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Act 10's effect is in the eye of the beholder in Muskego, New Berlin

Has it affected educating students?

May 31, 2012

Whether Act 10 passes or fails depends on whom you ask.

Ask parents and they'll probably say they've seen no difference in the classroom or in after-school activities.

Ask students, and the elementary kids in Muskego would likely tell you that they don't see much of the school librarian any more. But part-time technology integrators and aides are handling a lot of library duties now.

Ask New Berlin high school students, and they would probably say that they pretty much can't see their teachers after school any more. Teachers have too many meetings these days. But the kids also would say they can usually still catch teachers before school and during study halls.

Teachers and other staff in both the Muskego and New Berlin school districts would tell you they are still working hard, but for less money, what with higher health and pension costs that Act 10 authorized.

Feeling vulnerable

New Berlin teachers add that they are actually working more for less. The workweek went from 35 hours to 40 for elementary teachers and from 37.5 to 40 for secondary teachers, said Diane Lazewski, president of the New Berlin teachers union. Also, without union contract protections, many teachers feel afraid and vulnerable to potential unfair discipline and job evaluations, she said.

Ask administrators if Act 10 passes or fails and they would tell you it has enabled them to save jobs by not having to negotiate raises, they can put teachers where they are strongest, get rid of ineffective teachers and can try new approaches without having restrictions from union contracts.

Considering the question, "Has Act 10 affected education?" Muskego-Norway Schools Superintendent Joe Schroeder said that without it, his district would have been in a lot worse shape after the state pulled back on school funding to solve its own budget problems. As it was, the Muskego schools still had a $2.3 million budget deficit this year even after using the so-called "tools" Act 10 provided.

Class sizes unaffected

But Schroeder said, the schools were able to maintain traditional class size ranges and all curricular and co-curricular programs without massive fee increases. Not only that, Muskego-Norway is continuing to make progress on its strategic plan for improvement, he said.

Partly to do that and partly to deal with less aid, Muskego eliminated librarians at all but the high school, leaving the seven other schools to share a librarian with the help of 1.5 technology integrators and library aides. Act 10 played a role in that mainly because the librarians, all senior staff members, may have retired a little before they had planned to so they wouldn't lose the retirement benefits in their teacher contracts.

From the perspective of Anna Wendt, co-chairwoman of the United Lakewood Educators-Muskego-Norway, the educational impact of Act 10 and the state aid cuts is significant. Having a single librarian for all five elementary schools and two middle schools is an example, she said. Wendt also noted that the imminent passage of Act 10 drove many teachers to retire and, in Muskego, that meant the loss of a large group of talented and experienced teachers.

In neighboring New Berlin, Superintendent Joe Garza said, "We have been able to realign resources to preserve teaching jobs, provide compensation based on performance and market trends and reward teachers who put forth extra time and effort."

The district also is trying new things educationally without "jumping through hoops," he said.

Teachers = meetings in New Berlin

From the teachers' point of view, Act 10 has meant they are now in meetings almost every day after school and students are in school until 3 p.m. So there is less time for other things, Lazewski said, such as giving individual attention, communicating with parents and administrators, performing student assessments, preparing lessons and cleaning up and setting up labs and classrooms.

In the long run, students might feel the impact of Act 10 because the New Berlin schools do not pay teachers more for having master's degrees, unless they are directly related to making them better classroom teachers, Lazewski said.

But administrators don't necessarily agree.

There is no data indicating that a master's degree makes teachers better in the classroom, said Roger Dickson, director of financial services. The district approves higher education only where it makes a difference, such as for reading teachers, he said.

While people can disagree whether Act 10 is good or bad in the classroom, there is plenty of agreement that teachers are doing more for less.

The superintendents acknowledge teachers have more collaboration time and estimate that they took a 6 percent decrease in pay in Muskego while New Berlin teachers peg their losses at 6.5 percent.

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