By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 19, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Although the MTEA has repeatedly said it would not enter into negotiations with MPS to change the contract that both sides agreed upon last year (and which runs through 2013), the teachers' union recently sent out a survey to poll its members on the matter.

The survey asks, "Should the MTEA enter into negotiations to consider making financial concessions to lessen the number of layoffs?"

On Friday, MPS superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton wrote his own open letter to MTEA members. That letter is posted on the district's website.

Thornton asked new MTEA president Bob Peterson on June 27 to open talks on possible concessions, most notably pension contributions, that could trim the layoffs of 354 MPS teachers caused by cuts in state aid to the district.

In the letter, Thornton tells teachers that "the time is now" and avers that the union survey is "the single most important piece of mail you will get this week."

Thornton vows that money saved from concessions would fund teachers.

"Every cent we get back will be used to bring back teachers. These are teachers who may have been in the classroom next door to yours. They are teachers with whom you have shared break time, and whose children's names you may know."

MPS estimates that a 5.8 percent pension contribution by teachers would save about $20 million that could fund roughly 200 teaching positions.

The MTEA website has a document available for download that offers background and some pros and cons of making concessions.

"During these difficult times," the document reads, "we need to become an even stronger, more democratic union. We may have differences on how best to proceed. But in the end, we need to emerge with even more solidarity for the struggles ahead – to defend and build our union, our public schools and our communities. It is in this spirit that we ask for your input."

On the upside, says the MTEA document, concessions would demonstrate a "commitment to children and our willingness to work with the administration and other supporters of public education to improve teaching and learning in the Milwaukee Public Schools."

Among the downsides is that "further concessions might remove pressure on the Legislature to address budget solutions more effectively."

The contract that the district and the union signed off on last year included moves that would save MPS nearly $100 million, the MTEA letter notes.

The union is asking its members to return the surveys to its office by July 26. The MTEA has more than 8,000 members, including 6,000 teachers, 1,700 educational assistants, 500 substitute teachers and 22 accountants and bookkeepers.

"There are families on the line here," writes Thornton in his letter. "Not only is it the teachers' families, who are struggling to adjust to lives without an MPS paycheck, but it is students' families – because we strongly believe teachers are the most critical mover of student achievement."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.