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North Shore districts prepare for Walker's bill

Proposal cuts costs; teachers remain 'professional'

Feb. 23, 2011

Amidst all the uncertainty, John Jacobson feels empowered.

Jacobson, a Shorewood High School social studies teacher, was among the professional educators in the North Shore who went to Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget repair bill in the days following the announcement.

Everything Jacobson has been teaching in his class - including First Amendment rights - came into clear focus during the experience. He encountered one student who boldly held a sign that supported Walker in a crowd that had a differing opinion. While he had a difference in opinion as well, Jacobson said he respected the student for speaking his mind when he articulated his opinions through a megaphone.

"There was no shouting down from the other side," Jacobson said. "It was a dramatic moment, and it took me on the verge of tears to see this."

Impact on districts unknown

While most North Shore school officials are uncertain about the potential impact of the bill, Nicolet School District Administrator Rick Monroe said he believes the district would save about $540,000 if employees contribute to the cost of health insurance and to the Wisconsin Retirement Fund but would lose about $550,000 in state aid.

Other districts in the North Shore report similar numbers.

Walker has proposed legislation that would have public employees, except for police, firefighters and state troopers, pay 12.5 percent of their health insurance costs and 5.8 percent of their retirement funding. In addition, the bill limits the union's ability to bargain for wages, working conditions or other benefits.

Anticipating drop in aid

Whitefish Bay's Director of Business Services, Sean Yde, said it was too soon to tell what will happen.

"We don't know the changes in aid," he said. "I certainly feel the fear of employees because of the threat of the collapse of collective bargaining in the bill but we will have a budget we will have to balance."

While information remains tentative - particularly since the bill had not yet been passed at press deadline - Emily Koczela, business manager in Brown Deer, estimated the drop in revenue would be about $500 per student, meaning the school district would receive about $750 per student in state aid.

"That is a fairly close match to the total new required WRS and health insurance contributions, so my budget is only $100,000 more to find, instead of the whole $750,000," Koczela wrote in an e-mail. "My teachers were already contributing 10 percent to the health insurance, so they only changed 2.8 percent, and I didn't gain much in cost savings there."

Glendale-River Hills teachers, like the staff in Brown Deer, pay 10 percent into their health plans and do not contribute any funds into their WRS plans. District Administrator Larry Smalley said he projects a net loss of $580,000 over the course of the state's two-year budget if it is approved.

Most teachers stay in class

Administrators in most North Shore districts say their teaching staff was in the classroom last week and continue to be this week. Absenteeism was not up, although teachers in some districts left their classrooms to protest the bill in Madison.

The Glendale-River Hills School District canceled classes at its two schools Thursday when 30 of the district's 77 teachers called in sick.

"Since then, we have gone back to average, usually between 2 to 6," Smalley said.

"I am very proud of our teachers for showing such professionalism," Demond Means, superintendent at Mequon-Thiensville, wrote in an email. "We expect that our teachers will continue to display a high level of professionalism in the coming weeks."

Deb Kerr, district administrator in the Brown Deer School District, said staffing in her district remained normal throughout the week. Absences from sick leave ranged from 1 to 5 the week of Feb. 14 to 18.

"My staff has been very professional and honest in their requests for absences," Kerr said. "The absences due to sick leave were not unusual and by no means higher than any average day in the district. We have over 200 employees in the district."

Shorewood Superintendent Blane McCann said several teachers representing the district have been going to Madison to protest the bill. All absences were approved ahead of time.

"I appreciate the professional attitude of all our employees," McCann said.

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