“Strive for five.” That was the message from faculty and staff from Madison East High School. The “five” they’re referencing is more specifically 4.7. That’s the percentage increase they want to see to their base wages in light of inflation and to line up with other Wisconsin school districts. The proposed budget released by the Madison school board last month allocates a base wage increase of 2% – less than half of what educators are demanding.
Sara Bringman is a retired teacher and current member of Madison Teachers Incorporated, or MTI, the union for teachers in the district. Citing the current wages of staff and teachers compared to those at restaurant and store chains, Bringman predicts an exodus from Madison schools if the lower pay increase goes ahead.
“Right now, the district is only offering a 2% increase, which means – as you can understand – that if our outside districts are offering a 4.7% increase, people are going to be drawn to those schools,” says Bringman.
Carla Oppenheimer is an English teacher at East, and was one of several speakers at the rally. She said that the turnover of staff is detrimental to students’ learning experiences.
“Staffing levels and retention directly impact the experiences of our students,” Oppenheimer says. “When staff positions turn over every year, when positions sit unfilled for weeks or months at a time, and staff are forced to leave mid-year to protect their own well-being, as fifteen people have at East this year, it makes our schools less safe, less equitable, less joyful, and less rigorous players for children to learn and grow.”
An electronic petition laid out the union’s demands which include, in addition to the 4.7% base wage increase: an increase of five dollars to the hourly wages of educational and security assistants, step increases to be specified on teacher contracts, and an increase of substitutes’ pay rates.
Michael Jones, the president of MTI, also addressed the crowd. He expressed his disagreement with the district’s decision-making.
“When they presented their budget, they said it was a moral doctrine, and they said it’s student-centered. Tell me how it’s student-centered when – for the price of roughly forty EAs (educational assistants) – they just passed re-paving the parking lots at schools. That could’ve paid for forty EAs for a year. Where are our priorities?,” Jones says.
The walkout on Friday follows the May school board meeting, at which faculty and staff made similar appeals before the board. However, some of their addresses occurred during the first hour which due to a technical issue was muted to online viewers.
Rachel Pulling is a 1st grade teacher at Mendota Elementary School. She says that staff shortages at schools affect more than just the concrete learning in the classroom.
“I would say the main problem that sticks out to me at Mendota Elementary School is safety, and I think this is a problem at the entire district because when we do not have fully-staffed schools, we do not have safe schools. When we have students whose needs are not being met, we do not have safe schools. Overall, we don’t have the resources, the people, the space to provide the resources that the students need,” Pulling says.
Pulling added that these issues extend well beyond Madison.
“I just think that this problem is every single person in the world’s problem. Our children are our children, and they deserve better than this.”
The school board will vote on the proposed budget at its next regular meeting on Monday, June 27. A final budget is due this fall.