Now the collective-bargaining agreement is gone, and the school district is free to shop around for coverage. And all of a sudden, WEA Trust has changed its position. "With these changes, the schools could go out for bids, and, lo and behold, WEA Trust said, 'We can match the lowest bid,'" says Republican state Rep. Jim Steineke, who represents the area and supports the Walker changes. At least for the moment, Kaukauna is staying with WEA Trust but saving substantial amounts of money.
Then there are work rules. "In the collective-bargaining agreement, high-school teachers had to teach only five periods a day out of seven," says Arnoldussen. "Now they're going to teach six." In addition, the collective-bargaining agreement specified that teachers had to be in the school 37-1/2 hours a week. Now it will be 40 hours.
The changes mean Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes -- from 31 students to 26 students in high school and from 26 students to 23 students in elementary school. In addition, there will be more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students. Those changes would not have been possible without the much-maligned changes in collective bargaining.
Teachers' salaries will stay "relatively the same," Arnoldussen says, except for higher pension and health care payments. (The top salary is about $80,000 per year, with about $35,000 in additional benefits, for 184 days of work per year -- summers off.) Finally, the money saved will be used to hire a few more teachers and institute merit pay.
It is impossible to overstate how bitter and ugly the Wisconsin fight has been, and that bitterness and ugliness continues to this day with efforts to recall senators and an unseemly battle inside the state Supreme Court. But the new law is now a reality, and Gov. Walker recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the measure would gain acceptance "with every day, week and month that goes by that the world doesn't fall apart."
In the Kaukauna schools, the world is definitely not falling apart -- it's getting better.
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