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Implementing the Madison Decision

I wrapped up my work and we headed down to the Old Fashioned restaurant, a stone’s throw from the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.  A handful of protesters sat on the capitol steps, and another small group walked slowly by holding a few signs.

Still, it’s business as usual at the Old Fashioned – which means it’s packed with college kids, professors, visitors Madison_Wisconsin-Capital_building1024 and locals. The restaurant features all things Wisconsin --local bratwurst, pork roast sandwiches, cheese curd (fried), and dozens and dozens of local beers on tap. I never miss the opportunity to go there when I’m in Madison.

Restaurant and storefront windows are still plastered with signs in support of union workers.  Spray painted on the occasional brick wall is the work, “STRIKE.” But it’s all over except for the recall effort and the television commercials calling for defeat of the budget.

But here’s the question:  How will the unions’ loss of bargaining rights actually play out in each school district?  School boards and superintendents CAN change the terms of employment, but will they?

Sean Cavanagh in his Ed Week blog raises this very good question.  District administrators and school boards “work in close quarters with teachers and other employees who are often their neighbors and sometimes their friends.”  It’s one thing to make a decision affecting the livelihood of people you don’t know personally and probably never will.  It’s an entirely different thing to work with them side-by-side every day, maybe even attend the same social functions.  They’re neighbors, not voters to the superintendent and the folks on the school board.

A couple of days ago I wrote about a labor relation specialist I often called on when I needed advice.  I noted that his advice was always good, but I usually had to modify and soften it.  He wasn’t wrong, but he didn’t have to work directly with the people I did every day.  I had developed over the years a good working relationship with the unionized faculty, and neither they nor I wanted to risk that relationship.  So I moved slowly and cautiously, making sure I had the majority on board before change was instituted. 

So it’s not really over.  Like so many things in education, the decision is one thing; the implementation is another thing entirely.  Individual school district leadership will have to decide for themselves:  What’s the real price of this law?







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