We Equivocate in All Circumstances

Those who have followed Recallarama from its 2011 gestation know that Wisconsin’s public employee unions don’t let the truth get in the way of whatever they’re claiming or demanding.

The first example in this blog was the July 2011 assertion that Gov. Scott Walker never said he wanted to curtail public employees’ collective bargaining rights during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Inconveniently for Da Union, this assertion was made before a reader passed on to me the Web address of a Wisconsin Education Association Council-member union newsletter from before the November 2010 election, which shows:

Similarly inconveniently, TRUE Views (now there’s an ironic name) featured two statements from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in June and August 2010, both of which can be verified. And then another teacher union newsletter was revealed with the same information …

… which serves to demonstrate, at best, reading comprehension problems among Wisconsin teacher union members.

The latest demonstration of teacher unions‘ unfamiliarity with inconvenient truths comes from the Wisconsin State Journal:

A Wisconsin superintendent survey last fall found state budget cuts caused school districts to eliminate thousands of staff positions, increase class sizes, raise student fees and reduce extracurricular offerings.

But this week, Gov. Scott Walker’s office said those results don’t tell the full story and that, in fact, similar surveys from past years show school districts fared better after his education changes went into effect.

Further, the governor’s office contends the organizations that conducted those surveys — the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and the Wisconsin Education Association Council — were unhelpful, and in some cases actually worked against the administration as staff members tried to compare recent results to past surveys.

“It’s unfortunate that WEAC stands in the way of survey data that they have released in the past, which shows the governor’s changes are working and are good for their members and the state’s schoolchildren,” said Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesman.

WEAC refused to share the data, but someone found it and passed it on to Walker’s people, who have not only posted this summary …

… but all of DPI’s data over the past decade. The data shows that all of WEAC’s claims about mass layoffs, grotesquely large classes, and forced cuts of classes or extracurricular programs throughout the state are false. The data does not show where teacher layoffs and huge class sizes are occurring — in the school districts like Milwaukee and Kenosha, whose school boards committed malpractice with public funds by enacting teacher union contracts that asked for no sacrifices at all from their teacher unions.

The State Journal quoted a WEAC statement: “Gov. Walker’s cuts to education — including the greatest reduction in state aid since the Great Depression and the largest combined cut to education in our state’s history — caused unprecedented harm to Wisconsin’s tradition of quality public schools. The effects of Walker’s actions are still being felt now, with record-level staff and program reductions.” Apparently WEAC staff is unable to read bar charts.

This data, by the way, is consistent with my own experience covering schools, beginning in the late 1980s. Class sizes fluctuate every year because of demographics. Teachers get hired and laid off every year because enrollments in grades and in classes go up and down, mostly because of fluctuations in age groups, but in part because of fluctuations of student interest in a particular subject.

(The third and fourth bar charts, by the way, demonstrate the cynical game played by many school boards — when spending cuts have to be made, school boards threaten to cut popular programs, such as high school sports, in order to blackmail taxpayers into approving referenda to waive revenue limits.)

Those who claim that the green bars are where they are because of a large number of teacher retirements in 2011 may be correct, but they are forgetting, or don’t know, that school districts have offered early retirement deals from time to time since at least the late 1980s. Teachers, remember, can retire with full benefits when they reach the “rule of 85” — when their age and years teaching total 85. A teacher can get hired at 22 out of college, teach for 32 years, and retire with full salary and benefits at 54.

Unlike with public safety employees, there is no compelling reason to allow teachers to retire as early as 54, except that those teachers are at the top of the salary structure, and they will be replaced by teachers with less experience and education who thus cost less money. (And until four-year colleges in Wisconsin stop educating teachers, there will always be enough teachers to replace the retirees, although there are some subject-area shortages.) The blanket claim that the more experienced a teacher is, the better the teacher is, which is what teacher unions would have you believe through their Last In First Out maxim, is a claim that is impossible to verify since we don’t evaluate teachers effectively. (An effective teacher evaluation ends with the worst teachers being fired, and that never happens in this state.)

The other school of thought is the obvious application of the political Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.   Contrary to what WEAC wants you to believe, the billions of dollars we spend on education every year (the top spending item in the state budget, along with public safety) has not resulted in the return on investment it should have. The 85 percent of taxpayers who do not work for government but are paying for government appear unimpressed with continuing and escalating government demands for more money. Otherwise, the November 2010 election results would have been different.



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