La Crosse Central teacher wants sweeping change in education investment

As teachers abandon education in favor of alternative options, a La Crosse educator says investment priorities need to change

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

A La Crosse teacher said such a commemoration might as well be canceled if communities didn’t invest in education. Central High School’s John Havlicek said teachers find better pay in other fields that value their skills.

“I don’t know how we can continue to get every kid across the finish line if the district doesn’t even get its staff to the start line,” Havlicek said Monday night at the La Crosse school board meeting.

The cost of living has only gone up.

“We got people to leave the profession,” Havlicek said.

Teachers are feeling the pinch, he said.

“I think 18 or 19 teachers left the school district during the school year,” Havlicek said.

Havlicek said the problem dates back to the qualified economic bid of the 1990s.

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

Law 10 cut salaries even more by removing the ability of Wisconsin teachers’ unions to negotiate pay rises above the state’s rate of inflation.

La Crosse Superintendent Aaron Engel has some cutting to do before he can even think about adding extras.

“We didn’t get any usable money from the state for next year, and we didn’t have any 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 increase wealth taxes.

“We have to decide if we want to save every $12 or $8 or whatever,” Havlicek said. “Or if we want to fund a public good… from which everyone benefits.”

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

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

“It’s just a way of prioritizing where to put those dollars,” Havlicek said.

“You need to stop telling us you appreciate us because it’s starting to sound hollow. The district can do better. The county needs to get better. Please do better,” Havlicek said at the end of his message to the school board on Monday.

Younger teachers will scout for jobs until they find one that pays the best, Havlicek said. It’s just like free reign in sports, he said, with the smaller-budget districts taking the biggest hit.

Schools would at least have to keep up with inflation, Havlicek said.

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