Some in Lakeland’s community respond to Governor Walker’s bold bill

Thousands of state workers invaded Wisconsin’s capital and 14 Democratic state senators fled from it last week to slow Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget-repair bill.

Walker’s bill would ease Wisconsin’s $30 million deficit by cutting state employees’ benefits and their right to collectively bargain for everything but wages. Teachers in particular have become associated with the bill. Republicans who will presumably vote for the bill control the senate 19-14, but 20 senators are needed to vote on spending bills so the bill remains in limbo.

Teachers have become the most publicized of all the public workers protesting the bill, and Associate Professor of Education Wayne Homstad, an English teacher for Sheboygan public schools for 36 years, said students discussed the controversial bill in some of his classes.

“There’s some confusion about what the issues are. There are a lot of people who have had some kind of experience of either being a public worker or some kind of worker where he or she has joined some kind of association or a union. There’s some who are very idealistic and want to be left to make their own decision…. It’s very healthy if you have a whole pile of opinions because that way you get more information. And if you can provide a forum so that everybody feels free to express them, then learning can take place,” Homstad said.

Even though Homstad said he took an objective stance during the discussions, he said the part of the bill that would take away most of workers’ collective bargaining rights troubles him.

“Walker’s opening gambit usually is ‘We’re broke and we have to do this.’ If the workers are willing to give him that money and pay more of their health care and do all these things, why are they dissolving the unions?” Homstad said. “I guess maybe there’s some fear that in the future people won’t be reasonable and be able to work things out. Then if that’s true, and there’s this fear, why are some of the unions exempt like the Milwaukee police and fire department?”

Alex Piekarski, sophomore education major, agreed with Homstead.

“I disagree with the media coverage about it,” Piekarski said. “It’s really about the collective bargaining [rights] but they’re making it out to seem like teachers are just selfish. The teachers understand the cuts are needed and are okay with them but they’re not okay with losing their collective bargaining rights. If it was really just about the money, then fire fighters and policemen would get the wage reductions too.”

Kristina Borts, junior education major, said the Lakeland Student Wisconsin Education Association chapter, which she’s the co-president of, will meet next week to discuss the forming of a political action committee in support of Wisconsin teachers negatively impacted by the bill.

“We want to offer people who are interested in being involved in politics an outlet to do that—whether it’s petitioning in Madison or sending letters to legislators or senators,” Borts said. “My personal opinion is that it’s not that big of a deal. There’s still going to be jobs after it happens. There’s still going to be teachers. So I don’t think it’s the do all, end all that a lot of people are making it to be.”

Louis Colletti, junior education major and co-president of StWEA, said he took issue with Milwaukee Public School teachers who called in sick to protest, forcing MPS to close.

“Even though they have a right to protest, they really put parents in a tight spot. Parents have to work, so they depend on their kids being in school,” Colletti said.

Jackie Stephan, senior art major, said she took a public service bus with a friend to protest the bill Wednesday, Feb. 16.

“Even though I don’t go to a public school, I know a lot of kids who will be affected. It’s just an issue I feel really strongly about,” she said.

Business Division Chair Scott Neiderjohn said Wisconsin’s expected $1.5 billion deficit next year will probably create an even bigger debate.

“If you recognize how big the shortfall was, everyone knew some of it was going to have to come from state employees, and I’m not surprised that’s what Governor Walker’s decided to do,” Neiderjohn said. “All they’re doing right now is dealing with the last budget shortfall; we haven’t even started the next budget. That cycle starts in a few more weeks. Now they’re fighting over how to balance a budget that’s going to end this fiscal year. So the fight’s just beginning.”

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