A Simple Approach to Ending the State Budget Standoff

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here’s an idea for resolving the state’s budget repair bill crisis. Governor Walker’s budget repair bill is designed to eviscerate public employee unions. But with a few changes it could actually lead to an innovative and productive way of addressing the legitimate concerns with the collective bargaining process, while preserving the most important rights of teachers and other public employees.
Background: A Tale of Two Unions
First, some background that highlights the two sides of the issue for me as a member of the Madison School Board. Early on Friday morning, February 25, our board approved a contract extension with our AFSCME bargaining units, which include our custodians and food service workers. The agreement equips the school district with the flexibility to require the AFSCME workers to make the contributions toward their retirement accounts and any additional contributions toward their health care costs that are required by the budget repair bill, and also does not provide for any raises. But the agreement does preserve the other collective bargaining terms that we have arrived at over the years and that have generally worked well for us.
AFSCME has stated that its opposition to the Governor’s bill is not about the money, and our AFSCME bargaining units have walked that talk.
Our recent dealings with MTI, the union representing our teachers and some other bargaining units, have been less satisfying. Because of teacher walk outs, we have to make up the equivalent of four days of school. An obvious way to get started on this task would be to declare Friday, February 25, which has been scheduled as a no-instruction day so that teachers can attend the Southern Wisconsin Educational Inservice Organization (SWEIO) convention, as a regular school day.

Through a variety of circumstances, I’ve had an opportunity to recently visit with several Dane County (and Madison) businesses with significant blue collar manufacturing/distribution employment. In all cases, these firms face global price/cost challenges, things that affect their compensation & benefits. Likely reductions in redistributed State of Wisconsin tax dollars could lead to significantly higher property taxes during challenging economic times, if that’s the route our local school boards take.