Stoughton students walk out of class to protest Walker’s moves

2011-02-15T04:30:00Z 2011-03-07T15:05:42Z Stoughton students walk out of class to protest Walker’s movesGENA KITTNER | gkittner@madison.com | 608-252-6139 madison.com

STOUGHTON — About 100 Stoughton High School students walked out of class Monday morning to protest Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to limit the collective bargaining of public employees, including teachers.

The students walked across the street to the parking lot of Stoughton United Methodist Church, where they signed a petition and listened to protest leaders give speeches.

"Let's show Gov. Walker that we care about learning, and the teachers are worth every cent that we pay to them," said Theron Luhn, a junior who helped organize the protest.

The students returned to the building after about an hour.

The action was the most dramatic schools-related response Monday to Walker's bargaining plan, offered as part of a bill to close a $137 million budget hole through June. 

Students at East High School in Madison planned a protest march to the Capitol on Tuesday during school hours, and a Facebook group formed by students in Platteville called for a statewide student walkout Tuesday.

About 10 students at Sun Prairie High School held a "walk-in" to show their support for teachers.

"As faculty came walking in the doors we welcomed them and cheered for them," said Zack Henderson, a Sun Prairie High School senior who organized the event that started around 7:15 a.m. "(Teachers) were so happy students were standing up and saying something."

Also Monday, Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad sent a letter to Walker asking him to reconsider, while State Superintendent Tony Evers sent a similar letter to legislative budget leaders.

"Just as we have worked to ensure teacher and support staff voice in our decision making, you too must ensure this," Nerad wrote. "The way to do so is to return to the bargaining table to seek your goals of addressing our deficit but also to ensure that solutions are not primarily on the backs of people who make great sacrifices in the service of children."

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie defended the proposal Monday.

"Governor Walker's budget repair bill strikes a fair balance — asking public employees to make a modest 5.8 percent pension contribution, which is about the national average, and 12.6 percent health insurance contribution, which is about half the national average," Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, said in an e-mail.

John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said Walker's proposal amounts to an effective pay cut for the average Madison teacher earning $52,022 of $5,168 because that person currently doesn't pay anything toward his or her state pension and health insurance if it's a less-expensive plan. Those who choose a more expensive plan pay 10 percent of their premium, human resources director Bob Nadler said.

Walker's proposal also would limit pay increases to inflation unless voters approve a larger increase each year; do away with seniority-based layoffs; allow districts to fire teachers with more than three days of unexcused absences; and allow school boards to sub-contract certain work, change health care providers, and set longer school days and years.

East High School student protest organizer Emmett Ross said he's not worried about discipline related to the planned march Tuesday.

"I don't really care about an unexcused absence," Ross said. "I think it means a lot if the attendance roster shows red for the entire student body."

State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.

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