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Teachers, other public employees retiring in record numbers in Wisconsin

September 2nd, 2011  |  Connie Eyer

Five thousand Wisconsin teachers from across the state will not be returning to the classroom due to the successful efforts last spring by Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-majority led Senate and State Assembly that decimated collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  According to documents obtained by The Associated Press under the state’s open records law,  about twice as many public school teachers decided to hang it up in the first half of this year as in each of the past two full years, part of a mass exit of public employees.

In the wake of the elimination of these rights, some school districts are cutting sick days while others, like the New Berlin school district, decided to take a more punitive approach.

A handbook for this district, which will replace a collectively bargained contract, detailed the following provisions, effective September 1:

  • A ‘sick bank’ which allows teachers to donate sick leave to seriously ill colleagues will be eliminated
  • No set pay for overtime; only stipends
  • Elementary teachers work an added 205 hours without added pay
  • Secondary teachers work an added 95 hours without added pay

Other policies include:

  • Dress Code: Skirts below knee, no sweatshirts, no jeans, no large logos, no open shirts, etc.
  • The loss of all microwaves, refrigerators, and coffeemakers

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that, since the law took effect, Walker has repeatedly touted examples of schools like Fond du Lac, Hudson and Appleton that say they are saving money, but some of the savings are due to the large number of retirements. In general, older teachers get paid more and so represent more of a savings for the schools when they leave. For example, while Beloit saved $920,000 through the retirements, decades of experience cannot be replaced with teachers fresh out of college, said Beloit Superintendent Steve McNeal. Roughly 10 percent of the teaching force in Beloit — 60 out of about 600 — retired this year, which means higher class sizes for both elementary and high school students.  The district filled 40 of the vacancies.

And teachers weren’t the only ones leaving in a mass exodus. Public workers keenly felt pressured by the measure that required them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits and took away most of their ability to collectively bargain. State agency retirements were particularly dramatic, the Journal noted, which nearly tripled from 747 in all of 2010 to 1,966 through June. Retirements from the University of Wisconsin System more than doubled, up from 480 last year to 1,091 this year. All told, 9,933 public workers had retired by the end of June, a 93 percent increase from 5,133 in 2010. The year before, there were 4,876 retirements. The state Department of Administration said no decision has been made on how many of the government jobs will be filled.