Now that Wisconsin’s highly controversial “Budget Repair Bill” has gone into effect, how are school districts throughout the state getting along?As you may recall, Governor Scott Walker proposed a bill requiring most state employees to contribute 12.6% toward their health care premiums and 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions in an effort to reign in the state’s $3.6 billion budget shortfall. The proposal also called for employees to relinquish collective bargaining rights for non-salary issues, and forbade the automatic withdrawal of union dues from employee paychecks.
So, have the horrors that the 14 Democratic senators who fled to Illinois and the thousands of protesters who converged on the state capitol feared been realized?
Not so much.
In the Kaukauna School District, officials estimate that they will turn a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus. In addition to the savings generated by teachers now contributing to their healthcare coverage and pensions, the school board was able to drastically reduce the district’s healthcare costs.
The previous collective bargaining agreement required that the district purchase health insurance from the WEA Trust, which is owned by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), and was threatening significant premium increases. Now able to shop around, school officials found a much cheaper provider.
Kaukauna plans to use the freed-up funds to hire additional teachers and implement merit pay. This will enable administrators to reduce class sizes and increase one-on-one instruction for troubled and special needs students.
The fact that WEAC is no longer allowed to automatically withdraw union dues from its members’ paychecks (roughly $1000 per year) has been well received by many teachers. They not only appreciate the positive cash flow, they enjoy the political freedom. Not every teacher is a Democrat, after all.
Not surprisingly, the automatic withdraw restrictions have posed challenges to WEAC, which must now pursue dues collection through meetings, emails and phone calls. Interestingly, IRS filings revealed that the union collected $23.4 million in dues from its 98,000 members in 2009. Further, the organization paid its 151 employees $14,382,812 that year. That’s 61% of all dues collected and averages $95,250 per WEAC employee.
No wonder the union bitterly fought limits to non-salary collective bargaining and automatic dues withdrawals.