GREEN BAY — Teachers across the state are hoping Democrats and Republicans can come together when it comes to collective bargaining. Even though Democrat Tom Barrett lost the recall election for governor, teachers haven't given up hope.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker not only keeps his job, but the recall vote showed support for his reforms, specifically the elimination of collective bargaining.
The Associated Press exit polling of voters indicates 52 percent support changes to the collective bargaining law. Fifty-two percent also support Walker's handling of the issue.
"The governor cannot continue to deny, no matter what you say, you cannot take $1.6 billion out of education, out of the private sector, and say you're going to do any better," said Toni Lardinois, executive director of the Green Bay Education Association.
Lardinois admits the governor's reforms to education were not all gloom and doom as union protesters at the state Capitol a year ago were predicting.
That may account for the fact that only 62 percent of union households backed Barrett in the recall. That’s the same percentage that supported him before two years ago, according to AP exit polls.
"This year was the craziest year a school district could have, with all the changes we've made," said Alan Wagner, assistant superintendent of business and finance with the Green Bay Area Public School District.
Wagner says the governor's changes resulted in no teacher or program cuts for the coming year.
"And that will continue to be our goal into the future," explained Wagner.
But the district was forced to call on teachers and support staff to pay more into health and dental plans to make up state cuts to school aid and erase a $9 million budget deficit due to rising costs.
Green Bay schools met its budget for the coming year, but the following year Lardinois insists will be another story.
"Unless the governor restores the $1.6 billion, I can very well see we'll be looking at cuts, certainly cuts in personnel and programs,” said Lardinois.
But as Walker and Barrett wrapped up election night, there was talk on both sides moving forward and working together on issues like education.
"We are one as Wisconsinites, so together we can move Wisconsin forward," said Walker to his supporters.
Leaders with the Democratic Party of Brown County say the ball has always been in Walker's court.
"It's really up to him at this point to extend the olive branch and try to bring us together. If he can't do that, then we'll continue to have the kind of strife that we've had in the last few months," said Bob Kiefert, vice chair of the Democratic Party of Brown County.
State Rep. Chad Weininger (R-Allouez) is confident that, come January, the new legislature will take up education once again.
"I think its very important to have family members and teachers part of the discussion to ensure we produce quality kids," said Weininger.
But will that discussion include additional funding for education?
Walker has said as the state creates more jobs, there will be additional revenue available. But Walker told me leading up to the election it's not just about state funding, when asked if more money was needed in education.
"It's not about more money, it's about spending it more wisely," said Walker.
"We are hoping the governor will look at school districts and realize the benefits of the public school system and hopefully increase the revenues that do come to the school districts," said Wagner.
The teacher's union points out while Walker won the recall, the vote - like the politics - remains relatively split.
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