MTEA Stiffs the Kids
The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) has voted 52% to 48% n against offering to make contributions to teacher pensions that could have saved the jobs of about 200 teachers. The lay-offs are the result of a reduction of $80 million in state aid and the expiration of a federal stimulus grant. Mayor Tom Barrett commented that "children would suffer the most from the decision..." (1) It is only fair to note that the four-year contract between MTEA and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) provides for teacher payments of up to 2% of salary for health insurance, saving the district up to $25 million per year, but no payments for pensions.
Of the 5,500 teachers in MPS, only 354 will lose their jobs, so the vast majority (93.6%) will not be affected by the lay-offs. Moreover, due to union-negotiated seniority rules, only non-tenured teachers (those with less than 3 years experience) will be laid-off. But pension concessions would have affected all the teachers, so it was in the self-interest of the tenured members of MTEA to reject re-opening the contract. So, it is gratifying to note that even 48% of the union members were willing to share the sacrifice.
Aside from the teachers who will lose their jobs, the biggest losers in this decision are Milwaukee Public School students, who will be in larger classes. Some elective courses will also be eliminated. If MTEA members had really put the interests of school children above their own net-pay, the union would have offered enough concessions to save the jobs of all 354 terminated faculty, not just the 200 that could have been saved by pension concessions alone. Mayor Barrett, who tried to take over MPS himself in 2009 is right about this, but where was he before MTEA rejected the deal, when the Mayor might have rallied public pressure on the union to save these jobs?
The Board of School Directors could also have rallied the public to demand the concessions, but did nothing. Could the fact that every school board candidate endorsed by MTEA in 2011 won have cooled any inclination the Board might have to confront the union ? (2) The City PTA Council and Greater Milwaukee Committee, who owe nothing to MTEA, could have spoken out for the interests of the kids, too, but also did nothing.
The State could have dealt with the budget deficit by raising taxes, but instead cut aid to schools. The MTEA could have dealt with the aid cut by giving back some hard-won benefits, but chose not to take the hit. Elected officials and civic leaders could have pressured MTEA, but chose not to do so. The ultimate losers were the ones with the least power to affect events: the non-tenured teachers and the students. There is enough blame, and shame, to go around.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 28, 2011, pages 1A and 8A.
(2) The endorsed winners were directors Falk, Holman and Sain. Board President Bonds was unopposed for re-election, and MTEA declined to endorse anyone in the contest between incumbent Director Jeff Spence and me.