Business owner: "Right to Work" does not "promote growth" for small businesses

Notably absent from the debate over so-called "right to work" legislation is support from local business owners.  Over 400 Wisconsin contractors have formed a coalition opposing the bill.  Even in very conservative districts, local Chambers of Commerce refuse to speak in favor of it.  And small business owners are terrified about what it means to local business and potential growth.

Small business owner Laura Komai has some serious concerns about the wage theft bill.  Like many small business owners, she fears the negative impacts of this bill that have already been demonstrated in other states.  Like many Wisconsinites, she was unable to testify on this fast-tracked legislation, and asked that her letter to legislators be made open to share her concerns with all who will listen to the voice of Wisconsin business owners who fear what this bill will mean to the future of the state we all love.  As per usual, she received the following autoreply from the Governor's office:

"I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor." 
I thank her for sharing her letter and her concerns, and urge lawmakers to take them seriously.  And I ask you to encourage the Governor to "keep her specific comments in mind" when this bill gets to his desk and put people before politics on this important and unpopular bill.
Small business owner Laura Komai knows her customers share
her 
belief that "creating your own dream" is key to her success
in business and beyond.  She has one question for Gov. Walker
and the Wisconsin legislature:
What is this state doing to promote growth?


Dear Governor Walker and Wisconsin Legislators:
     I am writing to you as a graduate of the Madison public schools and the University of Wisconsin, and as a member of the Wisconsin Business Alliance. Though writing from Madison may leave me outside your district, I am writing as Wisconsin business owner with customers from around the state. I ask you to vote against “right to work,” the proposed cuts to the University, the ongoing cuts to the public school system, the undermining of environmental stewardship, and privatizing what should be government work (for the greater good, not for profit). I am very concerned about the effects of such legislative and budgetary actions upon the prosperity of Wisconsin’s citizens, and thus the success of my own business, not to mention others around the state.

        Until I started my own business with my sister in 2008, I never understood what people were talking about when they said government should be run more like a business. I still don’t entirely agree, but there are some things about running a business which I think that this state is ignoring at its peril. What does it mean to run a business? First and foremost, is the realization of my complete dependence upon other people: my business is nothing if not for customers, taxpayers, union members, government employees, students, women, employees, family. The success of my business depends upon the success of everyone.

        Other than that, there are really only two things on my mind:

  1. What is new and unique? I am constantly on the lookout for new products and how I can differentiate myself from others. Just a hint: someone can always offer lower prices. What is Wisconsin doing to cultivate new industries and new customers in areas where growth is occurring? Is it really useful to undercut University research and teaching? How are we building upon what is unique about this state, the good people, great
    Komai wants her customers, and her community
    to know that RTW is #WrongforWI and
    wrong for local businesses.
    schools and natural resources.
  2. How can I get more money?  How do I reach more customers and get them to spend more? What is Wisconsin doing about the earnings of the majority of its citizens? Frankly, the $60 I saved in property taxes can either be undermined or exponentially increased in a matter of minutes if I have more customers earning and spending more money. What is Wisconsin doing about the welfare of all of its citizens, about their quality of life and earning potential? I have seen distressingly little action that would bolster my customers and thus my business.
 

    Please note that taxes are not on that list. To be clear, I pay taxes, I just don’t base any of my business decisions on how they might change.

         So, I ask you: what is this state doing to promote growth? How is the budget or SB44 in service of such growth? What actions have been taken that would benefit the majority of my customers (the women? the middle class?). I have seen little evidence  that voucher and charter school expansion, “right” to work and reduced University funding will improve the bottom line of this business that is all of ours, the state of Wisconsin. I ask you to honor your commitment to our state Constitution and to all the people in your district and this state, to preserve that which keeps us unique and above all, improves the prosperity of all of our citizens.

         Thank you very much for your service and your attention.

Sincerely,

Laura Komai, co-owner

Anthology
218 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
www.anthology.typepad.com

Ironworker: Wage Theft Bill will cost taxpayers, hurt workers, jobs

Milwaukee ironworker Randy Bryce took the day off to come to Madison to testify against the so-called Right to Work bill (SB44) that saw its only public hearing yesterday.  He sat in a crowded, heavily secured overflow room for over 10 hours, waiting for his chance to speak, before the hearing was abruptly shut down and he was unable to speak.  He shared his testimony in the hope that he would be heard, and I reshare it here with the same intention.  Like hundreds of others who waited all day to speak, Randy was shut out of the hearing yesterday.  Please listen to what he wanted legislators to know:


My testimony on #WageTheftBill by Randy Bryce

My name is Randy Bryce. I have been a member of Ironworkers Local 8 since 1997. 
I’ve had the privilege in that time to work on many of Wisconsin’s landmarks, private businesses, and, numerous parts of our infrastructure.

Prior to this, after leaving the US Army with an honorable discharge, I had several jobs that had no bright future, but, allowed me to pay my bills. (usually two jobs at a time)
One day, a friend of our family - a physician who had a patient that was the former ironworker apprenticeship coordinator let me know that the ironworkers were taking applications. I hated the job that I was at. It was in a dirty warehouse, and, I dreaded going into work every day.

I applied. I had never done construction work before. After going through the application process, I finally made it onto the apprenticeship list. I’m not going to go into great detail explaining how my apprenticeship went, because I understand that this body has a bill that they’d like to ram through before the rest of the state is aware of how horrible it really is. I’ll be as brief as possible.

Fact is, the ironworker's apprenticeship has the ability to take unskilled people off of the street, and, gives them a career that they are proud of. They taught me everything that I needed to know in order to now have a career that not only takes care of my family, but, has me proudly pointing out every project that I worked on as I drive throughout the state to my son Ben. 

That training isn’t cheap. But, WE pay for it through our union dues, and, from contributions from the contractors who hire us. The apprenticeship board consists of 5 union reps, 5 contractor reps, and, a rep from the state who meet monthly. Zero tax dollars are used. After passing the #WageTheftBill (let's not pretend that this bill involves rights or the ability to work) Michigan has found out that it is now lacking with skilled trades workers. They will soon be using tax money to train workers.

This horrible attack on the Building Trades is not good for anyone in the state. It is a blatant attack due to political ideologies. Sen. Fitzgerald admitted such when this idea was first mentioned when he sought to exempt certain unions who supported Republican candidates. (Unconstitutional) Proponents have admitted that it will not raise wages.

I am sure that you are all aware of the Wisconsin Contractor coalition - a group of around 400 private businesses - many of who donated heavily to Republican candidates - who are opposed to this bill. They see it for what it is - the government getting in the middle of how they hire their help.

We make those contractors a LOT of money. They CHOOSE to use us.

If we are not allowed to collect money from members who freely choose to join our organization, who will pay to train us? Why stop at collecting union dues. A college tuition freeze is nice, but, why not let the student get a degree, then pay what they feel it is worth? Why do groups who want to see this passed charge a membership fee? Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce charge fees. The Associated Builders and Contractors charge membership fees. Even ALEC charges membership fees - and I recall that taxpayers foot the bill for a few members of Wisconsin’s legislature to belong to that group. Think of all of the extra jobs that they could create if this bill only went a little bit further and actually addressed freeloading for all. Why not let people pay taxes based on how well they feel that they are being represented? (I think we know how that would turn out)

Another aspect of what is trying to be sold is that this bill gives workers a choice. There already is a choice. If somebody wants to do what I do for a living, there are plenty of open shops that already exist. People are free to go work there. They won’t get the same training that our union dues pay for, and, they probably won’t make the same amount of money as a result, but, they exist. Their lessor wages are what I refer to as their “nonunion dues”. It’s the cost that they choose to be paid for not joining a highly skilled workforce.

The ironworkers created the first union in order to pool money together in order to give someone killed on the job a decent burial. Because of what we saw that could be done by looking out for each other, we were able to demand safer working conditions. Our trade is annually listed among the top 5 with regard to having a high mortality rate, but, it is a lot better than it used to be.  
The union that I belong to is self insured. We get no sick days or holiday pay. As stated before, we pay to self train. Our instructors are experienced journey men ironworkers.There is ZERO burden on the taxpayer. The 4 year apprenticeship has members graduate with no student loan debt. Once graduating to Journeyman status, one can work anywhere in North America with a network that has been set up to attract skilled labor when an area faces a shortage. We have no seniority. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Our vacations are taken understanding that we will not get paid for the days that we are on vacation. All of our representatives are elected. All of the decisions that we make are voted on. The general membership is given monthly reports on how every dime is spent. Every dime spent is voted on. Unlike what is taking place this week, Ironworkers local 8 is PURE. DEMOCRACY.
Every single member of the legislature is cordially invited to come view our training facility. When running for state senate, I made it a point to invite members of the opposition party to see what we do.
I am disappointed beyond words at not just what this bill contains, but, how it is being passed. I am proud to be among those who build Wisconsin. My job is construction. This bill is demolition.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak my mind. Because I belong to a union, I was able to take off of work today and not fear that I would lose my job. 

Randy Bryce reads his testimony to reporters as state troopers prevent entry to the hearing room after the Wage Theft Bill hearing was abruptly shut down due to a "threat of disruption."

Wage Theft Bill Action Guide: Hold Legislators Accountable for Representing the Common Good

Don't be fooled Wisconsin!
The so-called "right to work" law....is really called the "wage theft" law. Workplace freedom is about being able to take a grievance to your employer without fear. It's about being able to negotiate your pay fairly and about being able to take a day off when your child gets sick. Wisconsin workers want to be able to have a set schedule so they can know when to go to a meeting with their child's teacher.
Those are the types of workplace freedoms we should all have.
Image and caption: Overpass Light Brigade
STATEWIDE ACTION ALERT:

What the Wage Theft Bill (aka "Right to Work") Means to Wisconsin and What You Can Do About It


Hold Wisconsin legislators accountable and let them know they have our support in doing the right thing
________________________
 

Wisconsin Republicans plan to fast-track an ALEC-authored Wage Theft Bill next week that would put Wisconsin on a fast track to lower wages and fewer living-wage jobs. [Bill text here].

Scott Walker says busting teachers' unions
will have jihadists quivering in fear.
Image and caption: Nicole Desautels
You may have heard already that Gov. Walker has been suggesting that his ability to "deal with" the protests in 2011 translates to the "security credentials" necessarily to "deal with" Putin, ISIS, etc.  He's also been sharing stories of dubious credibility of late, including ones that make the hardworking Wisconsin citizens opposed to his policies look like bloodthirsty criminals (such as a false one about how protesters tried to tip over his car, and new, unsubstantiated claims about threats to his family). 

At the same fundraiser in which he sat in silence as Rudy Giuliani claimed that Pres. Obama "doesn't love America,"  [update: Walker has since said he "doesn't know" if Obama "loves his country"], Gov. Walker said this, according to Larry Kudrow at the National Review:

"Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin."
Wisconsinites won't have the "weapon" of a vote on this issue.
Call on legislators to do the right thing with theirs.
That's right: In 2011, the Wisconsinites who stood in opposition to a budget that would gut our schools and revoke workers' rights were "union thugs".  In 2015, he wants the world to believe these citizens are no better than terrorists.

We learned now that there are plans to "crack down" on Capitol security next week.  Legislators have been told to be prepared to show ID to enter the building.


We are being played.  The divisive Wage Theft Bill on the table for passage next week is the "distraction" Walker was looking for to draw attention away from his much-criticized budget bill (which has taken lots of media heat from both the left and the right and already generated protests at UW-Madison and beyond), and they knew that the outrage would be strong from all sides. After months of saying the bill would be a "distraction," Walker said yesterday he'd sign it into law as soon as it hits his desk.  An angry "mob" trying to gain entry to the Capitol will be used to feed the narrative of Walker as the "victim" as he promotes his unpopular budget - and his own presidential aspirations. 


WE NEED TO SET THIS STRAIGHT.


As in 2011, there is widespread bipartisan opposition to Walker's self-inflicted kick-the-can budget "crisis" as well as both the draconian budget and the Wage Theft Bill that would reduce wages & benefits, restrict worker protections, revoke workers' rights, and lead to decreased funding for public schools and other services.  We know this.  We have seen it happen in other states, as non-RWT states pick up the tab for the many working poor in RTW states who are forced to rely on subsidies to augment their poverty wages -- all during a time of record profits for corporations.  Data shows that states with Wage Theft Laws spend over 30% less on public schools.

This is not a partisan issue. 


It's not a question of "workers vs employers" either.  Or "union members vs non union members."  Check out this list of 400+ Wisconsin contractors who oppose Wage Theft Legislation

Listen to what former Republican Senator Dale Schultz has to say about the bill, which is likely to lead to an average lose of wages of $1,500 per person, per year:

“This is going to hurt Wisconsin employers terribly in the long run, as the workforce gets more angry. I represented a lot of blue-collar labor people, both union and non-union. So I know that even the wages of non-union workers are determined by collective bargaining. They may not be paying for it, but it has an impact. It’s a cowardly move to make certain the public can’t be heard on this issue and rush it through in a special session. They ought to be embarrassed or ashamed. I thought they would have at least gone through the trouble of having a sham public hearing, but they don’t even think that’s necessary here.”
Image: Defeat "Right To Work" in Wisconsin

We need to let our friends, neighbors and legislators know that we OPPOSE a budget that further guts our public schools and social services (while handing out money we can't afford for tax breaks and private school tuition vouchers) and we OPPOSE a Wage Theft Bill that makes it even harder to earn a living wage at a time when so many are struggling.  Good people deserve good jobs, good schools, and good communities.  And Wisconsin is full of good people.

These good people are the same nurses, teachers, laborers, retirees, students, professionals, and citizens of all walks of life who simply want to hold elected officials responsible for doing what they were elected to do: REPRESENT US, not special interests or campaign contributors.

We can only make this happen if we do OUR civic duty: TAKE ACTION.

Here's what you can do:

  • MOBILIZE.  Rallies are already planned for Milwaukee and Madison.
    Plan to be there if you can.  Peaceful protest is a way we can put a kind, human face to our concerns and counter the absurd, insulting portrait Gov. Walker would like to paint of us as a step away from radical terrorist thugs.  Think carefully about your signs, and send a positive message of support for living wage jobs and democracy (holding legislators accountable to represent the will of the people).
    • Mon. Feb. 23, Milwaukee: 5:00pm, Zeidler Union Square (4th and Michigan) 
    • Tues. Feb. 24, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
    • Wed. Feb. 25, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
Image: MTEA
Rallies are a powerful way to create a visibility and momentum for holding legislators accountable and letting them know they have our support in doing the right thing.  But there are many ways to protest this bill and attending a rally is just one of them.  Here are some others:
  • SPEAK UP.  Contact your legislators.  Call. Write. Visit their offices on Monday.  If they don't hear from you, they don't know you oppose the bills.  It's that simple.  You must contact them.
    If you're unsure of your legislators, find them here.  Or use the Citizen Action form here and send your letter online.
    You might also consider cc'ing your letter to the Governor and these key Senators, who may be more likely than others to vote for the people on this issue:
    Cowles -(920) 448-5092 Green Bay area
    Gudex -(608) 266-5300 Fond du Lac area
    Harsdorf -(608) 266-7745 River Falls
    Marklein -(608) 266-0703 Spring Green
    Petrowski -(608) 266-2502 Marathon
    Email addresses for your copy/paste convenience
    :
    Sen.Cowles@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Gudex
    @legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov, Sen.Petrowski@legis.wisconsin.gov, GovGeneral@wisconsin.gov
  • SPEAK OUT.  Make your letter to your legislator an OPEN LETTER.   Post it online. Send it to your friends and neighbors. Print copies to pass out at work. This is critical to spreading the word and sharing our concerns widely.  If you want to make it really open, send it to me and I'll put in up on the blog.
  • Attend the PUBLIC HEARING on the bill on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 9am at the State Capitol.  You can register to speak or you can just register "for" or "against" the bill.
  • Talk to your neighbors, friends, family, colleagues, people you run into at the grocery store or school. Use email, call people. Do whatever it takes. 
  • Use social media. Share your letters, news links, and posts like this widely. If you're on twitter, use these hashtags: #WageTheftBill #WrongForWI #RightToWorkForLess
  • Sign this petition from AFL-CIO Wisconsin. Then share it widely.
  • Attend a listening session and share your concerns in person.  Visit your legislator's homepage or call his/her office to find out when listening sessions are being held in your community. This action has more impact than you can imagine, as these events are taken very seriously by legislators and are often not very well attended.  BE THERE and your voice will be amplified more than you know -- your representatives will hear you, and so will your local community.  Exhibit A:  a recent budget hearing in the conservative Mauston community got big coverage last week under the headline "Walker Budget Gets Bad Reviews at Listening Session.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper(s).  Keep it short, simple, personal, and to the point (250-350 words is the max for most papers).  Focus on the VALUES shared by members of your community, and how those shared values are threatened when we pass laws that hurt jobs, schools, workers, the elderly, etc.
  • Contact local government (city council, school board, county board members) and urge them to pass a resolution opposing the Wage Theft Bill and/or the budget.  Local officials answer to you: authorize them to speak on your behalf by putting pressure on them to do due diligence by your community! 
  • Know the facts.  According to a Marquette University economist, there is "simply no economic reason to argue for right-to-work in Wisconsin."  Share articles like this widely.
    Image: Wisconsin Jobs Now
  • Avoid the hype.  "Right to Work" is a confusing and misleading name for a bill that takes freedom, protections, and rights away from workers and is more accurately called a "Wage Theft Bill".  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that RTW is about creating jobs - it's not. States with RTW laws have lower wages, fewer protections, and more people on government assistance
  • Volunteer.  Contact your union or professional association, your local grassroots team, your civic groups, etc, and find out what local actions are being planned and how you can help.  One thing you can do today is volunteer to help phonebank  (in Madison) and let people know why this issue is so important to Wisconsin families.
  • Keep calm and do the right thing.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The time is always right to do what's right."  Take that charge seriously.  Even though it's evident that the supermajority in the assembly and senate can pass these bills regardless of what we say, that doesn't give us permission to stay silent or feel there's nothing we can do - if anything, it amplifies the urgency of speaking loudly, and as one.  

    Speaking truth to power isn't easy.  And it can be frustrating - terrifying, even - when we feel that "power" isn't just not listening, but is openly hostile to our concerns.

    But it's not our job to worry about whether they're listening.  We can't control that.  It's our job to have spoken at a time when what we had to say needed to be said.  That we can control.  That we can do. 

    Our silence is consent, and apathy is not an option when the common good is at stake. 

    Have faith.  Stay calm.  Do the right thing.  And, again, remember the words of Dr. King:  The arc of the moral universe is long,  as we have most certainly seen here in Wisconsin.  But it does bend toward justice.


Guest post: An Open Letter to Berlin Schools: Teach Respect, Not Racism


Image: Wisconsin Indian Education Association
Barbara E. Munson, Chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's “Indian” Mascot & Logo Taskforce, has written an open letter to the Berlin Area School District's board, asking them to consider what is lost by retaining the use of their controversial mascot, the "Indians." The Berlin board voted to retain the mascot after conducting a survey of area residents and students.

The open letter reminds us that this decision doesn't "end" the debate - it just prolongs the discussion and forces the district to address more pressing questions about how they're preparing students to be global citizens:
How will your school prepare the 2015 graduating class to be culturally competent? How
will you teach them that they are not the ‘Indians,’ that they have never been the ‘Indians’ and that there are real people whose identities are defined by being Indian living nearby? People who do not fit the stereotypes and myths that students in the Berlin Schools promote and have come to believe are true? People who are demeaned and disrespected by race- based ‘Indian’ team name branding and the playacting and pageantry that accompanies Indian mascots. When will you teach them? How will you prepare your sons and daughters to enter the larger community post high school?

The book about race-based Indian mascots in Wisconsin is not finished, but the most recent chapter, has certainly not been about the District opening hearts and minds by applying good educational practices, but rather about Berlin repeatedly avoiding educational engagement. Perhaps the next chapters will be about how the Berlin community learns to undo the damage perpetrated by years of tolerating race-based stereotyping wrapped up in high school athletics and justified by bits of local history and a claim to be honoring people whose children and cultures are harmed by the practice.

Keeping the “Indian” branding keeps controversy alive and brings a dubious reputation to the community.
Read the full letter here.





Art Teacher to Walker: I'm ready to take my So-You-Think-You-Can-Be-A-Surgeon Test

Of the many terrible ideas that have come out of Governor Walker's Presidential Campaign Headquarters the Wisconsin State Capitol lately, perhaps none is more offensive than Gov. Walker's proposition that anyone with "life experience" should be allowed an easy path toward "teaching" our kids. 

Photo: MTEA
Despite DPI  having already significantly weakened teacher certification options just two years ago by creating a "teaching equivalency" certificate (about which, of course, I have much-blogged), the  governor would like to take his disrespect for both the teaching profession and the 875,000 children who attend Wisconsin public schools to the next level by loosening teacher licensing requirements thusly:  by creating "alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license."
That's right.  Scott Walker thinks anyone who passes a "competency test" is fit to teach your kids.

Your ADHD kids.
Your special needs kids.
Your kids who only get one balanced meal a day, and that's at school.
Your high-achieving kids who need individualized attention and assignments at discrete moments throughout the day so they don't get bored and tune out.
Your tactile learner who needs something in her hands at all times or she totally loses focus.
Your English language learner who just started 10th grade midyear in the US and is doing math at a college level but reads at a first grade level.


But don't worry.  We're going to make sure these "teachers" have A LOT of life experience.  Your child will be lucky to have them.  And you'll be lucky to be paying their new, improved salaries with your tax dollars.
Creates alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license.  - See more at: http://walker.wi.gov/newsroom/press-release/governor-scott-walker-announces-workforce-readiness-plan#sthash.0aWN0PXB.dp
Creates alternative pathways to allow a candidate with real life experience to pass a competency test to gain a teacher license.  - See more at: http://walker.wi.gov/newsroom/press-release/governor-scott-walker-announces-workforce-readiness-plan#sthash.0aWN0PXB.dpuf
And maybe, just maybe, if things go really well, Walker will expand the program and you'll be lucky enough to get this amazing art teacher to you'll also be lucky enough to be your surgeon, should you ever need one.

I present to you, with the author's kind permission, our MoD OPEN LETTER OF THE WEEK....a brilliant letter to governor Walker from  Wisconsin elementary art teacher, Michele Hatchell:



Dear Governor Walker,

I heard about your idea for a new program where individuals with “real-life experience” and a bachelor’s degree would be able to get a teaching license in any subject as long as they pass a test proving they are knowledgeable. What a great idea! Why don’t you do this for all kinds of jobs? I have been thinking, and I would love to be a surgeon, but I sure don’t have time or money for all that college that it would take to change careers. And I think I have many experiences that would enable me to pass a test to help people surgically. Also, the pay would be a bit better than my current profession which would be helpful for my family.

You see, I have been an elementary art teacher for the past twenty years and I have spent at least 11 years taking college courses to get my K-12 art license and 1-6 classroom license and to renew my licenses every five years. So wow, it would be so much easier if I didn’t have to go to medical school to start my new career.

I looked at a few medical sites and thought I would share some cross over skills from my life experience as an elementary art teacher that would help me be a good surgeon. Maybe that would be helpful to you when developing “the test” for being a surgeon. Maybe someone in your family would be willing to let me remove their appendix after I passed the “Be A Surgeon Test.” I wouldn’t want to start with brain surgery or heart surgery because hearts and minds take a lot of time to heal if they are damaged. Also, I have become very skilled at tests in this current educational climate, so I feel confident I would be deemed proficient on the first try.

Surgical Skill: Bone Fixation and Casting

Real Life Experience:
I have made several thousand paper mache masks and plaster finger puppets with children over the past twenty years. I have photos if that would be helpful.

Surgical Skill: Hand Sewn Gastrointestinal Anastomosis

Real Life Experience:
I have a lot of experience hand sewing sock monkeys and quilts with small children. I also knit every day to keep my fingers nimble-- I could provide a couple sweaters as portfolio examples for the test.

Surgical Skill: Knot Tying

Real Life Experience:
I tie young children’s shoes many times a day to keep my knot tying skills sharp.

Surgical Skill: Stapled Gastrointestinal Anastomosis
Real Life Experience:
I have stapled hundreds of bulletin boards to display the children’s creativity-- I know that tools matter because I am particular about the type of stapler I use and the type of staple remover so that the children’s work is not damaged.

Surgical Skill: Latex Allergy Anaphylaxis

Real Life Experience:
Every year I have attended the blood borne pathogen inservice at school, I know where the epi pens are in the nurse’s office and one year I got special balloons for our paper mache project because a child had a latex allergy.

If you don’t think this would work, maybe I could take a test to be a lawyer or a governor?

Sincerely,
Michele Hatchell, Elementary Art Teacher/ aspiring surgeon


Testimony: Wisconsinites Strongly Oppose School "Accountability" Proposal



The following testimony will be presented to the Senate Committee on Education Reform and Government Operations today, Jan. 27, 2015, at the hearing on the so-called School Takeover Bill, Senate Bill 1 (SB1).  If you want to know why those who care about public education in Wisconsin stand united in opposition to this dangerous bill, please read and share with your friends, encouraging them to speak out NOW to defend our schools.  You can click here to find out more about the bill how you can submit your own testimony to the committee.  

Many thanks to Pam Kobielus of the No Vouchers Coalition for sharing her powerful testimony and doing her part to make an impact in her community to protect local schools from the privatization efforts that threaten the future of our schools and our children.  Her organization conducted a survey of Wisconsinites, and the results she shares in her testimony make clear that they overwhelmingly oppose legislation which weaken and punish struggling public schools while they give voucher schools a free pass to continue siphoning public funds from the schools that need it most.




 -----------


TESTIMONY PRESENTED IN OPPOSITION TO SENATE BILL (SB1),

Relating to: the school and school district accountability report, chronically failing schools and school districts, and educational options information



My name is Pamela Kobielus.  I am submitting this statement to the record as written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 1 (SB-1) and ask that this testimony be distributed in its entirety to all members of the Legislative Committee on Education Reform & Government Operations.  

Good morning members of the Committee on Education Reform & Government Operations. I am the founder of “The No Vouchers Coalition”, located in the northern community of Merrill, WI.  Unlike corporate lobbyists who claim to represent the interests of public school parents while donating large sums of money to Republican candidates in Wisconsin to promote lobbyists’ “for-profit” educational business interests, we are a true – and rapidly growing -- voluntary grassroots organization representing member public school parents, business owners and other taxpayers who support the public school system.  Our group charges no membership fees.  Our group accepts no donations, nor does our group make contributions to any political party or candidate.  Our group’s sole interest is in ensuring that elected representatives protect educational opportunities for each and every child in Wisconsin.

I have attended both public and private schools in Wisconsin, graduating from the public high school in in Merrill, WI in 1972.  I went on to graduate with a Bachelor in Business Administration (B.B.A.) from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, and, received my Masters in Business Administration (M.B.A.) from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA.   I have more than thirty (30) years management and executive experience working in private industry, transferring the knowledge I acquired in school to successful positions working in media, commercial banking, mortgage banking and in the utility, healthcare and technology industries.  I have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of a public school education.  It is what prepared me for the future and it was instrumental in my success working in private industry, and, also, in running my own profitable businesses.

Several years ago, I retired to care for my widowed, retired mother who is now 83 years old.  My plans to spend my time caring for my parent were interrupted, when I accidentally learned in the local media that our school district was struggling with cuts to the public school education budget.   After attending local Board of Education meetings in two separate years, I undertook personal research to determine the genesis of the budgetary problems facing our rural public school districts in Wisconsin.  What I found alarmed me, and, in the summer of 2014, I founded “The No Vouchers Coalition” with a small group of other concerned residents.  In the past seven (7) months, our group has grown rapidly as more and more people learn what has happened to funding for our local public schools over the last decade.

In the manner of the magicians, Penn & Teller, it is our intention to peel away the onion of Republican legislators’ proposed school reform.  Because what we found will make public school parents of any political affiliation angry, we will continue to pull back the curtain to show voters in Wisconsin what is fact and what is fiction in Republican legislators’ magic act.

As those of you on the Committee who are also in private business know, it is easy to “make” something – even something good -- fail.  You can make a project, a business division, or even an entire company fail.  First, one can withholding funding for the entity you wish to destroy.  Figuratively speaking, you shut off its air supply, slowly choking it to death.  Second, you can withhold authority while still holding management accountable for performance, which is now out of their control.  However, these methods are not ethical nor are they good business sense when the entity you wish to destroy is producing a quality product that is needed and which contributes to the economic health of the community.

What Republican legislators in the State of Wisconsin are attempting to do is to cause public school districts to fail by defunding their operations, so that privately-run for-profit businesses can “take over”, have “unfettered access to”, “get their mitts on” – however you wish to describe it – large, very large amounts of public taxpayer money.  We’d like to remind legislators that those tax dollars, sourced from hard-working families in our local communities, belong to the taxpayers of Wisconsin and should remain in Wisconsin, benefiting the children of Wisconsin, and not some out-of-state for-profit business whose primary loyalty is to individual stockholders or hedge fund managers. 

The media is catching on as well.  In an editorial published this week (on January 26, 2015), the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram noted: “There’s also a segment in the private sector that would love to get its hands on the billions of taxpayer dollars now used to support public schools. Whether those folks would be in the long-term best interest of most students is far from clear.”

The No Vouchers Coalition agrees:  Wisconsin’s public school children are not for sale to the highest bidder.

You may ask how our group came to learn that Republican legislators are actively working to defund Wisconsin’s public school districts.  The answer is: we had to do our own research.   For example, we learned that for the school year 2013-2014, it was mandated that public schools take $64 million off the top of their budget in order to fund primarily privately-run, charter schools located mostly in Southeastern Wisconsin.  We found that few people understood this meant deducting the following amounts from budgets of Northern Wisconsin public school districts:  $219,568 from Antigo; $876,928 from Eau Claire; $1,976,652 from Green Bay; $182,169 from Medford; $262,120 from Merrill; $54,259 from Rhinelander; $405,509 from Superior; $29,367 from Tomahawk, and, $757, 025 from Wausau.  The entire list of cuts, which negatively impacted our local public schools can be found here:  http://pb.dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/pb/pdf/2013_14_2r_Deducations_by_District.pdf
 
Furthermore, we determined that Republican legislators did not make clear to public school parents, local businesses or other taxpayers that these cuts to local public school districts were mandated in order to fund primarily privately-run charter schools.  How do we know this?  We surveyed members of “The No Vouchers Coalition” and other members of our local communities.  That is how we know.  We asked -- something Republican legislators failed to do.  And, while the distribution of our surveys was not meant to be a statistical sampling of the community, 90.2% of respondents told us that legislators did not make clear these monies were to be taken from local public school districts to give to privately-run charter schools.  In summary, Republican legislators do not have a mandate from voters for the types of reforms which are being proposed in Senate Bill 1 (SB1).  We would posit that the only mandate which Republican legislators have is to serve the business interests of privately-run education corporations which donate to the Republican caucus.  We suggest that it is necessary and indeed appropriate for all legislators to hold public hearings throughout Wisconsin, on days and at times that are convenient to working families.

For clearly communicating the intent, purpose and amount of public school budget cuts for the 2013-2014 school year, I give Republican legislators a grade of:  F


We also heard from Gov. Walker that he had increased public school budgets for the 2014-2015 school year.  Gov. Walker’s claim included a sin: a sin of omission.  That is, we determined that while public school budgets for certain school districts were increased, 48% of school districts across that state saw significant budget cuts.  For example, we identified the following cuts for public school districts in my immediate area:  $88,092 for Antigo; $462,700 for Merrill; $565,078 for Rhinelander; and $297,443 for Tomahawk.  We began to see a clearer picture that pointed to an ongoing, systematic defunding of local public school districts.

So, we again surveyed our members and the public to see if Gov. Walker made clear to them the fact that nearly half of public school districts in Wisconsin received budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year.  We found that 95.5% of respondents said that Gov. Walker did not make these additional budget cuts clear.

For clearly communicating to Wisconsin residents the fact that nearly half of public school districts got significant budget cuts for the 2014-2015 school year, I give Gov. Walker a grade of:  F


The negative impact of budget cuts on our local public schools is evident from sample comments submitted by survey respondents to The No Vouchers Coalition, including:

“There have already been cuts to programming that our public school system used to provide.”

“Our school district recently successfully passed a referendum to stabilize funding for our schools. We are up in the northwoods and there are no adequate alternatives to public education...”
“I have seen reduced staffing and larger class sizes. Our district is having a referendum this spring.”
“I have no children in school now, but have talked with parents who have said their children no longer have the same opportunities as mine did.”
“There has been some staff reduction.”
“I have seen a reduction in staff and programs in our school district. We recently passed a referendum for sports and technology.”
“My kids are in grades 5, 2, and 4K. Their classes have gotten larger in size in the past couple of years and their teachers are clearly being asked to do more with less. The "teacher wish list" now includes things like printer paper! They are being asked to provide their own paper for the printer so that my kids can have worksheets.”
“We have had cuts to programs, cuts to the arts and larger class sizes. We have a hard time retaining the quality of staff we used to. We have not had a referendum recently but we have closed all the schools we can and it was a huge community loss and family loss.”
“There has been reduced staffing, increased fees to parents, reduced busing, referendums to increase local property taxes, our district does not have the technology needed for every child.”

As you can see from member and citizen comments, budget cuts are hurting our public schools and the children they are supposed to serve.  The pain you are inflicting on families who live in our rural communities is very, very real.

As elected legislators, you have an obligation to provide necessary funding “for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as possible (Wisconsin Constitution, Article X, Section 3).”  With these repeated public school budget cuts, you have failed to meet your obligation to the children of Wisconsin.

Our members, who include small business owners, also understand the negative impact these budget cuts have on local communities.  In Merrill, WI, for example, my hometown, where taxpayers regularly pay taxes to the State of Wisconsin, our local public school district has had state aid for public schools cut $262,120 in 2013-2014 and $462,700 in 2014-2015, for a total of $724,820 over a two year period.   We found similar cuts to public school budgets in district after district throughout Wisconsin.

The compound negative affect of fewer tax dollars being returned to citizens can and does have a devastating impact on jobs and the economic health of businesses in our local communities.  As legislators, you are systematically removing these monies from our local communities.  When fewer tax dollars are returned to our communities to circulate locally, job growth stagnates, taxable wages decline and local businesses suffer.  In addition, homeownership declines shrinking the property tax base necessary to fund community services, which in turn either increases local property taxes or results in cuts to community programs and services.  

Because of all this, we encourage all our business members to contact the recently formed Wisconsin Business Alliance to better understand the negative impact that public school budget cuts have on job growth, local taxes and the economic health of the communities in which we live.

While these monies no longer circulate in our struggling local economies, they do fatten the coffers of lobbyists and the privately-run education corporations whom these lobbyists represent.  As you know, these lobbyists were the only people testifying in support of Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) earlier this year and were granted preferential scheduling over the testimony of Wisconsin citizens who had traveled from all over Wisconsin to testify in opposition to that bill.  


As we talked with members in our communities to gauge their understanding of public school funding, it became apparent that Republican legislators’ desire to implement bold education reforms are not clearly understood by Wisconsin voters.  So we asked our members and the general public which “tool” they preferred to stabilize public school funding:  (a) local property tax increases, (b) cuts to school programs and services, (c) a combination of tax increases and school cuts, or, (d) none of the above.  Property tax increases and/or school budget cuts were unacceptable to more than 96% of our members.

With regard to giving local communities adequate “tools” to offset reduced state aid for local public school districts, Gov. Walker did not clearly explain how these “tools” work, and I give him a grade of:  F

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) also includes a mandate to defund public school districts that have one or more “chronically failing” schools.  Republican legislators propose measuring the success or failure of public and independent charter schools by creating a new report card by which two separate “accountability boards” will judge performance.   In effect, legislators are creating an “easier” test for independent charter schools to take in order to receive a passing grade.  If legislators are so confident in the ability of independent, charter schools to perform, we challenge them to first require these schools to meet the same nationally recognized standards and operating requirements that public schools must meet.   I suspect, given that the State of Wisconsin has lost more than $139 million to unaccountable, privately-run for-profit schools over the last decade(1), legislators do not have this confidence and therefore are proposing an “easier” test for these schools.

Creating an “easier” test for independent charter schools takes budget and staff resources that are just not available, given the $2.2 billion deficit Gov. Walker and the legislature now face.  Taking additional money from the Department of Public Instruction, or, from Wisconsin’s general budget to create this separate method of grading school performance only adds to the budget pressures of local public school districts and/or increases local property taxes. 

Rather, we believe that legislators are not confident that independent, charter schools can meet the current standard of accountability that has been established for public schools.

Meaningful improvements in school performance can only be achieved by first addressing the underlying issues of poverty, the need for affordable housing and the availability of jobs with family-sustaining wages.  These conditions exist in all Wisconsin communities, not just in larger urban areas.

Second, improvements can only be realized if public schools have resources necessary to implement evidence-based best-practice strategies.  Given Act 10’s $1.6 billion cut to public school budgets, the additional budget cuts absorbed by public schools over the last two years, as well as cuts to food share programs and the refusal to accept the return of tax money (that Wisconsin citizens paid to the Federal government) to improve access to healthcare insurance programs, we are not confident that Republican legislators will fund Wisconsin’s public school system in a manner adequate to implement performance improvement plans that may be mandated.

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) differs from Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) in that it calls for establishing two separate “accountability boards” for any school receiving public funds.  The bill would establish (1) the PACB - Public and Charter School Board, and, (2) the CAB – Choice Accountability Board for schools receiving voucher money.  Each of these boards would have the authority to review annual reports and identify “failing” schools, review and implement “improvement plans” (for public schools only!).

What is different, and, in our view perhaps unconstitutional, is the fact that the public school accountability board would be appointed by the Superintendent of Public Schools, while the private school accountability board would consist of the Governor’s political appointees.  

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First, the Wisconsin Constitution (article X, Section 3) calls “for the establishment of school districts, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable…”  Separate accountability boards is not uniform.   The full scope of accountability standards at the federal and state level as proposed are not uniform.

Furthermore, the establishment of Academic Review Boards (ARBs) violates current law by usurping the authority of the State Superintendent in the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  As noted earlier in this testimony, Republican legislators appears to be purposely setting up the DPI for failure by (1) defunding public schools, and, (2) by slowing removing constitutional authorities vested in the DPI, while still holding DPI accountable for both current and proposed (new) performance standards.  In private industry, it is the equivalent of your boss reducing your budget significantly, then requiring you to bring a project in on-time, with a smaller budget, using the original specifications and quality requirements, while taking away your management authority and giving it to your co-worker, whose budget is larger and whose performance standards are set much lower.

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) also gives the Public and Charter Board full discretion to “implement or modify any requirements required to be in a school district improvement plan.”  This appears to be purposely vague.  For without specific changes to this language – reviewed and approved by local communities – this appears to allow a politically-appointed board to punish and take control of local school district decision-making authority.  Whereas local school districts with locally-elected Boards of Education providing oversight currently have the autonomy to make changes and implement improvement plans, SB1 would allow the PACB to usurp local authority, giving the PACB the ability to do anything it wants from shuttering schools, selling off property and facilities, to replacing staff with lower-paid, less experienced teachers whose “life experiences” form the basis for the granting of professional licenses and certifications.

Republican legislators never asked their constituents – local families, businesses and other taxpayers – how they felt about giving up the authority they vested in elected members of their local Board of Education and turning that authority over to a partisan board appointed by the Governor.  However, we did.

We told our members and other community members taking the survey that Republican legislators may be trying to create a statewide board of unelected officials with the authority to create privately-run charter schools anywhere in the state of Wisconsin – paid for with local property taxes.  We asked whether they preferred locally-elected Boards of Education, or, a statewide board of unelected officials managing local community schools.  The answer was very clear:  97.3% preferred a locally-elected Board of Education.   We find it ironic, to say the least, that the Governor and Republican legislators in Madison continually complain about federal mandates (and the lack of state control), then demonstrate the height of hypocrisy by proposing legislation designed to take away local control and authority by legislating the creation of a state-level board of appointed officials. 

Let’s be clear.  The proposed penalties for public schools found to be “failing” are harsh and swift.  “The bill authorizes the DPI to withhold state aid from a school district that fails to comply with an improvement plan for a chronically failing school or school district…”  The penalties are intended to pull funds from schools and districts where the tax base and budget are least able to support implementation of effective improvement plans.

By contrast, the only penalty for privately-run voucher schools that are identified as “chronically failing” in SB1 is to freeze enrollment at current levels for a period of three years.  These “chronically failing” schools would continue to receive public taxpayer funding (vouchers) from the state as long as the student remained enrolled at the private school.  Senate Bill 1 (SB1) contains no provision or penalty to the “chronically failing” private school for not meeting standards, for failing to demonstrate achievement, for shutting down in the middle of a school year, or, for leaving the State of Wisconsin.  Penalties for “chronically failing” private schools are anything but penalties.  And Republican legislators should know that a substantial percentage of our members and other taxpayers are well aware of the types of chronic failures associated with these types of privately-run schools – most likely as a result of media reports noted earlier in this testimony.  To proceed without clearly establishing in SB1 immediate and harsh penalties for privately-run schools who misuse public taxpayer money is a dereliction of legislators’ fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

Finally, with respect to “accountability”, SB1 proposes letting schools make an appeal after being labeled a “chronically failing school” and letting the politically-appointed board decide whether or not “exceptional circumstances justify (the school’s) performance on the annual accountability reports.”  Because public schools must maintain current operating and performance standards, while privately-run schools do not (and are graded using the *easy* test), this has the appearance of being an underhanded way of setting up public schools for failure, while giving “chronically failing” private schools access to a “free pass”.   

If the Assembly and Senate fast-track this bill knowing what we have told you today that your constituents are saying, we will hold those legislators accountable at the ballot box – for failing to adequately communicate the contents of this bill, for failing to communicate how Governor Walker’s “tools” hurt public schools and increase local property taxes; for failing to fulfill a constitutional obligation to provide adequate funding for public schools that are open to all Wisconsin children, for failing to consider the negative fiscal impacts on jobs and the economic health of our communities, and, for failing to acknowledge constituents’ strong preference for local control.

Finally, we ask Wisconsin legislators to identify all the authors of Assembly Bill 1 (AB1) and Senate Bill 1 (SB1), so that Wisconsin taxpayers can see the financial campaign donations made to legislators by privately-run, for-profit educational corporations seeking to expand their business footprint in Wisconsin.

In summary, we oppose Senate Bill 1 (SB1) as written.  We ask legislators to incorporate the express wishes of their constituents in the final language of the bill, and, then, to hold hearings with constituents across the State of Wisconsin on days and at times that are convenient to the working, taxpaying families they represent.

Thank you.



Pamela Kobielus
Founder, The No Vouchers Coalition
Merrill, WI