Letters to the Editor Feb. 23, 2011

Dear Editor,
Since Governor Walker announced his budget repair bill, emotions have been running very high. On Feb. 16, the Central Wisconsin UniServe Council (representing 6,000 central Wisconsin education professionals and retirees) recommended teachers leave their contractual duties and go to Madison to protest the bill. On Thursday, Feb. 17, our administration and local leaders of our teachers union (MTA) met feverishly with our teachers to maintain the educational integrity of our school system. As Board President, I was actively engaged and strongly supported this collaborative effort by both parties, as did several calls of support to Dr. Snyder from other Board members. We offered several options to allow our teachers’ voices to be heard in Madison while still keeping our schools open. On Friday, Feb. 18, enough teachers in Merrill did not show up for work to cause our schools to close. We were extremely disappointed and will pursue all disciplinary options available to us in our contract for those teachers not legitimately off on that day.
It is extremely important to separate the facts from emotion during this difficult time. Our local MTA officials recommended our teachers honor their contracts and report for work as scheduled. The majority of our teaching staff, as well as all other staff reported for work as expected on Friday. It is critical we recognize the majority of our staff put the integrity of our school system above personal views. When we think of our teachers and staff as a whole, these individuals truly represent our district and deserve our respect. We must not let the poor judgment of a minority of our staff influence our view of the staff as a whole. We have great teachers and staff in Merrill.
Over the last 4 months, the administration and BoE have been struggling with what seems like an impossible budget shortfall. We have put solid local plans in place for a variety of scenarios. Once we know the final effects of both the Budget Repair Bill as well as the final state budget proposal (now postponed to March 1), we will recalibrate our local budget proposals. We, along with our community will get through this difficult time and we will do everything in our power to keep the Merrill Area School District one of the best in the State.
Jeff Verdoorn
MAPS BoE President

To Our Merrill Community:
The Merrill Teacher’s Association would like to make you aware of the harmful effects of Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill and the difficult decision that teachers made to challenge his efforts in Madison.
Merrill teachers want to be part of the solution yet we cannot do it alone. Sadly, regardless of the Budget Repair Bill outcome, Merrill school programs and personnel cuts will still have to be made. Having a public employee pay more for their benefits helps Governor Walker with one part of his budget but his funding for schools is a separate issue and we will still see cuts in this area.
Last week Wisconsin labor unions offered to accept the pension and health care concessions in the Governor’s budget. Yet he is unwilling to negotiate and still insists on eliminating collective bargaining. Governor Walker is in a rush to eradicate unions and strip away the rights of workers. Our current MTA contract ends with the 2010-11 school year. Without a contract and without collective bargaining, we will have very little say, if any, in your child’s educational future.
For decades Merrill public schools’ right to bargain collectively has provided many positive outcomes, such as rigorous curriculum, school safety, staff longevity, highly qualified instruction, and high student test scores. Wisconsin students’ ACT scores rank second in the country. States without collective bargaining are among the lowest in the nation. Under collective bargaining, teachers are able to focus on their students and their classrooms rather than fighting for fair working conditions.
We continue to seek a positive resolution to the state’s & Merrill’s economic concerns. We continue to fight for our right to collectively bargain. We continue to hope that everyone will join their voices with ours to help protect the strong educational system we have in the state of Wisconsin.
We are fighting for workers rights. We are also fighting for your child’s future in the state of Wisconsin. We hope you join us in this fight.
Merrill Teachers’ Association Executive Committee
Tom Andreska, Janet Wardall, Mark Seaman, Cathy Ordemann, Bethany Preboske, Tana Frost, Mary Andreski

MAPS School Board and Administration,
We would like to address our concerns with the closing of school on Friday, Feb. 18. Parents try very hard to instill some very important core values and life skills in our children. We expect our schools, especially our teachers, to help us pass along these values as well as the knowledge to be a productive member of society. Some years ago, MAPS provided us with a refrigerator magnet with all of the school phone numbers. The top of it was entitled Employability and Life skills. This being a list of 16 life skills that MAPS felt was important. We will address only a few of these life skills.
We teach our children first and foremost to be honest. We do not call them in sick unless they truly are not able to attend school. Why, because we teach them that attendance is important. They have a responsibility to do their work. We encourage our children to take pride in their work and to be willing to work hard. We want our children to learn the skills of solving problems, managing conflicts, and to make decisions. Our children need to learn to face life’s problems head on, to work through life’s conflicts and challenges, and to always… always… always, after evaluating the alternatives, make the best decision possible. The underlined phrases are 8 of the 16 skills that MAPS felt were important. If these are skills that are taught at MAPS, then we indeed have a great school system.
We learn by example, be it from parents, teachers, and relatives, almost anyone. It seems that our community has taken a giant step backward this past Friday. Are our teachers telling our children to do as I say, not as I do? We believe that teachers are role models. Teachers should always put the student first. They should be held to the highest standard on this. Is it honest for a teacher to call in sick when they are not sick? Are we saying that attending school/work is fine when you feel like it? Is it ok to say (by example) to our children that when facing one of life’s challenges or disagreements, it is acceptable to walk away and forget our responsibilities? Are we saying to our children that when we disagree with something, we no longer have to take pride in our work, work hard, or maybe not work at all? Teachers, have you considered how your actions have affected parents trying to get to work and other workers in MAPS schools?
We, as parents say to our teachers that called in sick, and our congressmen that left the state to avoid the government process of voting on laws, “Learn some core values! This is unacceptable behavior!” We would like to see published a list of teachers that did report to work on this past Friday. It is public record I am told. We would like to thank those who did put our children first.
John & Kathy Sturm

Senator Holperin:
It maybe looks to some like union protesters in Madison are changing minds about the message sent on Nov. 2, 2010, but from conversations, people who work in the private sector are darn mad, and there are alot of people with government jobs who appreciate them and feel that Governor Walker is right to get rid of unions, partly because they don’t like to pay dues for something they feel only makes the unions bosses richer and contributes to keeping Democrats like you in office. Even people who seldom watch the news now know that Organizing for America and other radical groups are coming from all over the nation to butt into Wisconsin’s business and that’s making people even madder. People who work in the private sector don’t have extra “sick” days to take off work to go to Madison, but they’ll show how they think the next time they cast their ballot.
And your disappearance doesn’t bode well either. Channel 12 had a poll tonight “Do you agree with state Democrat’s decision to not show up at Thursday’s Senate session?” and I just checked and 2,342 people voted, 37% yes and 62% no. I think that tells you something… that your constituents overwhelming want you to get back to work.
Joyce Bant

Letter to the Editor:
State Senator Jim Holperin has failed to fulfill his obligation as an elected official and attend the current State Senate session in Madison. He instead chose to hide out of state to avoid making decisions that are needed for school boards to properly budget for the upcoming school year. The Senator was elected to represent ALL those within his district, not just one special interest group.
His failure to fulfill his duties has resulted in schools being closed, causing hardship for both students and parents. How many parents had to choose between staying home with children or going to work to pay for food, heat, rent? School Boards across the state are now left with too little information to make important decisions.
Specific to the Merrill Area Public Schools, I welcome Senator Holperin to share his plan on how the district can balance a $1.3 – $3.6 million deficit without closing schools or gutting high school tech ed programs. Right now, MAPS has to pay teachers a starting wage of $42,000/year which is 33% more than the average district income of $32,000. In addition, MAPS funds 90% of their health benefits. And these are not just any benefits, rather a Cadillac plan with deductibles of $100/$200 and costing the district between $10,340/single and $23,480/family. In addition, the district pays 100% of their retirement plan which is just under $10,000/year for the starting salary. Lincoln County is a relatively poor county with an aging population and cannot afford further tax increases.
The current MAPS tier proposal for the 2012 budget includes closing two elementary schools (both in the top ten in the state), and moves 5th graders to the Middle School. In addition, it calls for the termination of 34 teachers.
The failure of Jim Holperin has only just begun. In the years to come the real price will be paid by our children.
Kevin Stevenson

Dear Teachers and Students:
Why are you so angry? Teachers, in most Wisconsin communities, your total compensation is nearly double the average worker and you work about 50 less days per year. The average citizens in Wisconsin will retire at 65 and you will retire at 55. Wisconsin property tax rates are among the highest in the nation. Workers are taking benefit cuts and pay cuts and hour cuts. How much more of your neighbors’ paychecks will you demand? Think about what you are demanding and consider the consequences to your friends and the children you claim to care for.
Students, what did your school walk out prove? Was any revenue generated? Did you study a state’s budget so that you can speak intelligently about the teachers’ demands you claim to support? Did you look for someone who would buy your iPod or your cell phone so that you can donate money to this cause?
Let me offer some education on this subject while your teachers are busy protesting. We are broke! In order to close this gap we can raise revenue or cut spending. Raising taxes, or revenue, will result in businesses closing and few jobs, no more money to buy iPods and cell phones means Apple and Verizon needs less employees to produce them. Alternatively, we can cut spending. That means hard decisions have to be made.
The debt we have already accumulated will be here long after your teachers have retired. You and your children will be paying for this your entire lives. Think about that before your next solidarity march!
Julie DePasse

Dear Editor,
I would like to thank all the teachers who last week called in “sick” and left their classrooms, children and obligations to go down and fight for money and benefits. I have been arguing with my friends for years that the angst regarding the financial conditions in MAPS has never been entirely about our children, but rather includes maintaining some of the best jobs/benefits/working conditions in town. I am glad they have declared themselves and we can now have an honest discussion about what we as customers (taxpayers) are willing to pay for their services as the district begins to negotiate new union contracts. Finally, a chance to discuss what they are getting paid with respect to the outcome they produce; a discussion many in this town, such as the employees at Merrill Manufacturing or Hurd, have already had in this new economic reality.
Dean D. Diagostine

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