Madison Teachers Inc. has been a bad corporate citizen for too long

Teachers are some of our most dedicated public servants. Many inspiring educators have changed lives for the better in Madison’s public schools. But their union is a horror.

Madison Teachers Inc. has been a bad corporate citizen for decades. Selfish, arrogant, and bullying, it has fostered an angry, us-versus-them hostility toward parents, taxpayers, and their elected school board.

Instead of a collaborative group of college-educated professionals eager to embrace change and challenge, Madison’s unionized public school teachers comport themselves as exploited Appalachian mine workers stuck in a 1930s time warp. For four decades, their union has been led by well-compensated executive director John A. Matthews, whom Fighting Ed Garvey once described (approvingly!) as a “throwback” to a different time.

From a June 2011 Wisconsin State Journal story:

[Then] School Board member Maya Cole criticized Matthews for harboring an “us against them” mentality at a time when the district needs more cooperation than ever to successfully educate students. “His behavior has become problematic,” Cole said.

For years, Madison’s school board has kowtowed to Matthews and MTI, which — with its dues collected by the taxpayer-financed school district — is the most powerful political force in Dane County. (The county board majority even rehearses at the union’s Willy Street offices.)

While government employees at the state, county, and municipal levels across Wisconsin — and the great majority of school district employees statewide — contribute 12% of their health care premiums (compared to 20% to 25% in the private sector), Madison Metro School District employees contribute nothing. This lapse in prudent and fair budgeting costs Madison taxpayers $6.6 million annually.

Of 423 school districts, MTI is the only union to have contracts for 2014-15 and 2015-16. That collective bargaining agreement continues payroll union dues deductions, fair share, work rules, layoffs determined by seniority, education and tenure compensation, etc. — all in violation of Wisconsin Act 10, which has been upheld by the state Supreme Court and a federal court.

It is time they were reined in, it is time they obeyed the law, it is time for a cowed school board to lead, which is why I brought suit in circuit court Wednesday, Sept. 10. I am represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. (The complaint can be found here.) I am prepared for the attempts to personally intimidate me. But enough is enough. This is a case that MTI and the school board have been inviting for years.

  • MTI unilaterally closed down school for five days in the spring of 2011 so that its members could occupy the State Capitol for a political demonstration. Members falsified doctor’s excuses in an attempt to get paid for playing hooky.
  • At the union’s insistence, the school board killed the Madison Urban League’s proposed public charter school focused on improving Madison’s scandalous minority academic achievement gap — one that is worse than Milwaukee’s.
  • For years, the school board drove up taxpayer costs by acceding to the union’s demand for the highest-priced health insurance plan from the company in which its executive director served as a director. 
  • Unprofessional, coercive, and confrontational. The MTI union boss once called a newly elected member of the school board, Ruth Robarts, “public enemy number one.” Ironically, Robarts had once led the statewide nurses union.


  • During Cheryl Wilhoyt’s superintendency, MTI picketed Briarpatch, a suicide prevention agency, forcing teenagers with emotional problems to cross a picket line if they wanted counseling — all because Briarpatch’s director, Juan Jose Lopez, was a member of the school board and was holding firm in contract negotiations.
  • It conspired to derail the candidacy of a Latina immigrant candidate for school board who supported charter schools in the spring 2013 election. (I recount that here.) (“It’s undemocratic, it feels sleazy, and it smacks of a Madison political class that has gotten too comfortable with itself,” WISC-TV3 editorialized.)
  • MTI is so radical, it once walked out of its own national teachers union convention.

Ironically, MTI itself helped bring about the Act 10 reforms through its chronic intransigence. It is now reaping the whirlwind. I have confidence that after the lawsuit is won the elected school board will have more backbone, its promising superintendent will be free to respond to today’s challenges, teachers will strive for excellence instead of conformity, and students of all races will be smarter than the average bear.

More tomorrow.