Oshkosh School Board members two weeks ago were presented with a report showing their school district’s teacher-turnover rate has escalated each of the three years since the passage of Act 10 in late 2010.

Act 10 is the law that emasculated teachers’ unions around the state by restricting their ability to collectively bargain for wage rates only, and not to exceed a cap based on the consumer price index unless approved by referendum.

There certainly may be several reasons for Oshkosh teachers stepping aside, including some of the same ones that caused the Ripon School District to lose some particularly fine, seasoned educators at the end of the 2011 school year who certainly weren’t past their prime...

Since the law was passed, Oshkosh has seen a 28-percent churn in its teaching staff. Some left to retire. Others switched professions. Many transferred to other school districts (reporting during exit interviews that they were offered new salaries as high as $18,000 more than they earned in Oshkosh, according to the Oshkosh Northwestern).

The fact that many transferred to other school districts is key, particularly since some would attribute the turnover to Oshkosh’s lower-than-average pay and more challenging working conditions.

Hard for an outsider to comment on the latter point, but Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s 2012-13 average salary report for teachers confirms that Oshkosh teachers’ average $49,337 salary is slightly below the state average of $49,739.

By comparison, the average salary for a Ripon teacher is $53,363.

Nearby communities with lower averages are Berlin with $47,708; Markesan $46,851 and Green Lake $48,030.

Coming in higher than Ripon are Fond du Lac at $57,701 and Waupun, with one of the highest average salaries in the state, at $60,150. (Highest is Nicolet UHS School District in Glendale, which averages a $73,748 salary and $26,594 in fringe benefits for a total average package of $100,342.) ...

Such data may explain, in part, why Oshkosh lost an average of 38.6 teachers annually in the three years before Act 10, and almost twice that average, 73.3 teachers, after the law was enacted.

An unintended consequence of Act 10 seems to be that it is going to force districts to compete more vigorously for high-quality teachers. Because those professionals no longer enjoy previous union contract provisions that gave them more money based on accumulation of experience and seniority, they no longer are facing a financial incentive to stay in their districts.

That flexibility gives experienced teachers greater freedom to shop around for a district that offers the pay, working conditions and philosophy commensurate with their abilities and needs.

That’s not to say that it’s easy for teachers to uproot their families, sell their homes and leave their communities for a paycheck that promises a couple more thousand dollars.

Nor does it guarantee that some districts won’t ignore resumes of experienced staff, fearing they can’t afford them.

But it does suggest that, thanks to Act 10, school districts and teachers are entering a marketplace that is a little more free — and a little more generous to those, be they employer or employee, who dare be aggressive. ...

— Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the Oct. 24, 2013 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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