Act 10 not making major classroom waves in Oak Creek-Franklin, Greendale

It's early performance isn't tragic, but the play is afoot

June 1, 2012

Act 10 set the stage for radical changes in public education, but the bill enacted just over year ago has had negligible impact in its first scene, say some key personnel in local districts.

That's not to say the law won't turn tragic later, when other financial factors join the cast, they caution.

Opening act

Paul Sojkowski, a teacher at Meadowview Elementary School and chief negotiator for the Oak Creek Education Association, said so far, the impact of the bill that ended collective bargaining for anything other than wages (which are still subjected to cap based on inflation) for public school teachers has been insignificant in the classroom.

In the Oak Creek-Franklin School District, there have been no layoffs and class sizes have not increased, offsetting common concerns of teacher unions and their members.

"I think in Oak Creek, we're in a fortunate situation," Sojkowski said. "The administration has done a good job to avoid layoffs. There haven't been any layoffs as a direct result of budgetary issues."

He also said the teachers union and administration has had a solid relationship, one that continues even after the passage of Act 10.

"We've been asked to participate in discussions," he said. "Our voice is heard - that's good."

Likewise, Colleen Perry, a Greendale Middle School teacher and president of the Greendale Education Association, said teachers have been treated with respect by the Greendale School District administration and "have been asked to help shape the future of the district."

The district had 3.4 layoffs in 2010-11 and none the following school year.

"We aren't feeling the effects to the degree other districts have because GSD's financial situation is stable for this year and next," Perry said.

In Franklin, there were no layoffs in either school year, and parent Marie Grabek said she'd be hard pressed to notice any difference in her daughter's education as a junior at Franklin High School.

"We've had a very good experience at the high school," said Grabek, who is chairwoman of the Franklin Area Parents and Students United, a community partnership centered on reducing alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. "I don't think she's missed out on anything."

Waiting for entire performance

But that could change as Act 10 plays out, said Sojkowski.

He said there's no guarantee that there won't be layoffs, or that music, art and gym classes wouldn't face the chopping block if districts' financial situations become more tenuous, such as if state aid continues to dwindle. Oak Creek lost nearly $3 million in state aid from last school year to this one.

"The bottom line is there's no stability," he said. "That creates uncertainty and that creates problems. … "Who knows what's going to happen, what further cuts are going to happen to education?"

Another uncertainty is teachers' pay scale and lanes, and whether they will receive additional compensation for pursuing a master's degree or years of experience. According to the Wisconsin Legislative Council, Act 10 would provide for collective bargaining for base pay only.

"That's another slap," Sojkowski said. "Right now, teachers' education isn't valued. There is no reason for teachers to go back to school, there's no financial incentive. We are constantly being attacked. What incentive do you have to be a teacher?"

Perry agreed: "Many of us are looking at other areas of possible employment, like consulting, corporate training, or looking to another profession altogether. This cannot be good for students."

That teachers are feeling that angst doesn't surprise Grabek, but she has seen no evidence of unrest at her school.

"If they are, they never let on to it," she said. "In Franklin, I think we're very fortunate to have guidance counselors, principals, teachers who love what they do. The sense is they're not doing it because they have to; they want to."

She said if specials - art, music or gym - were cut from the district's budget, she'd enroll her daughter in private, community classes.

"If she didn't have music at school, I'd find another way for her to get that. I personally feel we have options."

At the same time, Grabek shares some of teachers' trepidation about the future.

"I think I'm cautiously concerned because I want to be informed."


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