The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) Children’s Week concept was a noble one. The idea was to have Milwaukee teachers, as well as high-profile business and community members, donate a week of their salary to the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Union members, however, rejected the idea on a 2,296 to 1,635 vote.
I call the effort noble for several reasons. First, it would have put a little more money into classrooms at a time when MPS’ budget situation is dire. The district soon will be paying almost $50,000 per-employee in health care benefits for current employees and retirees. The legacy costs in particular are responsible for a perverse situation where MPS’ per-pupil costs (over $14,000 according to DPI) far exceed what a classroom or school actually receives for education purposes. MTEA’s proposed gesture would have at least given classrooms additional resources next year.
It was also noble because a multi-year salary freeze for teachers is already coming down the pike. Teacher salaries will be frozen when MTEA’s current contract expires in 2013 until 2015. In other words, current teachers will soon be financially burdened by necessary district efforts to address unfunded liability costs. A vote for Children’s Week was a vote to move up the timeline by giving back the last pay raise before the freeze.
There was also of course a public relations component; blogger and MPS teachers Jay Bullock called it “the last, best opportunity for the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association to build goodwill in the community.” While union rejection of an effort called Children’s Week might be an ironic example of MTEA priorities, the fact that a majority of employees at an organization voted against forgoing a pay raise is not surprising and certainly not shocking.
So yes, having teachers donate a portion of their wages to the classroom was a noble idea, but it was not a long-term answer to anything. The role of a teacher should be to give students a quality education, not fund a school district. As I have written before, we ought to find ways to get teachers in high-performing schools more, not less.
The whole affair is rooted in the larger unanswered community question; what needs to be done to make public education in Milwaukee sustainable? Right now, as WPRI and others have pointed out, it is not.