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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

McIlheran Watch: Patrick McIlheran's Irrelevant Burst of Distraction

by folkbum

All day yesterday I waited for Patrick McIlheran's response to the news that students in Milwaukee's voucher schools didn't perform better on the state assessment in 2010 than students in the MIlwaukee Public Schools generally, or even than MPS's economically disadvantaged students--the ones who, based on income, would qualify for the voucher program.

The reason I was waiting is that McIlheran is a voucher dead-ender. Whatever the news about vouchers, he has an excuse ready to go if vouchers seem to be losing or a snide remark about the public schools if vouchers seeming to be winning. He regularly stammers out that voucher schools are of course teaching special ed students (They can't turn them away!, he blubbers) without ever acknowledging that MPS has seventwelve times as many--and qualitatively more challenging--special ed students (or that the voucher schools that do really well with special ed students seek out extra funding). And, most gallingly, McIlheran was a pioneer of the "half-price" myth--a bar-lowering of epic proportions that I'm sure embarrasses the hell out of all the people who honestly believed that Milwaukee's voucher schools would be the shining stars in a galaxy of school-choice programs around the country. That galaxy never materialized, and the sad "they do just as sucky but at half the price" I'm sure spins Milt Friedman's corpse like a top.

Now I know what the wait was about. McIlheran blogs today and implies a conspiracy that Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction timed its release to pre-empt the release of another annual installment of results from the School Choice Demonstration Project, which was revealed today. As far as I know, there was no conspiracy, and schools like mine--a public school (whose results were uniformly up over 2009, thankyouverymuch--had been looking forward to yesterday for months as the day that the figures would become public and go live on DPI's website.

As I was saying, McIlheran implies--no, wait, he doesn't imply. He comes right out and says it's a conspiracy:
On Wednesday, results come out from the fourth year of the long-term study comparing children in choice schools to those in Milwaukee Public Schools. If the results are similar to what’s happened in the past, they’ll probably show that there’s not a great deal of difference between the two groups as a whole, at least on the basic reading and math scores.

Which doesn’t quite do the trick for the anti-choice lobby, which is most likely why state schools superintendent Tony Evers, long an opponent of choice, released figures Tuesday that he claimed were an “apples to apples” comparison of choice and MPS, ones that he said showed MPS outperformed choice schools.
McIlheran goes on to complain that a release of test data, like DPI's yesterday, is worthless: "[T]he numbers simply compare how children in choice schools and those in MPS as a whole did at one particular moment. It’s a snapshot of where the children are, no matter where they started." Welcome to the anti-testing movement, Pat! We're glad to have you aboard. But then he gets absurd: "This [i.e., where they started] is, broadly, not the same place for choice schools and MPS." His reasoning? That the parents who choose voucher schools know their children are already way far behind. He claims. His evidence for that is nowhere.

But it's an insult to suggest that the students I teach in MPS aren't way far behind, and that somehow I'm lucky to get to teach such smart kids. That my colleagues whose students start out far behind, whose class sizes are swelling, who don't have the ability to expel the troublemakers (as Brother Bob Smith, a voucher stalwart, put it, “make the right decisions, or make them somewhere else"), whose very rights are being assaulted in front of their eyes, are on easy street. That MPS doesn't have to take all comers, even those whose voucher schools closed mid-year because the teachers quit when they stopped getting paid, or whose voucher school lied to them about what special education services would be available and had to leave, and educate them.

But the biggest kicker of all is that McIlheran is completely wrong about what the two sets of results show. The Demonstration Project's report (available here, see report 26) shows that, as McIlheran predicted, matched samples of voucher and MPS students achieve about the same. But the fact is that the report there uses fall 2009 test data. DPI's results from yesterday, which include a low-income (i.e., voucher-eligible) student sample from MPS to compare, uses fall 2010 data. The Demonstration Project's data are a year old already. MPS, under new leadership and with a new literacy plan (and in the thick of a successful new math plan) made gains. Period. And voucher schools did not. Period.

So McIlheran's anti-DPI screed is worthless. It's distracting. It fails to address the facts at hand. Kind of the way you might expect from a dead-ender.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another MPS budget meeting

by folkbum

Milwaukee Public Schools parents, from a variety of groups, have organized yet another meeting to learn about and organize around the expected challenges of the MPS budget. This meeting will take place Wednesday, March 30, at 6 PM. It will be held in the MPS Central Services Auditorium at 5225 W. Vliet St. (map); parking is behind the building. Friendly volunteers are willing to keep an eye on your kids if you might have child-care issues.

GOP rush to dump voucher-school WKCE requirement explained

by folkbum

(light of day update to point to the real reporters' story on the issue)

The headline on DPI's press release says it all:
Overall MPS results higher than choice schools on statewide exams
I will start again with the usual caveat that I think test scores by themselves are no way to judge a student, teacher, school, or district. Indeed, test scores from a meaningful test measured over time can produce a picture of one aspect of schooling, but by themselves as a single snapshot they should not be the only metric.

Which doesn't mean that the Almighty Test Score isn't the only metric, because, really, it has become so. Fortunes are won and lost based on that single number for schools and districts and states all over the country. So we have to talk about the numbers, and when it comes to the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program, we should really be talking about comparable numbers to the Milwaukee Public Schools, whence MPCP draws students and funds.

So in a reasonable application of an unreasonable tool, the state legislature a couple of years back mandated that schools participating (with the state's money) in the MPCP administer the state's test to their voucher students. Fall 2010 was the first time that all voucher students took the test. If Republicans have their way--this is in Scott Walker's proposed budget and the legislature has given no indication that they will change it--Fall 2010 will be the only time all voucher students take the test.

Now we know why. To repeat:
Overall MPS results higher than choice schools on statewide exams
The release from DPI goes on:
Results from the first administration of statewide exams to students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) show lower academic achievement in choice schools than performance by students attending Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Results also show that both MPS and choice schools have significantly lower student achievement than the statewide average, including for students statewide who are from economically disadvantaged families.

“Clearly for the children of Milwaukee, whether in MPS or choice schools, dramatic improvements in academic achievement are needed,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “While both systems have some good schools, our statewide assessment data shows, with very few exceptions, that the choice program provides similar or worse academic results than MPS. For the sake of the city and the state, MPS and MPCP results must be improved. And, these results reinforce the need to continue using the same test for all students.”
To the right, you have it in graph form (and, yes, I wrote most of this last night so I was using the embargoed press release; click to embiggen). Note that MPS occupies two of the last three positions--not to mention coming in for some harsh critique from Evers--so this is not some sort of a smug, braggery thing. But, particularly in math, voucher schools are behind even comparable (low income) MPS students.

Pro-voucher solution? Stop requiring the test that shows this to be true.

Digging deeper into the data shows that MPS students (or, separately, the MPS low-income students) outscore voucher students at every grade in math and most grades in reading. These complete test results follow years of sampled data showing that, on balance, voucher schools do not do much better or much worse with their students than MPS does with its. (The latest round of those results, from an outside study group, are due any day now.) The verdict continues to be that vouchers aren't a solution and, in some cases like math, a detriment.

Math scores have been on the rise in MPS for years (though slightly down this year). And that's another galling thing about Walker's proposed budget: As MPS math scores have risen over the past few years, everyone in the know recognizes the reason--the Milwaukee Mathematics Partnership. Walker defunds that grant, cutting the equivalent of 99 math teachers' of funds from MMP and MPS. (This at a time when the GOP wants to use your tax dollars to "level the playing field for private schools" all across the state.)

Further data will be available later today from DPI. I don't have all of it as I write this, such as individual MPS schools' scores. I do have the voucher schools' scores and, as will undoubtedly be true of MPS, there are better schools and worse schools. Many of the older, long-established schools have pretty good scores. (Marquette University High School had all of its parents opt out of the testing ... hm.) However, it seems true that the worst places to be schooled in Milwaukee are some of the new voucher schools, founded with the sole intention of attracting voucher money. Schools I have never heard of, even, are on this list, and scoring miserably.

So, the take-away: Voucher proponents have got to be doing some soul-searching this morning. (As a godless union thug, I have no soul to search. Archives, yes; soul, no.) I expect the "yeah, but it's half-price" thing to pop up very early in the response process. Also: It is clear, again, that there must be some force outside of the school walls that leads to the kind of results that are so pervasive across schools of all different flavors. To continue to ignore the effects of poverty, segregation (by race and class), and other social ills on students' preparedness for the classroom and ability to perform is suicide for this city. There's no magic bullet, people. We have to buckle down and fix Milwaukee first.

Monday, March 28, 2011

All that's missing is a Brooks Brothers Riot*

by folkbum

This whole thing about the law being published/ not being published to me has a real Florida 2000 feel to it.

I am not about to replay that whole thing for you and open up the question of who should have/ did/ might have/ could have won the state's electoral votes, because it's over and we just don't have time to re-litigate a decade-old question.

However, there is no question that Bush, his team, and the other Republicans proceeded with a uniform message, which was that Bush won, the election was over, and the recounts were not merely a waste of time but an infringement upon Bush's due process rights. Florida Secretary of State (and Bush campaign chair) Katherine Harris certified results that she knew (or should have known) were incomplete, declaring Bush the winner, and from then on any attempt to sort out what may have happened--including actions taken by courts in Florida--constituted "irreparable harm" to Bush (i.e., he might be declared the loser after all). The "irreparable harm" argument won the day in convincing 5 justices of the US Supreme Court to halt the recounts ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, in fact.

Gore and his team tried to let the legal system work, missed the horse entirely, and looked like fools left behind in the dust.

Which is all I have been thinking about all weekend: While one can debate the legality (and legal consequence) of the action taken by the Elder Fitzgerald in pushing the Legislative Reference Bureau to "publish" the law, and of the further action taken the Walker administration to begin implementing the law, there is no doubt that the playbook for this was written November and December 2000. Step one, take advantage of an ambiguous and rapidly-changing situation to declare victory; step two, act out the steps that would follow the victory; step three, insist that any attempt to walk back the actions in step two would constitute some massive irreparable harm and insist that it cannot be undone.

The question is whether the Democrats learned the lessons of that earlier fight. Patience and platitudes, as much as any votes cast, lost Gore the election in Florida in 2000. Will it cost workers their rights in Wisconsin in 2011?

* cf. 1, 2

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald Should Get Contempt Citation

via mal

" ... Nothing in this government happens in secret. ... I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10."
- Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, in decision granting Temporary Restraining Order of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's bizarre machinations last Friday resulting in the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) publishing the anti-collective bargaining bill [2011 Wisconsin Act 10] is Fitzgerald's self-admitted attempt to implement as law precisely what he is enjoined from doing as a named defendant in State of Wisconsin ex rel., Ismael R. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald et al [Case No: 11 CV 1244].

This ought to earn Fitzgerald a contempt citation Tuesday morning.

It is a plain fact that Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) is a named defendant in the March 18 order by Judge Maryann Sumi [Case No: 11 CV 1244] granting a motion by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne on behalf of the state of Wisconsin for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, the anti-collective bargaining bill.

The named defendants are Scott Fitzgerald, Senate President Michael Ellis, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, GOP Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, and Secretary of State Doug La Follette.

"It's published," Fitzgerald said. "It's law. That's what I contend." (Marley and Stein, MJS, March 26)  Fitzgerald refers to the LRB's publishing the language of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.

Judge Sumi found that the rushed, secretive process violated Wisconsin's Open Meeting Law that forbids exactly what occured in the Republican attempt to jam legislation through before the people knew what was happening.

Sumi cites Wisconsin Constitution Article IV, Section 10 as the policy rationale in the Open Meeting Law (19.81(3)) of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Reads Judge Sumi's order in part:

I begin with Wisconsin Constitution Article IV, Section 10, a straightforward statement of the public's expectation for the legislature: 'the doors of each house shall be kept open except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.'
Sumi found a probability of success of D.A. Ozanne's case on the merits.

Sumi also found that Republican leaders illegally held a "closed session of a body that took decisive action propelling 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 forward," noting in her decision that resulting action taken at an illegal meeting is voidable.

"I am now issuing a restraining order preventing further implementation of this act," writes Sumi.

Sumi repeated: "I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10."

But defendant Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acted last week to implement 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 in plain violation of the restraining order.

Dane County DA Ozanne said last Friday, "I was surprised to learn shortly before 5 p.m. this afternoon that, despite Judge Maryann Sumi’s temporary restraining order, an effort was undertaken to try and make 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 (Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill) effective. I was even more surprised to learn that the impetus for an attempt at publication, contrary to Judge Sumi’s order, came from a named defendant in the lawsuit. ... I look forward to presenting our case on behalf of the People of the State of Wisconsin Tuesday morning, March 29, 2011, at 8:30 a.m." (WisPolitics)

That would be Scott Fitzgerald who said publicly he consulted with others to see that the LRB acted to implement 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.

"Every attorney I have consulted said this will now be law," Fitzgerald said. "It wasn't a secret. I think they left the door open for this." (Clay Barbour and Ed Treleven, Wisconsin State Journal)

It appears that contra Fitzgerald and the Walker administration, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 will not take effect.

But Republican lawlessness must end. Fitzgerald should be held in contempt.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

RIP, Geraldine Ferraro

by folkbum

We would be remiss here at the blog if we did not note the passing of icon Ferraro. While there is a lot to be said for the grumpiness of critics like John Cole, Ferraro was an honest-by-gum trailblazer in a time, according to what I can glean from the front page of, before color photography was invented. She inspired many women I know personally to go forward into public life or to take on challenges in male-dominated fields. So good for her.

I have lamented before in these pages the paucity of women in American political life. That no woman has, in this country's 220-odd years of democratic republicanism reached a higher position than Speaker of the House or Secretary of State is a damned shame. That this state, which, recent events notwithstanding, is a leader in progressive politics, has never elected a woman to meaningful state-wide office (Dawn Marie Sass joke here) is also a damned shame.

No Let-up on State Senator Randy Hopper

- People are looking for recall petitions to sign -

via mal--Though it's all over the Net that the recall campaign of State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) has generated over the minimum amount of signatures, the message out of Fondy is: No let-up.

Legions of people in Senate District 18 want to lead the movement to stop the Republican Party—what has become an autocratic, nihilistic experiment in government against the people.

A recall signature is the first step because you can be damn sure Walker, Hopper and the Fitzgeralds don't care what you think or do.

Most politicos know there are more Randy Hopper scandals than there are lake flies during certain Summer days on Lake Winnebago, but this recall effort in Senate District 18 will not let up even if they get 50,000 signatures to get rid of the lousy SOB.

Friday, March 25, 2011

JoAnne Kloppenburg Running Facts-and-Law Campaign

By Michael Leon

I took some flak here for criticizing both Louis Butler Jr. and Justice Michael Gableman, 2008 candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Butler—now a blocked nominee for federal judgeship with no outraged GOP cries of "up-or-down-floor vote"and Justice Gableman both disgraced the judicial office they sought to hold, I asserted.

'Don’t worry about the result; just tell me what the law is.’

Such a directive ought to be the mission, objective and goal of every justice of the state’s top appellate court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court. ...

If one were to ask candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2008 their commitment to the above principle, one can expect a declaration of absolute fidelity, right? ... [Y]ou would not deduce the presence of this judicial ethos from the campaigns of the two leading candidates for the [Supreme Court], Louis Butler and Judge Michael Gableman. (February 5, 2008)
Since 2008, we have seen two candidates for Wisconsin's high court who dared to edify the electorate in the function of the state's top appellate judicial body—stressing the imperative to be impartial, and avoiding political demagoguery.

These two jurists honor the bench: Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, now a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Abrahamson ran a facts-and-law campaign and won reelection decisively in 2009.

This election, we also have one candidate running a facts-and-law campaign: Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Kloppenburg opponent, Justice David Prosser, on the other hand, goes out of his way to declare his bias towards specific communities of interest and certain classes of litigants, as well as fidelity to his political party, a committment Prosser unconvincingly goes on to deny when called on this corrupt stance in office.

From Kloppenburg:
In two weeks, Wisconsin voters will elect a Supreme Court Justice.

You and I share the belief that Justices must be independent, impartial and committed to deciding each case on the facts and the law.

That is the kind of Justice I will be.
Independence, impartiality and committment to facts and the law.

That's refreshing. And in the face of an often lawless Scott Walker administration, committment to facts and the law is imperative to preserve the state of Wisconsin as a functioning democratic entity.

The GOP can't help but bully

by folkbum

Among the big news stories of the day yesterday (sorry, Badgers), you may have missed this nugget: UW-Madison Professor William Cronon, who penned an op-ed for the New York Times last week that walked through the history of Wisconsin's public employee unions and the GOP's critical role in expanding their rights, is getting FOIA-bullied:
About a week before that [op-ed], [Cronon] wrote a blog post--the first in a new blog called Scholar as Citizen--examining just who's behind this big anti-union push. He focused on a group called ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council).

Now, so far, nothing particularly controversial about any of this. But then it took a dark turn. Or perhaps better to say, then the story got into gear with everything else we've seen out of the Walker administration over the last three months.

Less than two days after Cronon published the blog post, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a state open records request to gain access to Cronon's personal emails to get a look at what communications or discussions or sources or anything else went into writing it.
Cronon, who says he's never been a member of a political party and often takes the conservative side in debates with his friends and colleagues, knows exactly what's the dilly, yo:
The narrative they would like to spin about me seems pretty clear from the search terms they’ve included in their open records request. For instance, they name eleven politicians in that request. [. . .] It’s these eight names, in combination with a search for emails containing the words “Republican” and “recall,” that [WISGOP thug Stephan] Thompson is hoping he can use to prove that Bill Cronon has been engaging in illegal use of state emails to lobby for recall elections designed to defeat Republicans who voted for the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill.
This is a threat against Cronon's job--as any such political activism on his part via his state-provided UW email account would be a potential violation of the law and could easily lead to Cronin's termination.

Cronon also sees a likely attempt to paint him as "a wild-eyed union ideologue completely out of touch with the true interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Wisconsin," all for a couple of fact-laden pieces of writing that call into question GOP motives and remind the GOP of how deeply it, rather than Cronon, has abandoned Wisconsin and our traditions.

Cronon, for his part, is not taking this lying down, as he clearly prefers not to be a tool for the WISGOP or facilitate their attempt to bully an enemy into silence or out of a job.

The rest of us, however, need also to be on our toes about this sort of thing. Wisconsin's Republicans are clearly not afraid of trying everything in their power to shut down their critics--whether it's literally shutting the doors of the state capital or cyber-bullying anyone who speaks out against them. All the more reason to oppose the radical GOP agenda .

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Valerie Walasek and Jeremy Ryan Guilty of Free Speech

Valerie Walasek and Jeremy Ryan held a sign inside the capitol.

The Department of Administration doesn't like such displays of free speech. Capital police blithely follow orders. Walasek and Ryan show the world what intelligence and dignity are.

Abusive Relationship: When Counties Support Walker

by bert
I could have just quietly despaired.

After all, it's to be expected that in the very Republican Waukesha County the county board would easily pass a resolution supporting Gov. Walker's misnamed Budget Repair Bill. Instead, I wrote a letter to my supervisor. As the saying goes, it is better to light a candle than to curse the dimwits.

Here it is:

Dear Kathleen Cummings:

Although I am a long-time resident of Waukesha County, this is the first time your board actions have provoked me to write. I am appalled by the board’s overwhelming support for the so-called Budget Repair Bill on Tuesday. I am even more disappointed in the vote in support of Gov. Walker’s vision for this state that you cast, since you supposedly represent folks in the city of Waukesha.

Please allow me to explain something. Waukesha is not Chenequa nor Oconomowoc Lake. I could show you around my neighborhood where I have foreclosed homes around me and neighbors in factories or construction trades who have been laid off or had hours cut way back. The idea that tax savings from cutting the compensation of county workers will heal the economic ills of Waukesha is laughable.

Just because I am not wealthy does not mean I am ignorant. This bill is part of a push to drive down wages for everybody and cripple the last place where unions still have a toe-hold. You support the policies that hurt the people in this city for the benefit of those who employ our residents but who don’t live any where near here. Waukesha has always been the dumping ground for the most destitute in the area; you apparently like the policies that will create more of them and tend less to them.

Also, I commute on Highway 59 going west every day and happen to think we have good workers who tend to that road in the winter. I have dealt with the sheriff’s office a couple of times and came away happy with their level of competence. I use the county parks a lot. I know people in your county recycling operation and they are devoted to that service. I think this county would be better if these staff members had a say in how they do their job and for what compensation. The repair bill sneaks in a permanent change to a “my way or the highway” approach to personnel relations.

It is sad to finally realize that the people like you elected to manage the polices that govern these workers are hostile toward these people! Overall, my message is to urge you to put the quality of this area and its residents over your political beliefs and personal feelings toward workers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Attackers of Recall Circulators Committed a Federal Offence

This is serious and should be knocked down now.

See Recall signature gatherers attacked, signatures stolen.

Victims should get the police reports; gather facts and photos; then contact:

US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Criminal Section – PHB
Washington, DC 20530

Milwaukee branch of FBI

Cc to

Office of the United States Attorney
Eastern District of Wisconsin
517 E Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 530
Milwaukee, WI 53202-4580

Question for my lawyer peeps

by folkbum

So I've been following the challenge to the union-busting (among other things) bill in Dane County Circuit Court, reading all the arguments and whatnot, and I have a question.

Which has nothing to do with the merits or any other aspect of that case at all. While I remain kind of hopeful about that case, I am not optimistic about the overall situation, considering that whatever the outcome of that trial Republicans still hold legislative majorities and all los hermanos Fitzgerald need to do is reconvene and pass the thing paying extra super attention to all the p's and q's. Why they haven't yet, in fact, is quite the puzzler.

Regardless, here's my question: The committee hearing that is allegedly in violation of the open meetings law was a conference committee. And this is where I'm stumped, because I, like a probable-minority of Americans who geek out on how a bill becomes a law, am familiar with the way conference committees typically work. At the federal level, for example, the House and the Senate both pass their version of a bill, a conference committee irons out the differences, and then the conference report--that newly-ironed revision--is again voted on in both houses of Congress.

But at the time this particular conference committee convened, only the state Assembly had passed a version of the bill in question. The Senate had not. So how in the dickens is it possible for a conference committee to meet and reconcile versions of a bill if there is no Senate version to be had? Is this just some quirk of Wisconsin law by which a "conference committee" doesn't mean what it means at the federal level?

And again, I'm not saying that any of this means the world is suddenly full of rainbows and unicorns for my union brothers and sisters, given that the legislature can do pretty much what it wants at this point and nertz to the rest of us. Rather, I am trying to understand the rules here, and would really appreciate a clarification.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scott Walker's Big Lie on Budget Knocked Down by Rachel Maddow

Gov. Scott Walker's lies of a budgetary fiscal emergency were knocked down weeks ago.

Rachel Maddow finishes the job last night, in the process exposing more Republican hypocrisy that never seems to stop.

Walker, McCarthy both Blemish Wisconsin's Good Name

by bert
What is it about Gov. Walker that launched a massive but previously dormant citizenry here in Wisconsin to push back against his quick and dirty attack on the middle class?

Beyond the policies themselves that pay back Walker's wealthy patrons and cripple the enemy party, there has to be something else. And I think Professor William Cronon, a star academic from UW-Madison, nails what that something is in his column today in the New York Times. (I won't bother linking to it because the on-line version just went back behind a paywall.)

Cronon is a historian familiar to those who watched the Ken Burns documentary on National Parks or other PBS fare. Although he is moderate and hardly fits the right-wing rednecks' image of ranting, poorly-groomed Madison professors (god bless them), Cronon has deep roots in Wisconsin and a father who was also in the history biz.

Cronon argues today that it is Walker's style -- the threats, the lies, the mockery of legislative process -- and the bad memories it stirs up of Sen. Joseph McCarthy that provoked the remarkable past few weeks:

. . . It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot those lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin's citizens have not.

Why teachers like me support unions

by folkbum

Note: This post is part of a national effort by teacher bloggers to express our support for the unions who keep us safe, secure, and sane in school. Keep up with EduSolidarity events via the twitter and at the EduSolidarity homepage.

On my very first day of my very first student teaching experience, the very first meeting in the high school cafeteria, the principal stood up, and among his first words, he said, "Teachers, I got your back. You're my teachers, I trust you, and I will go to the wall for you. I don't care if it's a student, a parent, central office. I stand behind you."

This was fifteen years ago, but I remember it, clearly, because in the years since I have never, ever heard it again.

Let me repeat that: In all of my years of professional teaching, I have never, ever, had a principal explicitly say that they supported me, believed in me, would fight for me. Ever.

This is one reason why I support unions. If I knew I could always count on my principal to stand behind me, I wouldn't necessarily need a union. In the years since, in fact, I have found that teachers and principals usually function as adversaries. (This is my experience; your mileage may vary.) I have had counter-contractual job actions taken against me, for being a union rep standing up for the contract. I have had principals threaten me and programs I directed for standing up for my colleagues. I have seen fellow teachers harassed, threatened, intimidated, often to the point of leaving the profession. Not because they were bad teachers, but because the principals were bullies.

Let me tell you about my friend M. We taught together at a school that both of us have since left. When we were building-mates, she was one of my heroes. The kids loved her, respected her, jumped through hoops for her. No one ever had a bad word to say about M, her dedication to the craft, her ability to manage and teach a classroom full of students who otherwise would be running the halls creating havoc. One of the best teachers I have ever met.

I ran into her a year after we'd both left that school, after we'd both landed at different schools in the district. She looked terrible. I asked how her new school was. "It's awful, Jay," she said. "The kids cuss at me. They don't do their homework. The fight outside my classroom. They fight inside my classroom. They have no respect."

This floored me, as I could not imagine any situation in which M did not have complete control of the learning environment, did not command the respect and adoration of even the unruliest of children.

I can only imagine what this must have looked like to a dispassionate observer. A teacher who deserved every exemplary rating she ever earned suddenly underwater in an out-of-control classroom. If teachers could be summarily fired, what might have happened to this hero of mine?

Thankfully, she wasn't fired. Based on her and her colleagues' complaints, the union stepped in, forced district administrators to address her school as being out of control. The principal was removed and, with the support of the teachers, a new regime installed. Behavior, attendance, and grades have improved. The next summer when I saw M, she was back to her old self.

I could also tell you about C, a science teacher, who had no knack for being in the classroom. Nice enough guy, but not getting the hang of the job. (Not just anybody can teach, contrary to popular rumor.) I was his building rep, and I worked with the principal to get him into something called TEAM--Teacher Evaluation and Mentoring. This is a program my union designed and developed, which was eagerly agreed to by administration. Teachers who aren't up to snuff must work with the principal and a union-provided mentor to identify areas of weakness and either improve, quit, or be fired.

C's mentor went to hell and back with him. So did I. And even the principal! But C never got back on track and, after a semester of mentoring, with the union's blessing (and encouragement), he left the classroom for good. Amount of time, money, effort spent to fire him? None. No bitter battle, no "rubber room," no protracted litigation or arbitration. Instead, a cooperative effort to send C off to a more suitable career than teaching, thanks to the union.

One of the most frequent arguments I hear about Why Unions Suck: Why should you, a talented teacher, they say (none spend time in my classroom, so how they know this I am uncertain). Why should you, a talented, highly-qualified teacher, be brought down to the same level as some schlub who sits around reading the paper all day while his students get high and have sex on the floor? Aren't you embarrassed or angry that you are treated the same as that schlub?

First, I say, I don't know that schlub. No doubt such teachers exist somewhere (don't tell them, but my sources say that fully half of all teachers are below average!), but I've never met one and certainly never heard credible tales of one whose actions were defended by anybody, let alone the union.

But second, I say, why do you, who thinks I'm a talented, highly qualified teacher, turn around and advocate for charter schools (where a "charter license" allows anyone to teach any subject) and private voucher schools (where no certification is required at all)? Why do you think a talented, highly-qualified teacher such as myself isn't embarrassed or angry that you think just anyone can waltz in and do what I do?

My union started not as a union, striking and bargaining for pay and all that. It started, actually, as a professional organization, an association of teachers dedicated to improving the craft and helping each other do what they do better. And it still does this: Its charitable arm offers grants to schools--including several million to my district in the recent past--to try new and innovative programs. It offers professional development at the local, state, and national level to promote better teaching. Its chief focus today is the classroom environment, which is not just where I work but where your children learn, advocating for smaller class sizes, greater teacher flexibility to address individual student needs, maintaining high standards for who should enter the profession--attracting and keeping talented, highly qualified teachers like me in the profession.

Why do you, I say, why do you want to strip that away from me? Why do you want to throw out a half-century of expertise in building a better teacher and finding (and funding) what works in education?

So I am union thug. My thug life involves a lot of late nights at school or grading papers, early mornings copying and planning. Whole weekends lost to school work or taking classes to keep up my license. Giving up my lunch hour for kids who need help with their work or a safer place to hang out than the cafeteria. Being everyone's dad, social worker, nurse, career counselor, coach, mentor. Spending thousands of my own dollars over the years on my classroom and my students. Putting up with constant attacks from the media and the political right that I'm a failure, my students are failures, and my district is a failure--break it up, they say, and you can all fend for yourselves.

Which is a sad thing to think about. In this country, no one should be forced to fend for themselves. From the 1770s when a small, scrappy band of rebels joined together to throw off tyranny, to the day Dr. King was assassinated while supporting public workers' right to join a union, to the crowded auditorium last night full of parents and teachers and students united in support of public education, the story of America is the story of union. The story of unions. And I support unions.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dan Bice: Sen. Randy Hopper's girlfriend gets publically funded state job at $20.35 per hour

Nice work if you can find it.

Republican political operative and Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) girlfriend, Valerie Cass, scored a nice tax payer-funded job last month for political services rendered.

Dan Bice at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an excellent account of a corrupt political arrangement that smells even by the Scott Walker-Randy Hopper standards of misconduct.

An excerpt from Bice's column:
Even though the state is supposedly broke, top officials in Gov. Scott Walker's team were able to scrape together enough money to give a state job to the woman identified as Sen. Randy Hopper's girlfriend.

Anything for a political ally.

Valerie Cass, a former Republican legislative staffer, was hired Feb. 7 as a communications specialist with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing. She is being paid $20.35 per hour. The job is considered a temporary post.

Meet the candidates, meet the cold hard reality

by folkbum

CANDIDATES: Tonight (Monday, March 21), everyone in Milwaukee is invited to a forum, a "community interview" of school board candidates. This forum, sponsored by the Milwaukee PTA, will be held at MPS central office (map) at 6 PM. Given that the city-wide seat is up this year (note: I have endorsed Terry Falk), everyone in the city has a vote and should be interested in what's what.

REALITY: Milwaukee-area legislators (Richards, Sinicki, Zamiparra, and Larson) and Milwaukee school board members (Falk and Miller) will host a presentation of the governor's proposed budget and its effects on the Milwaukee Public schools. This one will be in the Bay View High School auditorium (map), starting at 7 PM.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cost of ATT/ T-Mobile deal, in teachers

425,000 teachers.

It's all about priorities.

The Little Town That Could

By Keith R. Schmitz

Congrats to Marathon, Wisconsin, my wife's home town, population -- not a lot of people.

They won not one but two championships yesterday. Thanks to a strong finish in the 4th quarter, their boys basketball team took the WIAA Division 4 Championship trophy. It was their first state championship since 1977.

Great as this was, it was the second win that reached way out of their league. This public, small town school that has to essentially work with what it gets in terms of students, won the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon. They beat Brookfield Academy, a private school that can recruit practically any one they please by an incredible 4,000 points.

Good work you lazy, overpaid, union thugs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Steve Kraeger, the $50,000 man

by folkbum

I'ma be up front about this part: Jason Haas is a friend of mine, I have donated to and volunteered for his campaign this spring already. Steve Kraeger is his opponent running for Milwaukee County Supervisor district 14, Chris Larson's old seat. This is the district I live in, so I am doubly invested in the outcome.

Earlier this week, Dan Cody reported that Kraeger loaned his campaign $50,000. As Dan noted, the job of county supervisor only pays about that much in a year, so how he will pay himself back is a reasonable question. And where that money came from, too.

Which got me thinking: There aren't a lot of people in my neck of the woods who seem like they're sitting on big piles of cash for a campaign. Some parts of the county, sure, people are wealthier and healthier and might just have that kind of dough. But around here? Especially down around the part of the district where Kraeger lives, where the houses are half the size of mine (and I sure don't have $50,000 lying around)?

At about the same time, this email (no link to its source, unfortunately) showed up in my mailbox:
City tax records show Kraeger has a sweet deal on his property taxes. His house at [address redacted, though, come on, you have google and can probably figure it out if you want to check this math] has seen a remarkable plunge in assessed value. The city of Milwaukee tax assessor valued the house at $104,600 in 2005. Now, it's valued at $26,100. [. . .] The house is now valued at less than the land on which it is built: $26,100 vs. $59,600.
This seemed unpossible to me. It still kind of does. But what do you know? I check the records myself and here's what Kraeger's assessments look like:

Well, you might be thinking, maybe his neighborhood is just in a real slump. Sadly, no. Take a look at the assessment history for the house right next door to Kraeger's, a house of literally the same 905 square feet, same everything:

If the neighborhood were in a slump, everyone would be affected. But clearly not this neighbor. Not any of the others on Kraeger's block, either, where none of the houses are valued at less than $57,000, with a total property value of no less than $122,000.

I don't want to speculate how or why Kraeger's valuation is so much lower; google street view sure doesn't suggest any reason (and I haven't driven by--look him up on google and the City of Milwaukee website? Sure! Drive by? Stalker!). And even though it was this story this morning that reminded me to write about this, there's no reason to think he's cheating in any way. At any rate, Kraeger has loaned his campaign an amount equal to twice the value of the house he lives in.

Okay, okay. Kraeger is a small businessman. Maybe he's got other assets. It's true! He runs a one-man trucking company. Presumably, he's the one man. But the company address is on the same block as his house (not the same house, oddly, and not one the city shows as owned by Kraeger), and check out its estimated annual sales:

Not that the internet is always right about everything, but this suggests that what Kraeger loaned himself is more than he makes in a year. (One caveat: a good semi tractor-trailer could actually be worth something like $50k or $70k, so if he borrowed against that asset, that's a possible source of the loan.)

And remember, this campaign is just three years after his last one for this exact same seat--a campaign that I'm sure was not free then--and less than a year after an unsuccessful run at State Rep. Chris Sinicki's seat.

And as for what the money bought? Well, I got a robocall from him this week. But Kraeger's literature is legendary for its cheapness--densely worded 8.5 x 11 Kinkos-copied screeds. I saw a few stuck in doors when I was out knocking on them for Jason last weekend. Those don't cost $50,000, people. (He also did not spend it on his website, apparently.)

So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm befuddled. I am lost for words here (cue irony siren). Kraeger does not seem like the kind of man who has or could spend an extra $50,000 on his campaign. Yet there it is.

Can anyone offer a plausible reason why?

Friday, March 18, 2011

FriTunes: Been a while since we done this edition

by folkbum

Both of these fine singer-songwriters will be at Shank Hall tonight. I've been sick the last couple of days and may sleep through it, or you may see me there. Either way, you should go.

BONUS: Milwaukee native Patty Larkin will be at Shank Hall Wednesday, March 23. I will definitely be at that show.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For the record

by folkbum

THURSDAY UPDATE: The MTEA position here is, apparently, "hold firm, no concessions." It sounds like this is in part because getting the contract re-opened and closed again by next Friday's deadline is asking too much, and in part because of long history of inflexibility, especially in the current leadership. I think it's the wrong decision. Read on for Wednesday's post:

I have been working on this post for like three weeks now, but this is not an easy one. Not because I have some kind of compunction against doing this sort of thing, but because the answers are not easy to come up with. MPS has a $74 million hole for next year's budget. That's a lot of cheddar.

(And, note, MPS estimates that the "tools" Walker provided to give MPS "maximum flexibility" would save MPS less than $50 million. He pretty clearly lied when he said school districts would make up in savings what he proposed in cuts.)

We have a limited amount of time to do something, anything. Starting next Friday, the ability for the union and the district sit down and hammer out a deal like this becomes illegal. As in, against the law. And the contract, absent any change before next Friday, will be locked in, as is, $74 million behind next year and $90 million behind the year after. With no ability to bargain a way out of the contract--and no legal way to break it, either--that could do some real damage to teachers, schools, and, worst of all, students.

So I keep making lists, running numbers, and puzzling over the possibilities.

But, for the record, this is what I passed on to several MTEA folks who attended a must-go meeting earlier tonight about, well, What To Do.
1. Furloughs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--furlough teachers on teachers' convention days. Savings? About $4 million. If we made it three furlough days--give teachers the option of skipping the August organization day or the June record day (though I bet most of us would just work it free)--that gets us closer to $6 million.

2. The supplemental pension, aka "the sweetener." This is a 30-year-old anachronism, begun in the heady days of the Reagan administration, for reasons that no longer remain relevant. And I have made this argument repeatedly before, too. Dump it. At most, let teachers opt-out (no change to their salary) or stay in (with the cost of the pension plan deducted from their salary). In recent years, the annual MPS investment in the sweetener has ranged from $4 million to $19 million. Savings? Assume around $15 million.
For those of you playing along at home, that's about $20 million. Which is not chump change, I grant you (and all out of teachers' pockets), but it is not $74 million.

However, it is a pretty bold statement. And cuts beyond these, which will be hard for some to swallow, get really tricky. More on health care? The contract already calls for stepped-up contributions starting in June this year. Another year of wage freezes? We just did two years in a row frozen. I have heard rumors of a four-day school week (like they're doing in Hawaii this year), but we still have to put in a minimum number of hours with students.

I don't know--haven't heard yet--what was decided at that meeting earlier. I am hopeful that it was something like or as big as the cuts I offer here. And I hope it's something that can be sealed quickly, before all our hands are tied.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Union Thuggery in one graph

by folkbum

As I said, one graph:

Click the image for some analysis; however, this is simply just one more data point in the never-ending stream showing that state budget deficits, private-sector wage pressures, and everything else that's wrong with America is not the fault of public employees.

Who is to blame? I'm not sure, but I might start by asking who benefitted from the great leaps in productivity if not the workers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Randy Hopper Story Breaks National as He Hides, Citing "Threats"

via mal
For someone who just helped to eviscerate the livelihood of 10,000s of Wisconsin families, State Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) is very touchy about the topic of his own family, or at least he seems that way through his flacks.

It was first reported at Mal Contends on March 11 that protesters outside the recall target, Hopper, house last week in Fond du Lac were met by his wife who reportedly came out and told them: Hopper no longer lives there, but with his 25-year-old mistress in Madison.

Two sources in Fond du Lac close to the recall effort say the Hopper maid has signed the legal-sized recall sheet. The maid reportedly said it's likely Hopper's soon-to-be-ex wife will also sign the recall petition.

Blogging Blue reported March 11 the woman in question is a former state Senate committee staffer and now-ex-GOP-connected lobbyist. [Blogging Blue has an independent server and has received so much traffic that the server crashed, but the server should be up soon.]

Attempts to reach Sen. Hopper through his phone book-listed telephone number in Fond du Lac last week and this week were unsuccessful; as were calls made to his Madison legislative office and a Fond du Lac business office.

Other media outlets report a non-denial from Hopper's office on the Madison girlfriend issue but a flat denial on the Fond du Lac residency issue raised elsewhere as Hopper continues to hide from his constituents and the media, citing security concerns and death threats.
WTMJ (Milwaukee) reports:
TODAY'S TMJ4 received a letter from a woman claiming to be Randy Hopper's wife, Alysia Hopper. The letter arrived a letterhead envelope from Alysia Hopper's business. The letter claims Randy Hopper, "started an affair in January 2010 with a then 25 year old Republican aide." It claims "Randy moved out" and "now lives mostly in Madison."

According to Hopper's spokesman, the State Senator rents an apartment in Fond du Lac where Hopper also owns several radio stations. However, TODAY'S TMJ4 was told Hopper was unavailable after making repeated interview requests.

In a written statement, Hopper campaign spokesman Jeff Harvey indicated, "Senator Hopper maintains an apartment in the district where he lives and works. He and his wife separated roughly a year ago and are divorcing, which is a private family matter."
Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports: "Hopper's chief of staff, Rebecca Hogan" said "Senator Hopper lives and works in the district. He and his wife separated roughly a year ago and are divorcing, which is a personal matter. Senator Hopper and his family have received multiple death threats. These new attempts to personally smear him are shameful and disgusting."

Non-denials that this Hopper left his wife for a much younger woman while preaching the GOP mantra of families and values. This speaks loudly, as does his alliance with a vicious GOP attack on Wisconsin families.

Even if Hopper is not speaking, his non-denial from his undisclosed location reveal a man afraid to face the public he was sent to Madison to represent.

As Hopper's story has hit national journals including the Atlanta Journal Constitution, New York Magazine, and the New Republic, Hopper's public posture is: Unavailable

Remember this about Hopper

by folkbum

While this very blog, thanks to MAL, has largely been a driver of the now-national story of Randy Hopper, I want to be clear what the story should be, regardless of what it may spiraling into: Randy Hopper has abandoned not his wife but his district.

There's a lot of tongue-wagging to be done about hypocrisy and even the fact that the people who shared Hopper's usetabe house are expected to sign the recall petition against him, sure. But try to keep in mind that our side (assuming you're on my side) has its share of cads, too, and caddishness alone is not a reason to pursue the story.

Sen. Randy Hopper's Problems Mounting in New Politicized Terrain—Resignation Possible

Update: Reader advises that in Wisconsin vacancies in the Legislature must be filled by a special election called by the Governor, per state statute.

Sen. Alberta 'we're-in-charge' Darling (R-River Hills) is going to have to take second-place on the most likely to be recalled and lose list of GOP Wisconsin state senators.

via mal

Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) is one of eight Republican recall targets in the Wisconsin state senate.

A reliable Scott Walker ally, it appears this political alliance is one among a host of other liabilities in a changed political environment where issues once ignored are gaining prominence.

Hopper's political liabilities are now under increasing scrutiny, going viral on social networking sites.

And his political crises have become the source of speculation that Hopper—elected in 2008 with under a 200-vote margin—may now resign in what the GOP would likely hope is a new state senator for District 18 [includes Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, and the northern part of Waupun; a new candidate would have to run in a mandated special election]). A new candidate is seen by informed political operatives as having a slightly better chance of holding the seat for the Republican Party in what early indications point to as a marked flip of the state Senate into democratic control in the anticipated Summer recall elections in August.

Among Randy Hopper's problems:

State Sen, Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac)

The other woman, 25-year-old ex-GOP state senate committee staffer and GOP operative

Friday, March 11, 2011

This is what happens when you get farked

by folkbum

Not to mention reddited and swarmed from a few other sites. And I thought I was having a good week to begin with.

If it's going to be so bad.. quit.

by folkbum

That line showed up in a comment. I have so many responses, I am not sure how to work it. So I think I will just do this "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" Style.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit.
A lot of people have. In counties, cities, and school districts across the state, retirements are way up. Which is funny: One reason you hate us is because you think we get to retire early. Apparently, tons of us haven't been, but now will be rather than keep taking your crap.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit. I know you won't because you cannot get a job with pay and benefits like you have in the private sector.
That's not true. Well, it may be more true in this down economy than it would be true otherwise, though I am really not sure why you want another unemployed person out there. But the fact is that I, personally, have plenty of marketable skills and could have been making much more money (with one caveat, in a second) in the private sector for the last 15 years than I do now. And in general, teachers have plenty of marketable skills, which is one reason why half of us leave the profession after fewer than five years. We can have an easier, better-paid jobs in the private sector. Even with 15 years in on the pay scale, I earn less than average for someone with my level of education, according to the BLS.

The caveat, of course, is that I chose a career that defers much of my salary into a pension for retirement. Which reminds me:
If it's going to be so bad.. quit.
I remember when I was in college in the mid-90s, and I read story after story in the news about how my generation (X, we are) and the subsequent ones (Y, Millennials, whathaveyou) would change careers ten, twenty times in our lives. This was being touted as a feature, rather than a bug, and I couldn't understand it. It is too long ago now to remember the exact wording of these stories, but they all had some baloney about how we were too ADD and refused to be put in boxes or something ridiculous like that, and therefore would never want to settle in to a single job forever.

I thought then that it was spin, that it was crap. My grandfather worked the lines at P&G for 40 years and retired. My dad worked at the same job in a hospital pharmacy for more than 30 years until neurosarcoidosis knocked him out of the game. I planned to teach until I was dead--though, to be fair, when I was young I was pretty sure the heart disease would have gotten me by now.

What I mean is this: the fiction that Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers want to be kicked around from job to job without ever building seniority or vacation time or a 401k is crap. It's crap fed to us and to you by the same folks whose pockets are more thickly lined now with what used to be our pensions and 20-year commemorative pen sets and health insurance and retirement gold watches. A fungible labor force benefits management, not labor.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit. I know you won't because you cannot get a job with pay and benefits like you have in the private sector.
This may surprise you, but I'm not in it for the money. Which is not to say the money isn't helpful: When my wife got laid off in 2009 and we had a surprise round of "guess whose check isn't coming to dinner anymore," we got through it without having our house foreclosed or robbing a bank or moving back in with my parents (themselves almost foreclosed that year from Dad's medical bills--America, what a country!). I have felt quite blessed during this recession and, since my wife found re-employment, have been tipping more, buying more, getting those renovations done to the house that we put off for years, giving more to charity, trying in my own way to stimulate the economy. (Unlike America's biggest corporations, I am not just sitting around on my cash reserves.)

But I would not characterize myself as overly wealthy. I don't have, won't ever have, a summer home anywhere. It took me 12 years to pay off my student loans. Search the archives of this blog long enough and you'll find category tags for both "Prius Envy" and a plain-old "My Car," so you can see the difference between what I wanted and what I could afford. I know I'm way past the median and average salaries in the state, so, no, I'm not hurting. But I am getting what I expected, and I am not asking for more.

And though we don't have kids, I would like to think that a teacher's salary could support a family. That my colleagues who have been teaching five or ten years fewer than I have can afford to have, raise, feed, and clothe two or three children. That my colleagues who have been teaching five or ten years longer than I have can afford to send their children to college. It galls me to think that there are those who believe the people who teach our children shouldn't earn enough to raise their own well.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit.
That's kind of like telling Brett Favre he should have retired in 1999. Which is not to say that I am the Brett Favre of English teaching--for one thing, I have never been addicted to pain pills and people complain that I get my summers off.

But rather, teaching is what I do because a teacher is what I am. I'm not working just to be working; since I was 12 years old I wanted to do this, almost exactly this, when I grew up. I am, as odd as it sounds, living my dream. I'm trying every day to exact small miracles from the fabric of the universe so that these kids, Milwaukee's kids, my kids have a shot at living better in a better world than what there is now. And I think I'm pretty good at it. I've won awards. I've been evaluated at the highest levels. Visitors to my school get brought to my room to observe.

Walking away, at least walking away without putting up one hell of a fight, is not about economics.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit. I know you won't because you cannot get a job with pay and benefits like you have in the private sector and I don't understand HOW supposedly educated people can be used as pawns by big labor.
Here's the remarkable thing about some conservatives: They can hold conflicting ideas in their heads without exploding. I can't do it myself, but the union talk is a remarkable example. On the one hand, unions do nothing for their members; we're just pawns. On the other hand, killing the unions "saves" a ton of money, hundreds of millions of dollars that would otherwise be going to--wait for it--union members.

Walker's bill, if my district ditches the contract we negotiated last fall, will charge me ~$500 a month in money that used to go things like paying my mortgage or supporting local arts and businesses. In return, from the forces of now-dead "big labor," I would get back ~$100 a month in money I used to pay in dues. Those were the dues that got me legal protection when administration, parents, students targeted me. Those dues negotiated a deal that says when a student threatens to kill me, I don't have to take him back in class the next day, or ever. Those dues ensure that if I want to transfer schools, my experience and advanced degree don't price me out of a position, and that I can't be replaced with a long-term sub when the budget gets tight. Those dues run workshops for new teachers and fund mentors for veterans who need help. Those dues ensure that I get adequate time during the day to prep, call parents, grade papers, eat lunch, pee. Those dues protect my right to be critical of my district on this blog, on TV, or in print without fear of reprisal. Those are worth a lot more than $100, even $500 a month to me.
If it's going to be so bad.. quit.
And that last part--what the union does beyond getting me paid--is what is truly galling about the whole debacle we have just witnessed. As I said, I am not in this for the money; you want me to take an effective $5000 cut in pay? I'll do it. I'll take $10,000 if you want, if it would make you feel a bit like more of a man.

(Of course, to a first-year teacher, a $5000 cut in pay is a much uglier monkey; they might not be so willing to make that deal.)

But what Walker has done is strip away my right to band together with my fellow employees to negotiate over anything but salary (and that's capped at CPI). The hardest-fought fights in collective bargaining haven't always been over pay and benefits, but about working conditions. What will drive me out of the profession, eventually, is not the pay. It will be the class sizes in the 50s and no time to plan. It will be watching my colleagues get railroaded for not playing ball on the reform of the month. It will be driving a friend to the district headquarters to file charges when a principal refuses to call the police on a student assault.

These are things I didn't used to have to worry about. Because I had a union.

It is a sadly un-American thing to believe that it is okay for the state to forbid employees from working together to address working conditions. That, I'm afraid, is what will make me quit.

Sen. Randy Hopper's Wife Tells Protesters Hopper Is Living with 25-year-old mistress in Madison

Update: Two sources in Fond du Lac close to the recall effort say the Hopper maid has signed the legal-sized recall sheet. The maid reportedly said it's likely Hopper's soon-to-be-ex wife will also sign the recall petition.

via mal

Recall target, Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac), talks a good game about family values.

But protesters outside the Hopper house this week in Fond du Lac were met by his wife who reportedly came out and told them: Hopper no longer lives there, but with his 25-year-old mistress in Madison.

No confirmation on whether the divorcing wife signed that petition to recall Hopper who represents Wisconsin Senate District 18.

Hopper has been a close ally with Gov. Scott Walker whose billionaire-funded attacks on Wisconsin families is drawing international attention and widespread condemnation.

Pause for the dead and wounded

by folkbum

Take a few minutes away from righteous anger this bleak morning to do something to recognize the devastation in Japan and the Pacific. It sounds unimaginable horrific.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Democrat Jacquerie? As if.

By bert

The right-wing conspiracy's talking point right now -- deployed to stay on offense in light of their indefensible vote against the middle class last night -- is that Gov. Scott Walker's opposition is now a dangerous mob unleashed by the democratic party. The hippies at the capitol square are dangerous! Protect our womenfolk!

As we chew gum and file our nails, let's dispatch with this flimsy con job.

Point number one: The charge has no substance. The degree to which such a large and sustained crowd has stayed peaceful over these weeks is freaky. I think its most recent analogue goes all the way back to the era of Dr. Martin Luther King.

However, even more remarkable is the degree of restraint in tandem with resolve shown since this provocative act by the Senate Republicans last evening. Since right-wing radio has taught it is okay to just pull charges out of our tuckus, I proclaim Scott Fitzgerald's anti-democratic and law-flaunting tactics were intended to provoke his enemies to commit self-defeating acts of anger.

But after a tense night, there continue to be no arrests nor widespread damage. I say count your blessings. If ugly things had happened it would be on the Republican/right-wing squadristi's head because they could have foreseen that outcome. Instead, Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain continues to note that up to now the demonstrators deserve only praise for maintaining peace.
We appreciate the conduct of the people on the square so far, and we hope those continuing to come can continue to be civil with one another.
Point number two: Look who's talking? The right has come closer to actively fomenting mayhem. The most obvious example is Gov. Walker's unwitting admission to the famous prank caller that "we thought about that" when the blogger imitating outside well-healed agitator David Koch suggested "planting some trouble makers".

We also have the case of the Indiana assistant attorney general who called for live ammunition to be used on the Madison protesters.

Since the tea party summer is still a fresh memory, it seems mighty rich for right-wing radio to now be decrying these Madison protesters as dangerous mobs. How 'bout U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner cutting short his town hall meeting on Wednesday in Wauwatosa because it included loud interruptions by critics of Republicans?

Charlie Sykes presided over a forum that same Wednesday night that featured booing and heckling of Mayor Tom Barrett. If Sykes had then -- like Sensenbrenner -- told the audience to "shut up" and closed down his forum early, the subsequent outburst from his Republian audience would have outdone the (peaceful) outburst that closed Sensenbrenner's forum in Wauwatosa.

We know what right-wing protesters are capable of. Hey, that reminds me. How many counter-protesters at Madison have had their head stomped on?

Public worker demonization, demoralization, remobilization open thread

by folkbum

It's a long day for me, and I have no additional productive words to add this morning.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Recall of Sen. Randy Hopper Burning Up East-Central Wisc District 18

via malThe recall of Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) is on fire.

The number of hard-to-challenge signatures gathered in Wisconsin Senate District 18 in Fondy alone is already well into the 1,000s. District needs 20,000 sigs to be safe from the challenges of the GOP high-priced lawyers.

Working-class families are going to be hit hard by the budget and the so-called budget repair bill that actually target working families while rewarding very rich GOP campaign contributors.

The whole area around Fondy is hard-drinking, blue collar territory and not terribly political.

But messing with some one's family does not sit well with anyone. That's what Sen. Hopper and Scott Walker are doing.

Hopper is going along for the ride and the SOB deserves what he gets.

Living beyond our means

by folkbum

One of the most common complaints from the right about the current budget morass is that schools (and other units of government) have been "living beyond their means." So let's talk about that.

I attended the Organizing for a Better Way meeting put together last Saturday by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and other groups (earlier mentioned here). Four hundred other people and I listened as speaker after speaker--from teachers to school board members to students from all around the area--described what the impact of a billion-dollar cut in the state education budget might look like.

Not one of them talked about how much schools were living it up before now, and how sad it will be to see the party end. No; every single speaker talked about what had already been lost to cuts to this point, and how additionally devastating a deep cut in the revenue limit, as proposed by Governor Scott Walker, would be.

None of the speakers made this point better than Greenfield Public Schools Superintendent Conrad Farner, who delivered a barn-burner of a speech. It was, indeed, quite a shocker to hear a superintendent, any superintendent, so baldly honest about the budget situation as Farner was Saturday. I could barely keep up taking notes, what with having to stop to applaud every other line with the rest of the audience.

Farner gave the room a history of the last two decades living under the regime of revenue limits set by Madison. For those who don't know how that works: the total amount of money a school district can spend, per student, is capped by state law as a way of protecting local taxpayers from runaway local officials. How much a district's cap is varies around the state; the formula considers everything from how much you spent last year to how much property wealth and state aid your district has. The result of this policy is the remarkable fact that Wisconsin's per-capita state and local tax burden is the lowest it's been in 50 years.

But here's the kicker, as Farner laid it out. Not once in the last two decades has the revenue cap increased at a level equal to the increase in the cost of providing services. Every year for 18 years, Farner said, virtually every school district in the state has had to make decisions about where to cut, and Farner read a stunningly long list of services Greenfield used to provide and now doesn't, from summer school to social workers. He talked about concessions Greenfield teachers have already made in pay, pensions, and insurance. "We can't cut our way to excellence," he said, and yet next year, under Walker's proposed budget, the cuts would be the deepest yet.

Now it is true, as will undoubtedly be pointed out here in the comments section within minutes of this post hitting the presses, that in real dollars the amount of money every school district spends today is higher than it was in 1993 when the caps started. (Complaints about the caps started at about the same time; here, for example, is a press release (pdf) about a 1998 study of revenue limits and their effects on schools.) This is because the rate of increase allowed by state law has been greater than zero (Walker proposes for the first time ever under the revenue cap system a negative number). However, that rate has been slower than the rate of increase in the cost for school districts to offer all the services they want and need to.

This harkens back to a point I have made many times before, and undoubtedly will have to again. Even in times like the present, when inflation is dramatically low, the cost of doing what schools do can still increase. This is because what governments buy--the cost of government services--is very different from what families buy--the costs underlying the rate of inflation. While people and families buy food and clothes and iPads, governments buy roads and tanks and people; governments' cost of living is a different animal than families' cost of living. To try to compare the two, or suggest that governments ought to budget more like families, is a real apples-to-oranges kind of exercise.

But back to the point: Even when the things governments buy, notably people and their health care (the inflation rate of which far outstrips CPI generally), get more expensive, in Wisconsin school districts and other local units of government are prohibited by law from raising revenue to pay for them.

Another way: If you really want to compare governments to families, Wisconsin's revenue limits mean that Dad can't go look for a better-paying job, Mom is not allowed to go back to work after taking some time off to have kids*, and Junior can't pick up a paper route to pay for his own damned comic books.

(* The vagaries of the revenue cap formula include a provision that any decrease in the property tax levy one year penalizes districts in future years because it lowers the revenue cap not temporarily but permanently.)

Or another way, which is how Farner framed it over the weekend: "What business," he asked, "could survive for 18 years with its revenue capped below its cost?" Imagine, as I explained it to someone the other day, that McDonalds wasn't charging enough for its hamburgers to cover the cost of the food, the stores, the employees it had and was prohibited, by law, from raising prices. That would be insane--but that is the situation we're in now.

No, it's worse. The situation we're in now is that McDonalds has closed stores, laid off employees, switched to cheaper ingredients, and is now being told that it has to roll back the prices on its menu anyway and somehow stay afloat.

In the end, I don't think there's a single honest observer who can look at the economizing schools have done in the face of increased costs, increased testing, increased uncertainty about the future and say that schools have been living beyond their means. Their means, indeed, have been capped, making living beyond them impossible. Impossible, like the task Conrad Farner and other school officials have now to find something, anything else to cut.