Chris Rickert: A raise by many other names

2013-04-27T05:00:00Z Chris Rickert: A raise by many other namesCHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6198

“Our teachers haven’t had a raise for the last three years.” — Ed Hughes, clerk and candidate for president of the Madison School Board

There are a lot of employees who haven’t seen their pay go up in three years, but the vast majority of Madison public school teachers aren’t among them.

And yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re taking home more money.

Confused? Welcome to the world of public school teacher compensation, post-Act 10.

Hughes isn’t the first public school representative whose definition of “raise” doesn’t jibe with the way the rest of the world defines “raise” — i.e., an increase in salary for a job well done.

During teachers union contract negotiations, public school and union officials routinely refer to a “raise” as something that is distinct from and in addition to the automatic bumps in salary teachers are already getting for remaining on the job and accruing more college credit. Essentially, such raises are across-the-board increases in a district’s salary range, known as a salary schedule.

But if a district refuses to increase that range, teachers continue to get longevity and degree-attainment pay raises under the old salary schedule.

It’s such parsing that allows Hughes to say teachers haven’t gotten raises — and to be right, at least in one context.

The Madison Schools teacher salary schedule provides increases of between a few hundred dollars to more than a $1,000 for each year of service and in the range of $3,000 to $7,000 more a year for getting a master’s degree.

For this school year, 2,498 of 2,700 teachers got salary increases for longevity and degree attainment. District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson couldn’t say what the average increase was.

Hughes acknowledged that it’s probably fairer to define seniority and degree-attainment hikes as raises. “I have learned that the great majority of our teachers benefit from these increases,” he said.

Still, he said teachers generally are making less than they did three years ago, before they agreed to start putting some of their take-home pay toward retirement. That concession was made with the advent of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, and Hughes said it cut teacher pay an average of 5.5 percent.

I have little sympathy for teachers having to do something that most of us have been doing for a long time: saving for retirement. Teachers still don’t pay for their health insurance — the cost of which, for the rest of us, has been rising at alarming rates for years.

Nevertheless, Hughes is right, and he stands by his call for giving Madison teachers 1.5 percent “raises” (as in those across-the-board increases to the salary schedule).

He makes a fair point, although even better would be to pay teachers like doctors, lawyers and other well-paid professionals — and to expect similar levels of responsibility, work and educational attainment in return.

As that’s probably not possible in the short-term, a less complex teacher-compensation system would be nice.

Teachers may deserve a raise, but taxpayers should at least know what they’re paying for.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(38) Comments

  1. Word
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    Word - April 29, 2013 4:04 pm
    More Hughes pandering to whoever he wants support from this week. Rickert needs to go back and read the votes before accepts Hughes' claims there were no raises. The automatic step increases for years of service, credits taken, and other parts of the contract have generated more pay each year with or without the across the board percentage increases. Plus the district continues to find ways to forestall additional contributions to health insurance premiums. These aren't huge raises, but they also are not cuts, furloughs, freezes, or other steps coupled with higher health insurance premium contributions. Not saying that school employees shouldn't get raises, but the facts should be complete and accurate. And accompanied by a reality check against what other public employees are getting. At least the public employees who work for the state and get to pay the property taxes for the school, city, and county pay plans.
  2. rjd_in_gb
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    rjd_in_gb - April 28, 2013 8:02 pm
    @Norwood "So maybe it's not the people of Wisconsin being swayed by Fox/Alec/Koch/CEO conspirators. Maybe the fault lies with unions and their leadership and posters like rjd who go too far with their rabid rhetoric and accusations. Maybe they are the low information voters they have been talking about, and we just want more control over our communities and our resources. Perhaps RJD, you have met the problem, and it is you."

    Norwood, the hand full of folk that read these forums are probably well familiar with yours and my world views. But, you are a pot calling a kettle black, it seems to me. In the several years now (seems like a century) that we have been following your responses, it is clear you never encountered a union situation you didn't have rabid words of disdain and detraction. You are as single minded about anti-union philosophy as any person who writes here.

    I'll go you one concession, which I wonder if you can in kind reciprocate. I have in fact confronted a union leadership that was in deed out of control, and that effort to call attention to leadership wrong doing ended up in a prosecution. Now, can we at least admit that whether you are a union supporter or hater, that any organization that one becomes associated with can suffer from the wrong acts and doings of individuals that find or climb their way into leadership. There are jail cells occupied by people from right wing, conservative, and liberal associations and organizations, that deserve to be incarcerated and there will always be others who crave power and misuse funds to join the grifters, no matter what end of the spectrum they come.

    But, you wish to deride all union leadership as one monolithic and systemically corrupt or misguided movement. You play the game of scapegoater and stereotyper. You couldn't be more wrong. While I and many union leaders and members whom am well aquainted with would admit that there are some workplace situations and entities that don't need nor are appropriate for a union organization of its workers, it is generally a sound economic/historical fact that without the union movement, workers and work life, along with wage and benefit standards would be literally a bleak living and workers would be subserviant in relationship of serfs to a plutocratic corpocracy.

    You can play that game of union scapegoating and detraction of worker-union movement just so long. But, as wages continue to be suppressed and rights to organize repressed, you can bet on a counter movement. I happen to think unions in various new methods and approaches will come roaring back. We simply can not have a continuance of this decades long slide of wage and benefit standards while a plutocratic and corporate-executive class continues to advance in dwindling percentiles of the whole population of wage earners.
  3. Nav
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    Nav - April 28, 2013 9:50 am
    Norwood, where the unions need to do a better job is to educate the workers how without them, they will become slaves for employers. That is a message that would resonate with EVERY worker, don't u think OR do you think workers want to be slaves of employers?

    All things go in phases. The Unions will SOON make a rebound as the workers realize that they have a LOT more to lose WITHOUT unions than to not join them. This becomes more clear to more people every day
  4. Ariel12
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    Ariel12 - April 28, 2013 9:00 am
    You don't have any kids in the Madison school district, do you?
  5. Ariel12
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    Ariel12 - April 28, 2013 8:59 am
    I didn't have to go into teaching....I never flunked out of my major.
  6. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 28, 2013 8:18 am
    In his rant regarding shamrock's post, rjd characterizes the state of Wisconsin as some sort of wild-eyed right wing community. The facts do not bear that out. He should note that though we did reject the Walker recall due to ACT 10 frenzy by government unions, our state went for President Barack Obama, our first black president, and Tammy Baldwin, our first openly gay senator. So maybe it's not the people of Wisconsin being swayed by Fox/Alec/Koch/CEO conspirators. Maybe the fault lies with unions and their leadership and posters like rjd who go too far with their rabid rhetoric and accusations. Maybe they are the low information voters they have been talking about, and we just want more control over our communities and our resources. Perhaps RJD, you have met the problem, and it is you.
  7. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 28, 2013 8:00 am
    I can see why teachers would be bothered by Rickert's column. But teachers have real problems with their union leadership. They have damaged your professional reputation. You should do something about it. And you can start by not branding every person who has an issue with union contracts and political influence as Fox News Rush Koch Alec CEO One Percenter conspirators. You lost the recall, yet Obama and Baldwin won the state of Wisconsin. Think about that. A whole slew of Dems and Independents voted against the recall. How long do you have to go before you realize that the problem isn't other people. It's you . And your leadership.
  8. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 28, 2013 7:13 am
    rjd. good luck with your political positioning and rhetoric. I suspect your characaterization of people who want a more balanced contract and control over their communities will be unproductive. The year the Walker recall was rebuffed , Obama and Baldwin won the state. You have lost the middle, The reason can be found in your post.
  9. rjd_in_gb
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    rjd_in_gb - April 28, 2013 12:34 am
    "First, thanks for your service."
    This is becoming the most disingenuous throw-away line in the conservative parlance of capricious and phony gratitude. Every time I hear it said to a veteran or cop, particularly one badly injured physically or emotionally from occupational trauma, I want to puke, because so often it is spoken by the same people that would sell out and deride that superficially “thanked” public servant at a moment’s notice if a dollar more in taxes were involved to actually show, ‘thanks’.

    As for this notion of the standard line by the ‘Tokyo Rose style’ propagandists who say things to people like Shamrock55; “we just want you ‘good’ teachers like yourself to be paid what you are worth and not pay all those lazy incompetent ones who bargain for fair wage schedules”.
    That is another disingenuous line that really means; ‘we don’t want teachers to have a fair and meaningful collective voice at the bargaining table and we want you to turn on your fellow teachers and be divide and conquer warriors like those nice teahadists. We want to dictate what is fair, what is considered meritorious (even though we wouldn’t know a well done lesson plan from a Fox noise docudrama). And, we want to be arbitrary and pick and choose the winners of any merit pay based on adherence to our twisted right wing value system - not proper presentation of objective science facts or factual examination of historical events. If the curriculum doesn’t present our narrow right wing world view, it is to be defeated and replaced with our kind of teachers (the real dolts and loser drop outs of low information right wing ideologies – not accomplished students of our Universities that have achieved high grade points in their undergrad majors to even qualify for the education school extra year+ of teaching certifications. And, we don’t want you to have a contract that spells out just cause in some of those 175 pages, because we like to make our evaluations based on these above ideologies and whimsical right wing values so if we fire you, there is nothing you can do but eat-it.’

    And BTW Chris Richert, what do you think a mere B.A with the extra year and one-half of Education School mandatory 17 credits beyond the basic B.A., COSTS these days. Can they ever pay off student loans of such vast sums with a salary that doesn’t have adequate longevity bumps and incentives to attain further educational credentials? I think in the future with so much needed to be invested in education certification, you will only see idiots sign up for the abuse and disrespect along with disingenuous proclamations by the likes of Norwood44.

    Chris, you should be placed in the corner with a dunce hat!!!

  10. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 27, 2013 10:52 pm
    Shamrock. First, thanks for your service. You sound like you care. We should all be grateful. Please understand that no one hates a good teacher. The frustration folks feel statewide is with your union and its political practices. And unfair contracts. Teachers need to take control of their union. It is hurting their reputation. Also, if you are a great teacher, you would stand to benefit by making more. And your school would benefit with reform because you could dismiss the teachers who don't get it. There are some. Why does a good teacher need a 175 page contract? It is folly. Good teachers have to retake their union and change it. Because union bosses screwed up big time.
  11. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 27, 2013 10:46 pm
    Degrees do not mean you are smart or effective. They mean you punched your ticket and now make more. And I would say the same for MBA's. Advanced degrees are overrated. All the talk about degrees reminds me of the Tin Man.
  12. shamrock55
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    shamrock55 - April 27, 2013 10:23 pm
    Rickert! I challenge you to follow me through school for one week and see what my life is like as a high school teacher. Not only have we dealt with fights this year, but students who are depressed, homeless, suicidal and pregnant. I go to school at 7:15 and I am not required to be there until 8. I usually leave around 5 just because I am exhausted. I give up my lunch hour on a daily basis to help students write letters of application to college, finish their geometry and make up missed work when they are absent. I use my own money for supplies that the school can no longer afford including books, paper, pencils and binders for students. I bring apples and bananas to hungry students and clothing when they are cold. Some times I give them money so they can go on a field trip. One class I taught this year had 26 students and 14 of them had minimal reading skills and 11 had IEPS. Try writing 8 differentiated tests for a class Chris. It isn't something I can skip because we have laws that require me to write them. It isn't easy! And YES...this is the job I wanted and I chose. And no, I was not a "dumb" college student who could not make it any other career.
    I do not understand why you choose to keep bashing teachers. Does it make you feel better to put educators down? Come and follow one of us in high school this week! I dare you! Its time you get out from behind your computer and see what really happens in the schools instead of writing half truths. You need to go to the unruly classes. The classes where teachers are sworn at, hit and bitten. The classes where the SEAs have chairs hurled at them. Go to the rooms that have no technology and the textbooks are 15 years old. Stop in the room that has not heat because no matter how hard the maintenance people try, the old heating unit breaks on a daily basis. Find the nurse who is dealing with students who have been bruised by parents, or have bronchitis and no money for medication. Talk to the minority coordinator that is dealing with racial comments from a student on one hand and on the other hand is building up student self esteem with Spoken Word. Find our counselors and social workers who help the stressed, the alcoholics/drug abusers and the ones who have been sexually abused. We are the people who are there for the children. Where are you Chris? Have you been to these rooms?
    Maybe you should be the writer that works on healing the divided state instead of the one who keeps digging at old wounds. Teachers are not the enemy Chris.
  13. Nitronea
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    Nitronea - April 27, 2013 8:47 pm
    Mr. Rickert failed to mention there are about 600 employees in the EA MTI bargaining unit who are hourly employees for MMSD. These employees are the lowest paid of the district staff and have never made a living wage. When he attacks MTI he also attacks the EA's, secretaries, sub teachers, techs and security guards. I have been waiting for the local media to report on these
  14. akcassiday
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    akcassiday - April 27, 2013 8:15 pm
    You are clearly misinformed about a large segment of the teaching profession. Anyone holding a 6-12 teaching certification has at least one content major (ie, they have a degree in Math, Chemistry, History, English, Physics, etc); many have multiple degrees. The education coursework to be able to teach is in additon to the other classes required of their major. Many in elementary education have minors and/or majors in other content areas as well. Furthermore, most teacher do feel "called" to the profession. It is a much more daunting task than those unfamiliar with what goes into the profession think. It requires a deep conviction to stay committed to the field.
  15. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - April 27, 2013 7:50 pm
    12, What do you do for a living? What is your degree in? Why didn't you want to go into teaching?
  16. Ariel12
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    Ariel12 - April 27, 2013 7:24 pm
    The profession doesn't attract bright young people and, for the most part, never has.

    The School of Education in any university is a last ditch haven for those who couldn't cut it in their majors and those who never tried - the easiest degree is get. The number of people who go into education because they really feel "called to it" is small and has been getting smaller for decades. That helps explain two things 1. the increasingly poor performance of public schools and, 2. the obsession teachers have with keeping contracts that make it impossible to fire incompetent teachers,
  17. Stuck In The Middle With You
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    Stuck In The Middle With You - April 27, 2013 7:16 pm
    The biggest farce of the year at my workplace is the merit pay bonuses doled out to supervisors that mostly couldn't do the the job of the people they supervise because they don't know the job at all. Their really good though for meaningless meetings with other supervisors and section chiefs that really never address the real ongoing problems and lack of training for new hires trying to fill the shoes of experienced workers that left after Walkers Act 10 Assault. And Chris, I cancelled my State Journal subscription months ago because the quality of content has been going downhill for years. Final word, hey y'all you may want to buy your tax free online purchases sooner than later before congress pushes through their internet tax bill.
  18. Mattila
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    Mattila - April 27, 2013 6:45 pm
    A teacher for 32 years. "Walk a mile in my shoes," Rickert.
  19. marlori
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    marlori - April 27, 2013 5:44 pm
    whoa-- as others have said-- Chris, do some research-- I don't know Madison specifics, but in other parts of the state-- teachers are paying a lot more for insurance since Act 10 and they have always paid into retirement ( in some districts their retirement monies into the WRS was in lieu of pay raises, so really their earnings were going into retirement.) Teachers and some other public employees have taken huge cuts in the last 2 years. And teachers are still required to earn credits for license renewal-- districts never paid much towards that-- not sure if they are paying any now. The profession is not likely to attract bright young people under these conditions-- especially with so much negative feelings about teachers. And your erroneous opinion piece is just adding fuel to that negativity.
  20. elliott
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    elliott - April 27, 2013 5:39 pm
    As a state worker, I continue to be disgusted by articles such as these that do not provide the full truth as well as the ignorant comments that follow. I have never had a "gravy" job and have worked hard all of the 18 years that I have worked for the State. In return for not accepting raises, we kept our benefits. Act 10 has financially crippled my family. Earning $10,000 less a year hurts. To continue to say that teachers have it easy is ignorant. 16 of my state employment years was spent teaching juvenile delinquents. Public School teachers work 70-80 hours a week during the school year. The 2-2.5 months they have off in the summer is often spent planning for the next year. I CHALLENGE anyone who thinks it is easy to be a teacher or a public servant (like my job where I am super busy every day) to go out and do it. Only then can you judge.
  21. mschwaegerl2
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    mschwaegerl2 - April 27, 2013 4:18 pm
    Dear Chris:Gosh. Such news. Teachers rewarded for credits and degrees? We'll have to change that. Wow. Did you look at the Madison salary schedule? Did you ask what incentive levels and improvement levels are? I'm not going to tell you. You should have researched that yourself. Do teachers all get all their health insurance premiums paid? Do your own research here, too. Fact check, fact check.
  22. barbaramax
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    barbaramax - April 27, 2013 3:30 pm
    We should all be saddened that people who do so much good are bringing home less money. Where is the gratitude for being such a large part of the formative years of children.

    It is all about Walker making us fight with each other about money so we are diverted from the mess he has made of this state.

    As a state employee, I have not had a raise for six and a half years and have lost thousands in the past year in take home pay.

    Yet, I am upset that anyone is making less in money and benefits whether they are paid by tax dollars or not. We all should feel that way.

  23. Ariel12
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    Ariel12 - April 27, 2013 3:17 pm
    Walker balanced his budget by reducing your wife's salary by $10,000, along with the other teachers?

    You really can't be serious.
  24. Ariel12
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    Ariel12 - April 27, 2013 3:14 pm
    Ya know what the real problem that public employees (in particular, the state, but also the City of Madison ee's) is?? Too many people have had to come into contact with them for one thing or another, and they haven't been happy with the attitudes OR the performance.

    Your chickens have just come home to roost, that's all.
  25. sebastian
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    sebastian - April 27, 2013 2:47 pm
    "GOOD FAITH."? Only to those on the receiving end.
    SCAM to the taxpayers.

    Ratkiller et aliae, you should drop your "woe is me" attitude and revisionist history.
    People went into public employment exactly because of the security, that they would not
    have to work too hard and they would have plenty of time off. Nothing wrong with that. The deferred benefits were gravy and a way to keep unions "useful" and off managements' back. Management did not realize how much they were giving away.
  26. sebastian
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    sebastian - April 27, 2013 2:24 pm
    Overpaid is overpaid. It's just easier to hide (from taxpayers)
    if payments are deferred benefits.
  27. RatKiller
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    RatKiller - April 27, 2013 2:13 pm
    Public employees in general, and teachers in this article specifically, have been the targets of the middle class no-information Republican voters since the economy started hitting the skids in 2003 and then 2008. When Clinton's 90s were paying big dividends to private pensions, 401Ks, profit sharing and other bennies, NOBODY who is complaining on these boards wanted a public job - the only benefit in being a public employee was the security and the meager pension that followed years of work at a thankless job, for the most part. Everybody was making a killing in the stock market, so rather than offer cash to workers in their paychecks, municipal and state employers gave their employees better benefit packages including health care and pension, the notion being that the cash would be pooled with the employer's cash and invested, essentially getting something for nothing and operating on a cash flow principal. Along came a couple of recessions, Enron, and there you have you guys want to renege on your agreements that you made in GOOD FAITH. Pay up.
  28. Bender
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    Bender - April 27, 2013 12:41 pm
    I have little sympathy for teachers having to do something that most of us have been doing for a long time: saving for retirement. Teachers still don’t pay for their health insurance — the cost of which, for the rest of us, has been rising at alarming rates for years.

    Baloney Chris, benefits like health insurance and retirement programs were negotiated in lieu of pay increases. To say that teachers don't pay for that is just wrong.
  29. leftside
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    leftside - April 27, 2013 11:21 am
    I agree with all the critical remarks in here, Chris is a sub par writer and could only work for an anti union paper like this or in some small town. I suggest though that you all unsubscribe like I did and let the ad dollars dry up. Then Chris can go whine somewhere else.
  30. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - April 27, 2013 11:03 am
    I'm not a teacher and I don't belong to a union, but ask yourself why are middle class conservatives like Rickert so envious, jealous and fearful? Is it because middle class republicans can't figure out how to solve the real problem "concentration of wealth" so they attack others in the middle?

    1% of Americans own 40% of the nations wealth, 25 years ago it was 33%. It's not a fair game when the super rich buy politicians and judges and stack the deck with new laws and regulations designed to give them more wealth and power. Don't hold the rich to some higher standard, they're not creating jobs, they're creating misery, they've created a class war and they're winning.

    So Rickert has little sympathy for teachers getting something the State Journal is not giving him. He doesn't ask why health insurance costs went up 131% over the last decade? He goes after teachers because he envious and jealous. Rickert figures he can't keep up with the Joneses so he tries to bring the Joneses down because he's afraid to take on the real problem.

    Turn off Fox and Hate Radio it makes you poor.

  31. milton's fried man
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    milton's fried man - April 27, 2013 9:10 am
    little chrissy's opinion isn't actually quite based on real facts fact thus it is actually propaganda
  32. milton's fried man
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    milton's fried man - April 27, 2013 9:08 am
    little christy rickert...are you really that feeble? here's an idea. why don't we dock your pay 8-9% and see how you like it. You certainly don't merit any merit pay since your job is not to provide news but simply to further devide the citizens of Wisconsin. .
  33. Billie
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    Billie - April 27, 2013 8:00 am
    Shoes, I'm amazed that people like you think that an "opinion" column is something more than the writers opinion of the facts. The article is an opinion.
  34. legalizeit
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    legalizeit - April 27, 2013 7:43 am
    Shoes -
    So you are saying her amount reported on her W-2 has gone down $10,000 ? Or is she having to have her earned money set aside for retirement, insurance or other things for which she is the beneficiary of?
    It gets hard to know what the real deal is cause the loudest pontificators on the subject seem to be the ones most full of C R A polla
  35. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - April 27, 2013 7:38 am
    Raises linked to accountability and performance would be best. Raises for getting old aren't going to help our kids.
  36. shoes11
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    shoes11 - April 27, 2013 7:07 am
    We all know Madison is a different universe. But in the worlds outside of the Matthews Kingdom the truth is this. Most teachers around the state lost this so called automatic raise on the salary schedule since Act 10. There have been no raises. Not one cent since the union contracts expired. In fact, my wife's salary has gone down $10,000 the past two years. This is how Walker balanced his budget. This reporter needs to write this article as it applies to Madison only, not the entire state. The article only spreads misinformation and I for one am tired of poor journalism. Next time, report the whole story.
  37. sebastian
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    sebastian - April 27, 2013 6:51 am
    C'mon, Chris. It's all part of the public employee scam.

    The SCAM: The headline number in government contract negotiations whether an increase or decrease, is the attention grabber. A number the unions can dance around and say how many concessions they made while the administration can say how hard they bargained to get the best deal for taxpayers. But, inserted into the contract, is a little more PTO, changes in banked time allowed, a change in pension contributions, more levels added to payscales, work rule adjustments, etc. Small items that aren't reflected in the headline number but sure add up in the future.
  38. JAFO
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    JAFO - April 27, 2013 6:48 am
    So have you had a raise in the last 3 years Chris? I realize you are a private sector employee and it's none of my business but in the spirit of transparency it would seem that information would be germane to the subject you are opining about.
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