By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst
On Wednesday, the Department of Public Instruction unveiled data that showed that jobs in Wisconsin’s public schools had decreased by over 2,300 positions. A closer look into this data shows that three districts – Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Janesville – were responsible for the bulk of these reductions.
DPI Press Release
These three districts are some of the largest in the state, with Kenosha and Milwaukee ranking third and first, respectively, in terms of student enrollment. However, they are also notable for being the only three of the state’s 15 largest districts to choose not to utilize the provision of Act10. By refusing to mandate employee contributions to health care and pension programs, these districts missed out on opportunities to save millions of dollars within their own classrooms.
In all, Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Janesville employed 13.31 percent of the state’s educational staff in 2010-2011. However, these three districts were responsible for 42.47 of Wisconsin’s staff reductions in 2011-2012. Of the 2,357.9 full time jobs reported as unfilled in the current school year by DPI, 1,001.3 of those came from these three districts.
The diminishing staff counts were also part of a longer trend in Milwaukee. The district’s hiring rate jumped for the 2008-2009 school year but decreased sharply in the following years. After 1,221 new members were hired in 2008, including nearly 500 licensed educators, staff counts fell by 516 and 557 employees in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Another 655 positions were unfilled in 2011.
Another contributing factor in the decline in positions may be related to the “Funding Cliff” associated with the expiration of Federal Stimulus funds. The end of 2011 saw approximately $100 million in government grants expire for that school year. In all, MPS received over $204.2 million in federal funding to cover construction and special education costs between 2009 and 2011.
The effect of fewer employees in these districts is significant. Student to teacher and student to staff member ratios grew in all three districts that chose not to reopen their contracts. However, many of these jobs could have been saved if the local unions were willing to make the contributions required in Act 10. This unwillingness to adjust previous contracts in order to save jobs is something that we’re still seeing in 2012.
Fewer teachers in the classroom mean a tougher workload for those who remain and diminished opportunities for their students. Unfortunately, a large part of the educational staff reductions came from districts that refused to make contributions to their benefits in order to create savings that would have kept teachers in the classroom. In situations like those, everyone loses.