Some area teachers made the trip to Madison to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair proposal but not on school time.
Area school district administrators said there were no teacher walkouts last week.
“I think it says a lot for their relationship to the students and to the community,” said David Poeschl, administrator of the Waupaca School District.
He said most of the staff members who were out last Thursday and Friday, Feb. 17-18, were out on prearranged absences for medical or conference leave.
In the Weyauwega-Fremont School District, Administrator Scott Bleck said it has been the status quo in that district, too.
“All staff are in tune to what’s happening. They understand they’re part of it. They’re respecting the profession and contributing as usual,” he said.
Bleck said he is proud of how the staff has navigated a “very delicate situation in state government.”
Joe Price is the administrator in the Iola-Scandinavia School District, and he also said there have been no walkouts in that district either. “I’m very happy that our teachers are here just like they are every day when I come to work. They’re a good group,” he said.
Price said what is happening in Madison is certainly affecting them but they are handling the situation well.
“We have a government class for juniors at the high school,” he said. “They often discuss current events.”
Price received a call from a parent, complimenting the teacher for allowing students to express their opinions, regardless of what side of the issue they are on, and for listening to them.
Some teachers chose to show their solidarity by wearing red to school on Friday, Feb. 18.
And when teachers arrived at Waupaca High School that morning, they were greeted by a group of students who were also dressed in red.
In a matter of hours the prior evening, students made plans to arrive at school around 7 a.m. so that they could greet, applaud and thank the teachers as they walked into the high school.
“We just want to show our teachers we support them for supporting us. With all the big news stories and discussion we’re having in classes, a lot of us realized the personal relationships we have with these people,” said Katie Hipschman, who is a senior at the high school.
Hipschman was joined by juniors Brooke Behm and Eddie Morey in planning last week’s greeting.
Behm said it was a good way to show their support.
As other students walked into school, the group told them to thank their teachers.
While both teachers and students have walked out of other school districts in the state, Morey said it would be counterproductive for Waupaca students to do so.
Such actions would be disrespectful to the teachers, he said. They chose to show that they care in a way that would not hurt the teachers.
Hipschman said students are curious about what is going on, particularly those planning to attend a University of Wisconsin school or go into education.
Among the area teachers who made the trip to Madison on Saturday, Feb. 20, was Waupaca High School English teacher Pat Phair.
He estimates that between 20 and 25 Waupaca teachers went there. The teachers did not travel there as one group.
Phair, who has taught for more than 30 years, said, “In my career, I’ve never been involved in anything quite like that.”
He said collective bargaining is complicated. “There are a whole series of items in the bill that make changes not only to collective bargaining but make changes to how we see teachers as employees and also as how we see employers,” he said. “Our district administrator reminds us all the time that it (a contract) protects both sides. When you throw that out, you look at having to deal with each individual person. It means micromanaging.”
Phair said that locally, the teachers in the Waupaca School District will take each day as it comes.
Many teachers are doing things individually, such as e-mailing petitions to others that have to do with the collective bargaining aspect of the governor’s proposal.
“It’s going to be a little rocky if Madison doesn’t come to a compromise,” he said. “Teachers, like any group of people, are willing to bend to a certain point.”
Phair presented an update to Waupaca teachers on Wednesday, Feb. 16, and plans to give them another update this week.
He said teachers are willing to pay their fair share when it comes to health care and pension. “We’ve been paying 15 percent (toward health care) for years,” he said of the teachers in the Waupaca School District.
“But, we don’t believe bargaining rights should be taken away at the state level. They should remain at the local district,” Phair said.
He is troubled by the teacher bashing he is seeing in some parts of the state, saying that some of the things that teachers and their unions have done well include a financially sound pension program. Now, it is being turned against them.
He is glad he went to Madison last weekend.
“It was a great experience,” Phair said. “It was good for me.”