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Teachers opt for classroom in Muskego, New Berlin

Schools not disrupted by Madison protests

Feb. 22, 2011

While classes have been canceled in other parts of the state as angry public school teachers have held "sick outs," local teachers have been coming to school as normal, administrators in the New Berlin and the Muskego-Norway school districts reported this week.

Public employees all over the state, especially teachers, have held rallies and demonstrations at the State Capitol mainly to protest a plan to strip them of their ability to negotiate major elements of their labor contracts.

The plan is part of an effort by Gov. Scott Walker to get state employees to contribute more toward their health insurance and pensions so that the costs are more in line with contributions by workers in the private sector.

No substitution for classroom

While teachers were in class at New Berlin schools there was a so-far unexplained appearance of several people, presumably personnel called to help if teacher absences mounted at the two high schools and possibly at the elementary schools.

Administrators did not respond to e-mails or return telephone calls Monday.

An angry Diane Lazewski, of the New Berlin Education Association, said Monday: "I'm really upset because we told the district over and over we were not going to do a sick out."

"Attendance has been up with teachers, not down," Lazewski said. "Not one teacher has taken a sick day to attend a rally. … We agreed our students are more important than going to Madison to preserve our rights."

Many New Berlin teachers did go to Madison to protest the proposed state plans, she said, but they went after school on their own time.

Not only that, she said, "They sat in the Capitol and corrected papers."

The appearance of substitute help not only infuriated teachers, but was a waste of money, she said.

School Board member Art Marquardt had not heard of any plan to hire substitute teachers in case New Berlin teachers participated in the sick out.

His wife is a teacher on the district's substitute list and she has not seen additional request for substitute teachers, Marquardt said.

If there was any additional personnel, it might have been called in for the first hour of school to provide for supervision if teachers were not there, he said. But he strongly doubted they were substitute teachers.

Teacher absenteeism was higher than for a normal Friday, he said, but not enough to attribute it as part of a "sick out," Marquardt said. On Monday, there were fewer teacher absences than normal, he added.

In a written statement, School Board President John Kegel praised the teachers for their commitment to students.

"The employees of the School District of New Berlin are continuing to work in their typical exemplary and professional manner," Kegel said.

Marquardt agreed. "We're very proud of our staff and appreciative of what they do for kids," he said.

No protests in Muskego, too

In the neighboring Muskego-Norway School District, Assistant Superintendent Kelly Thompson said the concerns in Madison had likewise not upset local schools.

"We are pleased to report that our teachers were in school working with our students last week," Thompson said.

Monday was an inservice day so children were not in school, and the Muskego district saw no increased need for substitute teachers last week, she said.

What district officials did find, however, was that substitutes were being used more by other districts, she said.

Many Muskego-Norway teachers were part of the protests in Madison, but they did it on their own time, said Kathy Humke, co-chairwoman of the Muskego-Norway chapter of the Lakewood Educators teachers union.

The local teachers limited their time in Madison to Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday, Humke said.

"We have a commitment to our students," she said, which is why they did not participate in a sick out.

Likewise, no after-school activities were affected, either, she said.

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