Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Joining union fight on their own time
Lake Geneva Schools business as usual during battle in Madison

by Lisa Seiser

February 24, 2011

While school districts in the Madison and Milwaukee areas closed for days last week because teachers called out sick to protest at the State Capitol, work in the Lake Geneva Schools has continued pretty much as normal.

Thousands of teachers and other public employees from around the state have descended on Madison to voice their displeasure of Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal that would require many public employees to contribute a higher percentage of their pay to their pensions and health insurance and basically put an end to collective bargaining.

But, according to local school officials, Lake Geneva teachers have not called out sick in favor of carrying signs and chanting in the Capitol rotunda.

On Friday, Lake Geneva School Superintendent Jim Gottinger reported the protests had very little effect on the district. He said although Friday was a teacher inservice, teacher attendance at the school was typical of an inservice.

Gottinger said he was pleased and proud of the teachers in the Lake Geneva Schools for their commitment to the students and the district.

Badger Professional Educator's Association President Dawn Nelson, a language teacher at the school, said some teachers have traveled to Madison, mainly last Wednesday after school and then again this weekend.

On Monday, she said there were plans for taking a bus back to Madison both Tuesday and Wednesday after school.

"We are definitely honoring our contract and continuing to serve the school," Nelson said.

She said those teachers who went this past weekend traveled to the Capitol on their own. Nelson said it is important to go to Madison to support the efforts against the budget bill and back public employees. She called it a "civil liberties and a human rights issue" and the effort is to protect and guard the current and future collective bargaining rights of public employees in the state.

Nelson, who attended the biggest rally so far on Saturday, said it was like a "political Woodstock."

"It was peaceful," she said. "Everyone is so respectful of each other. Standing beside firefighters and electrical workers, all working together."

Nelson said she agreed with her fellow protesters who have suggested there's little problem with teachers funding more of their health insurance and pensions. She said the "big issue" is Walker's desire to end collective bargaining for everything but wages.

Nelson said she believes if this idea is approved, it will have a "huge impact."

"This will have a huge impact on the conditions in schools throughout the state and in other states across the country," she said.

But, despite the contentious issue, Nelson said she didn't have to make a request for teachers stay in class.

"We just did not have members who wanted to walk out of the classrooms," she said. "We have a good relationship with the administration and the community and we want to continue to meet the needs of the students."

Nelson said Badger teachers are "lucky" to have such a great relationship with the administration, board and community. She said not all districts are like that.

Walker, who has garnered national attention during the past two weeks, has said his effort is to balance the state's budget, which currently has a $3.6 billion deficit. However, Walker's idea does not include some emergency personnel such as firefighters and police officers.

Gottinger said the district is awaiting Walker's budget to discuss further the implications of the current budget repair bill. Gottinger said he expects Walker to remove about $900 million from state aid to school districts.

He said the increases in teacher contributions to their health insurance and pensions along with the elimination of collective bargaining for everything but wages, appears to be intended to "give the school boards the meat to offset that."

Nelson said she understands the budget problems looming in the state. She said she would like to see civil compromise that results in a fair and equitable solution for everyone.