RACINE — A chorus of teachers who repeatedly chanted “chop from the top” filled the Racine Unified School Board meeting room on Monday night.
Attendees of the meeting spilled into the hallway outside the meeting room as members of the Racine Unified teachers’ union, Racine Educators United, protested proposed cuts in next year’s budget that would affect teachers and students.
The maximum capacity of the board meeting room, at the district’s Administrative Services Campus, 3109 Mount Pleasant St., is 144. At points during the meeting some attendees were asked to stay outside, or to step out to ensure the room was not over capacity.
Members of the union gathered outside the Administration Building prior to the meeting holding signs with messages including “Racine students deserve to be the budget priority” and chanting “hey hey, ho ho, where did the money go?”
According to a news release from the union, the teachers were protesting the administration’s plans to slash educator health care, as well as proposed budget cuts for the 2019-20 school year.
District administration announced at a board meeting two weeks ago that it had made reductions in staff for next year equivalent to 74 full-time employees and that it was looking to find savings in the area of employee benefits. The proposed cuts came from the district’s effort to reduce its estimated budget deficit for next school year from $11 million to about $3 million.
Eight people spoke about the REU’s concerns during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, including a young Red Apple Elementary School student, union leaders and several teachers, some of whom are on the district’s benefits advisory committee. Several speakers ended their speeches with “chop from the top,” followed by chanting from the crowd of the same phrase. “Chop from the top” refers to the union’s desire for the district to cut from the administration before cutting at the classroom level.
“Our ask is simple: Keep what’s best for kids at the center of all local budget decisions,” said teacher Angelina Cruz, president of REU. “Our bosses don’t need bosses. Chop from the top.”
As of Monday, more than 1,000 people had signed REU’s petition asking the district to keep cuts away from the classroom, to provide more planning and preparation time to educators and to provide a sensible and competitive salary schedule and benefits package that attracts and retains the best and brightest public education workers.
Ryan Knudson, a teacher, REU representative and a member of the Employee Advisory Committee, said all proposed changes to the employee benefits plan either reduce benefits or shift costs to employees.
“Your educators completely oppose any attempts to shift more costs onto the backs of employees,” he said.
Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said the district administration is working to find efficiencies in its budget, and at this point the district is not filling any vacancies at its Administrative Services Campus.
“We’re considering every position very, very carefully and making reductions here (at the Administrative Services Campus) as well,” Tapp said. “We are working to keep those reductions as far from impacting students as we can.”
Cruz stated: “We’re calling on the board to adopt a fair budget – one that puts students first and doesn’t worsen the teacher shortage. Administrative costs have ballooned — the board should reduce spending from the top instead of more cuts for students and the educators who work most closely with them.”
“Our ask is simple: Keep what’s best for kids at the center of all local budget decisions. Our bosses don’t need bosses. Chop from the top.” Angelina Cruz, president of Racine Educators United