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In Wauwatosa, all's quiet when it comes to Act 10

Most agree to focus on making best of what's at hand

June 1, 2012

Adverse effects of Act 10 have not seeped into Wauwatosa School District classrooms, but they have stirred the sensibilities of some teachers, several people close to the district have said.

"We have a very normal, stable environment here," said Jeffrey Hansher, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary and the district's teacher union president. "We want the best and the brightest to be teachers, and I am not sure that current teachers will stay or that students who would have liked to go into teaching will do so."

It's about the work

It is a particularly painful thought for someone like Hansher, who has stayed at Jefferson since being recruited out of college a quarter-century ago. He wears a shirt and tie to work every day, as well as his love for his profession on his sleeve.

"I love teaching, and I love this school," Hansher said. "Teaching is a calling. I could not think of doing anything else."

His fifth-grade curriculum includes a heavy dose of current events and history. The classroom is filled with newspapers proclaiming watershed events such as World War II and 9/11. He said, however, that current Wisconsin politics - which seems to often pit teachers and the governor against each other - is off limits.

"No, we do not talk about the issue here," Hansher said. "I also never talk about the issue with parents. I have made sure that we focus on the subjects that are being taught, and I know my fellow teachers here do the same."

Still, Hansher will admit his disappointment in not being given the opportunity to negotiate what Act 10 decreed.

"I believe we could have worked out a compromise," he said.

Parents: no big issues

Local businessman Jerry Merz, who has worked with the district on its technology curriculum, also sees no ill effects in the classroom.

"We have been so busy developing tech programs that I don't see any cuts," Merz said. "I have heard a couple of teachers make comments like, 'I didn't realize people didn't like me anymore.' Younger teachers seem to be positive about any changes.

"Parents and others seem to be very reserved about saying anything. I know teachers who participated in the demonstrations in Madison, but no one wants to get into arguments, no matter which side of the issue they fall on."

Merz noted that sports activities at West seem to be drawing more booster support, people who are willing to get involved in raising money for sports programs and facilities.

The issue also has not drawn talk on the East side of the district, according to Alexia Wilhelm, a parent of two students, one at Longfellow and one at Roosevelt.

"We have heard absolutely nothing," Wilhelm said, adding that if arts programs were affected there would most likely be more reaction. "The arts programs in the schools are outstanding. We have been very impressed."

PTO view

Carla Cummings, who this month just finished a term as East's PTO president, said parents and residents have strong opinions about ACT 10 reforms, but those feelings have not been part of open conversation.

"These are tough times with some tough decisions and we are hoping for the best outcomes from all of this," Cummings said. "It's a complex issue with a lot of complex parts that are polarizing. As a parent, I am willing to do whatever it takes to help keep our schools strong because they make the community strong."

Cummings noted that she has a great deal of respect for parties who are on opposite sides of the issue.

"I give a lot of credit to Scott and Tonette Walker for keeping their boys in the district when they could have pulled them out," she said. "It's a testament also to our administrators at East who have helped make that manageable."

Cummings also gives credit to teachers like Hansher, who she said are the backbone of the district.

"He really takes his job seriously," Cummings said. "Both my daughters were in his class, so I know his dedication to providing the best possible education. That's the most important thing."

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