For those of you who were not aware, The Wheeler Report has been around for a long time. Founded by Dick Wheeler who was a long time member of the press and who recently passed away, the Wheeler Report follows press releases, editorial pages and other news making headlines from around our state. What I appreciate most about the Wheeler Report is that it categorizes the different topics it covers. This comes in quite handy when looking for specific information on topics that range from courts, congressional action, mining legislation, and of course education.
This week I have seen a number of new headlines identifying how some school districts may choose to use the new “tools” that they have been given by our Governor and State Legislature. While topics have ranged from Charter school accountability, restructuring benefits, and voucher programs, I am going to focus on three topics that I think relate to our current situation in Verona.
The first issue comes from our friends in the Sheboygan Area School District. Two days ago an article ran in the Sheboygan Press indicating that the board is considering raising the insurance premiums on the educational aides in the district. The employee would see an increase in their insurance premium to jump from 12 to 24.5%. So an educational aide who makes on average $20,000 a year would see a roughly $200 a month premium increase. Mind you these are some of the lowest paid people who do some of the really challenging work with students who have special needs.
Today an article in the Sheboygan Press indicates that 64 administrators will see a 1.6% increase for 2012-13 (not the superintendent though). So let me understand this, the SASD is struggling and needs the lowest wage earners to pay double their current insurance premium, but an administrator that makes 4 times the salary of the educational aide is going to get a 1.6% increase? I will let you read the articles yourselves, but I take issue with the board’s action.
One additional issue that quite frankly irritates me to no end is the standard throwaway line that most people use when justifying raises to management. We need to increase pay to “attract and retain talent”. While I don’t disagree with that concept, why aren’t those educational aides considered “talent”? We very rarely hear people talk about those who work on the front lines as people that we need to attract and retain. Again all of our staff should be treated as those we want to attract and retain assuming they are performing to the levels that their jobs require.
The second issue came from an article in the Green Bay Press Gazette looking at the idea of subcontracting. Oconto Falls schools are subcontracting food service out with a company believing they will save a great deal of money. They are also contemplating subcontracting custodial work and potentially bus services. Then buried in the article a few paragraphs later we find out that the school district subcontracted food service with this same company 15 years ago and had to end the relationship because it wasn’t sustainable. So if it didn’t work then, why are they confident it will work now? Subcontracting is another issue that people think is a magic bullet that will solve problems. For those who believe that, contact Monona Grove schools parents and ask them how the food service privatization that occurred a few years ago worked. Hint: Not good. The food service is back to being managed in house. When the private company took over, food quality went down, cost went up, and parental displeasure escalated. Also in the same article about Oconto Falls it indicates that the Green Bay Schools food service is operating fine as cost recovery. Like the Monona Grove food servie, there are equally disturbing stories from around the state regarding the subcontracting of custodial services.
The final article was about teacher contracts in Oshkosh. There has been a lot of discussion about the work week and the amount of hours a teacher should work. Oshkosh has not settled the issue but I would like to share a quote from their Board President at the end of the article. “I’d like to treat (teachers) as salaried employees,” Board president John Lemberger said. “The bottom line is whether they’re getting the job done. If you have to leave early one day to go to a doctor appointment, that means you’re going to be up late that night getting ready for class the next day.” I would prefer that Mr. Lemberger had referred to teachers as professionals rather than salaried employees but I get the concept he intended and I agree. Most professional positions have this same approach to their work. Some weeks might require 60 hour weeks to meet a deadline then the next few weeks may be very relaxed and casual. At the very least, I would ask that we respect teachers for the professionals they are and trust that they are doing their job to the best of their ability. I know that is what I expect working in a professional setting.