I have tried to keep this blog free of overt discussion of my personal political views, feeling - often rightfully - that politics are a hotbed that can stifle other discussions about music and education. I am changing that today by posting the following letter - with permission - from Dr Jerry Young. Dr Young is a Professor of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. You can read his bio here; this letter was not written lightly, and he has a long history in the field of education and music to back up his writing. (It is slightly edited to remove a few more personal items.)
The on-going political battle in Wisconsin is spreading to Ohio and other states, where governors are trying to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state unions, using the guise of balancing the budget as a reason. This affects state workers, including teachers, university police officers, mental health employees, among many, many others.
The Wisconsin debate has a lot of nuances. Please take the time to read the following letter, and stay up to date on the debate. Madison.com & Channel3000.com are two good local news sources, but this has been publicized far-wide, in the New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC, and on Al Jazeera English.
If you choose to comment, please keep the debate civil. The protesters - on both sides - have been lauded for the civility of this discussion. Any offensive comments will be removed immediately.
21 February 2011
My Dear Friends,
I’m writing to you today relative to the state of affairs in Wisconsin brought about by the budget repair bill submitted by Governor Scott Walker. I’m sending this letter to just a few studio alums from the various generations of students over the past 28 years in hopes that it will be posted on Facebook accounts and spread in that fashion. I just randomly selected names of folks who I think check e-mail from time to time. No, I still don’t have a Facebook account because I’m still overwhelmed with e-mail and snail mail and all the other facets of my 60 to 70 hours weeks that I know many of you face, too. I am establishing a new e-mail account specifically to deal with correspondence relative to activism on this matter. I’m sure that those of you who are educators realize that we are not to use our school e-mail accounts for political activism. I would prefer that you contact me at the new address for any discussions relative to this issue.
First, I am devastated by the financial impact that this bill is going to have on most of you and your families who are teaching in Wisconsin. Most of all I hope that some compromise can be reached. I am sending correspondence, attending meetings, and participating in demonstrations to try to bring that result. I hope that you are all doing the same. It’s certainly frightening to look at a combined $9,000 hole in the budget at our house, but I can’t imagine how those of you who are in dual (or even single) public employee households are going to navigate that kind of loss. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that, but just hoping isn’t enough. I am encouraging you to join me in contacting legislators and reminding them that we are the heart of the middle class tax-paying public, and that we expect the progressive tradition in Wisconsin to be upheld. Further, although I know this can be uncomfortable in some instances, talk to your community friends and your immediate and extended families. I’m discovering that so many people, even people who I have known for years, have no idea relative to how much money I make or the kind of hours that go into my job. The same is probably true for those of you who are teachers. Many people think that we’re on the gravy train with our salaries and even more so with our benefit packages. When I have asked the question relative to how much my salary is, the typical response is $80,000 to $100,000. When I tell them that my current take home pay is less than $45,000 per year and that my work week is generally between 60 and 70 hours (and that I’m unemployed in the summer with no paycheck), they’re in shock. Any taxpayer can go to the Wisconsin Red Book and find out your salary anyway – it’s a matter of public record. So don’t be shy about sharing your story with the numbers
Second, don’t forget that “the bottom line” on this entire controversy is NOT about the budget deficit. It is about denying the right to collective bargaining, and the implications go far beyond our immediate circumstance. At this point, the Governor is not even remotely denying his motive. He doesn’t care if we all say, “okay, put a large hole in our family budgets and devastate the economy of Wisconsin – increase our contributions to our family health insurance and pensions.” That offer has been put forward at least three times, and he refuses to come to the table and discuss it. Tell your friends and family about the things that are negotiated in your contracts that directly affect your work load and time with your family, both things that require extra time for which you need to be compensated, as well as the things that have nothing to do with money. They won’t know if we don’t tell them.
Third (and this is critically important for those of you who live in Wisconsin), know that the Eau Claire City Council and the Eau Claire County Board have passed resolutions condemning the legislation because they indeed want to preserve collective bargaining and because it works. The Eau Claire School Board will, in all likelihood, pass a similar resolution this evening (Monday, February 21). It is my understanding that other cities across the state feel similarly and plan to pass similar resolutions. We need to encourage our cities, counties, and (maybe most important) school boards to band together with these resolutions and see to it that they get into the media. Governor Walker says that he is meeting a mandate from the cities of Wisconsin with this legislation. This is simply untrue, and he has to be called on this. It is NOT something that he wants to hear, but he must be forced to listen. We have several staunch Republicans on our City Council here in Eau Claire, and they were part of a unanimous vote to support the resolution. At its root, this is not a partisan Democrat/Republican issue. I know that political views in our studio family vary widely. My circle of friends, both inside and outside of the music and music education professions, also represent many varied political views, but this issue is uniting them – even some folks who want us to pay more for our benefits.
Fourth, don’t fear talking to your representatives about ideas and solutions for dealing with the budget deficit in the next biennium. (Remembering that there was no budget deficit for the current biennium until last month.) The legislature is looking for alternatives, so let’s provide them. Anything ranging from a progressive tax program (which needs not be permanent) to further negotiated and temporary financial give backs from both public employees and institutions can be on the table. And I’m sure that there are more ideas from you, as well as from people who know much more about the inner workings of government budgets than do you or I. But I know first-hand how bright you people are! Maybe a solution to this circumstance lies in your minds.
Thanks for considering these thoughts. If you have ideas to share, please pass them on. While I’m interested to hear about your ideas and to pass them on to folks here in Eau Claire, be sure to let your representatives know, and talk to them directly whenever possible. If we don’t speak up now, we well may lose our voice in the future. To those of you who are out-of-state, keep a close eye on developments in Wisconsin and on the situation in your own state. It’s no secret that the nation is watching, and there are those in your state who have similar designs or who are in the process of developing them. We must support each other.
Onwards and upwards….