Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Are You Ready to Take Action?

By Scott Farnsworth

Under Wisconsin State Statute 111.70, Rights of Municipal Employees, it states:

Municipal employees have the right of self-organization, and the right to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in lawful concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…

Actions do speak louder than words, and it is going to take concerted action on our part to let the School Board know what a terrible precedent they will be setting for the long-term quality and health of this district if they move forward with their expressed plan to offer no salary increases to their employees this year – this, on top of a frozen salary/wage schedule.  We pointed out in negotiations that the District’s Strategic Plan, which they had just adopted at the September meeting, expressed as a “Strategic Direction to “retain and recruit highly qualified staff who work to ensure the success of every student.”  We expressed our opinion that such a goal would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach if KUSD offered no salary increase while surrounding districts were. We believe that concern deserved further consideration.

We were told that we could bring that concern to the School Board at their next meeting – and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Districts across the state who have frozen their salary schedules are experiencing what has become known as “district jumping” – staff who work two or three years in a district and then seek employment elsewhere, because the new district will take their experience into consideration for placement on the salary schedule.  We were told that this is not a concern because other districts’ salary schedules are not as high as Kenosha’s, and people would not transfer to take a cut in pay – but we know of people who have, either because the district to which they have applied has not frozen step-and-lane advancements (so the possibility of reward for a long-term career still seems a reality), or because they believe there are more reasonable expectations of workload and better support.

Those perceptions may or may not be accurate.  Certainly nothing is certain under the current economic strains to which public education is being subjected.  Still, one should question why those same perceptions cannot exist within KUSD – and whether they are not essential if we hope to continue to attract and retain quality educators.

Teachers, ESPs and Noon Hour Supervisors, Substitute Teachers, Secretaries, Custodians and building-level administrators are the face of KUSD.  They are the folks who have daily interaction with students, parents and the public – and create the image of the District.  A private business acquaintance, in talking about the current situation, could only shake his head and say, “Why would any good businessperson make a decision to undermine their relationship with the very people who deal directly with their customers.  They are the ambassadors; they create the customers’ perception of the quality of the district.”

Again, we return to the District’s position that there is simply no money for salary increases.  Again, we would point out that the very conservative budget planning process in which KUSD has engaged for as long as I have been here – some 36 years – has consistently over-estimated the salary line item of the budget.  Again this past year – and for the past three years – unexpended salary funds have made up the lion’s share of the monies the District has put into its Fund 10 Balance, which has increased from $15,683,782 at the end of 2011-12, to $39,665,626 at the end of this past fiscal year – according to DPI’s website (at the September 14 Budget Presentation, the District projected the General Fund balance at $42.2 million – nearly three times the 2011-12 amount!).

The bottom line is that every budget begins with $0 in expenditures – every year is a reallocation of funding based on known and estimated fixed costs and the priorities of the District.  According to the School Board, one of those central priorities is “highly qualified staff.” The funding is available and should be used to provide that staff with the increase that they have sought to negotiate.

See you Tuesday!