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Dave Umhoefer is an investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for a six-month investigation of Milwaukee County’s pension system; his stories exposed a corrupt, illegal scheme in which more than 350 employees had increased their pensions by a collective $50 million. The University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate is also a reporter for the Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact Wisconsin team and an adjunct instructor teaching investigative journalism to students at Marquette.
What follows is a series of stories that Dave Umhoefer reported while based at the Diederich College of Communication as an O’Brien Fellow during the 2015-16 academic year. His work published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he found that five years after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law took effect, superintendents are firmly in control as union influence fades. Assisted by Marquette students Sarah Hauer, Brittany Carloni and Stephanie Harte, Umhoefer examined financial reports and teacher data on the state’s 424 districts; compared old collective bargaining agreements with current employee handbooks in 100 districts; interviewed educators in 25 districts; and conducted a detailed survey of school superintendents. Robert J. Griffin, Ph.D., a Marquette journalism and media studies professor, helped with the survey.
JS OnPolitics, 10/6/16: Act 10, five years later: Reporters Dave Umhoefer and Sarah Hauer and editor Greg Borowski talk about the "Act 10 at Five" project.
Depending on the observer, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 push to virtually end collective bargaining in most of the public sector amounted to an overdue restoration of management authority, a hostile takeover of schools — or both. Walker says Act 10 freed up public school leaders to “put the best and the brightest in our classrooms.” It’s not that simple, a Journal Sentinel review of the law’s effects found.
Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, students and city taxpayers didn’t feel the full effect of Act 10 right away. The MPS contract with the teachers union remained in effect until June 2013, two years after the measure passed. But change came. Under the law, MPS accelerated its drive to push down benefit costs. That began earlier, when full collective bargaining existed.
Half of school chiefs view Act 10’s clampdown on collective bargaining as positive, compared to one-third who saw it as negative. Two-thirds of Journal Sentinel survey respondents don’t want a return to the pre-Act 10 world. The superintendents are three times more likely to disagree that Act 10 reduced teaching quality as agree.
Search by district to see how costs, teacher staffing, enrollment and teacher pay have changed since 2011, the year Act 10 abolished most collective bargaining.
The intensifying competition for teachers has created a split between the “haves” — districts that can outbid neighbors or boast other advantages — and the “have-nots,” lower-paying areas limited by finances, geography and other factors.
By Dave Umhoefer – Nationally, no state has lost more of its labor union identity than Wisconsin since 2011, a Journal Sentinel analysis found. Union members made up 14.2% of workers before Act 10, but just 8.3% in 2015. That was nearly double the drop of Alaska, the runner up.
By Dave Umhoefer and Brittany Carloni – Officials on both sides say the process is now clearly tipped in favor of the districts — most of which have lowered the bar for proving their own case, a Journal Sentinel review of policies in 100 randomly selected districts found.
By Brittany Carloni – In a power shift stemming from collective bargaining limits under Act 10, most public school teachers have weaker appeal rights when facing disciplinary action. Under the old system, independent arbitrators usually had the last word in determining punishment. School administrators and school board members now are firmly in control.
Wisconsin has seen the steepest decline in concentration of union members in the workforce since 2011 of any state in the U.S. Going back to 2005, the state has seen the number of union members fall by 187,000. Nationally, union membership fell from 15.7 million in 2005 to 14.8 million in 2015.
By Dave Umhoefer and Sarah Hauer – In 2015, four years after the law’s collective-bargaining limits reshaped the profession, the smallest group of juniors and seniors in two decades was enrolled in teaching programs at the state’s public universities. Some 25 percent of school districts are reporting an “extreme shortage” of job-seekers for key positions. Teaching is “no longer considered an attractive career path” for many top students, educators warned state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
By Dave Umhoefer – This six-part series examines a critical period in Walker’s career with an eye toward better understanding what led him to seek curbs on unions.
Dave Umhoefer and Sarah Hauer present key findings on Wisconsin's teacher turnover five years after the implementation of Act 10.
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