Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why Apologize?

At its February 28th meeting, the Sun Prairie School Board voted to approve 1-year contract extensions with both the teachers union (SPEA) and school support staff union (AFSCME Local 60).
On the one hand, this was a magnanimous gesture from the employer to its employees.  On the other, it was a slap in the face to both the community at large, and the full intent behind Wisconsin's Open Meetings Laws. How could one move have such dichotomous implications?  Why did one community resident demand that the school board apologize to the community? Let us explain.
On the plus side
Unless you've been in a coma, it is abundantly clear that KingGovernor Scott Walker is hellbent on disintegrating Democrat-supporting unions. The contract approved by the school board actually incorporates more of the Governor's fiscal mandates than would have been required.  Yet it retains the actual contract language and ability to collectively bargain for another year (through June 20, 2012).  Yes, the district could have squished the life-force from the unions and forced a slightly larger concession on health insurance premiums.  
And yes, the board could have gone for the jugular and (without the contract) torched the salary grid matrix with it's automatic step and lane increases. But unlike Scott Walker, the board chose discretion as the better part of valor.  The board and the district and their employees chose to work collaboratively through tight financial times.  Gee...what a novel concept.  [Can you say "collaborative", Scott?  We didn't think so.]  And the board chose to be human.  And these are good things.  Those are the reasons why rushing this contract through served "the greater good".
Whoa!  Where's the fire?
Why the rush to push the contracts through in the span of less than 4 days?  Because the possibility existed that at any moment, the Senate Democrats who left the building to allow time for the public--and the Legislature-- to ponder things could have returned.  If the Budget Repair Bill gets signed in its current form, then --at that moment-- the district's hands would be tied, and there would be no such ability to contract as they did.  That would mean loss of control at the local level.  And it would destroy the unions once and for all.   And people--because the teachers and other district employees ARE people--- deserve better treatment.  So, in the end, pushing these contracts through was the right thing to do.

Not so fast...the other perspective
What's the hub, bub?  Why did citizen Mealy demand an apology to the community?  Why? Because despite Walker tossing out everything including the kitchen sink in his budget bills, there are still these teensy little annoyances called Open Meetings Laws.

Yes, the school board satisfied the Open Meetings Laws with respect to public noticing.  The problem is that they didn't give the public a chance to even SEE what they were approving until 2:45 pm on Monday 2-28-2011.  That's less than FIVE HOURS before the school board meeting.  And then what they posted was over 100 pages of contract documents.  And they weren't even complete!  Why on earth should the public support a huge, incomplete contract with less than 5 hours to review it???
Not that we're advocating for it, but the district COULD have just let the chips fall, and we ultimately we would have made the same or a better deal.
You can't have it both ways.   
Those affected by Walker's Budget Repair Bill were up in arms when it was made available on Friday 2-11-2011.  The protests started, not only because it effectively neutered the unions, but the public would have less than 5 days to review it before it was voted (in theory) into law.  The plan was to vote on it on Tuesday 2-15-2011.  But then those 14 Democrats left the building to allow the public court of opinion more time to ponder the severity of Walkers action. In Sun Prairie, the public didn't have any such fortune.  They also got even less time to decide.  And they didn't even know what was being agreed upon.  The board ramrodded the contracts through without pausing to consider the public.  And that was wrong. It was bad form to the nth power.  
You can't protest the timing of the Governor's Budget Repair Bill and then argue in support of the exact same thing here. Life doesn't work that way.  Not to induce nausea here, but...what does that "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality teach our children?

What SHOULD have been done
What the board SHOULD have done to mitigate the situation was to IMMEDIATELY post SOMETHING on Friday.  Even just a simple bulleted list of what the board agreed to would have been enough. SOMEONE should have hammered out the key points of these contracts, posted them liberally on the District website, and e-mailed them to Dr. Tim's "Key Communicators".  It would not have taken even 30 minutes.  And it could have been written such that it was not only logical, but fiscally responsible.  
In the end, these contracts were right for the district, the employees, and the community.  But the community deserves an opportunity to make that judgement for them selves.  Unfortunately, they were left to trust the school board to make good judgement.  And in recent history, the community is more likely to trust Bernie Madoff with their nest egg than to trust the school board's ability to make good, sound decisions.

Why Whalen Gets it...and McCourt does not
To his credit, board president John Whalen took it on the chin and opted to offer a public apology.  Thanks for no letting pride get in the way, Mr. Whalen!  Yeah...pride doesn't taste so good going down the hatch, but you win points for taking a few moments to recognize that you--and the board-- owed the public better.  The community appreciated your willingness to do that.
McCourt on the other hand is...well...McCourt.  He boldly declared that he would NOT apologize.  He missed the point, but that's kinda par for the course for ole' Jimbo.  He applies his warped form of logic to rationalize his every move.  But, then,  this is a guy that still doesn't get the whole sea bass thing.  Just remember, Jimmy...pride goeth before the fall.  Frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.  You just continue to stay the course.  Doing so provides an endless source of immensely entertaining amusement.  Carry on!
No apologies, nah suckers I'm not sorry
You can all sue me; y'all could be the cause of me
No apologies, y'all feeling the force of me
No remorse for me, like there was no recourse for me

No apologies, not even acknowledging you at all
Till I get a call that God's coming
No apologies, laugh f*ckers, its all funny
I can spit in your face while you're standing across from me
No apologies

---Eminem "No Apologies"

Fish and bear paws-one can't have both.
--ancient Chinese proverb