The majority of Sauk Prairie School District's 220 teachers didn't show up for work Feb. 17 in order to drive to Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill that would strip them of their collective bargaining rights.
Superintendent Craig Bender said the night before he held a conversation with Ken Ziegler, president of the local teachers union the Sauk Prairie Education Association, about the matter.
"He told me a significant number of people would be calling in sick," Bender said.
Bender said by 9:30 p.m. so many teachers had called the substitute teacher line to notify the school district that they wouldn't be coming to work that it overwhelmed the automatic call-in service.
After a conversation with school board president Carol Baier, Bender said he made the decision to cancel school but instructed teachers to show up for work.
Ziegler said teachers didn't call in sick rather they took one of their four private days. Bender said he approved the private days even though they didn't meet the contractual requirements to notify the district ahead of time. Teachers can use four of their 12 sick days as private days.
"Call it a sick day, call it a private day, it's in their contract either way," Bender said.
Bender said Ziegler told him the teachers union voted to not show up to school on Feb. 18 either.
"I told Ken we're going to have school anyway, we'll double up (class size) if we have to," Bender said.
Bender said Ziegler went back to the teachers, and they agreed to return to school. Bender said there have not been unusual teacher absences since. Ziegler said at least 75 percent of the district's teaching staff went to the capitol Feb. 17, but the teachers were happy to return to work.
"We love our community and don't want to hurt it," Ziegler said.
Bender said he fielded a number of angry phone calls from parents about school being unexpectedly canceled.
Don Slotty, who has two children in the Sauk Prairie School District, said he approved of the teachers protesting on the Highway 12 bridge after school hours Feb. 15, but he thought it was inappropriate that they didn't show up for work Feb. 17.
"Why are they calling in sick?" Slotty said. "They aren't sick. They're teaching my kids to lie."
Ziegler said teachers weren't protesting Gov. Walker's demands that they pay more for fringe benefits - which will mean a 10 percent reduction in take-home pay for the average teacher in Wisconsin - but the loss of their rights to bargain.
"I will never forget spending the time with many colleagues and associates at the rallies," Ziegler said. "No matter what happens in the end, I know that I did what I could for what I believe is right."
In an e-mail, Ava Eubanks described the feeling of solidarity in protesting with other teachers and University of Wisconsin teaching assistants. She said they chanted and clogged the halls in the capitol, slowing down legislators.
She said made a placard using her son's childhood toy sword as the handle but forgot it when she returned home.
"My friend and I looked at each other and said ‘Oh, no!' and, "that's OK - the sword was finally used to fight a real battle,'" Eubanks stated. "It was doing what it was supposed to. Battle for justice and democracy!"