As the MTI red and AFSCME green packed the meeting room and the halls of the MMSD Administration Building Monday night, I couldn’t help but think that we’d been here before. The budget was on the work committee’s agenda, but the primary focus of attendees was a new contract.
Thursday, the Madison Board of Education will meet in closed session with the focus being the possibility of bargaining a 2015-2016 contract for AFSCME and MTI employees. However, no meeting for public appearances was scheduled prior to that closed meeting. Clearly, this did not dissuade the 75+ attendees from descending upon Room 103. The attendance was so great that the Board had to reconvene the meeting in the auditorium to make space. As more people filed in, this space, too, was quickly filled with signature red of MTI and green of AFSCME.
As the meeting got underway, newly elected Board president, Arlene Silveira announced that public testimony was to stick to the item of the budget. As compensation, the Board would agree to hear public testimony regarding the contract on Thursday at 5:30.
Special Education Assistant and EA-MTI President, Erin Proctor, was the first to give her public testimony. Due to the restrictions, she craftily related her speech to the confines of the budget. Proctor stated that while technology was important, we also need to consider the stress that staff is under, given the numerous changes being made in the district and the impact it has on employees’ health. She went on to explain that the Board was in a position to alleviate some of this stress by ensuring contracts with employee unions.
When Dane County Supervisor Sharon Corrigan took the podium, she briefed the Board on how collective bargaining can create flexibility and solve budgetary issues. Speaker after speaker spoke of the value that must be placed on employees, the ones who will deliver curriculum and District standards. After all, a curriculum does not teach itself.
Former School Board President, Carol Carstensen, illuminated the financial hit that our staff has already taken and how they continue to deliver for our district even in the most challenging times. Carstensen emphasized the impact Act 10 has had on salaries; she explained that since 2011 staff have not been made whole, given their loss of wages due to the 50% contribution to the WRS deposit. She said that the district is dependent on the staff and that they need to be rewarded financially and with new contracts.
Another former Board President, Barbara Arnold, spoke for the GRUMPS (Grandparents United for Madison Public Schools) advocacy group asking the Board to renew the energy in our district and show dedication to teachers. She assured the packed auditorium that this was how we would get the best results for our kids. Former Board President Bill Keys, who also served as MTI President, said negotiating new Contracts would show the community that the Board is accountable to their wishes.
Art teacher, Kati Walsh, advised Board members that the best way to attract and retain a qualified working staff was to put a fair contract in place. She also potently reminded the Board members that most of them had campaigned on the issue of supporting collective bargaining. Now was not the time to be complacent.
As speaker after speaker took the podium, there were promises to return on Thursday when speech would not be limited. After public testimony, Union advocates gathered outside for a retelling of our history by MTI President Elect, Mike Lipp. He spoke to the crowd on the years when obtaining a contract was nearly impossible, and the years where “winner takes all arbitration” resulted from the legislature mandating arbitration as the means of resolving impasse in negotiations. Sadly, we reminisced over the cost controls of the QEO and how long teacher salaries had remained stagnant. However, according to Lipp, the greatest tragedy came with Act 10. In spite of this, MTI had endured and secured a contract through the 2014-2015 school year, one of the few in the State. Due to the current judicial window, Lipp assured the crowd that the time was right to bargain for another year.
Collective bargaining brings with it no set formula, but it does come with some guarantees. It comes with the security of knowing that the workers have a voice at the table. It is what has brought teachers their planning time, sick days, health care, and working conditions. Perhaps most importantly, it means that when a teacher disagrees with his or her principal about a decision being made or feels a decision will be detrimental to our students, that the teacher can stand up for what is right without fear of retribution.
Attend the the Board meeting on Thursday, May 15th and secure the workers’ place at the table. It is in the best interest of our students, our district, our schools, our employees.
BOE Meeting, 545 West Dayton Street, Room 103
Email the Board your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org