Monday, August 10, 2015

In Post-Act 10 world, schools and prisons can't find staff

With only 3 weeks remaining before the first day of school in much of Wisconsin, many districts around the state are struggling to find enough teachers to keep class sizes from ballooning. The Wisconsin Budget Project accumulated some of the examples of the problems those districts are having in filling positions, in both rural and urban places.
The La Crosse school district is struggling to fill 23 vacancies before the 2015-16 school year starts. A school district official said the number of applicants for openings has dropped in recent years.

The Portage school district has hired 32 full-time teaching positions in recent months, with still more positions to fill before school begins. “We’ve had a significant decrease in the number of people we see applying for positions,” said a school district administrator.

Schools in Southeastern Wisconsin are having a hard time finding substitute teachers. Officials from the Yorkville, Whitewater, Elkhorn, Fond du Lac, North Fond du Lac, Rosendale-Brandon, and Green Lake school districts said their districts struggle to hire substitutes.

Officials from those school districts cited a number of reasons for their difficulty in hiring teachers, including state-level changes to salaries, benefits, and collective bargaining rights of school district employees (changes that are sometimes collectively referred to as Act 10); dissatisfaction among potential job applicants with the growing emphasis on standardized testing for students; and an improving economy that offers a wider range of career options.
The Budget Project also mentions that the percentage of graduates that major in education has dropped since 2004, but the study only goes to 2014. Act 10 was passed in 2011, which means that many of those 2014 graduates were already choosing education as a career when it hit. Let's see what happens to that stat in future years, as the Walker/WisGOP attack on teachers and public education continued, and teaching continued to be denigrated as a profession by right-wing propaganda and the take-home pay and security associated with teaching jobs decreased as union contracts expired.

You're also seeing fallout from Act 10 and other Walker/WisGOP austerity moves in the state's prison system, as many prisons began to implement a budget measure that will reduce the hours that guard towers are staffed.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has begun implementing some of the changes including in the recently signed budget. It means that prison towers are unstaffed on third shift. The budget eliminated 60 tower guard positions at 10 prisons to save nearly $6 million.

Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab said the towers will be staffed on other shifts, except at night when inmates are secured in their cells.

In a statement to News 3 this week, Staab said many modern prisons, including the newer prisons in Wisconsin, only have one or two towers at the entry points into the secure perimeter or may not have any towers.
The Channel 3 story goes on to note that the guard will not lose their jobs, as they will move into other vacant postions.

In light of this change, State Rep. Dave Considine and State Sen. Jon Erpenbach penned an editorial noting that the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage (which is in both of their districts) is one of many prisons suffering from staff shortages. And they think there's a reason open positions are available for the third-shift guards to move into - because without union rights and protections, CCI PAYS A NEAR-POVERTY WAGE for a dangerous job, and few people will take it.
While neither of us have actually worked inside a corrections institution, we know that it is one of the most difficult jobs in public service. Without weapons, guards work 8-16 hours in a row policing and directing inmates who have chosen to show a disregard for the law that ended them up in prison. It is a stressful job. It is a dangerous job. It is a job that can at times be all consuming, costing people their relationships, friendships, lives outside of work and sometimes personal welfare and health. For this the State of Wisconsin pays $15 starting wage for your first two years. Just over $31,000 a year for a job that puts your life and safety at risk. Pay is the issue for the hiring of new guards. Without the safety risks and simple physical and mental challenges of working in a prison institution that would be a decent living wage, but with their presence it is not.

General wage increases are needed for all levels of corrections officers to ensure staffing at safe levels for guards, inmates and the community. To help deter the costs the DOC should consider labor markets in the area and set base wages higher where the cost of living and labor market demonstrate that they cannot hire without a higher wage. They have the statutory ability to do this now.

For those that have served 15, 20, or 25 years as a corrections officer of any rank we believe the mitigating factor for retention is morale. Corrections officers are not the enemy. They are not the enemy for the public. Officers keep us safe and police the laws the Legislature has made in crime sentencing. Guards are not the enemy of Governor Walker and his Department of Corrections either. Policies that are created by DOC and are known to cause distress and workplace dissatisfaction are a part of the problem. Policies like the additional $85 million pay cut all public employees in the group insurance plan over the next two years are another. There is no union for officers and rank and file are left now to bring their workplace safety and condition complaints directly to the DOC administration. This has proven to be a challenge for the DOC.
And why should we be surprised in the post-Act 10 world that two of the public services that deal with the highest-risk populations (schools and prisons) are having problems finding enough people to handle their needed job? It's simple supply and demand- and if you underpay for workers and treat them like crap without rights, they tend to be less likely to enter the field, or stick around if they're already working in it.

This was entirely predictable, and one of many reasons why Act 10 was arrogant, stupid policy that continues to hurt our state. For a bunch of alleged "free-marketers", the GOPs that signed onto that horrible law sure didn't understand what would happen to the quality of services and workers once they devalued the profession.

Or maybe they did, and maybe this deterioration of Wisconsin public service (and services) is just what they wanted....


  1. The media interviewed a sergeant from the Portage prison, and he mentioned that a supervisor had told one of his co-workers that the reason they were unable to retain new officers was due to the more senior officer's negative attitude chasing them out. Very interesting to read that, because my guy up in the Green Bay prison told me that he was told the same thing by management. If this is what they truly believe, this problem is very far from being solved.

    1. And with no union rights, the ability to be bullied by management certainly goes up. And you are correct, this could well be an ongoing cycle (the ALEC people certainly would want that)

  2. It should be no surprise since Kansas, the state that has been something of a pathfinder for Wisconsin, has been in the throes of these shortages as well. But since Kansas started its drive to eliminate taxes and pay for its expenses through magical means earlier than Wisconsin, its problem have arrived sooner.

  3. I should add that there is a magical ALEC-sponsored solution to the teacher shortage, and that is licensing changes so that "anyone with a bachelor's can teach". We've already seen that appear here in Wisconsin, but the conservatives got ahead of themselves and didn't wait for the shortages to become extreme. It will be making another appearance, count on it.

    I suppose some sort of privatization solution is rolling around the craniums of the GOP as an answer to the prison staffing problem. I guess I'll really get worried if that is accompanied by some sort of Press Gang Law, but the sales pitch will probably feature lots of appellations to the magic of private firms, invisible hands, etc., etc.

    1. Funny how these things all tie together, isn't it Doc? Or they'll say "virtual schools online" or some other BS is the way to go (for companies the ALEC folks just happen to be tied into).

      The dummies in WisGOP may not know how all this fits together, but their puppetmasters sure do.