Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) staff union Madison Teachers Inc. launched a campaign to push for additional resources and support to help Madison teachers amid the district’s ongoing staff shortage.
Staffing shortages in public schools are a nationwide problem, but Madison schools are experiencing shortages more acute than many surrounding Wisconsin school districts, according to Madison Teachers Inc. vice president and eighth grade teacher Andrea Missureli.
“Teachers are leaving the profession in general or are leaving Madison to go to other schools,” Missureli said. “We want them to stay here and be a part of Madison and the great things that can happen.”
Madison Metropolitan School District Communications and Public Affairs Director Tim LeMonds told the Capital Times the district had 88 staff vacancies as of Jan. 23, approximately 3% of the total workforce.
LeMonds did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Missureli said the shortage has stretched many teachers thin, as they are asked to take on more responsibilities to make up for gaps in staffing.
“Burnout definitely is a big concern,” Missureli said. “There’s a lot of new initiatives, planning time — teachers are asked to do certain stuff and not what they need to get done.”
Additional responsibilities have impacted the school district’s ability to hire and retain teachers, whose time is increasingly eaten up by the additional workload, Missureli said.
“A lot of that’s happening outside of the school day, which is really hard to have a family and a life if you’re working all the time and not getting paid that great to do it,” she said. “Not many people want to stick around for that.”
Missureli said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the school district’s problems, including understaffing, educator burnout and fewer resources for teachers and students.
Teachers experienced greater levels of anxiety compared to other professions, according to a study from the American Educational Research Association. The study found the effect was especially severe for those teaching remotely.
In response, Madison Teachers Inc. published a petition urging the MMSD to provide more resources to hire and retain teaching staff.
“The pandemic has left our public schools understaffed and under-supported,” the petition reads. “MMSD’s remaining staff are doing more with less, struggling to manage an unsustainable situation from which our students are bound to lose.”
The union launched the “Schools Madison Students Deserve” campaign, aimed at pushing the school district and school board to prioritize student and staff needs in the district’s budget. The campaign called on the school district to halt cuts to staff positions, hire additional support staff, reduce class sizes and increase the pay rate for staff working additional hours, such as over lunch.
“It really is draining and wearing and tearing on teachers that they’re doing so [many] extra jobs because we don’t have the staffing to do it,” Missureli said. “And with it there’s the pay — teachers aren’t even paid their contract rates to do all these extra jobs. If you give up your lunch, it’s $4 you get paid.”
LeMonds previously told the Capital Times the district has been working to hire teachers to address the staffing shortage.
“Within the last 12 months alone, the district has hired more teachers than it has in its recent history,” LeMonds said. “That said, the nationwide teacher shortage remains a very real concern and continues to impact schools in Wisconsin and across the country.”
Though the pandemic exacerbated the shortage, staffing had been tight for years, Missureli said. She noted some of the shortage is because of changes to educators’ wages, compensation and benefits under Act 10, a law passed under former Gov. Scott Walker that limited collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.
“Ever since Act 10, it really has decreased our amount of people coming out to become teachers,” Missureli said. “We used to have 300 applications for one position here in Madison, and now we can’t get people to apply.”
Act 10, passed in 2011 to address Wisconsin’s projected $3.6 billion budget deficit, limited public teachers exclusively to negotiations over wage increases not exceeding the Consumer Price Index. Under the law, public sector employees are not obligated to pay union dues, and unions cannot automatically collect dues from employees’ paychecks.
Erica Turner, associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said another potential consequence is the change in public perception of teachers.
“[Teachers] are suddenly given this message that people think that teachers don’t work hard and are not deserving of their pay, which is not necessarily particularly high in comparison to people with similar educational levels,” Turner said. “It also has this more intangible effect on the profession and how teaching is seen and how people understand how it’s regarded.”
According to data from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the percentage of teachers who retired or left the profession rose from 6.4% to 10.5% after the 2010-11 school year, when Walker signed Act 10 into law. Many of those were early retirements from teachers concerned about a decrease in benefits, according to Turner.
Turner said though the State Legislature faced difficulties balancing the state budget, the decision to weaken collective bargaining was not necessary to reduce the deficit.
“State budgets were really pressed at that time, but cuts didn’t have to come from education,” Turner said. “Another alternative would have been to raise taxes, especially on the highest earners.”
Turner said much of the power to address staffing shortages lies with the State Legislature, which decides how much money funds education. She said the legislature has the ability to address the problem by increasing state funding for education.
“It is a political choice,” she said. “We could put more money into education, and we could pay people more.”
Additionally, Missureli said providing more resources for Madison teachers ultimately benefits students.
“We want to make sure that we're staffed because we want the best schools here in Madison for our students,” Missureli said. “They deserve that.”
Francesca Pica is the city news editor for The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple municipal elections and is a leading reporter on Madison labor issues. Additionally, she will serve as a news intern for The Capital Times throughout the summer of 2023.