Anyone who is between approximately 40 and 70 years old and grew up in the City of Saginaw may remember two things.
(1) The Saginaw County Fair still was staged during Labor Day week on the city’s East Side, at East Genesee and Webber, before the move to the county’s Chesaning outskirts.
(2) A lot of times kids could attend the fair on weekday mornings and afternoons, because the schools were closed when the teachers went on strike.
The first of Saginaw’s seven teacher strikes was in 1967 and the last was in 1990, shortly before former Governor John Engler initiated legislation to harshly penalize walkouts. Teachers could still strike, but no longer did they have the unique 180-days-of-school mandated advantage of getting back the money in June they had lost in September - thus striking, in effect, at no cost.
But now the unions seem more upset with new Governor Rick Snyder than they ever were with Engler. Michigan Education Association President Iris Salters is raising the possibility of a statewide walkout and asking union locals to conduct votes. Furthermore, the union possibly won’t wait until the start of the 2011-12 school year. A strike is possible in May.
Today’s kids, and even some of their youngest parents, would have no experience in encountering a strike that could last two, even three weeks.
But Saginaw Education Association President Mary Ann Dupuis, who hired into the city district in 1976 and took part in most of those fall pickets, says a return to the old days is entirely possible.
“At this point in time we are at a critical juncture where people have little respect for people who provide public services,” she says. “We want the best from our public servants but we don’t want to pay them. It’s amazing that we have adopted a mentality that only takes care of the business sector and not the public sector.”
Republican Rep. Ken Horn, formerly a substitute teacher in Bridgeport and Frankenmuth, says teachers have a right to express their views about a lack of respect, but that he would be very much surprised if those with whom he is meeting would call a walkout.
“This is about the president of the MEA (Salters) conspiring to break the law.” Horn says. “Teachers are concerned, but this union issue has nothing to do with teachers.”
“This is a democracy and so teachers should stand up and raise their voices,” Horn says, “but strikes are illegal.”
Dupuis says Horn may feel surprised about how teachers view things.
“A number of my friends who have been staunch Republicans have been a little upset at what has happened since the election of Synder and GOP legislative majorities,” Dupuis says.
Teachers and other public employees have started to compare Snyder to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Dupuis says, although the fervor in Lansing has not reached the same level as in Wisconsin. For his part Synder has insisted he is “not Scott Walker” and is not striving to dismantle unions.
“Snyder isn’t overt,” Dupuis says. ”Walker probably didn’t have enough smarts to be more diplomatic. The best thing Scott Walker has done is to motivate unions across the country. If we don’t have unions, then we don’t have a middle class. Rick Snyder’s tax cuts would amount to 86 percent for businesses at a cost of $1.8 billion.”
At the same time, she notes, middle and lower-income people will pay more while still seeing funds cut for public schools and many municipal services.
“Plus, what was Proposal A committed to doing?” DuPuis asks, referring to the 1994 cut in property taxes with a higher sales tax as a tradeoff. “It was to pay for K-12 education. Why is the current proposed budget taking $300 million from the K-12 budget and giving it to higher education?”
“This $300 million cut is what will cause school districts across the state to lose more on their per pupil foundation allowance. Instead of increasing the per-pupil allotment for schools by about $270 dollars per child with this $300 million, districts across the state will lose anywhere between $470 and $1,000 dollars per student.”
“Why are we robbing Peter to pay Paul when Proposal A guaranteed money for K-12? Colleges have the ability to raise tuition. Proposal A's purpose, from John Engler and company, was to take away the local tax base assessment and replace it with a statewide basis for raising revenue.”
Nonetheless, a poll during the first week of April indicated that Wisconsin residents still support Walker’s actions, although by a narrower 44-41 margin than when the Dairy State protests first started.
Horn says citizens in Michigan and elsewhere increasingly have learned that spending policies of the past must be curtailed. He has recommended in the past that directors of each state department be asked to reduce spending by 2 percent.
“This is my fifth year working on a state budget and each year we’ve had a billion-and-a-half-dollar hole,” Horn says. “This is the first year that we don’t have a magic pot of money to fix a broken budget.”
On one point, the governor and fellow Republicans have found agreement with the unions. Both favor setting a two-year budget so that the annual conflicts and shortfalls are discontinued.