I live in the greatest country in the world, the United States of America. Our founding fathers created a Union where someone like me had the right to write and publish a book, post on this blog, and become anything I wanted to be. Because of these freedoms, I have been able to share my talents and my passion as an educator for 14 years.
I live in a state that has as its motto ‘Forward’. Wisconsin has been a leader in our great country in terms of education and fair labor. With the current “Budget Repair Bill” that is being offered by our new Governor Scott Walker, our state is not living up to its motto of ‘Forward’. In fact, we are allowing our state government to set our labor rights back 100 years.
All of my friends and colleagues in education agree to ‘do their part’ in terms of helping to ‘fix’ the budget in our fine state. I have often heard arguments from the private business sector that public employees have not done their part to offset the financial ruin burdening our state and country. Personally, in our school district, we have been doing our part. Twice over the course of the last 14 years my salary has been frozen. It has been frozen because we, as a union, chose to do that to sustain our benefits package. The leaders of our school district joined with our union leaders and negotiated in good faith and fairness to approve of this pay freeze. As a district, we have been losing teachers either to retirement or the pursuit of other opportunities and our leaders have chosen not to re-hire those positions in an effort to be financially and fiscally responsible. As a result, in an effort to do our part, teachers have not complained about the increase in our class sizes and the restrictions of our annual budget. Furthermore, the fact that the public sector is being scrutinized only leads me to believe that the private sector will be next. To say that employees in the public sector have not been doing their part is wrong.
The fact that our union has had the opportunity to negotiate with our school board has created a healthy environment for our staff and our students. Teachers come to school each and every day with the motivation to help students make a difference in our communities and to learn the skills needed to compete in a shrinking world. I can take a pay freeze again and I can contribute to my benefit plan and pension, but to be stripped of the right to bargain and negotiate is criminal. The other day I heard a state representative describe this notion as a form of slavery.
I have called my representatives, emailed my representatives, and attended a ‘Kill the Bill’ rally in Green Bay. I love democracy and the energy I have felt from the great citizens of our state. I hate the idea of what this Bill will mean in the long term. I am the proud father of four children, two of which are school age. What is going to happen to their great teachers? The best of the best will be looking to share their talents elsewhere. My children will suffer the consequences of this Bill for a long time.
I have no idea what life will be like on the other side of this Bill, but I do know that if our public employees lose their right to bargain and lose the great working conditions established, the private sector will suffer too. I know I won’t be spending as much money at my local grocery store, restaurants, and boutiques. I know I won’t be traveling too far to camp in our state parks this summer or spend money in Door County or Wisconsin Dells. As a result, my children’s experiences will be limited and they are the true victims in this.
I will make ends meet, but my children will be living in a state with a government that has clearly put public education at the bottom of the list of priorities. As I drove to school this morning in a thick fog, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. Today is a black day in Wisconsin; like the fog, the “Budget Repair Bill” has blanketed the ground, blinded all of us trying to move ‘forward’, and suffocated the breath of our children stifling the newness of growth and life. Today we have lost a piece of that freedom our founding fathers so tenderly held in their hearts and so vehemently fought to achieve. Today, in Wisconsin, we have stepped backward.