Call for higher wages: La Crosse Central teacher wants wholesale change in education investment

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As teachers leave education for alternative options, one La Crosse teacher says investment priorities must change

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — This is National Teacher Appreciation Week. However, many teachers around the country say they don’t feel valued.

One La Crosse teacher said such a commemoration might as well be canceled if communities won’t invest in education. Central High School’s John Havlicek said teachers are finding better wages in other fields that value their skills.

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“I don’t know how we can continue to get every kid across the finish line when the district isn’t even getting it’s employees to the starting line,” Havlicek said at the La Crosse School Board meeting Monday night.

The cost of living has only grown.

“We got folks leaving the profession,” Havlicek said.

Teachers are feeling the pinch, he said.

“I think we’ve had 18 or 19 teachers leave the school district during the school year,” Havlicek said.

Havlicek said the problem dates back to the Qualified Economic Offer of the 1990s.

“What it really did was it just started crunching down teachers’ salaries,” Havlicek said.

Act 10 lowered salaries even more by stripping Wisconsin teachers’ unions from being able to negotiate raises higher than the state’s inflation rate.

La Crosse Superintendent Aaron Engel has to cut things before he can even think about adding extras.

“We’ve got no usable money from the state for next year and we had none for this year either,” Engel said.

Declining enrollment will reduce next year’s budget by $2.4 million, Engel said.

Some districts have turned to the ballot box. However, referendums raise property taxes.

“We have to decide if we all want to save 12 bucks or eight bucks, or whatever it is,” Havlicek said. “Or, if we wanna fund public good … that everyone benefits from.”

This spring, voters in Sparta rejected a $2.1 million referendum. The Sparta superintendent said he had no choice without that money. The district will shut down Cataract Elementary school at the end of this school year.

Havlicek said he believes there’s money out there, but it’s up to Wisconsin lawmakers to use it wisely.

“It’s just a manner of prioritizing where we want those dollars to go,” Havlicek said.

“You gotta quit telling us you appreciate us because it’s starting to ring hollow. The district can do better. The district needs to do better. Please do better,” Havlicek said as he concluded his message to the school board Monday.

Younger teachers will shop around for jobs until they find one that pays the most, Havlicek said. It’s just like free agency in sports, he said, adding the districts with the smaller budgets will get hurt the most.

Schools need to at least keep pace with inflation, Havlicek said.

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