One Teacher's Perspective on the Wisconsin Budget Debate

I have been debating whether or not I really want to write about the whole budget repair bill debate here in Wisconsin.  I have two reasons for this – (1)  I have friends on both sides of the issue I do not wish to offend and (2) I’m pretty sure everyone already knows where I stand.  But, I feel heated enough right now to take a stab at it.

As a Christian school teacher, I have very little sympathy for public school teachers who make more than double what I do in take home pay alone.  This is not even mentioning benefits because I have very few benefits of which to speak.  With my high-deductible insurance, paying 5.5% would be a great relief to my budget.  I do have to admit that I do not have to pay anything toward my pension.  This is because I have no pension.  By the way, I also have to work during lunch periods and get by with only one prep hour a day.  Some public school teachers I know would consider this offensive and oppressive even.

Now, I don’t want you to think I am complaining about my job.  I love my job and treasure the opportunity to mold, influence and shape young minds.  I understand that teaching involves a sacrifice.  In fact, when I moved here from Massachusetts to take this job, I did so knowing I would be taking a significant pay-cut.  I was ok with this, its something worth sacrificing for.  So, you can imagine my indignation when I hear of teachers complaining at their salaries and working conditions. 

I am also quite disturbed at the message some teachers are sending to their students.  What kind of character trait is being taught when a student knows his teacher is deliberately lying as they call in sick in order to head out and spend the day protesting in Madison and then getting a fake doctor’s note to cover it up.  How will these teachers be able to look at truant students in the eye when caught skipping school or forging a parent’s signature? 

Not only are these teachers teaching deceit and irresponsibility, but they are teaching their selfishness.  It seems as though most of these teachers do not realize that most people in the private sector know nothing of free pensions or health care.  Many in the private sector are just happy to have jobs in this economy. 

They also do not seem to realize that as a state, we are broke.  Actually, we are not broke – we are billions in debt.  There is no money.  When there is no money, what kind of bargaining can take place?  With a shortfall of funds, we are left with only two options.  First, we could follow the Governor’s plan and simply require union workers to make the same sacrifice normal private sector employees make everyday – contribute to your healthcare and your pension.  The second option is that thousands will have to lose their jobs so that the few workers remaining can continue along their free ride.    You tell me which is the selfish option?

Now, let us address the issue at the center of this controversy – collective bargaining.  Senator Miller suggests this is a “fundamental right.”  Yet, why is it that most in the private sector are denied this “fundamental right” everyday.  The truth of the matter is, unions have been guilty of depriving rights for years.  For example, in most public schools, you are forced to join the union if you want a teaching position in the first place.  You are forced to pay thousands of dollars in union dues whether or not you agree with the union at all.  This doesn’t seem to be what democracy looks like (No – I am mocking the chants of the protesters – I understand we live in a republic, not a democracy).  Why isn’t anyone complaining about the thousands of dollars stolen (i.e. taken without consent or choice) by the unions?

We also need to consider what collective unions have left us with.  While we have a great debt to those courageous unions in years gone by who bravely fought for children’s rights and safety in the workplace, let’s consider some current facts.  Unions have made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.  While Wisconsin is blessed with dedicated and talented public school teachers, just being a teacher does not make one a praiseworthy teacher or even a competent one.  Principals and administrators are stuck with mediocrity and are not allowed to reward those teachers who do go above and beyond the call of duty.  Collective bargaining often leads to just plain old collectivism – or put another way – socialism. 

Collective bargaining has been a thorn in the flesh to those who wish to be fiscally responsible.  Union reps have been far more eager to lay people off than accept even meager pay or benefit cuts.   If the unions had shown more discretion in the past and shown a willingness to accept some concessions, we would not be in this position now and no one would be talking about limiting this process.   And by the way, let’s set the record straight, no one is suggesting we end all collective bargaining – just bargaining for benefits we cannot afford in the first place.  Sounds reasonable to me…

The unions have changed.  No longer are they fighting for the rights of the workers.  Instead, they stand by and count their money as they watch many of their own brothers and sisters forced to into unemployment due to budget cuts needed to pay outrageous benefits unheard of by private sector workers. 

How about the Wisconsin 14?  Well, if they are not here to do their jobs then I don’t see why they even matter.  Again, what example are they setting?  What are they teaching our children about responsibility or dedication?  I hope to help others lead the effort to recall my own State Senator (Tim Cullen) in a year.

The one shining light in all of this has been the leadership of Governor Scott Walker.  Governor Walker is standing strong against unprecedented vitriol, hatred and opposition.  He is fighting for the people of Wisconsin against a very strong foe.  While others flee to Illinois he sticks it out in the center of the storm in Madison.  While others call in sick, Walker shows up to work for the people of Wisconsin.  While others hold their vulgar signs, Walker calmly speaks to the people even praising those who stand against him.  This, my friends, is true leadership.

And this has been one teacher’s perspective…

Kevin Thompson
Bible/Civics Teacher
Beloit, WI

Just a reminder, you can still listen to my interview with Wisconsin Capitol Watch’s Marv Munyon talking about this issue.  Download the mp3 here.

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