Mitch Henck: Madison schools should apply Act 10
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Mitch Henck: Madison schools should apply Act 10

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This is Madison. I learned that phrase when I moved here from Green Bay in 1992.

It means that the elites who drive the politics and the predominate culture are more liberal or “progressive” than backward places out state.

I knew I was in Madison as a reporter when parents and activists were fighting over whether to have “Sarah Has Two Mommies” posters in a grade school library. Concerned parents weakly stated at a public hearing that first-graders were too young to understand sexuality of any kind.

Activists at the public meeting said the children needed to understand tolerance. One conservative parent said: “Why don’t we vote by secret ballot?” An activist said, “No, we want a consensus.”

The Madison School District official who was presiding agreed, and the controversial posters stayed on the library walls. This is Madison.

Now we have the Madison School Board. It has been historically run by the teacher’s union. The same was true after Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 was passed, strictly limiting collective bargaining for public employees.

Three weeks before the state Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the law, the union-owned School Board rushed through a teacher’s contract that largely ignored Act 10. Unlike any other school district in the state, the contract made sure Madison teachers were not required to share the cost of their health insurance premiums. Unlike any other school district, Madison collects union dues from teacher paychecks for its leader, John Matthews.

By the way, I would not want him in a dark alley with me.

The problem is the Madison School District has a projected budget shortfall for 2015-2016 of $12 million to $20 million, according to last week’s State Journal. About $6 million could be saved by making aggressive health care costs, including requiring staff to contribute toward insurance premiums, renegotiating contracts with health care providers, and making plan changes. That’s according to Michael Barry, assistant superintendent of business services.

In fact, the district spends about $62 million on employee health care costs, which are expected to grow by 8.5 percent next school year. Shockingly, Madison School Board member Ed Hughes said: “If we’re talking about taking not a scalpel, but a machete to our programs given the cuts we’ll make because we’re the only school district in the state that’s unwilling to ask employees to contribute to their health insurance, I think that would be an impression that we would deservedly receive ridicule for.”

Even board member Mary Burke said: “We would be irresponsible to the community where basically 99 percent of the people pay contributions to health care” if the board made up the savings with cuts to staff and heath care.

So now what? The contract expires in June 2016. Conservative blogger David Blaska sued to force Madison to live under Act 10. A local judge ruled last week Blaska did have standing as a taxpayer to carry out his lawsuit as he is joined by The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty.

Madison teacher’s union leader John Matthews said by making employees contribute to health care premiums, the district is effectively asking them to pay for iPads and administrators. Huh?

Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance told me 90 percent of state cuts to education were covered by savings offered to school districts under Act 10 by changing work rules, by employee contributions to retirement and health insurance premiums, and by altering health plans.

That might fly for the rest of the state, but then again, this is Madison.

Henck, of Madison, can be reached at mhenck61@gmail.com.

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