? Is there a shortage of qualified applicants at the current starting wage? Next; I fully support the right of teachers to protest the budget bill. Will the protesting teachers be docked pay for walking away from their jobs to protest? Or are the taxpayers paying for their political activities? "[/quote]
No they will not be docked pay, they are using sick leave, and of course we pay that as well.

TTcheese
TTcheese

The Boo U Dean says "But in order for us to continue to serve our communities, we need to be able to attract and retain high-quality faculty and staff. Even on a relatively small campus like UW-B/SC, we conduct nationwide searches to bring highly talented employees to our communities. To do that, we need to offer competitive wages and quality benefit packages."
What he is really saying is that we should keep shoveling money into his beloved system. Who decides if these people are "high quality"? A true educator supposedly is not in it for the money, so they say. And yet you see high end Jaguars, Mercedes and other status symbols driving around with UW license plates on them. And then give the football coach 2.5 million? I can't believe you people. You have absolutely no conscience what so ever.

Jim Perry
Jim Perry

TTCheese is trying to make a link between those driving expensive cars and being employees of UW. UW-BSC is part of a 13 campus system where the average faculty salary is slightly over $50,000. The staff have an average salary way below that, on average. Those folks are not driving fancy cars. Many are struggling to pay their mortgages. It's likely that the ones TTCheese is denigrating are lawyers and MDs who got their education at UW. Regarding the football coach, yes, it's a travesty that football is what is so highly valued, but that said, the money for that outrageous salary does not come for state tax dollars. It's easy to play loose with the facts, but just making outrageous comments does not make them true. (And I prefer to use my real name, and not hide behind a cloak of anonymity.)

Skeptical
Skeptical

I will start by saying that I am not without sympathy for the average public employee. I do not believe that they are grossly overpaid as many exaggerate. I also do not believe that they so underpaid as to be ‘slave labor’ as others exaggerate. I also believe that there needs to be a right to bargain in this country. However, I do not believe the right to bargain should exist for public employees as it does today. In the private sector, when negotiating begins, the two sides are represented by highly motivated sides. In the public sector, only one side fits that description. The employees and the unions are motivated. The representatives that are supposed to watch out for our tax dollars, are not. The problem is that they are not protecting a company’s profits, or worried about the future. It is not their money, it is the tax payer’s money. And judging by our ever increasing tax bills, we know how these contract negotiations have by and large ended up.

darkenskies
darkenskies

After seeing the revolutionary signs being carried by teachers in Madison and that special sign of the "Bullseye on Governor Walker", you bet we need to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. ABC,NBC,CBS,CNN did not show that sign...why not? If Democratic Governor, it would be splattered all over TV screens 24 hours a day and you know that for a fact!

Mark G
Mark G

As a prospective educator I admit that I am not entering this career path (though it is far more accurate to call it a lifestyle) for the money. Why do I say lifestyle? I say lifestyle because a teacher has arguably one of the most important jobs out there, training the youth whom in any way shape or form, be taking care of the older generations. It takes on average, four to five years of university studies to provide certification for a student to become a teacher. I find it rather ludicrous to expect a student, (I will have spent approximately $40,000 dollars in tution by the time I finish) to work for peanuts. On top of that amount of investment, a teacher, believe it or not, is a human being whom also lives outside of school and need living expenses. As far as legislation is concerned, unions also are people. The problem that I have with this bill is that this bill is discriminatory towards those whom did not support the campaign. Just remember that we will get what we pay for.

Skeptical
Skeptical

Hey Mark G, if you think the police officers and firefighters are "protected" by compaign contributions, just wait. Gov. Walker will get to them later. You can only bite off so much, at one time. And, he bit off a lot to start out with judging by all the hoopla.

What I find outrageous is the Dem. legislators leaving the state. So they started to lose their game of marbles, and quit like like bunch of 6-year olds. They picked up their marbles, and stormed out. To some, they are heroes. To me, they are irresponsible crybabies that quit the game when they were losing. If every legislator walked out of the room when they faced a losing vote, what would ever get done? What respect I had for the Dem's and their opposing view, got washed away by their childish antics.

TTcheese
TTcheese

Jim Perry said "(And I prefer to use my real name, and not hide behind a cloak of anonymity.)"
Good for your righteous a**. This is SUPPOSED to be an anonymous blog, you dummy. So, to clarify the UW license plates of the high rollers who like to rub other peoples nose in it, any one can get one of those plates? You are telling me the professors in Madison don't make that kind of money? And where do you teach?

greatwhite866
greatwhite866

- You don't have to be a UW employee to buy a UW plate. I see a lot of Green Bay plates on nice cars. Does that mean everyone plays for the Packers? No. You pay an extra $15 and the DMV will sell you the plate you want.
- The article was written primarily about the UW-Baraboo/Sauk County campus ("Boo U") and the overall UW system. It doesn't say anything about UW Madison, where the campus, the student body, and the salaries are all much larger. The average salary of a UW-BSC employee is just over $31,000. More than half the faculty make less than $50k a year, even though their degrees generally cost twice that much. Nobody on this campus is getting rich, and most employees have just as much trouble paying their bills as any other Wisconsinite.

greatwhite866
greatwhite866

- If any of you ever visit the Boo-U campus (you clearly have not so far) you will not see Jaguars or Mercedes. You will see pickup trucks, minivans, and economy cars, most of which are old and in various states of decay; it's doubtful you can tell which are faculty and which are students.
- Of the 86 full and part-time employees on this campus, only 7 are "union-protected" workers. The rest are contract or temporary employees and have no union bargaining power or rights. Even if the unions are successful in protecting their members', the majority of BOO-U employees are still going to take a 12-15% paycut on the chin.
- If you think ANYONE goes into education "for the money" then you need some education of your own. People do this job because they care about it and love it, not because it pays well.
- Boo-U employees have already had 4 years of pay freezes and 2 years of unpaid furlough; now another pay cut. Less money in their pocket means less money in local business pockets.

TTcheese
TTcheese

Then the UW Madison is considered to be a separate entity from it's satellites?

greatwhite866
greatwhite866

- UW Madison does not have "satellites". The UW System consists of 26 separate campuses: (13) 2-year campuses and (13) 4-year campuses. UW-BSC is one of the (13) 2-years, all of which are under-resourced in terms of funding and personnel.
- You should note that our campus (and the rest of the UW campuses) receives the majority of its funding from student tuition and fees, and only about 30% of the budget is supported by state general revenue (i.e. "taxpayer") dollars.
- This is in contrast to the Tech College system (MATC in our area) which receives 60-70% of its funding from taxpayers, primarily through the assessment of local property taxes. It's also worth noting that the average starting salary for the same type of teaching position, with less educational requirement, is about 50% higher at MATC. This is not a knock on the local MATC, which is as much an integral part of the community as UW-BSC. It is a reflection of how much our faculty love Boo-U and believe in a UW education.

greatwhite866
greatwhite866

By the way (this is my personal opinion, not correction of misinformation about UW-BSC and this in no way reflects the position of the campus or UW System): it's funny how most discussions about state employees make it seem as if we are somehow exempt from taxes and need to "pay our fair share". We pay the same taxes as everyone else in this state. And I love Governor Walker's statements that we need to be "more like the private sector". I am completely in support of it and hope it becomes true. In the private sector, the idea is that the harder you work, the higher you will rise and the more you will get paid. Produce more, earn more. So, when I work more hours (I count 54 so far this week) and go in on the weekend to produce more, I should be paid more. Except I'm not, because us "lazy state employees" are already overpaid by the hardworking taxpayer. If that were true, we wouldn't have employees who qualify for state food and heating assistance, just like others in the community.

TTcheese
TTcheese

Thanks for the clarification. I still feel strongly against unions, WEAC especially, but I appreciate you explaining the differences.

greatwhite866
greatwhite866

And I appreciate you taking the time and effort to understand the differences. If everyone would just become a little more informed and a little less extreme in their rhetoric, we might actually get something done. Just as too far to the left approaches communism, too far to the right approaches fascism. This country has always done very well in the middle, and we are well-served to keep it that way. Democracy and liberation from autocratic governments is being celebrated all over the Middle East right now; why go the opposite direction here in the "land of the free"?

Average Mark
Average Mark

You are all missing the point.
The burning issue is the fact that the Governor thought those unions wouldn't give him every thing he wanted so like a bully he's shoving a gag down there throat so they can't object. Real republican... oops! I meant democratic... Right!
Bargaining means talk.You take away dialog then you end up with a dictatorship.
I'm not surprised a bit with the comments made in such an anti union community such as Baraboo and the surrounding area. You people forget what unions have contributed to your communities. The pathetic wages offered by employers in this area would be allot lower with out unions to show the way. You wouldn't even know what benefits are without unions.
Sorry about the rant. The fact is that the state budget needs to be cut is a no brain-er. We need leadership that's able to do it through dialog like real politicians can, rather than act like a bunch of spoiled bullies.