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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

MPS layoffs

by folkbum

Word is out today on the number of layoffs issued by my employer, the Milwaukee Public Schools, and it is a large number indeed: More than 500 positions total, including 354 teachers. (Updated to add, there's a workshop for laid-off teachers July 21 [pdf].)

Let's be clear about something: When the MTEA, our union, settled the teacher contract with MPS last fall, we did so making nearly $50 million in concessions. That is significant sacrifice to this point already, and, as I have noted before, that $50 million in concessions was enough to mean no (or very, very few) layoffs based on a reasonable projection--even a slightly pessimistic projection--of what the 2011-2012 budget would be.*

Scott Walker laid a budget on Wisconsin's schools that was nearly a billion dollars short of what schools were expecting. All districts, all over the state. Even though MPS and its union had bargained an agreement that left MPS on sounder footing than usual, particularly given the layoffs of last summer, Walker and the Republicans in the legislature tied the hands of MPS by cutting nearly $80 million from its projected budget. After MTEA conceded $50 million--worth nearly 500 teachers--suddenly we were expected to sacrifice more.

Which is not to say that we couldn't have. As I argued on this very blog and privately with MTEA leaders, there were things we could give up that would not mean significant additional hardship but that might save some of our colleagues' jobs. The Board and MPS are not the problem here, and pretending that they are doesn't help; taking a stand to draw attention to the damage being done to the state's educational system by the Walker-Fitzgerald regime doesn't keep my class sizes down.

But the point of this post is simply this: Everyone who says MTEA didn't try to save its teachers is a bald-faced liar. A pants-on-fire liar. And vilifying the wrong people.

* The "School Zone" blog post linked above does not mention this negotiation or the fact that MPS was on relatively sound footing before the massive budget cut from the state was announced. We'll see if the full story in tomorrow's paper, or any of the sure-to-be sensational coverage on TV, addresses the previous concessions. We already know talk radio is pretending it didn't happen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Stimulus idea

by folkbum

Two billion dollars in dollar coins in vaults around the country? Send 15 of them to each of the 130 millionish households in the US.

Is it going to turn the economy around? No. But, hey, it's as close as we'll get to an actual helicopter drop.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

There's sometimes a difference between "legal" and "right"

by folkbum

Five years or so ago--I'm so old-- this blog weighed in on a controversy about Democratic candidate for Congress Bryan Kennedy. I defended Kennedy's paying himself a stipend from campaign funds, which is a practice allowed (at least, it was then) under federal campaign rules and which, for a middle-class head of household like Kennedy, kept his family fed and his babysitters paid while he did the full-time job of campaigning. (See, for example, these posts: 1 2 3.) While Kennedy was allowed to decide how much to pay himself from campaign funds, it all had to be disclosed in filings and his salary was capped at what he had earned before taking his sabbatical to run for office. In other words, he couldn't hide what he was up to and he couldn't make himself rich in the process.

At the time, a lot of people smelled something fishy; but as Kennedy himself explained, the rules allowed people who were not able to self-finance a campaign--or even self-finance the time off of work to run--a better shot at getting elected:
To support my family, I draw a salary from the campaign that is less than my university salary. I felt it was more ethical to draw a salary from voluntary contributions than to be paid by Wisconsin taxpayers. [...] It's also uncommon because most candidates for federal office don't need to do this.

Why? Because they're usually rich. They can support themselves from their personal wealth, or, if they're already elected officials, they probably enjoy an ample taxpayer salary. [...] Congress isn't made up of normal Americans like you and me. We have a system "of, by and for the rich." Middle-class people are systematically discouraged from running for office.

Teachers, carpenters and Wal-Mart employees are unlikely to socialize in wealthy circles, which makes fund raising more difficult. In addition, the major political parties favor wealthy candidates who can finance their own campaigns.

The result of these realities is that the middle class is terribly underrepresented in the halls of power. [...] Middle-class voices are stifled by millions of dollars from lobbyists and huge corporations. If we want to get anything else done, we have to remove the special interest money and corruption from our government first.
I say all this as preface, as the news this week about Senator Ron Johnson, while it may invite comparison, is really incomparable to what Kennedy did:
After dropping nearly $9 million from his own pocket to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, Ron Johnson didn't have to feel the pain for very long. Johnson's plastics company paid him $10 million in deferred compensation shortly before he was sworn in as Wisconsin's junior senator, according to his latest financial disclosure report.

The first-term Republican declined to say how his Oshkosh firm, Pacur, came up with a figure that so closely mirrored the amount he personally put into his campaign fund.

"You take a look in terms of what would be a reasonable compensation package, OK?" Johnson said this week. "It's a private business. I've complied with all the disclosure laws, and I don't have to explain it any further to someone like you." [...]

Unlike most deferred package deals, however, it appears that the company had not set aside a specified amount annually that would be paid out when he left the firm. Instead, Johnson said the $10 million payment was "an agreed-upon amount" that was determined at the end of his tenure with the company.

Agreed upon with whom? "That would be me," he said.
The story notes that the married-into-money Johnson did not draw a salary for much of his time leading the company, though he still managed to earn in most years what I, with my gold-plated union-thug public-employee compensation package, would need another 20 years to earn. He was not, how shall we say it?, poor, like the Pacur workers who are in the state's BadgerCare program. Nor even middle-class, like Kennedy.

Seriously: Even the smallest number offered in the story, a $650,000 payout for just half of 2010, puts him in the top 1.5% of all earners in the US. Johnson is the embodiment of the kind of politician Kennedy warned us about, one who governs with an eye toward maintaining not merely his own elite status, but that of the rest of his class (as opposed to, say, retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, whose votes often look out for the little guy).

That Johnson could finance his own campaign is one thing. That he then had the authority to pay himself off at the expense of Pacur employees, customers, and shareholders simply reeks. What Johnson did, like what Kennedy did, may be legal. But you'd have a hard time convincing me or any other reasonable observer that Johnson's payoff was right.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why I hate America

by folkbum

Because every independent restaurant has its online menu in pdf format and every restaurant chain has its online menu in Flash.

updated to add: also, because people are surprised that two years after a weak-sauce stimulus followed by no jobs bills and tax breaks up the wazoo for the rich and famous there's still sucky unemployment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I will never ride the dinosaur

by folkbum

Somehow I managed to make a visit to the family in Cincinnati once again without making a stop at the Creation Museum.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Fathers Day

by folkbum

To all the fathers in the audience. In the meantime, here's a story about a mother, a union, and the kind of thing that Republicans have made impossible.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

RIP, Clarence Clemons

by folkbum

If I believed in Heaven, I would have a hard time reconciling two Big Men in one place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Our long national nightmare is over

by folkbum

Weiner is resigning! I'm sure unemployment will plummet next month and consumer spending will be through the roof.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

IANALBSIPOOTI*

by folkbum

I will comment, because I suppose I am expected to. Three things:

1. It continues to baffle me that the 21st century Republican Party insists that the 20th century never happened: outlawing unions, relaxing child labor laws, bringing back bail-bonding, trying to kill the internet, leaving the poor and elderly to die early and brutally without the help of modern medicine. What's next, corsets? slavery?

2. This one's a question: Do all the contracts signed in the last 90 days become presumptively void, or do we have to wait for some asshat to file suit in each case? It seems to me that any old asshat will do, as every taxpayer in the state would seem to have standing.

3. There was a time, genuinely, when I was younger and perhaps more naive, that I thought teaching was not just a good thing to do, but something that, generally, everyone else wanted to help me to do. Not in the sense that I had people lining up at the door to volunteer their services, but in the sense that it didn't feel like there was an organized effort to actively make the job shittier. This is no longer the case, and hasn't been for some time. It's not just the recent unpleasantness, of course; there's also No Child Left Behind and the Gates-Broad-Democrats for Education Reform nexus and the like. I still get a lot of pleasure from working with kids, from seeing their growth and achievement. But at this point it's pretty clear that what I do--teach students to write well--is no longer a valued skill and, in fact, something people simply don't want me to be able to do well or easily anymore.

* I am not a lawyer, but sometimes I play one on the internet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Great Bay View High School TP Crisis

or, wasting money by saving money

by folkbum

This is an actual email from my actual work email inbox yesterday, bold, exclamation point abuse, and all-caps in the original:
ATTENTION -- EVERYONE -- URGENT ISSUE!!

We NEED EVERYONE to bring a ROLL OF TOILET TISSUE -- starting TOMORROW -- there is NONE otherwise!!
This is not, in fact, a hoax or a last-days-of-school prank (i.e., on the eve of her retirement our principal is not planning to TP rival Bradley Tech and so needs a truckful). My school is flat out of toilet paper and flat out of money to buy any. If you want to be a good citizen and pick up a pack or two and swing them by the school today, people would love you, particularly the ladies.

You might, though, be thinking to yourself, Self, this seems ridiculous. You should try working there! And no doubt right about this point in the post someone further up the chain of command at MPS is getting irritated that I'm putting the business out there.

But here's the deal: The other day, I stated, perhaps too clearly, that my union and the district needed to sit down and work out some additional concessions, because, in the end, the district here is not the enemy in the current budget crisis. While it may doom my chances of ever being elected union president--not that I was thinking of running, mind you--it is something that I and a sizable minority of my peers feels needs saying. The board and the superintendent have been clear for months now that the gaping hole in the 2011-2012 district budget is squarely the fault of Gov. Walker and his allies in Madison, not teachers, and they have not required teachers to bear the full brunt of the deficit either. The budget for next year cuts administrative positions at a rate twice that of teaching positions. Similarly, they have made it equally clear that the long-term hole in the MPS budget is the fault of an inadequate and complicated state funding formula that doesn't serve the needs well of any district in the state.

But that doesn't mean that MPS has made wise decisions in the past or that the board and the administration can be absolved of all responsibility for the lack of TP at Bay View this morning. The sub-head for this post, I think, is a point that needs stressing, because it goes a long way toward explaining why my school is both out of TP and out of money to get any.

In last year's budget, the district made some deep and unwise cuts that looked, short-term, like a good way to save money. For example, they cut the entire department of education technology, replace the two-dozen or so represented technicians with less-expensive contractors. Which sounds good, until you realize that this has cost my school, literally, tens of thousands of dollars; like a fabled old mechanic who's the only one that can keep a machine running, the DET staffer formerly at our school had quite literally hand-coded software and jerry-rigged systems for years that were efficient and effective. We spent, for example, something in the neighborhood of $25,000 on a new student ID and tardy-tracking system. (Bizarrely, there is no district standard for this kind of thing; while the software that runs our attendance and grading systems has dead buttons and non-selectable menu items to suggest this functionality could be turned on, it is not.)

You may be doing the math in your head--$25,000 is a lot of two-ply.

MPS also rolled out a new Comprehensive Literacy Plan, with a big focus on saving money by consolidating around a single reading program. At the same time, that plan calls for a huge additional investment in paper. Not only are we hanging student work around the place, as we literacy teachers always do, but there's a new emphasis on a "print rich" environment in classrooms where every spare inch of wall and ceiling (yes, people, I was told this year to hang stuff from my classroom's ceiling) is to be covered in anchor charts and mentor texts and other buzzwordy teacher-created materials. So what did we run out of in April? Paper. Plain old copy paper. (Many props to our federal- and state-mandated "vendor" partners who moved funds around and bought us paper with federal stimulus money.)

You get the idea.

There's more: The latest word is that all "Metro Region" MPS high schools are being mandated to offer a seven-period day next year, after years of us all having been mandated to offer a four-block day. (The Metro regional executive reportedly hates block schedule and, near as we can tell, that may be the only reason why we're all switching, his capriciousness.) While many of you probably see no issue with making the change (hey, didn't we all grow up on the old system?) the four-block day is more efficient, with teachers teaching the equivalent of six units a year instead of five units, which is what a seven-period day allows. My principal estimates it will take five additional teachers--a half-million dollars we don't have in our budget for next year--to make the change work. Where will those teachers and that money come from? No one knows at this point.

(Bonus fact: the middle grades at our school--next year, we will be a 6-12 program--are mandated to teach 60-minute classes; a seven-period day for the high school means 50-minute classes. This seems like a problem, since classrooms and teachers are shared between the programs. The district's answer? "Make it work." Okay!)

So the Great Bay View TP Crisis is merely a symptom. MPS still has a lot of work to do on the administration side of the street to make some more sensible budget decisions on the small scale. A pension contribution or another year of wage freezes for teachers will go a long way toward helping MPS deal with the immediate fiscal crisis created by the draconian state budget. But on the small scale, the district needs to think about whether small short-term goosing of the budget is really going to save money, and what the ripple effects of its school micromanagement will be.

Monday, June 13, 2011

McIlheran Watch: Silence of the Beaver

by folkbum

I had presumed, from the lack of blogging and Thursday columns, that nemesis and calumnist Patrick McIlheran had been enjoying a well-deserved vacation. After all, one can only do so much chewing and regurgitating of talking points for so long without a break to recharge the ol' Evereadys.

As it turns out, though, he's apparently been scouting inside-the-beltway housery for this lateral move.

Interestingly, he now qualifies as one of those public-employee thugs we hear so much about; in addition, he'll be working as a staffer on the committee that oversees the federal workforce--all those unionized folk working for Uncle Sam.

Best of luck to him in the new digs, and better luck to the federal workforce who, I fear, needs it more than McIlheran. In the meantime, the McIlheran Watch is, pending whatever mess may appear as his final Sunday column, now retired, full pension.

Politi"Fact" does it again

by folkbum

Welcome, Inside Milwaukee readers! Click on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel label below for more--and more substantive--critiques of PolitiFact.

A voting-rights story that includes the clause "Last word goes to Hans von Spakovsky" simply cannot be taken seriously. von Spakovsky is a minority vote-suppressing machine with an awful history in the Bush Justice Department and elsewhere. This is just embarrassing.

Also, too, what digby said, for like the last seven years.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

For the record 2, pension boogalloo

by folkbum

By popular demand!, I bring you an addendum to the post I wrote last March urging my union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, to sit down with the Milwaukee Public Schools and work out something to make the cuts imposed by Governor Walker's budget a little less devastating. (I did comment on twitter Tuesday during the Board meeting, but apparently my critics hanging on my every word to learn my opinion haven't figured out how to work the tittums machine yet.)

The backbone of this conviction of mine that something else needs to be done is simply this: Neither MPS nor the children of Milwaukee are the enemy here. Under different circumstances, I would agree with former MTEA president Mike Langyel when he says, bluntly, that we did the negotiating once already, and we're done.

And Mike is right about the first part, even if he's wrong about the next step: The union stepped up last fall and made concessions that squared the district's finances based on a reasonable prediction of what MPS's money situation would look like, using, in fact, a reduced prediction for revenue limits, rather than what the statutes projected. At the time the contract was signed, the outlook for 2011-2012 was good, with few layoffs or cuts predicted in large part because of the union concessions. The concessions already made will save nearly $100 million over the next two years. This on top of a negotiated pay freeze for this year and last.

At the time we signed this contract, no one in the union or at MPS expected the size and scope of the cuts that have materialized under Walker's budget. The cuts to schools seem to have been a huge surprise to everyone, in fact.

So let me be clear: Anyone who says that MTEA hasn't been willing to make concessions to save jobs or help out the district's finances (or "share the sacrifice") is just plain lying.

But still. I do think the union needs to step up again, because hurting our kids or our colleagues is a piss-poor way to move forward, even with the excuse that Scott Walker is the real enemy. Blaming larger class sizes on the governor's intransigence may be a decent rhetorical strategy, but practically it still leaves me with larger class sizes.

So I'm going back to what I wrote in March. The union should offer concessions, starting with taking furlough days and killing the "sweetener." The 2011-12 calendar includes required professional development days in the place of the former WEAC teacher convention days. Those should be made regular school days (or optional PD days), and MPS should end the school year two days earlier, paying teachers for two fewer days of work. And the sweetener should be discontinued or, at least, made into an opt-in supplemental pension. As I noted in March, that's a solid $20 million in additional concessions.

Teachers could also give back a portion of the scheduled raise next year--as noted, the first we're getting in a while. The raise is set to be 2.5%. At the same time, teachers will be kicking in 2% of our base salary for health insurance, which is part of how MPS is getting nearly $50 million in savings next year. If we give back the other .5%, and take, in effect, no raise for the third year in a row, that alone would pay for every school nurse and then some. A more generous offer might be to give up the full 2.5% raise on top of the insurance premium share. This also keeps the base salary steady, making the raise scheduled for 2012-2013 smaller on net for the district. Combined with the furloughs, that amounts to between 1.6% and 3.6% of salary; the district is seeking up to a 5.8% cut in salary, masked as a pension contribution.

And that's part of the key here for me: giving back something more without setting the precedent of teachers' paying doubly for their own deferred compensation (i.e., pensions).

I understand MTEA's point that opening any part of the contract could subject the whole contract to legal challenge pending various court actions. However, it seems the legislature is set to provide some cover for a concession like this if it is done quickly, which is what I encourage MTEA to do.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Wisconsin Citizens Spied on by Walker Regime

Scott Walker regime is the most hostile to civil liberties of Wisconsin citizens in state history

Not content to threaten citizens in the Capitol, to take away local control of government, and even arrest journalists, the Walker Regime is now, according to Dane 101, prepared to deploy a "state emergency response team [that] has been operating out of the GEF-2 (101 S. Webster St.) building downtown specifically to monitor protest related activity on social media sites and elsewhere."

The team is allegedly coordinating with law enforcement to identify and shut down any major direct actions planned by protesters at the capitol, by watching things like the #wiunion hashtag on Twitter and related Facebook groups, etc."

This is Wisconsin under Republican Rule.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Requests For Expression

by 3rd Way



Even after taking my love for the tuning fork proposal into account I am still pleased with the stance Chris Abele is taking against the fat sculpture commission the county was contemplating. Awarding a three quarter of a million dollar commission to a small team for a single work is a terrible idea during tough times for local labor. I love a government that makes grand expenditures on artistic amenities, but such amenities should be utilitarian and targeted to employ local labor and talent.

The county should spend the sculpture money by accepting proposals from local artists and designers and awarding commissions based on proposals artistic merits, benefit to community and ability to employee local labor and talent.

A series of artfully designed benches sprinkled along the lakefront that could serve as both playthings for skateboarders and resting spots for walkers would be great. A series of inspired bus shelters aligned down one of the city's busy thoroughfares could greatly enhance a neighborhood. A multi-flight urban exercise/observation stair tower with an awesome long slide down would be a landmark worth erecting. A cleverly designed renovation project to a County Park owned structure converting it to leasable space able to house a small establishment like the Alterra by the lake or the Northpoint burger place could turn a building maintenance liability into a revenue generating asset. Carving up a parking lot sea of asphalt with imaginative ribbons of runoff absorbing plantings would be a good thing.

Giving out seven $100K projects to local teams of aspiring artists would be far more beneficial to the city than one big chunk going to a single team of established art professionals. Seven $100K creative construction projects would help keep locals employed and make our community a more desirable place to reside.

I am sure that if the county sent out a “Request For Artistic Expression” other hungry locals would come up with better ideas for projects that would improve Milwaukee while providing a little boost to local construction firms and the art/design communities. Abele could probably even find donors willing to put up matching funds. Turn the thing into a yearly competition à la the Marcus Prize and within a few years Milwaukee would be a more interesting and vibrant place.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-Candyland) endorses union solidarity

by folkbum

Despite earlier protestations that she would try to make it on her own, she has instead decided to join with her colleagues to fight collectively for all their rights, not just hers alone. No, really, she has. She said so:
We're staying together as a group. I could have had a chance of sticking out there by myself or staying with the group. So it's as simple as that.
--Sen. Alberta "Solidarity Forever" Darling

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Shorter WISGOP

by folkbum

Delaying tactics for extra time to put together a campaign, good; delaying tactics for extra time to explain what's really in the "budget repair bill," call out the state troopers!

Monday, June 06, 2011

McIlheran Watch: Vacation's over, time to start up the hypocrisy machine again

by folkbum

You know how it is: You come back from vacation, and the grass is up to here, weeds all over the place, papers piled up on the porch because you forgot to put it on hold. Patrick McIlheran, serial calumnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, finds a similar situation upon his return. See, the Republicans, the party for whom McIlheran usually shills, did something anathema over his vacation--they raised taxes!--and he needs to justify it, which he did both in print and on his blawg. (For a description of why the legislative action is a tax increase, read the news story.)

But it's okay, people, he tells us, that the GOP is cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax credit designed, as McIlheran freely admits, to encourage poor people to work more by offsetting their payroll or other taxes.

Why is it okay? Because of all the tax cuts in the budget. No, really, he says this. From the Sunday calumny column:
Walker and the Legislature, short of money, decided to cut by 15% one work-inducing incentive and to increase another they reckon will be more effective.
And what was that other tax cut work-inducing incentive? Elimination of taxes on certain capital gains for businesses. I'm actually quite surprised that McIlheran didn't go on about the other business tax breaks the GOP has included in its budget, like the one slipped in Friday night that gives businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax break ... just because. At least with the cut in reinvested capital gains, the GOP is pretending to pick breaks that sound reasonable to your average person. But so many of them are just give-aways to corporate donors.

This is your modern GOP in a nutshell: In a time of deficit, tax breaks for the poor are simply impossible to maintain. But tax breaks for business can continue, and we'll throw in new ones, too.

Congrats to whichever local conservative blogger this is

D-Day. Thank you to the Greatest Generation.

by folkbum

As Sarah Palin would say, this is the day that American soldiers stormed the beaches of Burgandy to tell that wily ol' Kaiser Permanente that he can't have our guns or our Medicare vouchers!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Tonight's DPW convention and events

by folkbum

I'll be live-tweeting (I'm @folkbum, if you don't follow me yet) the interesting parts of tonight's Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention, as well as the pre-con bloggernalia, and I will try to post something in the space later or Saturday morning to summarize. I am not sure what the accepted hash-tag will be for the event to follow other new-media reporters covering the events; some DPWers are using #20l1RecallConvention but since that's like eleventy-four characters, I won't be using that.

FriTunes: This weekend's entertainment

by folkbum

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Kapitol Kaos

by folkbum

I am not watching, but the twittums machine tells me that apparently a mess of rude and disruptive dipwads are effing up the Joint Finance Committee hearing. While I disagree in the strongest possible way with the actions of JFC tonight, I also disagree strongly with the kind of crap now going on. While earlier protest efforts were wrongly catagorized as "chaos" and used to justify the current police state at the Capitol, this sounds like actual chaos and is just going to make things worse.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Shorter Kevin Binversie

by folkbum

Here's a series of affirmative claims, including some personal attacks on a guy I've never met and a bold admission that I think only gay people care about gay people, that are all wrong, but you know, I was joking.