Failure to Adjust Union Contracts in Milwaukee, Kenosha Leads to Most Teacher Reductions in Wisconsin

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

The Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) recently released a survey of many Wisconsin school districts to gauge how local institutions are dealing with the 2011-2013 state budget. The results painted a disappointing picture for the public schools, detailing staff cuts and larger classroom sizes on average across the state. However, a closer look suggests that two Wisconsin districts – districts that refused to reopen their contracts to make employee benefit contributions and save significant sums of money – may skew the overall outlook of these polls.

Milwaukee and Kenosha are two of the state’s three largest school districts. They serve 80,934 and 22,986 students, respectively, according to DPI’s latest enrollment counts. They are also the highest profile holdouts when it came to Act 10, employee benefit reform, and the 2011-2013 state budget.

We’ve covered the cases in Milwaukee and Kenosha before. Each district has chosen to maintain their preexisting contracts rather than modify them, which means that the two systems faced significant budget shortcomings in the current year. Had either district adjusted their contracts to accept employee contributions to health insurance and pension costs, millions of dollars would have been saved in both cities. This would have allowed more money to flow into the classrooms and save teaching jobs.

The impact of the district’s inability to renegotiate their contracts is staggering. The two cities are head-and-shoulders above the rest of Wisconsin when it comes to negative effects like teacher layoffs and increases in classroom sizes, according to the survey’s raw data.

The WASDA survey uncovered a reduction of 1,675.84 teaching positions in the state of Wisconsin for the current school year. Over half of these unfilled jobs came from Milwaukee and Kenosha.

Milwaukee and Kenosha combined for a reduction of 869 full time teaching positions for the 2011-2012 school year. Despite educating approximately one-seventh (14.6 percent) of the students covered in the WASDA survey, they constituted over half of the educator losses. 51.9 percent of the vacant jobs recorded in the raw data are from the two districts, including 613 unfilled positions in Milwaukee.

According to survey data, 61 teachers retired in Kenosha. Another 94 were laid off and 166 more did not have their contracts renewed for the 2011-2012 school year. In Milwaukee, there were 137 retirements, 345 layoffs, and 173 non-renewals amongst the teaching staff. Milwaukee also saw 325 teacher aides receive pink slips for the year, along with 64 members of their support staff. Conversely, Madison Metropolitan School District, the state’s second largest district, reported zero teacher layoffs for the school year.

Statewide, there was a student to teacher ratio of approximately 14.22 students for every teacher. In Milwaukee and Kenosha, this figure rose to 17.29. If you exclude the two cities – the state’s largest districts that have not included employee contributions to offset funding decreases contained in the 2011-2013 state budget – from Wisconsin’s total, the ratio drops to just under 13.8 students for every teacher in the state.

According to survey data, Milwaukee’s student:teacher ratio rose from 18.9 to 21.5 – the highest mark in the state. In Kenosha this figure increased from 13.7 to 16.1. It should be noted that the survey’s student:teacher ratio figures differ slightly from the raw data of dividing annual third Friday enrollment counts by teacher staffing data.

Many districts have faced financial hardships in the midst of Wisconsin’s economic downturn. However, the results of the WASDA survey aren’t as dramatic as they appear if you exclude the two largest districts; districts that refused to reopen their contracts and save teacher jobs. Milwaukee and Kenosha make up the bulk of the state’s disappointing results – but if they had agreed to concessions, their class sizes would have been smaller and fewer teachers – both young and old – would be looking for new positions.