Teachers’ Union Rejects Calls for Minor Concessions to Save Jobs Says Area Businesses Should Donate $94 Million to MPS

MacIver News Service | June 30, 2011

[MILWAUKEE] The Milwaukee teachers’ union wants area businesses to donate $94 million to solve the district’s financial problems, hoping that will save some of the 519 jobs to be lost on Friday.

Milwaukee Public Schools announced the layoffs on Wednesday.  Dr. Gregory Thornton, MPS superintendent, said at least 200 teachers’ jobs could be saved if the union would have agreed to a 5.8 percent pension contribution from its members.

“We will move into a new school year with a big loss of a lot of talent and a lot of strong educators,” Thornton said.

Of those laid off, 354 are certificated teachers.  Thornton said the district was prepared to weather losing $100 million in stimulus funding, but not the loss of tens of millions of dollars in state funding.  He said as a result of the layoffs, class sizes will be larger, there will be fewer textbooks and fewer summer opportunities.

“The children are being caught in the middle of this,” he said.

Thornton anticipated some of the district’s financial problems earlier this year and, at that time, asked the union for a 1.5 percent pension contribution.  The union said no.

“We must have our union partners at the table,” Thornton said Wednesday. “Yes, we want to keep more teachers on the job, but I am also thinking about our kids.  If we can retain more teachers, we can prevent class sizes from increasing.”

Although the union was not willing to give on the issue of pension contributions, it did direct the district to lay off the most recent hires.

“District administrators worked closely with the teachers’ union to identify candidates for layoff by seniority, following the terms of the negotiated contract,” said Roseann St. Aubin, MPS communications director.

That contract, negotiated last fall, already will ‘save’ the district $94 million over the next two years, according to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

“We call on community stakeholders, particularly the business community, to step up and help solve the district’s immediate budget crisis by matching the $94 million,” said Bob Peterson, MTEA president.

MTEA places the blame for MPS’s financial problems solely on Governor Scott Walker and Senator Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.  Darling is the subject of a recall election in July.  The other co-chair of the committee, Representative Robin Vos, is not named in the union’s press release. He is not facing a recall election.