Know Your Madisonian: Mike Lipp, president of Madison Teachers Inc.

Know Your Madisonian: Mike Lipp, president of Madison Teachers Inc.

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Mike Lipp is athletic director at Madison's West High School. Previously, he was a science teacher at the school for 20 years, and coached swimming, soccer and baseball. He also was a science teacher in DeForest for 15 years.

Lipp, 59, this month began a one-year term as president of the teacher unit of Madison Teachers Inc., the union that represents teachers, related professionals and school support personnel. His grandmother and father-in-law were union members and he was in the United Auto Workers during a summer when he was a graduate student.

In your personal finances, what would you do if your expenses exceeded your revenue?

That happens in several levels, when you get a mortgage or when you get a car loan. I have never bought a car with cash. ... Personally, you can operate in the red but governments have to operate in the black. It's a funny system.

Is there something or anything that people don't understand about unions?

Probably. And a lot of that is differences in states. ... In Michigan, for example, everybody joins the union. The tendency in this state is for unions to be civil-service-type unions.

I always thought more important than money and benefits is the right to redress a grievance without fear of retribution. ... It's so fundamental to human dignity. That's what I think keeps the labor movement going. ... I found that in a field in which 70 percent of the teachers are women, and most of the administrators are men, we needed a union.

Why did you agree to become MTI's president?

One of the greatest fears I have is to let down my teammates. My second year in teaching I joined the bargaining team. I have always been involved in the union. Anything to give back or assist others is part of what I wanted to do.

How do you get through to kids?

Honesty. Having some humor. Always being there. ... Part of being a teen is you rebel. People ask me, "How are kids different today than in the '70s?" They have different toys, but they're the same kids.

How do you learn?

I learn by listening to others who are experts. I learn by reading, and I learn by drills. ... Most summers I take a class. It's easier to learn now that I know both sides of the game.

How do you coach?

Kids come out for sports because it's a passion for them. At West, we get a lot of kids that come out for something for the first time. ... With them, you approach it a little differently. It has to be fun. You try to do something instructive every day.

What's your favorite sport?

I can't even answer that, but I really enjoyed the Big Eight track meet (Tuesday) night, I'll tell you that.

- Interview by Ken Singletary

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