Republicans race against the clock to take control of Milwaukee Area Technical College away from the community it serves.
Technically speaking, this is nuts
The Republican attack on the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and its board will continue with a March 6 hearing on Assembly Bill 353 before tea party prototype Representative Stephen Nass’s Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee.
Expect a crowd of students, community groups, and members of AFT Local 212 to show up in opposition to the bill.
If the Nass committee strong-arms a bill resembling the version state Senator Dale Schultz orchestrated through the Senate Committee on Agriculture on February 23, it’s possible the thinly-disguised GOP privatization effort could make it into law before the Legislature adjourns March 15. If both houses fail to pass identical bills before adjournment the bills expire.
The original bill to turn all technical college boards in the state over to control by for-profit businesspersons was narrowed last week to target just the Milwaukee board, according to changes proposed by senators Glenn Grothman and Mark Honadel.
Adding a confusing set of amendments with no public hearing, Schultz’s committee advanced the new version on a 4-3 vote. The re-written bill would disband the MATC Milwaukee District Board and remove board appointment authority disproportionately out of Milwaukee County even though 90 percent of the students are Milwaukee County residents and most of its tax support comes from Milwaukee County taxpayers. In the amended bill, Washington and Ozaukee counties would become big power brokers even though they are home to only 6 percent of the MATC student body.
As Ed Garvey blogged on March 2, MATC “has more students of color than the rest of the state’s colleges and universities combined.” SB 353 would effectively disqualify three current African American board members and one Latino member from serving on the board.
Schultz, of Richland Center, gained attention last year as the lone Senate Republican to vote against Governor Walker’s union busting. Praise was heaped on Schultz more recently for his consideration of potential environmental disasters from a mining project being fast-tracked by his partisan colleagues in the disguise of job creation.
Where did Schultz’s “moderation” go regarding the MATC bill? His committee bottled up the original bill having to do with statewide makeovers, but he let the amended bill fly when it dealt only with Milwaukee, which is not in his backyard.
When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the Grothman/Honadel assault, reporter Karen Herzog wrote that the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), Tim Sheehy, said his group “strongly supports the MATC board change.”
That wasn’t surprising until Fightingbob.com obtained a copy of a letter Sheehy sent March 1 to MJS Herzog. In the letter, Sheehy complained: “We (MMAC) are not advocating for a particular representation on the appointing body, we have not stated that employers should be a majority on the board, we do support a diversity of board members, and we are supportive of representation that appropriately recognizes the geography of the students served. These points are all in conflict with the legislation as it is currently drafted.”
While the MMAC head said his group does favor more “business representation” on the board, “our endorsement…is limited to a specific piece of the bill.”
The MJS story quoted Sheehy criticizing MATC for not producing enough welders to fill “hundreds of welding jobs.”
In response, a long-time welding teacher at MATC and Moraine Park Technical College, with 22 years prior experience in industry and construction, wrote in a letter to Nass’s Assembly committee, that claims about the welding program “are simply not true.” Sue Silverstein told the committee that she re-wrote the welding program curriculum. “I can tell you with certainty that MATC’s program is the equal of that at Moraine Park or any other Wisconsin Technical college.”
“At MATC we train everyone who wants to be a welder,” wrote the welding expert. Despite a 30 percent budget cut, new welders are being trained across the entire district. “If the claim that we do an inferior job were true, then our graduates wouldn’t be hired. But the opposite is true,” Silverstein told the committee. “All of our graduates get jobs. Two of my current students are working before they even graduate. As a long-time resident of Washington County, I must say that I feel the criticisms of MATC’s welding program are inaccurate.”
Sniping by MMAC and Republican legislators isn’t just about providing welders, some have suggested, nor can it be about the MATC budget, which has managed to maintain a 20 percent rainy day fund balance and a AA1 bond rating for the school, much healthier than the State of Wisconsin. Why, one wonders, would Grothman file an open records request for faculty salaries if a witch-hunt weren’t in progress?
A retired faculty member said, “The MATC board structure is not antiquated. It responds directly to the taxpayers. MATC works very well.” Teaching about a business perspective “is what we do at MATC.”
Furthermore, in talks which began months before Scott Walker was sworn in as governor, Local 212 and the MATC administration came to terms about $12 million in employee concessions. That was done before Walker’s ban on collective bargaining.
Local 212 president Mike Rosen said, “Our whole experience at MATC is you don’t have to mistreat your employees and you can work together with the administration.”
Grothman and Honadel are surfing on a wave cresting with the corporatization of public institutions. After all, if corporations are people, why shouldn’t they run our public education systems? That way the underachievers in schools can just get fired. Students would be unpaid employees in the business model.
March 6, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."