Madison teachers contract comes back to bite taxpayers

Like the Sun Prairie groundhog, the Madison school district’s teachers contract has come back to bite the taxpayer. The Madison Metropolitan School District is looking at a $20.8 million budget deficit next school year.

Good Madison liberals worried about the state balancing its budget can now look closer to home.

To balance the budget, the district will most certainly have to raise taxes again; last year’s increase was a hefty 5.4%. It will probably cut programs. It may even lay off teachers. To ease the blow, will it ask those teachers to contribute to their excellent health coverage like 99% of the rest of the world?

This is the school district that thumbed its nose at Wisconsin law, the school district that eschewed using the flexibility given it by Wisconsin Act 10, the 2011 collective bargaining reform. Madison is the only district that collects union boss John Matthews’ dues for him, the only district that requires fair share payments, the only district that does not require its employees to contribute toward their very excellent health care insurance. A district that gave teachers longevity raises of 2% and 3% on top of free health insurance.

(“A total hike in pay of 2 percent to 3 percent sounds pretty good to most private-sector workers. That’s well above inflation,” the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized at the time. According to DPI statistics, the average MMSD teacher has been teaching for 13.3 years and makes $74,328 in total compensation, including fringe benefits.)

The Madison School Board rushed to lock in this union sweetheart of a contract on June 4, 2014, before the state Supreme Court could rule — a contract not due to expire until June 30, 2016.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Madison school board member Mary Burke said, “Employee contracts and the wellness plan were negotiated and drafted, respectively, when the board did not know what the budget for that year would look like.”

Students, taxpayers get back of the line

But you voted for that contract, Ms. Mary. All seven of you did. You were running for governor, Ms. Mary. You wanted teachers union support, and that was their price. What have we been saying? Teachers union first, students and taxpayers, back of the line!

The Madison school board can go back into that contract and require employees to contribute what state and county employees contribute toward their health care. If they do that, they can pare the projected deficit down to $6 million.

Board member Ed Hughes seems to get it, but — it seems a pattern — always after the fact. 

“We’re talking about taking … a machete to our programs given the cuts we’ll make because we’re the only school district in the state that’s unwilling to ask their employees to contribute to their health insurance, I think that would be an impression that we would deservedly receive ridicule for,” Hughes said.

All seven of you deserve ridicule for sneaking through a closing window to ratify that contract in the first place — only three weeks before the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Act 10 by a 5-2 vote, overturning a lower court’s stay.



It’s one reason your “conservative blogger” brought suit in circuit court for your violation of Act 10. Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess spurned the union’s and district’s arguments and agreed that Blaska, taxpayer, has standing to sue. (UW Law prof and bloggresse Ann of Althouse agrees.)

My attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) cited the 1961 state Supreme Court ruling in S.D. Realty v. Milwaukee Sewerage Commission, which held that “taxpayers have standing to challenge any unlawful action by a government entity that results in the expenditure of public funds.”

Dane County can’t violate the law but the schools can?

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi was able to figure it out, but maybe he’s got better attorneys than the school board. “We may not like or agree with the court’s decision, but Dane County cannot violate the law,” Parisi wrote to employees when he announced that the 2015-16 county union contracts — also ratified in Judge Colas’ “window” — were invalid.

Parisi relied on the legal opinion written by assistant county corporation counsel David Gault. Gault’s memorandum referenced the “Blackstone doctrine” that prevails in American law. Formulated by the 18th century British jurist William Blackstone, that doctrine holds that when a decision is overruled, it never was the law — certainly not during the brief “window” of Judge Juan Colas’ overturned ruling.

“The effect of an unqualified reversal of a lower court is to nullify it completely, as if the lower court decision had never been rendered,” Gault wrote.

Or ask the Kenosha school district. It settled essentially the same lawsuit against it last summer by nullifying its collective bargaining agreement. It wound up paying WILL’s lawyers’ bill.

An online commenter at the Capital Newspapers site observes, correctly, that “districts all around the state are running into financial problems.” But then so are families. Wisconsin remains the 13th most heavily taxed state, according to the Tax Foundation. It’s not a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem.

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