State lawmakers okay Milwaukee schools plan

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MADISON (AP) -- The Assembly and Senate have agreed to allow Milwaukee schools to reopen negotiations for compensation or fringe-benefit concessions without nullifying existing union contracts.

The measure, giving them 90 days, passed the Assembly early Wednesday. It passed the Senate later Wednesday. Gov. Scott Walker supports it.

Milwaukee city officials asked Milwaukee Public Schools to contribute nearly $10 million more to the pension plan because of financial market downturns. So the teachers union, school board and the superintendent asked the Legislature for the opportunity to negotiate to reduce costs.

Bob Peterson, the president of Milwaukee's teacher's union told FOX6 Wednesday why it is so important to reopen contract negotiations. "I'm very concerned with the large class sizes, the lack of art and physical education. Basically what we have in Milwaukee is a situation where it's an educational apartheid, where the kids in this city don't receive what kids in more affluent communities get, and they deserve," Peterson said.

At the Milwaukee teacher's union headquarters, "Recall Walker" signs are prominently displayed, yet some allege what the union is doing hurts the recall effort. Four other teacher's unions: Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine asked the Milwaukee Teacher's Education Association not to do it. In a letter to the MTEA, they wrote: "Such legislation will enable Governor Walker to claim victory of his policy to (rein) in public employee wages and benefits."

In FOX6's exclusive interview with Governor Walker Tuesday night, it seemed that idea may have some truth. "I think they've finally now realized, in the last few weeks, that they're not bluffing, and that the only real option is to invoke, at least in part, the reforms that we put in place," Walker said.

The MTEA says it still supports the recall efforts, but is concerned with the reality of budget cuts and declining enrollment. "The bottom line is, if this community doesn't come together and support public schools, the entire metropolitan area is in jeopardy," Peterson said.

The measure to reopen contract negotiations now heads to Governor Walker's desk, where he's certain to sign it. Then, the MTEA will have discussions with teachers on ideas and proposals. Eventually, the issue will be up to a teacher vote.

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton tells FOX6 News any money saved through further concessions will go directly into classrooms.