Racine educators won a key battle Monday night when the school board voted to delay action on changes to the employee handbook until after the administration meets and confers with the elected union leadership of the district’s educators.
“Great news from last night!” the Racine Education Association-Racine Educational Assistants Association declared on its Facebook page. “We take our profession seriously and we will collectively stand to make sure we have a voice in how our schools are run.”
Dozens of educators and supporters emailed and called their school board members urging them to work with elected union leaders to make changes to the handbook rather than imposing rules on employees without any input. Joined by educators and union colleagues from throughout southeastern Wisconsin, including Milwaukee and Kenosha, they then showed up in a strong display of solidarity at the school board meeting. The vote was 5-4 to delay implementation and work with educators.
RACINE – The Racine Education Association eked out a victory at the hands of the Racine Unified School Board, which voted 5-4 Monday to defer a vote on the proposed employee handbook. Dozens of teachers packed the board room at Monday’s meeting to hear the debate among the School Board members.
Kenosha teachers and their supporters will be back at the School Board meeting this month, again asking board members to increase prep time so that teachers can fully meet the needs of their students. In March, dozens of teachers and supporters packed the board meeting to shine a light on the issue, with several teachers taking to the podium to explain the importance of prep time in helping teachers provide quality education for all students (see video below).
In addition, they have launched the #Plan2Learn letter writing campaign asking school board members to act on the Planning and Preparation policy at the April 24 School Board meeting.
“More planning time for educators affects student learning at all levels, and ensures that each student receives individualized lessons that provide them with a high quality academic experience,” the Kenosha Education Association said. “The sooner discussions start happening, the sooner our students can start receiving the education they deserve.”
The KEA’s Elementary Planning Time Committee members have worked with their fellow educators and community members to organize around this issue. In addition to mobilizing teachers and supporters at School Board meeting, their efforts include:
Below is a video from the March School Board meeting:
From the Kenosha Education Association
The Kenosha Education Association is always looking for ways to provide opportunities to both educators and students that make them feel appreciated for who they are and prepared to take on challenges they face in and outside of the classroom. With a sudden increase of bullying incidents at some of the schools, KEA recognized there was a need to educate its members about how to keep their classrooms a safe and inclusive space for their students. As a result, KEA collaborated with GSAFE Wisconsin, an organization whose mission is to create just schools for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin, to host an exclusive, members only workshop to help attendees learn how to navigate an oftentimes sensitive topic. The workshop was titled “From Perspectives to Practice: Creating Welcoming Schools for Transgender and Gender Expansive Youth.”
The 90-minute session taught participants to understand the differences and connections between assigned sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and also outlined simple day-to-day practices educators can use to demonstrate an awareness of gender diversity.
Beth Djuplin, a middle school teacher and KEA member who attended the seminar, stated, “…The gender workshop was a life-changer for me. The question about describing your gender without describing what you look like or what you do…that was the epiphany moment. I just am.”
Twenty members participated in the session at the KEA office with an eagerness to learn and engage in meaningful and reflective conversation.
GSAFE Senior Director of Education and Policy and workshop presenter, Brian Juchems, said, “It was heartening to see a committed group of educators in various roles come out to learn how to create gender inclusive schools that are safe and welcoming not just for transgender but for all students. The audience was engaged, informed, and ready to take action. Congrats to the Kenosha Education Association and its members for creating this opportunity.”
The Kenosha Unified School District is currently in the midst of a discrimination lawsuit involving a transgender student, making it impossible for them to create and provide non-discrimination policies and practices for LGBTQ+ students until after it is settled. The KEA is focused on making sure educators and students of Kenosha are being provided with the resources they need to be effective in the classroom and decided to step in and provide a workshop that would benefit everyone.
KEA plans to host more educational events like this in the future with the hope that the takeaways will be just as positive and useful for its members as this one was. “I’m so glad KEA put on this session,” another participant said. “I learned so much – this is something that all teachers should be taught and talking about.”
|Bradley, Kloppenburg advance to State Supreme Court race on April 5
Scott Walker appointee Rebecca Bradley and Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg advanced in Tuesday’s primary and will face each other in the April 5 election for a seat on the State Supreme Court.
In another major primary race, State Sen. Chris Larson and incumbent Chris Abele advanced to the April 5 election for Milwaukee County Executive.
Voters throughout the state showed strong support for their local public schools Tuesday by approving several major school referendums.
One of the most important was in Rhinelander, where voters approved a $15 million referendum by more than a two-to-one margin, 68% yes to 32% no. As a result, the school district will not have to make major cuts that would have included:
“Our community better understands the state and the funding formula,” a relieved Rhinelander School District Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said after the votes came in. “This isn’t just a district issue, it’s really a state issue in how school districts are funded. We have an equity problem in our state with winners and losers.”
The referendum allows the district to exceed the state-imposed revenue limits by $5 million per year beginning with the 2016-2017 school year and ending with the 2018-2019 school year.
Other key referendum successes included:
JEFFERSON: Voters approved – 61% to 39% – a referendum to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by up to $775,000 per year for three years. The funds will go toward maintaining the current level of educational programs and staff throughout the district.
Without the referendum, the school district would have had to make major cuts, including:
MARSHALL: Voters approved a three-year, $875,000-a year-operating referendum by a vote of 60% to 40%. The district said the funds will be used to maintain reasonable class sizes; sustain academics, co-curricular and athletic programs; support student access to technology; and continue maintenance of the district facilities.
WEAC worked with Regions and local associations to support the Rhinelander, Jefferson and Marshall referendums.
Other referendum victories on Tuesday included:
SLINGER: $32.4 million for school building renovations, updates, and programming improvements for the entire district, and $9.88 million for a new auditorium at the high school and to make improvements that allow for dedicated athletic spaces for the high school.
NORTHLAND PINES: $11.7 million over three years to maintain programs and operations and to provide for additional school safety and security measures, including security camera upgrades and employment of a school resource officer.
OOSTBURG: $9.5 million to remodel, renovate and demolish a wing of the elementary school in addition to furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
NEW GLARUS: $5.8 million for HVAC/roofs, safety and security issues, and additional classroom space.
INDEPENDENCE: $3.5 million over five years for non-recurring purposes consisting of operating expenses and programming improvements.
BANGOR: $2.5 million for non-recurring purposes.
School referendums failed in Hayward and Prescott.
West Bend social studies teacher Tanya Lohr, who was placed on paid administrative leave after challenging the district’s new testing system, was placed back in her classroom Monday night after her union, her colleagues, parents and community supporters came to her defense. The board announced in front of a packed room that Lohr would be allowed back to work immediately.
Lohr, who is communications chair for the West Bend Education Association, had created and circulated a petition outlining four main concerns that staff had about the new Galileo testing system at the high school. When she met with administration to discuss the petition she was placed on administrative leave.
According to a report by Fox 6 Milwaukee, there was an outpouring of support for Lohr at Monday night’s meeting. Fox 6 reported:
“This teacher puts her students’ needs all ahead of her own,” one parent said.
Some members of the community came to Lohr’s defense, believing Lohr was doing what is best for the students.
“What is happening to our democracy when teachers are not allowed to circulate a petition?” Joy Schroeder said.
In a brief statement, West Bend School District School Board President Randy Marquardt said he could not address specifics of the case but that Lohr would be placed “back in her classroom immediately.”
Parent Kim Roemer presented the board with a petition signed by 1,185 people. The petition reads:
The WBEA is very concerned about the district’s choice to take an experienced, high quality educator out of her classroom, especially the week prior to final exams. Educators know the importance of teachers being with their students during this critical time.
Tanya’s administrative leave came after she spoke with Principal Bill Greymont about staff concerns regarding a threatening statement made by an Assistant Principal, and the chilling effect this statement had on the circulation of a petition outlining staff concerns with the Galileo testing system. Tanya spoke to Principal Greymont in her role as a union representative.
In these discussions, the WBEA felt they had reached an agreement with Principal Greymont wherein he would send out an email informing employees they were free to sign the petition without fear of retribution. Instead, an email was sent out that many employees, including union officers, believed was designed to further discourage them from signing the petition and raising their concerns. When Tanya met with Principal Greymont about his email, she was also threatened with retaliation.
These actions on the part of the employer have led to an immediate investigation by the WBEA, Region 7, and WEAC legal as they raise serious questions about the legality of the employer’s actions.
It is also important to note that there is legal protection for employees acting together for the purpose of mutual aid and protection to raise concerns about their working conditions, which is why it is important to raise our concerns collectively rather than on an individual basis.
According to the West Bend Daily News, parent Roemer told the board she has concerns about the teaching environment in the district.
“Our children’s learning conditions are greatly affected by our teachers’ teaching conditions and right now, those teaching conditions are less than enjoyable,” said Roemer, who volunteers in her children’s classrooms. “Right now, teachers are afraid to speak out. It takes a special soul to be a teacher. These are souls that should be protected and honored each and every day. They should be able to stand up for our children and for themselves without fear of being put on leave, fired and blackballed so they can’t hired by another district.”
Dear Members, The WBEA is informing you of a situation involving Executive Board member Tanya Lohr. Tanya Lohr has been placed on paid administrative leave. It is important to note that paid administrative leave is not discipline.
When we come together as educators through our union, there is a lot we can accomplish, WEAC Region 6 President Mark Lindsey writes in a column published this week in the Region 6 SmartBoard newsletter.
Lindsey cites the recent success story of the Lake Mills Education Association (LMEA), which achieved a relatively large pay increase in a tough economy. “It’s a great story,” Lindsey writes. “After a lengthy organizing effort, Lake Mills’ teachers were able to get a 2.5 percent salary increase and professional advancement pay increases.”
LMEA’s leaders have invested a lot of time in communications with the school board, administrators and the local community as well as with its own members and the rest of the staff in the school district. The union talked about how the students of Lake Mills deserve the best teachers and staff. The community realized that it needed to offer competitive pay to keep its great employees.
As the president of WEAC Region 6, I can’t tell you how many times I have had someone tell me that the union “can’t do anything anymore.” By this, people mean that unions no longer have a role in a post-Act 10 world where we have lost most of our bargaining rights. The truth, of course, is that there is even more that the union can and must do now that employees have fewer rights. If LMEA had not organized the Lake Mills community around the importance of competitive professional salaries, who would have? The answer, in community after community, is that the union is the only organization that will successfully undertake these efforts.
Teachers in the Lake Mills Area School District are again receiving recognition for their experience and increased professional respect for their dedication to students as a result of a four-year campaign. “This is proof positive a union exists with or without recertification.
“This is proof positive a union exists with or without recertification. A union exists when we unite for professional respect and better schools.”
Teachers in the Lake Mills Area School District are again receiving recognition for their experience and increased professional respect for their dedication to students as a result of a four-year campaign.
The district has moved all teachers to their appropriate cells of experience that they lost from salary freezes since Act 10 (up to 4 steps), plus a 2.5 percent increase for all staff (teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, secretaries, bus drivers, etc.). The move came after a failed administrative proposal of a 2 percent increase, which the board knew was not sufficient to attract or retain staff.
“I find it important to note that our local association accomplished this without jumping through the hoops of so-called ‘recertification,’ because we could not stomach paying the state fee to be a ‘Walker-approved union,’ ” said Brad Klotz, Lake Mills band director and Region 6 executive.
How did the local do it? First, members got involved with school board elections, interviewing candidates to identify which were true advocates of public schools, and then sending post cards to WEAC educators who lived within the school district to spread the word. “This approach was never attempted before in our district, which has a teaching staff of about 100,” Klotz said. “We also partnered with other union members who recognize that schools are the heart of our community. They helped support two successful building referenda.”
Klotz said teachers partner with education support professionals to read a statement at school board meetings during public input time, so the union is at all board meetings. After establishing a presence at the meetings, union members started personal conversations about local schools with board members, and invited them to one-on-one meetings at homes, coffee shops and restaurants.
“We did this to open a dialogue,” Klotz said. “We knew our members’ rights to meet with elected officials. Before long, our board members were contacting us to get our thoughts on proposals. Board members started asking more questions, and administration started meeting with staff committees to help confer on decisions. Much credit also belongs to the Citizen Advocates for Public Education (CAPE), a supportive community group that advocated for strong local schools.”
“It was a long road, and a team effort to get us here in four years,” Klotz said. Unfortunately, along the way, the district lost a lot of quality talent to other schools that were paying more competitively.
“It’s my hope that by sharing the Lake Mills’ story, other locals will see what is possible, and just maybe help Wisconsin turn the page,” Klotz said.