Jay Miller December 11, 2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
At a minimum, the union and MPS bureaucracy should not be given another chance to sabotage reforms.
Dave Umhoefer’s recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the decline of union clout since the passage of Act 10 is well done. In a recent piece, he drew particular attention to the state teachers’ union. As a local union leader said about the union prior to Act 10, “The gravy train was running, and they didn’t see the curve.”
Having one of your own describe the pre-Act 10 union as a “gravy train” is a remarkable admission. The union committed two cardinal sins. It fixated on teachers’ salaries and benefits without regard to their impact on taxpayers and fought to save jobs for even the least deserving teachers. In its own self-analysis, the union found that it spent “85% of its time litigating disputes and misconduct cases involving 2% of its members.”
That the union often would sacrifice a classroom full of students for teachers who had no business being in that classroom is beyond reprehensible.
Perhaps the union sees a more constructive path in its future. I admit to being surprised by the current president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Kim Schroeder, saying, “We went back to actually caring about the profession as the main goal of our union”. Is Schroeder saying that previously the union didn’t so much care about teaching as a profession? That’s a remarkable admission, too.
One thing is for sure. If MPS is to make any progress, the School Board should be disbanded. It has frustrated past MPS superintendents and I suspect that the current one, Darienne Driver, feels the same frustration but for obvious reasons may be reluctant to express it.
As Umhoefer points out, the union helped elect eight of the nine current board members. Quite predictably, those members feel beholden to that very same union. They fight charter and voucher schools at every turn, and resist any sort of innovation intended to lift MPS out of the abyss. The reason for their resistance is simple: Change threatens their fragile hold on power and job security.
Taking away an elected school board would hardly be a blow against democracy. MPS School Board elections are held in April every year. Very few vote in these races. Board members typically win their seats by garnering between 2,000 and 4,000 votes. Given the get-out-the vote effort undertaken by the local union, we can guess who most of the folks are who actually show up to vote.
Even some Democrats are frustrated with the School Board. No less than former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proposed a plan in 2009 to put the public schools under mayoral control. The Legislature, which was controlled by Democrats at the time, refused to go along because of not wanting to incur the wrath of the unions.
At least in part due to that recalcitrant attitude, Wisconsin lost out on a lucrative Race to the Top grant being offered by the United States Department of Education to qualifying states. In fact, Wisconsin did not even make the initial cut.
State Sen.Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga worked to pass a tepid reform plan last legislative session. It would have turned over a couple of MPS’ lowest performing schools to outside operators under the aegis of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Desmond Means, the Mequon-Thiensville superintendent. MPS, the union and School Board did everything they could to torpedo implementation of that plan. And they succeeded. It is foundering at this very moment.Top of Form
After MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver’s big new plan to reshape the struggling district, the Legislature will get a chance in January to have its say.
One hopes that Darling and Kooyenga won’t be fooled again. The Legislature must act and act boldly — on an expansive basis, not just in piecemeal fashion. There are a lot of smart, creative people with deep experience and proven success in reforming underperforming schools. Whether appointed by the governor or someone else, they should be vested with a fair degree of autonomy. At a minimum, the union and MPS bureaucracy should not be given another chance to sabotage reforms.
Maybe Driver herself is the right person to lead this effort — if she doesn’t have to kowtow to a group of calcified MPS board members who feel a higher loyalty to the union and their own jobs than to the students they purport to serve.
Jay Miller lives in Whitefish Bay.