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Wauwatosa teachers protest, but not during class time

District staff, leaders keeping close watch

Feb. 23, 2011

Unlike some school districts across the state, Wauwatosa did not have to deal with massive teacher absences when protests over Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill erupted in Madison last week.

That speaks highly to the professionalism of the district's staff members, Superintendent Phil Ertl said.

"Our staff's focus was on doing the right things for our kids," he said.

While there was no mass exodus of teachers last week or early this week, members of the teachers union are keeping a close eye on what is happening in Madison, the president of the teachers union said.

Representatives selected

In fact, some Wauwatosa teachers did head to Madison on Friday to try to meet with state representatives, said Debbie Brent, Wauwatosa Education Association president.

The teachers union and district met several times last week to figure out the best way to address educators' desires to participate in the events in Madison, and Wauwatosa allowed a representative from each building to take a personal day to head there Friday, Brent said.

The district has looked into every staff member absence from last week and this week, and all of the absences have been verified, Ertl said. The district did not see a higher-than-normal rate of absences on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, when the protest rally ramped up in Madison.

Brent said busloads of teachers from the district also headed to the State Capitol on Saturday.

Teachers fight to keep voice

Union members turned out at two local protests last week, too, Brent said, participating in marches outside Walker's Wauwatosa home and state Sen. Alberta Darling's Menomonee Falls office.

Brent compared Walker's proposal, which would require public employees to pay more toward their health insurance and pension as well as strip them of most of their bargaining rights, to being "kicked in the gut."

Brent said teachers are upset not so much about the financial proposals but rather the "stripping of the voice in the profession" that would happen if collective bargaining is eliminated, she said, adding that it's disingenuous for Walker to propose the bargaining changes as a financial solution.

"If you really want to change collective bargaining laws, then let's do it right," she said.

The Wauwatosa teachers union's contract expires at the end of July, but discussions between the district and the Wauwatosa Education Association are on hold right now because of the uncertainty surrounding the budget-repair bill and the state's biennial budget, which is expected to be announced March 1.

"There are too many question marks right now," she said.

Collaboration will continue

That uncertainty is looming over the district's budget picture for 2011-12 as well. Ertl said Wauwatosa is expecting a significant loss in aid from the state, but some of that could be made up by the savings realized if Walker's budget-repair bill is passed.

Still, the district has to realize that the budget picture is going to be tight for the foreseeable future, Ertl said, and the district is going to have to find new, creative ways to deliver services to students.

"The reality is there's not more money coming in, and there's not going to be," he said.

But no matter what happens in Madison in the coming weeks and months, Ertl said, district administrators and teachers are going to continue to work together "to give our kids a positive experience."

"We're going to continue to collaborate," he said. "We're a human resources industry. It's not like we're just making widgets."

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