Four opinion pieces that contained references to the New Berlin School District or School Board were published in the Journal Sentinel newspaper this week.
First, there was Alan J. Borsuk’s July 1 column It’s time to give back what state’s teachers lost: Repect
Borsuk observes that the battle by Gov. Walker and Republicans to make public employees pay more for health care and retirement benefits and to strip public employee unions of most of their power, was accompanied by a huge wave of disrespect and even scorn for teachers. Borsuk said he's heard from many teachers who feel demoralized at how teachers in general have been denigrated and writes that “dumping on teachers seems still to be appealing to many people.” He points out that Erin Richards’ news story about the significant number of teachers who are leaving the New Berlin district for jobs elsewhere, not because of money but because of the climate for teachers, drew more than 2,200 comments online.
Borsuk maintains that teacher turnover is high now and enrollment in teacher training programs has taken a hit. It won't be hard finding people to fill teaching jobs in the current economy, he contends , "But if we want them to be the high-quality people who will help students the most, we need to make teaching reasonably attractive. "
Borsuk also writes, “One suburban superintendent told me last fall that his district was going slow in making changes such as overhauling assignments or extending work hours that Act 10 would allow. We think our teachers are very good, he said. We want them to feel valued and motivated. We don’t want to mess in a short-sighted way with what we have. This was wise, and I bet his district will show that in years to come.”
The July 3rd Journal Sentinel carried two letters to the editor that referred to the NB School District:
In his letter Keep the best teachers , a New Berlin resident claims to understand the frustration of people toward the teacher’s union and difficulties individual school districts experienced, such as eliminating poor teachers and implementing pay for performance—but says the other side of the argument is equally valid. “We wish our teachers to be the best, yet target teachers who have gained experience through years of teaching and required post-degree education.” He conveys that although the JS reported that 50 of New Berlin's 314 teachers have retired or resigned so far this year ( according to the administration), the reality is a number of them were terminated but allowed to resign it they agreed not to collect unemployment or participate in any wrongful termination lawsuit. In exchange, the teachers were given a letter of recommendation from the district. In his opinion, there should be a mechanism to remove unsatisfactory teachers, multiple metrics to evaluate a teacher's performance, and teachers should have the means to influence the superintendent and school board when it comes to curriculum, class sizes and teaching tools. " While Act 10 has helped school districts to address underperforming teachers, it appears that these same districts have a hard time implementing programs common in the private sector to ensure the best teachers stay in their districts".
In her letter Time to pay fair share, a Wauwatosa resident applauds the New Berlin School Board and every New Berlin taxpayer who supported fully implementing Act 10. She writes, "To every ex-New Berlin union teacher- good riddance." She also says the 50-plus New Berlin teachers who have decided to leave the school district are acting like the 14 Democratic state senators who left the state.
Really? And what about the administrators who've left? Hey, what about Superintendent Paul Kreutzer (hired by the NB School Board) who left the New Berlin School District to take a Superintendent job in an affluent district in New York? Was Kreutzer acting like the 14 Democratic state senators who left the state? Hmmm. Kreutzer ditched his Superintendent job in New Berlin after just a few years and actually did leave Wisconsin. ( And let's not overlook the fact that Kreutzer's wife was a teacher employed by the Elmbrook School District) . Funny, I don't recall seeing a letter to the editor from this Wauwatosa resident regarding any of that.
LuAnn Bird's* July 6 Perspectives A new era for school boards, states, "New Berlin provides an example for how school leaders plan to use their new power to create changes in their district. Is it necessary to lose almost one-third of your teachers in the process? Maybe in a failing school district where total transformation is needed, but New Berlin's students perform well on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams with around 90% scoring proficient or advanced in both reading and math.
Since some New Berlin students score at lower levels, improvements are still needed, but the district's teachers deserve respect. New Berlin is one of the higher ranking school districts in the state.
In a recent Journal Sentinel article, some New Berlin teachers were quoted as saying they were leaving because they did not feel respected. School boards need not let that happen in their system. There is a better way."
* Ms. Bird of New Berlin is a governance consultant, former Oshkosh School Board member, a former governance consultant for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and a former director of board development for the Alabama Association of School Boards.
***** Update 7/9/2012 Today's Journal Sentinel carries a letter to the editor (Teachers aren't running) from a Greendale man responding to the July 3 published letter Time to pay fair share. He says the Wauwatosa letter writer is wrong---- the New Berlin teachers aren't running away, they are simply leaving for a better job, and "In the brave new world created by Gov. Scott Walker's evisceration of unions, public employers will have to get used to the real world of talent retention."