For those who regard teachers as only glorified baby sitters who must be content with contracts as handed down and must not cost them too much in taxes, the current assault must be pleasing. Indeed, the new state legislation has bestowed a cloak of legitimacy to local officials anxious to circumscribe any notion of teachers’ rights. The school board of Middleton-Cross Plains, a Madison, Wis., suburb, offers a case in point.
At the height of the large-scale public protests against the governor’s anti-union measure, that board very publicly expressed solidarity and comfort with its teachers—specifically, endorsing the teachers’ right to collective bargaining. In a letter to the teachers (addressed as “staff”), the board noted the “unsettling” times but nevertheless stressed its appreciation of teachers, particularly “for the work you continue to do on behalf of our students.” They recognized the teachers as “highly trained, motivated, and essential,” and said that as such “[w]e want to work collaboratively with you.” A “respectful and cooperative relationship” is necessary, noted the board, whose closing message could not have been clearer: “We look forward to bargaining in good faith with you. We support the right of our staff to actively bargain.”
The school board’s president spent several days at the protest rallies in the state Capitol. But exactly what she was rallying for is not clear. With the governor’s union-busting legislation in place, the school board promptly changed its tune and revealed plans of its own on how it would work with the teachers. No more solidarity; instead, the school board established an adversarial stance of its own, mirroring Gov. Walker’s deceit.
The board and the teachers held three “negotiating” sessions, ostensibly to settle a contract before the new law took effect. But at these meetings, the “staff” was denied the participation of its lawyers—a portent of what was to come. The school board president, apparently reborn with a new lack of faith in the “staff,” said: “We are trying to establish the right of the district to fire a teacher we believe parents don’t want.”