Protest disrupts Greenfield school meeting

Aug. 23, 2011

Greenfield - Shouts and chants, emanating from teachers unhappy with changes tied the state's collective bargaining law, were deafening in the relatively small Greenfield School Board meeting room Monday night.

The crowd was made up of teachers from both inside and outside the district, and the group even overflowed outside the meeting hall, prompting demands that the meeting be moved to a larger venue.

Greenfield teachers accounted for roughly 40 percent of the crowd, estimated Doug Perry, president of the Greenfield Education Association. The rest were from various school districts there to support the Greenfield teachers. They were loosely organized by the state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

The meeting became so raucous at one point that police were summoned in the event that the room had to be cleared. They remained outside and were never called in, although it was close, one official said.

Holding up the handbook

Though the group's exact demand of the School Board wasn't crystal clear, one issue that stood out was the district's approval of a handbook that takes the place of teachers' master contract. The handbook will affect working conditions, such as how many hours teachers will work, sick days, retirement and health insurance.

Holding signs saying "Care about educators like they care for your child," Greenfield educators in part protested not being able to help develop the handbook.

In response, school officials told the teachers that their involvement in the handbook could be interpreted as negotiating working conditions, something which is no longer allowed under new state law severely limiting the bargaining rights of public employees.

Following the meeting, Perry said he disagreed with such an interpretation.

"I don't consider meeting and conferring negotiating. No, I do not," Perry said, noting that he has negotiated several contracts for the Greenfield teachers in his 27 years teaching there. "I have 200 teachers who want some say in their lives."

Being kept in the dark about what their benefits are and what the new rules will be is a sign of disrespect, he said, reiterating comments heard during the meeting.

Plus, he noted, teachers were to start work the following day and they have not even seen a draft of the handbook.

"We're being ignored," Perry said.

Other complaints

Teachers also protested that they will have to work six more days without any extra pay. In addition, Greenfield High School teachers will have to stay an hour later every other Wednesday for inservice sessions and collaboration, one teacher said.

School Board President Bruce Bailey acknowledged after the meeting that teachers will have to attend inservice sessions on three days that had been paid days off. Inservices also are scheduled during other previously nonwork times, he said.

But the total 190 days teachers will work will still be in line with what nearby school districts ask of their teachers, Bailey said.

"The teachers in Greenfield worked a little less than some other districts," he said.

The schools are catching up with additional training that will help them be better teachers and improve student achievement, Bailey said.

Nature of the protest

Perry felt the demonstration before the School Board was helpful, even though the board approved the handbook unanimously and without comment that night.

"I think we've gotten their attention," he said.

But School Board members weren't pleased with the circus atmosphere.

It was a battle to get the meeting going, over chants of "shame, shame, shame," as Bailey tried several times to gavel the meeting to order but was shouted down.

School Board member David Richlen was hooted down when he tried to read a statement.

Afterward, Bailey said he was dismayed at what he called obnoxious behavior.

"Some teachers' behavior was disgraceful," he said, attributing most of the disruption to teachers from outside the district.

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