July 5, 2011 //
Layoff notices go out; district asks teachers union for pension contributions
Layoff notices will be sent through certified mail today to 519 Milwaukee Public Schools
employees. The layoffs are effective this week, Friday, July 1, which is the first day of the
district’s new budget year. In addition to the layoffs of 519 workers, hundreds of positions,
many of them vacant, were eliminated. Ninety-six of the eliminated positions are at a single
location; MPS Central Services. District administrators worked closely with the teachers’ union
to identify candidates for layoff by seniority, following the terms of the negotiated contract.
“We find it a difficult scenario,” said MPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton. “This
is just the second time in 30 years that the district has laid off teachers, and we are parting with
many valuable and qualified educators. Yet we must take the steps necessary to adjust staffing
levels because of the massive cuts in funding from the state, and because of our own efforts to
save costs.” Approximately $84 million in state aids to MPS were cut by Governor Scott Walker
in the Wisconsin 2011-13 biennial budget that was signed this past weekend. Anticipating the
state cuts and the end to millions in federal stimulus dollars, the district’s own FY12 budget
eliminated almost a thousand positions, removed most of the money for new textbooks, cut back
on summer school options and froze all non-critical building maintenance. The Board also
closed 12 schools and programs, while relocating others to save costs.
Superintendent Thornton repeated his call for talks with the teachers union (the
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association) regarding pension contributions from their
members of up to 5.8%. If the 5,600 MTEA members were to contribute 5.8% annually to their
pensions, it is estimated that the district would see savings of $20 million, an amount that is the
equivalent of the annual cost of 200 teachers. If additional pension contributions from teachers
result in more funds for district staffing, employees could be called back and the FY12 budget
could be adjusted in the fall. October is traditionally the time the district adjusts its spending
plan to accommodate changes in funding, enrollment, or other factors.
The Superintendent has previously asked for concessions from the unions. Earlier this
school year, as budget challenges grew, Dr. Thornton requested a 1.5% pension contribution
from the labor groups, along with furlough days. The unions declined to open their contracts.
“We appreciate all that our staff members have given thus far,” said Superintendent Thornton.
“But we have nowhere else to go. We tried lobbying for aid in Madison and in Washington,
D.C. but with little effect. We must have our union partners at the table. Yes, we want to keep
more teachers on the job, but I am also thinking about our kids. If we can retain more teachers,
we can prevent class sizes from increasing.”
Without concessions, district employees may see little hope that the layoffs could be
reversed. Callbacks would be contingent on funding coming to the district from a source not
previously identified, or funding restored to the district from a traditional source such as the State
of Wisconsin. A few workers could be called back to take the places of individuals who retire or
resign, and teachers could also be re-hired if the district sees an increase in student enrollments.
Employees identified for layoff are receiving certified letters by mail this week. Of the
519 employees receiving notices, 354 are teachers and the majority had been assigned to
elementary schools. Their layoffs are a reflection of the Governor’s elimination of P5 funding
and dwindling resources for the SAGE program, both of which affect the early grade levels.
Certain teacher positions such as special education positions were exempt from layoff because
there is a shortage of teachers with these certifications. Other positions exempt from lay off
because of their specialized training were some teachers at our specialty schools such as
International Baccalaureate, Immersion, Arts, and Montessori schools.
Teachers receiving layoff notices will soon receive information on how to register as day-
to-day substitute teachers, as the district continues to see a need for highly-qualified “subs” who
must be ready to fill in to cover teacher absences due to illness or other unexpected, temporary
changes in a school’s staffing levels.