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Governor to slash Wisconsin spending

Schools hit hard by planned cuts

Police tried to get a protester to leave a ledge at the Wisconsin Capitol building yesterday. Demonstrators oppose a bill that would restrict collective bargaining for government workers. Police tried to get a protester to leave a ledge at the Wisconsin Capitol building yesterday. Demonstrators oppose a bill that would restrict collective bargaining for government workers. (Scott Olson/ Getty Images)
By Scott Bauer
Associated Press / March 1, 2011

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MADISON, Wis. — Governor Scott Walker’s explosive proposal to take nearly all collective bargaining rights away from most public workers represents just one piece of his vision for the state’s future. Now he’s ready to reveal the rest.

With the union rights proposal stuck in a legislative stalemate thanks to runaway Senate Democrats, the Republican governor planned to forge ahead with today’s release of his two-year spending plan that includes major cuts to schools and local governments to help close a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.

Walker says his collective bargaining measure would free local governments from having to bargain with public employee unions as they deal with the cuts. Schools last week started putting teachers on notice that their contracts may not be renewed for next year given the budget uncertainty.

Walker has confirmed he will propose cutting education aid by about $900 million, or 9 percent statewide.

“All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker’s proposals are too extreme,’’ said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. She said more than 2,000 teachers had received nonrenewal notices as of yesterday.

Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say Walker’s proposal is intended to undermine unions and weaken a key Democratic voter base. The state’s largest public employee union filed a complaint yesterday alleging Walker has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to negotiate.

The Wisconsin State Employees Union complaint asked the state labor relations board to extend its contract and require Walker’s administration to engage in collective bargaining.

Walker insists Wisconsin is broke and has nothing to offer. He spent yesterday touring the state, renewing his threat of deeper cuts and layoffs if his proposal isn’t passed by today.

If the state misses that deadline, it won’t be able to save $165 million through debt refinancing, which was a key part of his bill, Walker said.

Walker has warned he will start issuing layoff notices to state workers as soon as this week if the bill isn’t passed, but he hasn’t said who would be targeted.

School leaders are bracing for more bad news. The governor is expected to announce a new revenue limit that would require a $500 per-pupil reduction in property tax authority.

The limits, in place since 1993, have gradually grown to reflect increasing education costs. That part of Walker’s proposal alone would reduce the money available to the state’s 424 districts by 7 percent, or nearly $600 million, based on a study done by University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor Andrew Reschovsky.

“When you make unprecedented and historic cuts like these to schools, it means teachers are laid off, class sizes are larger, course offerings are reduced, extracurricular activities are cut, and whole parts of what we value in our schools are gone,’’ State Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.

In Janesville, a district with about 10,000 students, the school expects to get about a $5 million cut in aid, said David Parr, president of the local teachers union.

The district already is considering laying off up to 60 of its teachers to deal with a nearly $10 million budget deficit this year, Parr said. The teachers also have been asked to reopen contracts that are in effect until mid-2013, he said.

“If we don’t reopen the contract, that means they would have to cut teachers,’’ Parr said. “That’s the bottom line. There aren’t a lot of options left.’’

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards says the changes stripping workers’ collective bargaining rights wouldn’t take effect until an existing agreement expires or is extended, modified, or renewed.

A large state aid cut also could force Milwaukee public schools, the state’s largest district, to lay off teachers. Their four-year contract runs until 2013. Reschovsky’s analysis says the district stands to lose $60 million under Walker’s revenue limit reduction alone.

A spokesman for the district declined to comment.

Walker’s stalled collective bargaining proposal would require state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and double their health insurance contribution beginning April 1. Those changes would be expanded to nearly all other public workers, except those operating under existing union contracts, beginning July 1.

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