Wisconsin teachers retire in droves after union loss in bargaining fight
Teachers across Wisconsin are retiring or quitting at higher rates than usual, due in part to a new law that cuts benefits and curtails collective bargaining rights.
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Madison schools experienced a higher-than-usual number of retirements this year – 134 teachers. Many of them said it was because of the law, but that wasn't a record high, says district employment manager June Glennon.Skip to next paragraph
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The retirements in many districts can also be attributed, in part, to dem-ographic shifts. This may be a peak year for teachers reaching retirement age nationwide, research has shown.
Still another factor in Wisconsin is an $800 million cut in state aid to education.
Overall, it's not clear how many retiring teachers are being replaced. But in Madison, the district has hired 260 people this year – some of them with master's degrees and years of experience, some of them new.
"What most principals say to me is that ... a lot of times, new, fresh, young ideas are great to blend with the seasoned staff," Ms. Glennon says.
Younger teachers are more apt to support new evaluation systems for faculty, pay that's tied to performance, and various accountability measures, says Professor Odden of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Also, school districts aren't necessarily losing the ability to teach well if more people retire, since some research shows that teachers with three to five years of experience can be as effective as longtime veterans, says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
The new law has already produced some cost savings, the governor's office has said. The Appleton Area School District, for instance, expects to save $3.1 million in health-insurance costs, partly because providers now have to compete.
The potential for savings in Milwaukee should be good, according to estimates by Robert Costrell, a professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He analyzed the district's health and retirement benefits earlier this year and found they cost the public an additional 74 percent of teachers' salaries, compared with a typical rate of about 24 percent in the private sector.
But as districts start to exercise their new authority under the law, there may be more fallout. While officials in Eau Claire and Oshkosh have said they'll continue to collaborate with teachers on policies, some districts have handed down "onerous, almost punitive" mandates, says Ms. Kippers, the union rep.
The New Berlin school board, for example, recently approved an employee handbook that hundreds of teachers opposed. It reduces the number of sick days, increases work hours without increasing pay, cuts back on collaboration and prep time for classes, and implements a dress code.
Despite such tensions, Wisconsin educators and politicians of all stripes are sitting down together to work on a number of education initiatives, such as improving reading and teacher evaluations. Those efforts "are focused on how to make the school system better," Odden says, "and that's more important than lingering hostility over the budget."