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Monday, May 20, 2024
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A member of Madison Teachers Incorporated protests for better pay at a rally on UW-Madison Campus  on April 15, 2024.

Teachers’ union holds protest against staff cuts, stagnant wages

Madison Teachers Incorporated demonstrated efforts to obtain fair wages for staff and keep the jobs of school district employees.

A union representing Madison Metropolitan School District employees  held a demonstration on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Monday to advocate for teachers’ rights and student health staff.   

Madison Teachers Inc. acts as a voice for teachers’ pay, benefits and working conditions, according to its website. Members at Monday’s protest called for fair compensation and support for mental health professionals and other MMSD employees poised to lose their jobs due to budget cuts.

MTI President Mike Jones said “significant and deliberate underfunding by the state Legislature” has made Wisconsin schools cut staff in important areas like mental health support.

“While we’re seeing cuts to counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists and other behavioral health specialists, our students, our young people, our families, are saying ‘I need more mental health supports, especially in school,’” Jones told The Daily Cardinal.

More: MMSD teachers tired of doing ‘more with less’ amid budget talks

According to a 2023 National Institutes of Health study, rates of mental health problems among children have increased dramatically due to the pandemic, making counselors a valuable resource for struggling children and families.

The union also marched in support of fair compensation for MMSD employees, which Jones feels is intentionally held back by state lawmakers. Republicans in the Legislature have a history of proposed budget cuts for school mental health staff.

Jones said MMSD is offering teachers no cost-of-living adjustment, resulting in salaries falling behind inflation and lower employee retention rates.

“It’s intended to be more destabilizing so that privateers and vouchers and charters can come in and soak up all that money and then probably do a worse job educating kids,” Jones said.

Research published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found charter schools have higher teacher turnover rates than public schools and display worsened outcomes on standardized tests.

Jones said the next step for MTI is “continuously going back to the bargaining table” on teacher contracts and “engaging with” students and families to organize a collective front and achieve their goals.

More: Madison teachers union pushes for better pay, more resources amid staffing shortage

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Jones expressed hope in incoming MMSD superintendent Joe Gothard, who he said “understands” the role that MMSD staff play in serving students from underrepresented communities.

In an email to the Cardinal, Gothard voiced support for the demonstrating teachers and conveyed a desire to help them with their efforts.

“Our teachers’ collective voice is strong, and their concerns, insights and suggestions are critically important to our district meeting its commitment to continuous improvement,” Gothard said. “Having the opportunity to directly engage with MMSD educators is one of the aspects of my upcoming transition to the district that I’m most excited about.”

However, Gothard said it might be a slow process for these goals to be attained.

“My initial focus [as superintendent] is going to be more on listening and learning than on enacting immediate change,” Gothard said. “Before I can make recommendations for improvement, I need to gather as much information as I can, and that’s where my work will begin.”

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