The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Teachers Union strikes out with message

Someone asked what we felt about the negotiations with the teachers. We’ve been critical of the union’s stance about not writing letters of recommendation – but we’ve largely avoided talking about the negotiations in general. We have, however, made some critical comments on the teachers union’s strategy to keep their current retirement package.

Today, we are going talk to that issue – the strategy employed by the teachers union to try and retain their current retirement package.

I feel the teacher’s union has botched their message – really badly. Here’s why:

  • Not writing letters of recommendation was plain stupid. Really stupid. It just angered people and obscured the real message teachers needed to get out to the public.
  • Going on TV and doing interviews only made them look like they were whiners.
  • Facts posted on the union’s website about negotiations were a terribly organized. Their message was poorly articulated. I was amazed at the fact that such educated people couldn’t organize their arguments into one well-thought out and presented document. (These have been updated so they are better organized and presented – but even now it’s a poor mixture of web pages and PDF files.)
  • Engaging in a tit-for-tat sequence with the board only makes them look like a bunch of 2nd graders.
  • In one of the most glaring mistakes, the teachers union seems to act as if there is no economic crisis in the district. Not once have they said, “We know these are difficult times.” It’s always been about them getting their money. Teacher salaries account for 75% or more of the school budget. With us facing a large deficit, they act like nothing should affect them. The district is trying to put controls on costs that are unpredictable – in this case, insurance, and the special retirement payouts. People understand that. But they don’t care or understand when teachers say things like, “I can’t retire when I had planned”. Most people are replying, “Welcome to the real world.” This is probably not fair – but it’s the reality.
  • The union seems to be throwing tactic after tactic to try and get people riled up about their predicament, making their message disjointed and confusing. The first was to alarm parents with the ‘working to contract’ action. Then they went on TV and talked about how the board’s proposal was screwing them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then they posted things on the website showing how poorly they are paid compared to other teachers. Then they talked about how the district will lose quality teachers because of the bad pay. Then they say the teachers were promised these benefits. Then they post more information trying to justify TEP, as well as posts that essentially calls the board liars. And the whole not writing letters of recommendation is mixed into this mishmash. When the head of the teachers union talks to reporters and says, “It’s not our intention to take it out on the students” you’re only shooting yourself in the foot.

The teachers union screwed up because they NEED people calling and writing the district demanding that they be treated fairly. That just isn’t happening enough. In fact, the opposite is occurring. People are writing the district and saying, ‘Hang tough.’ It’s only emboldened the school district to keep pushing this issue.

In fact, the school board members can sit back and dig in. The worst case scenario is things go to arbitration and they lose. They can say we tried, but blame the teachers union. And when the board cuts teacher positions for 2011-12, they can say, ‘blame the union’.

These, I stress, are my opinions on how the teachers union has handled the negotiations. Not my feelings on what they deserve or if I think they’ve been treated badly.

I will say that teachers union is in a tough spot. The negotiations have been going on for a long time, and their decisions were probably not done without some serious thought. Maybe they felt that ‘going public’ was the only way they could get the board to give in to their demands. After all, they’d been doing these negotiations for more than a year. Drawing attention to the negotiations, they may feel, is the only way to draw sympathy to their plight.

The problem with going public is that you have to be prepared. And I don’t think the union was prepared. They needed a clear and concise message. And then, in respect to these economic times, they needed to present that message to the public with humility and restraint. None of that has occurred.

I don’t know if the union can do anything now. If they feel their current salary structure and retirement benefits are in line with the rest of the area school districts, they will probably say, ‘take it arbitration.’ But if they are afraid they will lose – and deep down, I think they are very afraid of this – they need to come to the table with alternatives. They probably need to compromise on TEP in some form. They should accept this fact, then come back with a proposal to raise the salaries of teachers to get them more inline with those in our area. Maybe this means different salary structures for new and existing teachers.

I will add that, maybe the union has done this. If so, they’ve done a poor job letting the public know. Instead, they go on TV and complain that the district wants to take away their retirement benefits without anything in return. Don’t just complain about – offer alternatives. Say to the board – and the public – ‘here’s a way we can solve this’.

Would something like that work? We have no clue. But no seems to be sharing any such options – on either side of the negotiating tables.

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  1. Athletic Supporter

     /  November 6, 2010

    So tell me “Janus”, how are you privy to communications between parents and board members? Its inappropriate for board members to use you as an anonymous proxy to bash teachers and push their own agenda. Its dishonest and reflects poorly on you and on the board member involved, and you should stop it. If you receive communication from a board member concerning board business you should identify the source of your information.

  2. Athletic Supporter…nothing she has said is not public information. If you read the HI or look on the district website, there is nothing that is top secret about what is above. So, if you are trying to bash certain board members…I don’t get it.

  3. Yeaaa well

     /  November 6, 2010

    When Janus is really Neil Heinen it is not wonder you are confused.

  4. Joann Stanton

     /  November 6, 2010

    I read this blog for entertainment and information. Love the school board fashion reports. I have also found some posts to be extremely informative. I don’t really read this blog for hard news, but occasionally find some here. Once in a great while, I can’t tell the difference between ” the sublime and the ridiculous.” I guess that’s just life in Monona. In general, I view blogs as opinion writings, but often the lines are blurred. Any columnist must face this. I have certainly seen this same sort of discussion regarding M.A. Lichtfield’s Hellooo Monona and Sunny Schubert’s View from the Pier columns. I tend to be skeptical of a lot of “news” I read or hear. Seems there’s all too often a slant…intended or not. The old phrase “there are two sides to every story” rings true. Then there’s the factor of how we process what we read. Sometimes people can read the same thing and come up with different meanings. And what about the author’s intent? I recall an incident from my childhood. My first grade friend and I still believed in Santa. Some other kids tried to tell us the truth, that our parents were “Santa.” I heard what they said, mulled it over, and ultimately decided those kids were right, but I continued to believe because it was more fun. My friend knew without a doubt that Santa was real because it was printed in the newspaper. Even then I knew that you can’t believe everything you read.

  5. athletic supporter

     /  November 6, 2010

    I looked at the MG website and there is no evidence that “People are writing the district and saying, ‘Hang tough.’ ” as claimed – so this isn’t public information – which means its an inside disclosure – in which case it looks like someone on the board or administration is using Janus to unfairly attack the teachers. Perhaps “Janus” can offer some evidence that this claim is true, or some evidence that she found this information in a public place?

  6. athletic supporter is about as smart as his moniker

     /  November 6, 2010

    read Jason Mccutchin’s blog. he has published a WHOLE BUNCH of letters from the public to the Board, that say exactly what Janus refers to.

    It is a very public and well advertised blog. Check it out and shut your mouth.

  7. Janus Dent Masters

     /  November 7, 2010

    I will say that no school board member has ever emailed me, phoned me, chatted with me, postcarded me, or in any way given me ‘inside’ information.

    Several have emailed me back after I’ve requested information – but it has always been because I’ve requested specific information. They have never, ever, voluntarily sent me something out of the blue.

    Of course, that’s all worthless if my parent is on the school board, I hear all sorts of weird stuff, so I just figure it out from there.

    But that’s a big if.

  8. Lily

     /  November 7, 2010

    If there’s a silver lining in the election of Scott Walker (and I am struggling mightly to find one), let’s hope it was a cold bucket of water in the face of the union leadership. Things will not be getting better for public education in Wisconsin – financially speaking – for the foreseeable future. There is no way Walker and his legislature can deliver on their promises for tax cuts while balancing the state budget without cuts to one of the state’s single biggest expense – aid to public schools and local governments. He can furlough state employees, lay off state employees, or even wholesale eliminate state agencies, but this will barely put a dent in the budget hole because state agencies account for less than 20% of state spending. If you think they will address school finance reform, forget it! The have promised no tax increases, no new taxes. You cannot reform school finance without changing the tax structures in this state. Does anyone think Republican will have the backbone to do that? And do we even want them to? Something tells me the middle class would not be the winners!

    For Monona Grove, this means ever increasing property taxes in order to fill the budget hole left by less state aid. And that’s if the gov and legislature don’t prevent school districts from doing so. The union has but one choice: Make significant concessions or stand back and watch many of their own members lose their jobs through layoffs. It stinks. It’s not fair. But the people of Wisconsin have spoken and now we must live with what we have chosen.

    P.S.
    Never have I hoped more that I am proved wrong!

  9. Joann Stanton

     /  November 7, 2010

    So are you teasing us or what? Maybe it is time you reveal your identity. Your above post makes me feel iffy. Janus Dent Masters, are you the great and powerful Oz? I’ve tried to pay no attention, but that post made me very curious about just who is hiding behind the curtain.

  10. Athletic Supporter

     /  November 7, 2010

    “Several have emailed me back after I’ve requested information”

    OK, regardless of who emailed whom first, is the post above based on communications you received from school board members? It seems to offer a lot of details so I think it is a fair question.

  11. Janus Dent Masters

     /  November 8, 2010

    WatchyoutalkinboutWillis?!

  12. Confused

     /  November 8, 2010

    I too would like to know which school board members you have had communications with? It is very interesting that you communicate with board members, presumably via your real name, but yet you won’t let the general public in on your identity. Are you in fact a school board member or Monona council person?

    What type of “information” do these individuals feed to you?

  13. Susan Fox

     /  November 8, 2010

    In defense of JDM and School Board members, but speaking only for myself, I do not know the identity of JDM. I have received one email from the address of
    janusdentmasters@mononarag.com. As far as I know, any other Board members who may have been contacted by JDM were contacted through the same email address and so are equally in the dark about his/her/their identity. It’s been a topic of discussion, and no one I know has the answer.

    The email from JDM asked what, if anything, was going on with the charter school. Reluctantly, because the whole idea of replying to an anonymous email bothers me, I replied to the email with a little information about the ongoing committee (I have asked to receive agendas, etc., but am not a member), which by then JDM already had, and confirmed that Nancy Gagnon was a good contact. The only other time, other than this post, I have contacted JDM, was when I posted a correction on the blog and signed my name. I had been misquoted about a statement about the budget in a way that I thought was important to correct. As far as I know, any other Board members who may have been contacted by JDM were contacted through the same email address and so are equally in the dark about his/her/their identity.

    And by the way, all the negotiations information on this blog has indeed been covered in numerous public places: the District and MGEA websites, the Herald-Independent (articles and columns), TV news, and other blogs. Superintendent Gerlach, MGEA President Krisi Wollerman, and I, as Board President, have all given interviews. There is no need for any leaking of secret information. (This is not to say that everything posted on this blog is necessarily accurate.)

    Suspicion, negativism, and hostility abound in the anonymous blog world. Blogs, while sometimes informative and sometimes fun, are limited in purpose and effect. They can never take the place of hard news or of a conversation among people sitting in a room together, where misconceptions stand a better chance of being corrected. You just can’t take them too seriously. Speculation about the identity of JDM continues! On to a new topic?

  14. Anonymous

     /  November 8, 2010

    Oh for god’s sake people. Pretty sure Janus has an email that’s conceal his/hers/their identity, like maybe Janusdentmasters@gmail.com.

    The only thing I have to say about any of this conspiracy nonsense is I hope any school board member who responds to Janus also responds to any other anonymous emails they receive.

    If you’re really all that jazzed up about it, simply call the District Office and make a public record request for all school board member email to and from anyone associated with the Janus Dent Masters blog, including any emails the board members may have received or sent on their personal accounts. Or maybe Janus could save the office staff some time and simply post these exchanges.

  15. Anonymous

     /  November 8, 2010

    “Never have I hoped more that I am proved wrong!”

    Good post Lily, I completely agree with you. I think the million dollar hole is going to be $1.2-$1.5 very soon with the new leadership in the state.

  16. Elbow Macaroni

     /  November 8, 2010

    Inside information?

    There’s nothing ‘inside’ about anything in this story. Is it the comment that people are writing the school board and telling them ‘hang tough’?

    Not exactly hard to know that has happened. Read the comment sections on madison.com or on channel 3′s website about the negotiations. Or simply talk to a few people in the city. It’s not hard to find a few people who say they support the district’s position – and have let them know that fact.

    There’s really nothing new here – just ramblings and guesses. To be honest, I didn’t need 15 paragraphs to let me know the union has done a poor job in the PR department.

  17. Nor do I

     /  November 8, 2010

    I agree with the last poster. Janus have you considered hiring a copy editior?

  18. Maywood Supporter

     /  November 8, 2010

    Just wanted to clarify that I am not in any way related to Athletic Supporter, even though we share the same last name.

  19. Elbow Macaroni

     /  November 8, 2010

    Ha ha, nice one Maywood Supporter. You made me laugh.

  20. Wall Street Quote

     /  November 16, 2010

    Bud Fox: How much is enough?
    Gordon Gekko: It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.

    Time for the property tax payers to win!

  21. Anonymous

     /  November 16, 2010

    “Time for the property tax payers to win!”

    That’s hardly the case. Because the state cut its payment again this year, the average $200,000 house will pay about $160 more in taxes. Odds are with Walker as Governor, it will get cut again over the next two years. Just to keep things as is, the district will have raise taxes a simliar ammount, to make up the difference.

    If the cuts to the teachers bring in new staff that do a good job, the above might be the extent of it. But if the cuts means the district goes down hill, you can add your lower property value onto the list. The lower value would bring back a little state aid, but home values drop much faster then aid goes up.

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