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Teachers feel the heat as job cuts loom

Union chief say staff has already given up enough

May 28, 2010

New Berlin — Don't blame teachers if the New Berlin School Board goes forward with plans to lay off 29 staff members next year.

That's the message from Diane Lazewski, the president of the teachers union, as she weighs in on the looming cuts facing the district.

At a packed School Board meeting last week, members approved cutting teachers and guidance counselors, but officials said some of those jobs - if not all of them - could be saved if the New Berlin Education Association agrees to the board's latest contract proposal.

That point was hammered home in a open letter to the community from School Board President John Kegel.

"Our offers to the teachers union are designed to preserve as many teaching positions as possible and to minimize the need for layoffs," he wrote. "We believe under the union's current position in negotiations that approximately 30 teachers subject to layoff would still be laid off."

Tough position for teachers

But Lazewski said New Berlin teachers have been seeing their salary drop for years, and they shouldn't have the make the difficult choice between get paid less or seeing their colleagues lose their jobs.

"The teachers are in a quandary because they do not want worse working conditions - they've gotten worse year after year - but they do not want their peers laid off," she said.

Asked about Kegel's letter and a similar letter sent to the staff by Superintendent Paul Kreutzer that also was released to the public, Lazewski said:

"I find it very typical. It has been the habit of the New Berlin School Board to put the onus on the teachers."

Salaries falling behind

New Berlin teachers have been losing ground compared with teachers in other area districts since the 1990s, Lazewski said.

At that time, New Berlin teachers were among the highest paid in the state, she said. Now, they cannot keep up with Brown Deer, Greendale or a host of other area districts, she said.

In terms of top pay, New Berlin ranked 10th of 16 comparable school districts in 2008-09, the latest year for which information was available, said Steven Cupery, director of the Lakewood UniServ, part of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. A decade ago, New Berlin had the third-highest top pay among those districts, which include Elmbrook, Cudahy and Whitnall. New Berlin also was 15th of the 16 in terms of teacher starting pay in 2008-09, he said.

After years of getting small or no raises and two years of actual pay cuts, the board is offering no raises for this school year or next unless teachers agree to start paying part of their health insurance premiums, Lazewski said.

Merit pay on the table

In an interview, Kegel disputed Lazewski's contention that teachers weren't being offered raises.

"We offered merit pay as something we can work on," he said. "We are ready to offer a substantial merit pay program."

He added that the board wants to see teachers earn more, which is why the district is trying to establish an an-house master's degree program.

"We want them to stay competitive and earn a competitive wage," Kegel said. "I'm interested in paying teachers. They're the ones doing all the work."

Time to raise taxes?

Lazewski noted that in his letter to the community, Kegel pointed out that the district's property tax levy was raised only once in the last seven years. Salaries and benefits account for about 75 percent of the district's operating budget.

Asked if teachers are open to taking a wage freeze to save jobs, Lazewski said: "Should the taxpayers never have their taxes raised? Why should the teachers shoulder the entire burden? We've done that for years."

In addition, she said, working conditions have deteriorated so much because of past cuts and potential cuts, the young teachers being laid off next year will probably want to leave anyway.

The board has filed for state arbitration and a meeting with the arbitrator is set for July 22.

The district will hold an informational meeting on its financial picture and how it relates to school operations at 7 p.m June 3 at Eisenhower Middle/High School, 4333 S. Sunnyslope Road. The meeting will include a question-and-answer period.

Out of a job?

Layoff notices have been sent to the following New Berlin staff members:

English: Debra Sepic, Samantha Forster and Diane Hudaj, New Berlin West High School; Spring Irving, Kristine Schmitt and Laura Ryan, Eisenhower High School.

Foreign language: Kristine Lang and Dan Solorzano, Eisenhower; Victoria Franz, West.

Math: Betsy Witt, Eisenhower; Heather Anson and Jacole Lane, West.

Science: Jeff Boyke and Ryan DeKoch, West; Erica Cook, Eisenhower.

Social studies: Katie Schmaling, Eisenhower.

Music: Scott Rindt and Natalie Baertschy, Eisenhower; Mark Grauer, New Berlin West; and Emily Fazio, Poplar Creek Elementary School.

Psychologists: Susanne Ulschmid, Eisenhower; Donna Douglas-Wagner, Glen Park Elementary School.

Elementary teachers: Rochelle Meulemans, Ronald Reagan; Megan Reuter, Glen Park; Rachon Miller at Elmwood Elementary.

Others: Andrea Rohloff, Eisenhower library; Heidi Ehlers, West guidance counselor; Jason Jobst, technology education, Eisenhower; Allison Olson, art department, Orchard Lane.

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