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May 26, 2005

MTI & The Madison School Board

Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.

He said MTI's policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.

The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year's salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers' salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.

"The young teachers are really hurting," Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.

Mr. Matthews states that young teachers are really hurting.  I assume by “young” he means “recently-hired.”  On a state-wide basis, the starting salary for Madison’s teachers ranks lower, relatively speaking, than its salaries for more experienced teachers.  Compared to other teacher pay scales in the state, Madison’s scale seems weighted relatively more toward the more-experienced teachers and less toward starting teachers.  This has to be a consequence of the union’s bargaining strategy – the union must have bargained over the years for more money at the top and less at the bottom, again relatively speaking.  The union is entitled to follow whatever strategy it wants, but it is disingenuous for Mr. Matthews to justify an apparent reluctance to consider different bargaining approaches on the basis of their possible impact on “young teachers.” 
            According to the article, Mr. Matthews also stated that “the district is having trouble attracting teachers because of its starting pay.”  Can this possibly be true?    Here’s an excerpt from Jason Shepard’s top-notch article in Isthmus last week, “Even with a UW degree, landing a job in Madison isn’t easy.  For every hire made by the Madison district, five applicants are rejected.  June Glennon, the district’s employment manager, says more than 1,200 people have applied for teaching jobs next year.” 
What’s more, one would think that the possibility of being laid off would be a far greater disincentive to a new teacher seeking work in Madison than a concern with the starting salary, particularly if your union is disinclined to try to avoid layoffs if the alternative is lower salary increases.
This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots. 

            Mr. Matthews is also quoted as saying that MTI's policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.  In other words, the union will pursue higher wages even if it requires the sacrifice of some of its newer members’ jobs.  Implicit in this is that the union will pursue higher wages even at the cost of a reduction in quality of the education offered in Madison’s schools.  What this highlights is that, in this regard, the interests of the union and the school board are directly adversarial.  Other things being equal, the union wants the district to spend more money for salaries and benefits per teacher, and the district wants to spend less.  This is the way the system is supposed to work.  The union certainly understands this.  But it seems that a majority of the school board members do not.  They do not appear interested in trying to drive a hard bargain, which – one would think – is their duty as the stewards of the community’s resources. 
            The WSJ article also states that “This year's salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million.”  So the school board, with all the budgetary problems it confronts, is apparently willing to pay for salaries and benefits an increase that is about twice as much as state law will permit the overall budget to rise next year, and $1.9 million more than the amount necessary to avoid arbitration.  (Using the same numbers, a 3.8% increase would be $6.57 million.) 
What could be the justification for this?  I understand that, as a practical matter, the increase has to be more than 3.8% in order for the district to obtain any sort of concessions.  (Across the state for 2004-2005, the average total package increase per teacher was 4.28%.)  Does anyone know if there are concessions on the table that might explain what seems to be an excessive increase in these difficult times?  Or what other justification for this level of increase there might be?
Bill Keys was quoted in yesterday’s Capital Times as saying “I want everyone who voted no to walk up to a child tomorrow and say, ‘I voted against you.’”  But many voters did not think they were voting against children, they thought they were voting against Bill Keys and the type of school board leadership he has come to represent.  If the school board continues blithely on its way to agreeing to a 4.9% increase in salaries and benefits, they will prove that they deserved the unmistakable vote of no confidence that the voters just delivered. (And I voted for the referenda.)

Posted by Ed Hughes at May 26, 2005 12:28 PM
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