Opinion: Empowering educators: A call for negotiation rights in Wisconsin

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By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen

February 28, 2024

This week marks “Public Schools Week,” highlighting the dedication of teachers, paras, custodians, secretaries and others who collaborate with parents to inspire and educate students across our great state.

Our profession is our calling. We are there every day for our students. We are committed to delivering high learning standards, ensuring student safety and going the extra mile to create inclusive learning environments for every child, no exceptions.

Having a front-row seat to what happens in our schools gives us unique insights, making us passionate advocates for restoring our rights to negotiate with our employers. Families depend on us to shape the education students receive and having a voice at the decision-making table is crucial for improvements.

Betsy Ramsdale, a Wisconsin teacher and co-president of her local education association, explains, “For over a decade, the deck has been stacked against educators like me. Teachers and support staff work in partnership with parents to teach students about compromise and collaboration, but school districts aren’t required to do the same. It’s frustrating and demoralizing, and a huge reason Wisconsin doesn’t have enough staff to meet student needs.”

The lack of collaboration contributes to critical staffing shortages. It has led to pay disparities, with districts paying teachers with similar qualifications and experience differently. In one case, federal agents intervened when female teachers were paid as much as $20,000 less than their male counterparts.

Beyond fair compensation, the decision to remain in the profession hinges on job support and consistent policies that foster success for educators and students. The key to achieving this is through open dialogue, collaboration and negotiation between educators and our employers.

The same challenges – low pay, staffing shortages and worsening working conditions – are impacting public service employees including correctional officers and other essential workers. All of us are united because, while we are called to serve our communities, all public employees deserve respect and acknowledgment for our contributions. The restoration of our right to negotiate with employers is crucial to ensuring that we can continue delivering for the communities that rely on us every day. It’s time to strengthen the foundation of Wisconsin by empowering educators and other public employees to negotiate with our employers.

Author

  • Peggy Wirtz-Olsen

    Peggy Wirtz-Olsen is a Wisconsin high school English and art teacher serving as the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council with classroom experience in central and eastern Wisconsin. She works daily with teachers and education support professionals to improve public education and the lives of our students.

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