Each year since Act 10, the School District of Menomonee Falls has looked to save money by laying off competent teachers. That will not change for 2017, since the millions of dollars sought in order to keep operations humming along were denied by the latest referendum.
I can remember being at a staff meeting, a full year before I received my own layoff notice, feeling sad for the two highly-qualified teachers getting axed that year. The word choice for them and for myself was “non-renewal of contract,” but it was a firing. They got canned because they didn’t know the right people, kiss up to the right people, or (like me) had methods that were not in line with what admins thought to be perfect at all times. Those teachers had won awards and were loved by students, but that really didn’t matter.
At that meeting, the business director came in with his self-important swagger in order to announce all of the savings and how that would mean financial stability to the district. I half-heartedly bought into it because it meant my job was safe for the next year, even if we’d all be working more for less pay.
Another year, and the school district was once again barely getting by, so it was time to let two “tenured” teachers go in order to increase class loads for the rest. The next couple of years saw more firings, but those were because of semi-poor decisions by the employees (that would never have resulted in much more than a stern talking to with a strong union). But it had become more about connections now, and those layoffs didn't have the right friends.
Now, it’s time to save money again, so it’s layoff season in Menomonee Falls. With all the money saved in providing crappy insurance and past-years’ layoffs, I wonder how the business director can explain the shortfall now. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Enrollment is down--it was down more years than up for my decade in the district. Costs are up, somehow, too. Of course, I wonder how both can be happening. Enrollment goes down when people decide to send their kids to better schools. But when entire departments are eliminated, those schools look even better next year. I'm not sure how costs keep rising, but there are probably some fat pockets somewhere.
I was told when I lost my job there that pretty much all of us teachers were the same. Then prove it, Menomonee Falls. Be the first district with one salary. As a second-year teacher making $35,000, I offered to my union to take a pay cut to help keep teachers who might get laid off. Now, as a victim of the union, I offer this solution: offer them all the same amount. All the doctors of nothing and masters of educational philosophy. All the rookies and near-retirees. I read a report that there are forty jobs that could be lost. But that wouldn’t be the case if personnel costs were cut enough to keep those jobs. Without a union or long-term contract, the school district can just say, “We’re offering each teacher who wants to stay $50,000 a year in salary.” That’s more than I ever made in a single year there, anyhow. Does anyone out there think that there would not be enough teachers who would take $50,000 a year?
If you’re not in Me no money Falls, give it a try in your district. Make it $40,000 if you want. I’d teach again for $40,000 with five classes and no worthless mandates. You’ll be able to fully-staff your schools again, whether it’s with new college grads or retirees looking to do better than wear a vest at Walmart. Or someone from Kohls, Harley, or Northwestern Mutual. $40,000 for 190 days (maybe less if Scott Walker gets his wish) is not too bad, especially if schools work to get the conditions back to how they used to be.
I know in my heart that the unions that never did much for me ruined my career in education in favor of helping Baby Boomers get exorbitant pay and pensions. Wisconsin is a place where this can be reset. In fact, in order to save the public schools, it kind of has to be reset. $50,000 a year, simple schedules with sane class loads, no wasted “development,” and lifetime licensure. Put that with what is still the best retirement system for teachers in the country, and it’s not all that bad. Fire teachers who are bad, and let the rest teach.
And for good measure, let's put the admins in at $50,000 a year, too. I never met many I'd trust to wash my car, so I can't say any are worth more than what everyone else would make. Hire a few extra to stand around and look important at that price.