(Bloomberg News) When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker championed a law restricting collective bargaining for most public employees, he gave school districts cost-cutting tools. He also took away something: $800 million in aid.
The exchange, which helped trigger recall drives that threaten Walker himself, has created winners and losers among districts trying to control expenses. It also raised questions about how schools should attract and retain quality educators, said administrators on both sides of the debate.
Almost 5,000 teachers, administrators and staff members retired last year, doubling the 2010 number, according to the Wisconsin Retirement System. Classes in hundreds of schools have grown as there are fewer to lead them. And for every district that says it has benefited financially as teachers contribute more toward retirement and medical care, others say they have lost, according to a survey by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.
"Some good things came out of it and some bad things came out of it," Miles Turner, the association's executive director, said in a telephone interview. "It helped every district by recapturing benefit costs, but that relief was not equivalent to the loss in revenue."
The measures pushed by Walker, 44, set off the most prominent of several confrontations between labor and the Republican governors of Midwest states. Ohio voters repealed a law in November limiting collective bargaining for public employees that first-term Governor John Kasich pushed last year. Indiana's Legislature is poised to approve a bill that would exempt nonunion employees from paying dues when working alongside union workers, making it the nation's 23rd right-to- work state.
Net Teacher Gain
The Wisconsin law requires public employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries for pension benefits and 12.6 percent of the premiums for health care, which Walker said would give schools greater financial flexibility. Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, said that the changes have been good for education and that teacher hirings outnumber dismissals.
"The results speak for themselves," he said in an e-mail.
The law is at the center of the fight to recall his boss.
Walker's opponents submitted more than 1 million signatures Jan. 17, almost twice as many as needed to force the third recall election of a U.S. governor. State election officials are examining examining the validity of the petitions.