This coming Sunday will formally mark a huge wave of teacher and staff retirements in Milwaukee Public Schools.
June 30 is the date union contracts with the district dissolve because of Wisconsin Act 10.
Going forward, MPS will use an employee handbook to spell out benefits and work rules.
The number of MPS retirements this spring is 2 ½ times the usual rate, according to Karen Jackson. She’s Human Resources director. Of the 700 leaving, 400 are teachers. Jackson cites two main reasons for the mass exodus.
“A large number of people were eligible for retirement so it has to do with the age of staff and the second reason is there’s a range of time when people can retire and with the changes the district made in benefits, for some it was better for them to leave so they could get the best package instead of waiting a little longer when things would be more uncertain,” Jackson says.
One retiree is 59-year-old Marty Horning. He taught and managed programs for students at-risk of failing. Horning says he had no choice but to retire, after the state stripped most public workers of union rights.
“We’re already facing considerable increases in pensions and health care, lost accumulated sick time which is going into affect on July 1. As a higher seniority person, those were not insignificant losses but I think at the core of this is not being able to be protected by a contract,” Horning says.
Horning says he loved his job and would have stayed another three years – until he was 62. Bob Peterson has tallied the numbers of those walking out the door. He’s president of the Milwaukee teachers union.
“The commitment and hard work of our members sums up about 16,000 years of experience. As in many professions, experience matters. Experience counts and so, it is going to take an effort on everybody’s part to make sure that this next year goes well for the Milwaukee Public Schools,” Peterson says.
MPS held a series of job fairs early this year. Human Resources Director Karen Jackson says they were fruitful - the district has filled 90 percent of its openings. Kelly O’Keefe-Boettcher is anxious to work with the newcomers. She’s a teacher at Rufus King High School.
“I’m so excited about the new teachers who are coming into the building and we all have to step it up. I don’t want this to devolve into a conversation about oh, there’s a problem with new teachers, no, we have to take good care of our teachers and we have to mentor them,” O’Keefe-Boettcher says.
O’Keefe-Boettcher praises MPS for expanding its teacher-mentoring program. It will provide workshops and training throughout the year, with a massive teacher orientation session set for August.