Success story: Lake Mills demonstrates professional respect to educators

 

“This is proof positive a union exists with or without recertification. A union exists when we unite for professional respect and better schools.”

Teachers in the Lake Mills Area School District are again receiving recognition for their experience and increased professional respect for their dedication to students as a result of a four-year campaign.

The district has moved all teachers to their appropriate cells of experience that they lost from salary freezes since Act 10 (up to 4 steps), plus a 2.5 percent increase for all staff (teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, secretaries, bus drivers, etc.). The move came after a failed administrative proposal of a 2 percent increase, which the board knew was not sufficient to attract or retain staff.

“I find it important to note that our local association accomplished this without jumping through the hoops of so-called ‘recertification,’ because we could not stomach paying the state fee to be a ‘Walker-approved union,’ ” said Brad Klotz, Lake Mills band director and Region 6 executive.

How did the local do it? First, members got involved with school board elections, interviewing candidates to identify which were true advocates of public schools, and then sending post cards to WEAC educators who lived within the school district to spread the word. “This approach was never attempted before in our district, which has a teaching staff of about 100,” Klotz said. “We also partnered with other union members who recognize that schools are the heart of our community. They helped support two successful building referenda.”

Brad Klotz

Brad Klotz

Klotz said teachers partner with education support professionals to read a statement at school board meetings during public input time, so the union is at all board meetings. After establishing a presence at the meetings, union members started personal conversations about local schools with board members, and invited them to one-on-one meetings at homes, coffee shops and restaurants.

“We did this to open a dialogue,” Klotz said. “We knew our members’ rights to meet with elected officials. Before long, our board members were contacting us to get our thoughts on proposals. Board members started asking more questions, and administration started meeting with staff committees to help confer on decisions. Much credit also belongs to the Citizen Advocates for Public Education (CAPE), a supportive community group that advocated for strong local schools.”

“It was a long road, and a team effort to get us here in four years,” Klotz said. Unfortunately, along the way, the district lost a lot of quality talent to other schools that were paying more competitively.

“It’s my hope that by sharing the Lake Mills’ story, other locals will see what is possible, and just maybe help Wisconsin turn the page,” Klotz said.