Citizen Wausau

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Education on the Chopping Block

by on October 19th, 2007

I see that the Wausau School District teacher’s union has voted unanimously for its teachers to drop out of extra-curricular activities. I heard that a 0.5% raise for accredited teachers was on the table. So, a teacher making 40 grand a year would see a pay increase of $200 before taxes. My sense is that a strike is looming.

This is my seventh year in Wisconsin and I must say it’s simply part of the status quo. As a matter of fact, I don’t know a Wisconsin that doesn’t cheat its teachers – it’s been this way since I got here.

Wisconsin bamboozles the teachers and professors and tries to pretend that it’s just good business – cost savings in lean times. Wisconsinites use every form of debased argumentation to pretend that its teachers are deserving of their shoddy treatment. The same old BS clichés are parroted. My two personal favorites are: first, the teachers have it easy because they don’t have to work in the summer. This is of course gibberish because many teachers work on their curricula for their students or are even forced to take extra employment in the summer to make up for their deficient incomes in the academic year. And second, teachers get free healthcare – as if healthcare was a luxury like caviar or expensive cigars? And let me tell you, it’s not free and the teachers’ wages have been steadily eaten away to offset insurance costs.

Governor Doyle is actually threatening to shut down the UW for the winter semester because the system will run out of money a month before spring finals. This would be astonishing if I hadn’t lived through the budget axe of the last six years. The rub has been an unmitigated degeneration of the system as a whole: increased tuition for students compounded with a lower quality of education. Imagine that – in the mighty UW outstanding professors are leaving tenured positions for superior jobs; at Marathon we’ve had a faculty line in math that has repeatedly gone unfilled because no qualified PhDs are willing to work for the entry salary. Intelligent and deserving students are denied access into the UW because they cannot afford the rising costs. Wisconsinites seem to actually believe that since knowledge and wisdom walked the hallowed halls in the past that these virtues are ever-present phenomena. Sadly, no.

With only 1 in 4 acquiring a bachelor’s degree, Wisconsin is not producing the kinds of home-grown minds necessary to compete in the global knowledge economy. What does this mean for you? It means that your kids will not adequately compete for those skilled, better-paying jobs that only highly-educated people can perform. It also means a further diminishment of the revenue base as a whole, which will result in a deteriorated public infrastructure even for those highly educated workers who do find themselves in a competitive position.

Wisconsin is not a rich state. It has fallen to 25th in GDP. It has no oil or natural gas, no mountains, no oceans and its timber and mineral resources are limited. However, Wisconsin has always taken the greatest of pride in that it can educate with the best in the world. The public schools from kindergarten through the university have been the backbone of Wisconsin’s integrity. This is the case no longer. I guess you get what you pay for.

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