Who Says It’s Not About Destroying Unions?

Governor Paul LePage

Governor Paul LePage

Fire a parentally unwanted teacher—with what kind of standard? Parents who do not want their children taught about sex and health, or the facts of evolution, or a factual understanding of the American Constitution? Parents who do not want a teacher who gave their child a failing grade? Parents who are angry about the disciplining of a child? The school board simply would elevate coffee-klatch talk to the level of legal standards.

The board proposes a grievance system devoid of any semblance of due process. Its new contract submission begins by stating that it “shall not constitute or be enforceable as a contract”—which is, of course, legalese for effectively destroying union participation and authority. The board flatly asserted control over all decision-making power, including discipline and discharge. It deftly removed all “just cause” references, and it retained a grievance process—sort of—which allows the board to choose the third-party grievance officer, while both sides will pay the bill. No matter what the recommendation of the grievance officer may be, the board will make the “final and binding decision.”

The union has taken court action, claiming the school board bargained in bad faith, noting how other districts extended existing contracts before the new law took effect. The school board’s president called the complaint “frivolous and without merit.” She expressed a willingness to negotiate, but only if “there is clarity regarding our legal authority to negotiate.” In other words, the governor and the Legislature have said no negotiations, ergo the board cannot negotiate. Heads I win, tails you lose.

The union issue is important, but we must not lose sight of the fact that state services in general, and education in particular, are at stake in all this. Taxes are fairly high in Wisconsin, but grumbling about them largely is confined to a small group, daresay those with little stake in education and services. Public schools, of course including the University of Wisconsin, are of high quality, and the citizenry is proud of that fact. Contrast that scenario with Washington, D.C., with its poor educational system and very high taxes.

stanley kutlerScott Walker is mugging Wisconsin’s educational tradition. He has proposed cuts of nearly $1 billion in state aid to local school districts while capping their levels of taxation. Apparently he is supporting the idea of spinning the university off from the state system, largely because he now will include all university employees as part of his “250,000 new jobs.”  The state and municipalities have yet to see the impact of his program on recruiting and retaining good teachers. The outcome is all too apparent.

Life goes on. The grass is sprouting on the trampled grounds at the state Capitol, the Legislature is in recess and the governor wants nothing less than a do-over of the 20th century. Meanwhile, killing the bargaining rights of teachers, providing a one-sided grievance and disciplinary process and reducing their incomes apparently are vital parts of the governor’s plan to open the state for “business.”

Stanley Kutler

Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.

Republished with the author’s permission from Truthdig

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