Kenosha, Like Milwaukee, Chooses Teacher Layoffs Instead of Teacher Contributions

Union Refuses to Negotiate, Jeopardizes Union Jobs

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Move over, Milwaukee. There is another Wisconsin school district preparing to fire hundreds of teachers in 2011.

Though Milwaukee’s upcoming teacher layoffs have garnered national coverage, the City of Kenosha’s problems have slid under the radar; this despite the fact the district has an enrollment of nearly 24,000 students. Thanks to a previously agreed upon contract and a refusal of the teachers’ union to enter a side agreement as allowed by the new state law, 338 teachers are staring down pink slips for the 2011-2012 school year. Only three of the state’s 15 largest school districts have refused to negotiate or reopen contract talks to include cost saving measures in the face of upcoming budget cuts.

The Kenosha Unified School District is facing a deficit of $33 million between existing structural shortcomings and their share of the 2011-2013 Wisconsin state budget, which includes a reduction in state aid. Their plan so far has been to slash payroll by releasing staff members. Cutting 212 full-time teachers will save an estimated $17.4 million in 2011.

However, much like in Milwaukee, these coming layoffs are preventable.

Districts across Wisconsin have been able to save teacher jobs by including modest teacher benefit contributions into their contracts. These contributions, defined in Act 10, include payments of 5.8 percent of wages towards the state pension program (which is matched by the state) and 12.6 percent of monthly health care premiums. Twelve of the state’s 15 largest districts have either approved or are in the process of negotiating contracts with these stipulations built in to save teaching jobs. Only Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Janesville have held out amongst the state’s biggest cities.

The local teachers’ union has rejected a call to make these concessions. The teachers in the city have refused to reopen the existing pact even though contracts for locally employed school secretaries, carpenters, painters, and other support staff recently inked a contract that includes the mandated contributions. In short, teachers are being protected from these concessions while other employees in the district, including substitute teachers, are making the necessary sacrifices to save jobs in Kenosha’s schools.

Kenosha Superintendent Dr. Michele Hancock has placed the blame for not reopening contract talks to include job-saving provisions on the Kenosha Education Association – the local teachers’ union. In a letter to teachers in March, Hancock reiterated that the district was in favor of amending the previous contract: “Let me state emphatically, the District has asked the KEA to reopen the contract.” However, the deal has gone unchanged so far.

The pact in question is a two-year deal that would fall under Act 10 regulations when it expires in 2013, but currently does not include the significant contribution package included in many other districts. KEA Executive Director Joe Kiriaki has been steadfast in his group’s refusal to reopen the contract that had been approved in the middle of the 2010-2011 school year. An email to teachers from his desk suggests that a growing rift between KEA and the school board may play a role in this standoff.

“What is becoming more and more clear is that the current administration is no longer interested in having a collaborative working relationship with the KEA and its leadership,” Kiriaki wrote on March 23, 2011. “They are pushing toward establishing a more adversarial relationship; and in the end this will only hurt the District, the staff, and ultimately the kids.”

The KEA’s defense of its contract has been fierce, even at the expense of the jobs of over 200 of its members. Since the district alone cannot ignite these negotiations, KEA’s refusal has left the district to figure out how to overcome a $33 million funding gap. Without negotiations and Act 10’s cost-saving tools to fall back on, this means that hundreds of full-time teachers will lose their jobs.

Because of the ‘last-in, first-out’ seniority system which the unions had previously negotiated, these cuts will affect the youngest class of teachers in the district. Many of the educators who are facing layoff notices started in 2007 or later. As a result, some of Kenosha’s most eager and brightest teachers may find themselves looking for work when August rolls around. Though there’s still time to reopen the 2011-2013 contract and retain hundreds of teachers in the district, KEA’s strong-willed refusals suggest that Kenosha’s educators are willing to cut off their noses to spite their own faces.

Should the tension between the Kenosha school board and its teachers continue, many good teachers will be out of work. While hundreds of educators will suffer, it is the 23,000 + students that will hurt the most as a result.

  • What happened that its all about then kids? Teachers are starting to eat their own, sad.

  • chfarms

    The way it looks to me, IMHO, the teachers are getting screwed by the union. Whoever is in charge of the KEA must be in cahoots with the socialists, and doesn\’t give a damn about the teachers or the students. I\’m thinking he/she/they would be fired because of lack of merit if the union is in control. Maybe they would also lose kickbacks as well. Since 12 out of 15 school districts have decided to do the right thing, why not Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Janesville? It\’s simple: you give a little to get a lot in retun, and the unions can go pick on somebody else.

  • chfarms

    \”union is in control\” sry, meant is NOT in control.

  • Robert Novak

    This is why we needed a change in the law without it its a never ending increasing demands from the union we needed to say stop. this refusal of the union to save its youngest and least payed members tells you everything you need to know, they could change the current contract and save hundreds of jobs but NO lets stand strong and prove how uncaring we are. This isnt about the law this is why we needed the new law it not the teachers its the unions

  • Dan

    It really is the board\’s fault, not the union. I understand the push to blame unions for not making concessions, but the board and the union negotiated a contract that was mutually agreed upon. Now the board wants to change the previous agreement. I also understand that there were changes in the state, but that is the risk you take when making multi-year contract deals. The board lost on this one. Sadly, it will mean a loss of teacher jobs and may impact students, but that is the board\’s fault. It is not the union\’s fault for wanting to abide by an agreement that was already made and mutually agreed upon.

  • Sarg

    Unions fault.

  • David

    It is the greedy unions fault, they care nothing about the teachers, nor the students. It is only to pad their pockets with our hard earned money. As a laid off KUSD teacher, I have tried to talk to the union, but since I do not see things their way, they will not talk to me or listen. Their day is coming very soon. Maybe, being the caring union that KEA is, they will pay my house payments, car payments and continue to pay so my children can continue going to college until I get called back or hired elsewhere. I doubt it.

  • lori

    As a teacher with Kenosha, I am so worried about not having a job. Even though I have been teaching, around the world, for the last 15 years, my seniority in Kenosha is based solely on how long I have been here. We, the teachers in Kenosha has asked, even begged, the Kea to open the contracts or do an mou to save our jobs. They, the director, refuse. We have never been asked to vote as a membership, and they continue to go in the direction they are going. It is going to cost me, my family, and many others their livelihood. They don\’t seem to care. I have heard nothing from mu union all summer as to what is being done for us. I have had to repeatedly call and email to get very little information. Something needs to be done. The KEA is NOT representing all its members and is hurting those who are laid off.

  • Mike

    Kenosha teachers…just stop paying your dues and being represented by thugs who aren\’t representing your interests OR the interests of the district\’s children and taxpaying families.

  • safety1

    A contract is a contract. Maybe if Walker had explained during his campaign that he would implement ALEC written legislation to bust out public employee unions then KUSD could have negotiated a better deal for itself. But Walker failed to mention his agenda on this, written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, while running for office.

  • mjo

    unless it\’s money out of my pocketbook, then get lost, you low-on-the-totem pole lay-offs.
    madison was good times.
    we\’ll always have the good memories of standing side by side with you,
    screaming that walker was stealing our rights.
    but you know, when it comes down to it, my checkbook trumps your rights.

    good luck out there, finding work.
    we\’ll miss you.
    ps–do you still have my magic markers from when we made our protest posters? i\’ll need them back.