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Wisconsin Bargaining: 'What's There to Talk About?'

Anyone who thrilled to news of long and drawn-out collective-bargaining between local teachers' unions and school boards is having a rough day today, with the Associated Press highlighting the extremely brisk pace of negotiations between the unions and school boards in Wisconsin. With the laws pushed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 that eliminated most collective-bargaining rights for public workers, only base pay cost-of-living increases (which are capped by the state) are negotiable for public-school teachers, although if districts want to go beyond those caps they have to put the proposal in a referendum for a vote. One district reported that it reached an agreement with teachers in only 15 to 20 minutes.

Undoubtedly the best summation comes early in the story from Christina Brey, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union: "I mean really, what's there to talk about?"

Astute readers may recall that a similar collective-bargaining law was approved in Idaho in 2011 (although that law is being challenged by a ballot initiative later this year by the Idaho Education Association). Ken Burgess, who is managing a campaign supporting the 2011 law and other changes to K-12 schools, told me back in June that school districts have expressed "appreciation" for how smoothly negotiations have gone with their respective teachers' unions as a result.

One thing every political entity values to some extent is certainty. For local board members and others who believe that the new collective-bargaining restrictions are helpful because they eliminate variables from employee negotiations, the idea that bargaining can take less time than a sitcom should be very appealing. That's a fairly bloodless approach to collective bargaining, but it may quietly please some local school board members.

On the other hand, there's this April 2012 report from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards on the new collective-bargaining rules courtesy of Walker. The association highlights parts of the rules that are unclear and are "a likely subject of future litigation." The association also states that the rules don't explicitly limit what an employer may pay employees, only base wage increases, and adds: "Employers may unilaterally offer additional pay in the form of supplemental pay, step and lane movement, merit and performance pay, overtime and other additional compensation."

If local and state economic circumstances improve markedly in the next few budget cycles, could more liberal-minded districts provide teachers with more of these various pay increases?

To keep up with the latest state education news, make sure you follow State EdWatch's Twitter feed @StateEdWatch.

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