Next week, Waukesha School District leaders plan to take an unusual step, one they contend is necessary after cutting $9.4 million worth of services over the past seven years: They will sit down with their teachers union to hash out a contract with help from a mediator.
What’s more unusual is the culprit that Waukesha Superintendent David Schmidt blames in part for the district’s financial woes: the state law intended to help school districts keep down teacher compensation costs.
“To some degree, we’d like to say we can control our labor costs,” Schmidt said. “The QEO makes that harder.”
Schmidt has company in other state school officials who contend the QEO, known more formally as the qualified economic offer law, has created fiscal problems for them. After 15 years with the law, considered one leg of the state’s so-called three-legged stool for school funding, calls for change are coming from many quarters.
At issue is what some have called the cap gap that exists between the roughly 2% increase in school revenue allowed annually under current law and the 3.8% boost in salaries and benefits practically guaranteed by the QEO, which says school boards can avoid arbitration if they offer teachers compensation increases in that amount.
“That’s probably the core issue right now within our system that’s causing some frustration from school district administrators,” said state Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon).
Although Waukesha school officials have not revealed the details of talks with the teachers union, indications are that their unusual move this year toward mediation and possible arbitration is to seek less than a 3.8% package increase for their teachers.
In addition to school leaders who complain the law’s conflict with revenue caps has forced staff cuts, teachers say the QEO increase has suppressed salaries. Critics contend it has helped educators keep inflated benefits.