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Wisc. Union Rep: Walker's Reforms Didn't Hurt Our School

6:00 PM, May 30, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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A union official from the Brown Deer school district in southeastern Wisconsin tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Act 10, the collective bargaining law signed by Governor Scott Walker last year, is working out just fine:

Union president Jeff Bersch said the administration's outreach to the staff has eased concerns.

"We have been promised no impact next year," Bersch said. "The district works really well with us and has kept us up to date - and we have the wizard of numbers (Koczela). Overall morale is not bad because of Act 10. We didn't lose any jobs and class sizes are the same."

The Journal Sentinel contrasts the rosy situation in Brown Deer with that of Fox Point-Bayside, a district where Walker's reforms have not yet taken effect:

Although the teachers had a contract covering them until June 30 of this year, Act 10 had a significant impact on the district during the 2011-2012 school year. Unable to use the tools in the legislation to increase health insurance premiums and reduce retirement costs and facing a loss in state aid, the district cut five aide positions and another 4.5 teaching positions. ... Class sizes in the seventh and eighth grades increased from 21 to 25, while in all other grades there was an increase of one student per class.

The story quotes officials from other districts who say the law has been bad, but those officials don't actually explain how the law has had a negative effect. Here's the story from last August on what would have happened to Brown Deer schools had Walker's collective bargaining reform not passed:

Emily Koczela had been anxiously waiting for months for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget repair bill to take effect. Koczela, the finance director for the Brown Deer school district, had been negotiating with the local union, trying to get it to accept concessions in order to make up for a $1 million budget shortfall. But the union wouldn’t budge.

“We laid off 27 [teachers] as a precautionary measure,” Koczela told me. “They were crying. Some of these people are my friends.”

On June 29 at 12:01 a.m., Koczela could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The budget repair bill​—​delayed for months by protests, runaway state senators, and a legal challenge that made its way to the state’s supreme court​—​was law. The 27 teachers on the chopping block were spared.

With “collective bargaining rights” limited to wages, Koczela was able to change the teachers’ benefits package to fill the budget gap. Requiring teachers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pensions saved $600,000. Changes to their health care plan​—​such as a $10 office visit co-pay (up from nothing)​—​saved $200,000. Upping the workload from five classes, a study hall, and two prep periods to six classes and two prep periods saved another $200,000. The budget was balanced.

“Everything we changed didn’t touch the children,” Koczela said. Under a collective bargaining agreement, she continued, “We could never have negotiated that​—​never ever.” Koczela, a graduate of Smith College and Duke University Law School, is no Republican flack. She says she’s a “classic Wisconsin independent. I vote both parties. I voted for Senator [Russ] Feingold but I voted for [Republican state] Senator Alberta Darling too.”

A new poll by Marquette University Law school shows that a majority of Wisconsin voters support Walker's reforms:

Majorities supported increases in public employee contributions to health and retirement benefits, with 75 percent in favor and 22 percent opposed.... A smaller majority, 55 percent, said they favored limiting collective bargaining for most public employees, while 41 percent opposed such limits. A subsequent question found a closer division on collective bargaining, with 50 percent wanting to keep the current law on bargaining and 45 percent wishing for a return to the previous law prior to last year.

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