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Rally in Support of Wisconsin Public Sector Unions

Since we last wrote, the situation in Madison has come to a standstill as Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker and Democratic members of the State Assembly have faced each other off to a temporary draw. Until at least one Democratic member of the Assembly returns from Illinois, Walker’s legislation “€” to remove all public employees (except police and fire) from collective bargaining “€” will undoubtedly remain in limbo.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of union supporters have gathered daily at the Wisconsin state capital.

In Boston and throughout the country there have been support rallies. A rally last Tuesday at the Massachusetts State House drew a few thousand opponents to Gov. Walker’s legislation. A rally this past Saturday drew even more people.

Perhaps 150 or so BTU members (see Boston Herald report) attended the first rally last Tuesday, where they heard  a variety of union leaders and activists from both the public and the private sector along with some politicians speak in opposition to Gov. Walker’s proposal.  Our own Allison Doherty-Lacasse “€” a West Roxbury high school teacher “€” spoke and did a great job.

In what many termed a surprise, Gov. Patrick was invited to speak at the rally. His comments that Massachusetts educational reform was negotiated with teacher unions in contrast to Gov. Walker’s overt attempt to negotiate around teachers struck many in the crowd as “€” well “€” a stretch of the truth.

However, the mood in the crowd was positive, as attendees recognized that conditions in Massachusetts are much, much better for unions right now than they are in Wisconsin. At the same time, we all recognize that the Mayor, the Governor and the Speaker of the Massachusetts House each wish to remove health coverage from the collective bargaining process.

Wisconsin Public Employees: Overpaid or Underpaid?

The public employee benefit structure in Wisconsin has recently gotten a lot of attention. The public unions in Wisconsin have already agreed to increase their pension contributions and their health care contributions, thereby removing the budget-piece of the issue from Gov. Walker’s list of talking points. That, of course, has not satisfied Gov. Walker.

But the issue of public employee compensation and benefits has taken on new life as a result of the Wisconsin battle. The question of whether unionized public employees earn more or less than private employees, accounting for educational level required, is not settled.  Evidence is mounting that unionized public employees, at least those whose jobs require higher educational levels of attainment, get paid less than their private sector counterparts. The New York Times and the Economic Policy Institute have both reported this phenomenon.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute says…

“… the data indicates that state and local government employees in Wisconsin are not overpaid. Comparisons controlling for education, experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and disability reveal that employees of both state and local governments in Wisconsin earn less than comparable private sector employees. On an annual basis, full-time state and local government employees in Wisconsin are under compensated by 8.2% compared with otherwise similar private sector workers.”

Read more.

The NY Times also did a lengthy report. Read more.

Education in the News

BTU President, BPS Supt. and School Committee Chair Attend National Conference: Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration Conference

Union President Richard Stutman, Superintendent Carol Johnson, and School Committee Chairperson Gregory Groover attended a collaboration conference in Denver two weeks ago, hosted by Federal  Education Secretary Arnie Duncan. One hundred and fifty school districts participated.

Read a report in EDweek.

MA DESE Commissioner Endorses Ten New Charter Schools in Boston

Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently endorsed 10 new Boston charter schools. Seven other charter schools statewide won his endorsement as well. The State Board of Education voted to approve all 10 Boston proposals on February 28. Six statewide non-Boston applications were also approved; one in Lynn was rejected.

All Boston charters were easily approved, though one, a second Edward Brooke Charter School, gathered some opposition because of the high attrition rate of its parent Edward Brooke school. The current Edward Brooke has a student population that hovers between 60 and 70 students from Grades K to three until student attrition “€” forced or otherwise “€” sets in. The Brooke student population drops steadily each year from 70 to 18 in grades three through eight. In grade 6, there are 44 students; grade 7, 26 students; and in grade 8, only 18 students remain. Little wonder there is concern about their dropout rate. Too bad the concern wasn’t enough.

(By the way, the current Edward Brooke charter school serves a population virtually devoid of Limited English Proficient students, 0.2% to the city’s 30.3%,  and with very few special ed students, 7.3% to the city’s 19.4%.)

Currently charter schools, even though they do not educate all students “€” specifically those with special education needs and ELL needs “€” drain in excess of $60 million per year from Boston Public Schools. The additional charter schools will drain an expected $40 million on top of the current $60 million. The new state Ed Reform law allows even more charter schools to be created in  Boston. The total dollar loss for our schools will exceed an estimated $110 million per year by 2014. Superintendent Carol Johnson and Mayor Menino supported the Ed Reform legislation.

BPS March Budget Hearings

Speaking of the loss of school dollars…The Boston School Department is sponsoring a series of budget hearings to discuss the latest school cutbacks. Frankly, we find it hypocritical, to say the least, that the School Department would cut local school budgets at the same time it has supported the expansion of charter schools, which drain in excess of $100 million per year from the same schools.

Upcoming school budget hearings will be an opportunity to address these issues. Visit the BPS website to see a schedule of upcoming hearings at the bottom of the page.

Politics and Education: a Combustible Mix in N.J.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie takes on the teachers’ union…This is truly a good read from the NY Times Magazine, crucial to understanding the emerging war against collective bargaining. 

“Like a stand-up comedian working out-of-the-way clubs, Chris Christie travels the townships and boroughs of New Jersey­, places like Hackettstown and Raritan and Scotch Plains, sharpening his riffs about the state’s public employees, whom he largely blames for plunging New Jersey into a fiscal death spiral. In one well-worn routine, for instance, the governor reminds his audiences that, until he passed a recent law that changed the system, most teachers in the state didn’t pay a dime for their health care coverage, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.”

Read more.