Before Gov. Walker's proposal last week to strip public unions of any meaningful power, teachers in the Sauk Prairie School District were facing another year of potential layoffs and reduction in their hours.
Now on top of heightened job insecurity, teachers face a cut in their salary - as more of their pay is diverted to pay for their health care and pensions - and the loss of their bargaining power if Walker's proposed changes become law.
Ken Ziegler, president of the Sauk Prairie teachers union, said the union held an emergency meeting Feb. 14 in response to Walker's proposal to plug a $3.7 million hole in the current state budget and Sauk Prairie teachers staged a rally on the Highway 12 Bridge in Sauk City on Feb. 15.
"If we are stripped of our rights, there's nothing stopping them from changing more and more," Ziegler said. "This is a union-busting bill. It's not a budget-repair bill or budget-fixing bill."
Ziegler said he fears Walker is stripping the teacher unions of their power in order to free up school boards to make the devastating cuts that will be required once the state legislature guts its funding for public schools.
"If this goes through I think the immediate effects will be the closing of schools, higher class sizes, less aid help in the classrooms and less support in the classrooms," Ziegler said. "Teachers are going to teach no matter what the conditions are, but you have to wonder about the morale."
Superintendent Craig Bender told the school board during its regular meeting Feb. 14 that it should plan on holding an emergency meeting Feb. 23 to approve staff layoffs because Walker's proposed changes could trigger a March 1 deadline for informing teachers that their positions have been eliminated.
The preliminary budget numbers from Walker's office would determine the severity of the layoffs, but Bender said he is expecting Walker's office to announce a significant decline in state aid to the school district.
Furthermore, Bender said he also expects the state to lower Wisconsin schools' revenue cap to prevent school boards from offsetting the drop in aid by raising property taxes.
Bender said the savings the district could realize from employees paying more into their pensions and health care plans would not come close to offsetting the cuts to school funding that he expects the state to make.
"Now it's going to really cut into the guts of basic education," Bender said at the school board meeting.
Before Gov. Walker's announcement Feb. 11, the school board was already exploring $1.5 million in cuts over the next two years. During the school board meeting, Middle School Principal Ted Harter and High School Principal Chris Grinde presented the board on the many budget cuts they've made in recent years.
Grinde said the combination of years of budget cuts and Walker's announcement is unsettling the teachers.
"This whole thing is taking a very, very serious toll on morale," Grinde said.
School board member Fritz Wyttenbach said these cuts should be viewed as an "opportunity" to change education.
"The private sector has dealt with the same issues and quite frankly dealt with them far longer," Wyttenbach said.
Ziegler said teachers have negotiated for years for better health care and pension benefits at the expense of meaningful raises in salary. Ziegler said Walker's proposed changes could mean a $300 to $600 pay cut for teachers.
Bender said the average cost for a teacher in the Sauk Prairie School District, including salary and benefits, is $72,000, but that includes teachers whose entire family is on the plan.
Eileen Doering, a special education teacher at the middle school, said she has a master's degree and has been a teacher since 1976, but she said she makes the same as her nephew who got his first post-college job this year as an engineer.
"I think teachers feel like they've been hit over the head," said Doering. "I think it has demoralized us. Teachers work very hard at what we do and I don't that many people really appreciate it, but that's not why we do what we do it. To feel like we're resented to the point that they would rejoice in taking away our rights, it feels like we've been betrayed."
Doering said she has spoken to teachers who are worried about making their mortgage payments. Ten years ago Doering said she would've encouraged anyone to become a teacher.
"I wouldn't say that anymore," she said. "My daughter would like to be a teacher, she's a college student. I went home last night after hearing this I said, ‘Kelly change your major.'"
What the bill does:
• Restricts public employees from negotiating everything except their wage
• Does not affect police and fire workers
• Limits wage increases to the rate of inflation
• Requires any larger wage increase to be approved by referendum
• Requires public employees to pay 5.8 percent of their pensions and 12 percent of their health care benefits
• Requires that collective bargaining units take annual votes to maintain certification as a union
• Prohibits employers from collecting union dues
• Releases members of collective bargaining units from dues paying requirements
• Authorizes restructuring of principal payments in the current budget for general obligation bonds, reducing debt payment costs by $165 million
• Increases general revenue for Medicaid to cover an estimated $153 million deficit
• Provides $22 million to address shortfalls in the prisons budget
• Authorizes the Department of Administration to sell state heating plants, with the net proceeds deposited in the budget stabilization fund