The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Teachers and District War of Words Continues

The teachers union and the school district are attempting to win the hearts and minds of district citizens with a variety of posts explaining their positions in the stalled contract.

The school district kicked off things with a letter posted on the district site early last month. The letter talked salary structure, but little else. But then on Sept. 23 they posted a detailed letter about the issues at hand. That really got things rolling.

The teachers union fired back a few days later on their site.

The district has now rebutted with a new letter (warning – PDF file).

I have to say that the teacher’s are doing themselves no favors with what they have done on their site. Their response is really all over the place. Example – click on the section titled “What Could Happen If Teachers Leave Monona Grove?” – the first line you get is ‘Will Your Property Tax Values Drop’. They then make no mention to property taxes in the rest of the page. You would think a teacher would understand the value of making an argument – of presenting your idea, adding supporting facts, etc. But this is typical of the teacher’s website. They present things, yet aren’t following through on ramifications of their arguments. Their presentation of ACT score information does nothing to help them – it’s just a chart and one statement – ‘Monona Grove Students score higher than the State Average on ACT.’ Yet looking at the chart you can see that in the last three years we have been worse than state average once, and barely above average the other two. Is the reason we are close that we test juniors as well? If so, then no one is explaining that. And no one is making strong statement such as ‘Lower pay will result in lower achievement by our students because quality teachers will leave the district.’

I would also like to see ACT score information for the county – comparing Monona Grove to a sparsely populated district in northern Wisconsin is probably not the best way to show our successes.

The district is doing a better job of stating their case with the public. They get wordy at times, but they are, for the most part, stating things clearly – such as ‘MGEA Teacher Benefits are Generous’. And then list the specifics in nice bullet points. And then follow with their changes. It’s works well.

I hope the teachers union can get their act together. They seem to think that by working to contract enough people will get frustrated with their actions and call and complain to the board that they should settle. But I don’t know if that is working. Not writing letters of recommendation for students is, many feel, crossing the line.

The teachers need to come out with a simple, easy to understand statement about why the benefits need to stay. Not some chopped up, incoherent mess that fails to articulate some of the simple basics of their argument.

If that doesn’t happen, the court of public opinion is not going to be in their favor. Up to this point, they have not only seemed unclear on their message, but they have come across as more whiney and complaining. Show some humility. Stand up and say that you understand that times are difficult, say you understand this is not something you take lightly, but then talk about how essential benefits are for the district to compete, and how the investment is good for the district. Don’t whine that you won’t be able to retire when you planned to – sorry, but lots of people are in that boat. Instead come back with a coherent plan, be positive, show your value – and do it with grace and humility – which will take you a long way.

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  1. Anonymous

     /  October 4, 2010

    I agree that the teachers haven’t articulated their position very well.

    They should take a Marketing 101 class.

  2. GUS

     /  October 4, 2010

    They do not have a position to articulate.

  3. Lily

     /  October 4, 2010

    “They do not have a position to articulate.” Actually, they do. That positon is status quo on all compensation & benefits along with a modest raise to the salary schedule.

    I think it’s quite clear they do not believe the district’s financial issues are their problem whatsoever. That’s a legitimate debate. Is it fair to believe the employees of public education should shoulder the financial woes? Is it fair to assert we should keep expecting public education to improve as wages and benefits shrink or stagnate? For me, I do think we should pay teachers more and pay the taxes to support this. BUT, I also believe we should not do this until teachers are accountable for their job performance which they currently are not. That will take even more money because we will need competent, well-trained administrators in order to assess and evaluate teaching staff. Our current system does not have enough staffing at the administration level to do a good job of this. I know it’s popular to say “cut administration” every time we have budget problems, but I wish people understood that means even less evaluation of what goes on in our classrooms and less scrutiny of how our students are performing. You cannot complain about underperforming teachers and failing educational systems while calling for cuts in administration. Find a school where kids are achieving great things academically and you will find not only great teachers, but great administrators who have set high expectations for both their students and staff.

  4. mmm

     /  October 4, 2010

    I thought 100% of our students took the ACT in high school compared to other schools that only the college bound take it. I couldn’t get into some of the links so I did not see the data exactly and if it was adjusted for that.

  5. No one in particular

     /  October 5, 2010

    “Is it fair to believe the employees of public education should shoulder the financial woes?”
    You can ask this of the public sector in general. The answer is “yes.” The people of Wisconsin and many other states — through their elected leaders — have chosen to furlough employees (=3-5% pay cut), in addition to having given folks little or no raises in almost 5 years. This is the choice that’s been made. For sure, real cuts have been made, and the furloughs are just a few drops in the bucket compared to other hard cuts that have been made or need to be made. But still, the budget is always balanced on the backs of public employees.

  6. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    When salaries and benefits account for more than 80% of the budget, it makes it hard to balance the budget with all of the cuts made elsewhere.

    It’s my understanding that the union has not countered the district’s last proposal. If so, the ball is in their court. Their actions, or lack thereof, make it appear as if they are unwilling to compromise.

  7. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    I think part of the reason you don’t hear an argument from the union is they feel like they’re repeating themselves. They feel like teaching is as important as it was 2, 4, 10, 20 years ago when the board agreed to the current benefits. The union just wants the board to adjust the pay, and keep everything else the same.

    Part of the argument for a pay increase is the increase in class sizes. I don’t think it’s as extreme in the elementary schools, but in the middle and high schools, teachers have an extra 2-3 kids per class.

    The other part of the argument for a pay increase (especially when other workers get pay cuts) is similar to the status quo argument. Teachers wages don’t increase proportionally with the economy the same way most jobs do. For years, when others get 3-5% increases, they get 2%. In really good years when people get over 5%, they get 2%. But in lean times when other workers get cut, they want 2%. For years, the total of the pay and benefits has been less then workers in the private sector. Only recently has the teacher’s total compensation gotten close to the private sector, but odds are the economy will turn around again, and most wages will go back up, putting private sector workers ahead again.

    Lastly, I think the teachers could argue that the board has not made a strong argument why the teachers should take on average a $230,000 cut. Did the teachers do something wrong? How are they supposed to counter that? Most of us don’t get the advantage to negotiate for our wages, but if your boss told you they want you to take a $230,000 cut, what would you counter with? If you suggest a lower cut, you loose (since it’s still a cut) , and if you suggest a $230,000 raise (so things end up being neutral), you won’t win.

  8. live and let live

     /  October 5, 2010

    The last group of people I feel sorry for is a teacher. I already took the 50% pay cut it was that or be let go. I grew up real fast and so should the teachers. Oh, maybe one of them would like to share their great health care packages with some of the needy!

  9. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    I found the ACT point on the teacher’s site to be very positive, but perhaps a bit premature. Remember, the ACT isn’t a “No Child Left Behind” test, it’s used by universities to set entrance standards. Usually, only the kids that want to go to college take it, and usually these kids take harder classes, and are more likely to study before the ACT.

    At MG, just about all kids have taken the ACT the last 2 years. That includes kids who have no intention of going to college, and don’t take chemistry, calculus, physics, etc. and probably a bigger share of kids who didn’t study or take practice courses.

    The drop below the state average happened the first year MG had all the kids take the exam. This makes sense, while there are some kids who would have gotten a higher score but don’t take the ACT for some reason (will work for a family business, took the SAT, will take an apprenticeship), the largest share of kids probably would have gotten a lower score, and probably brought down the average.

    But the MG average didn’t drop that much, and after one year, it was again higher then the state average. Maybe the one year was a fluke, and/or maybe the state average went down last year (all of Milwaukee kids took the exam last year too). It will take a couple of years of data to see which of the above is the best explanation. I don’t think it’s a reason to give everyone a huge raise, but it is a sign that teachers are doing something that works and shouldn’t get a cut.

    I tried to find some info about other area schools, and found this from FOX 11 which I think is in Green Bay:
    “And compared with other states, Wisconsin was 17th. Massachusetts students scored highest (24.0). Mississippi lowest (18.8)…Massachusetts scored highest, but only 21 percent of graduates took the test. Mississippi scored lowest, but virtually everyone (96%) — whether college-bound or not — took the test. ”

    I think that is the main point of the teachers as well.

  10. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    A 50% cut! That’s very wrong. What were you doing? I think unemployment will pay up to 60% of your wages. You may have been better off getting let go, at least then you would have time to find a job where your boss respects you. You still should look for something new, let your boss find someone who wants to work for half price.

  11. GUS

     /  October 5, 2010

    ACT information is on the DPI Web site. You can compare all you want for as long as you want. We do not compare favorable with Badger South or North-even if you give a push for us testing everyone.

  12. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    “A 50% cut! That’s very wrong. What were you doing? I think unemployment will pay up to 60% of your wages.”

    Some people would rather work for 1/2 than go on 60% unemployment. And unemployment ends – at some point.

    Finally, it’s much better to look for a job while you’re employed. You have more leverage, employers aren’t wondering why you’re unemployed. Probably a wise move to keep the job, but keep looking.

  13. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    Here is the info on ACT scores from DPI:

    MG vs Badger South 2010
    School, % took test, average score.
    Oregon 64.5% 24.1
    Fort 55.6% 23.5
    Stoughton 58.7% 23.4
    Monroe 50.6% 22.8
    MG 92.1% 22.4
    Milton 64.5% 22.2

    MG vs Badger North 2010
    School, % took test, average score.
    Waunakee 71.5% 23.9
    Baraboo 52.9% 23.9
    De Forest 55.8% 23.9
    Mount Horeb 70.0% 23.8
    Sauk Prairie 58.8% 23.5
    MG 92.1% 22.4
    Reedsburg 49.1% 22.4
    Portage 50.0% 22.3

    The Badger South seems to be a little behind the Badger North. While it has the city with the highest average (Oregon), 5 of the top 6 come from the Badger North. The Badger North also has the top 2 schools for students taking the test (not counting MG).

    Prior to 2009, MG averaged 66.4% of students to take the test, and averaged a score of 23.1 (averaged from the teachers website). The highest score MG got in that time was a 23.6 Not great, but not bad either. The percent taking the test was good, but the scores seem pretty average for the area.

    I know averages are not the best way to look at this data, and that comparing a 12 year average vs 1 year of averages tells little, but most of the time, the lower the number taking the test, the higher the score. Oregon, Waunakee and Mt. Horeb seem to go against this trend (at least last year) and seem to be the top schools, but MG seems to fit in with the middle bunch. Not good, not bad, plenty of room for improvement.

  14. buck

     /  October 5, 2010

    Now go and isolate science-

  15. Anonymous

     /  October 5, 2010

    If the science ACT test scores are low, that’s hardly a reason to cut the benefits of the math, english, or reading teachers at the high school, or for any of the elementary or middle school teachers. If science is bringing down the composite that much, it might even suggest a raise for some of these.
    If anything, it gives support for a better accountability proposal as Lily said above. Sadly, with the budget the way it is, the board’s main focus will be on pay or benefit cuts, and such a proposal probably won’t make it to the table.

  16. HELP

     /  October 5, 2010

    Janus,

    Can we just change the topic?

  17. Agreed

     /  October 6, 2010

    “Can we just change the topic?”

    Good idea! Maybe we could whine and nit pick about Monona Drive for a awhile?

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