Tearful resignation gives glimpse into life after ACT 10

Published on: 2/19/2013

Whitefish Bay - When Act 10 hit, 10-year math teacher at Whitefish Bay High School Christine Kiefer was four classes into her master's degree.

Because of funding cuts, she was forced to quit her program. Since then, Kiefer has wondered whether she would get a raise in pay or if she would be able to pay off her loans at all. Since Act 10, she has waited patiently to see what would happen to her livelihood, while continuing to educate Whitefish Bay youth every day.

Kiefer said she can no longer wait and tearfully announced her resignation to the School Board last week.

"Here's my problem: When I started, I had all these incentives to improve and now I am completely stuck," Kiefer told the board. "I have no master's degree, I have no way to increase my salary and there are no incentives in place for improving my practice. Others in my department and in this school make a lot more money than I do and I produce the same, quality results."

Kiefer said she cannot get to the level of compensation as some of her peers in the district because of the current system in place.

For three years, she said her class sizes have increased as she and her colleagues are asked to do more in light of Response to Intervention, new MAP testing and a new teacher evaluation process.

"I love teaching kids and I love the kids' families and I love my colleagues and I love Whitefish Bay, but I cannot wait any longer," she said. "I can't stay at a job that sacrifices all my time for my own family - at least two hours every school night and between six to 12 hours every weekend - time after the bell rings, time that produces such good results when there is no good faith effort on the part of the district to pay what I am worth, to pay me what you would probably have to pay an equivalent replacement for me."

Kiefer's speech was met by a round of applause from a room mixed with parents, teachers and high school students. School Board President Kathy Rogers, said, "It is painful beyond words to lose a teacher of Christine's caliber."

School Board members echoed this sentiment.

High school math teacher Erin Best is one who is compensated "very well" to do the same job Kiefer does every day, she said. Despite this, Best said they are burned out.

"I can't keep doing more. The class sizes keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger and I'm exhausted, and this job is preventing me from being the wife I want to be, a mom, a human. I just want to share that," Best said. "I know for Christine she deserves way more money, but even with the money I make this job is really difficult to do."

High school English teacher Lindsey Ashlock began her master's degree two years before Act 10 was enacted. Though she has been teaching for 15 years, with her personal student loans, she said she can't make ends meet financially with her current paycheck.

"I never want to leave this school or teach in another school in the area, this is an amazing program. I teach what I love, I teach students I care for, but living my life has become nearly impossible," she said. "I'm stuck, I feel for Christine and I don't want to follow her out the door."

Kiefer urged the board to be creative and innovative in finding a solution to the problem of retaining quality educators in the district.

Unfortunately, School Board members said many of their decisions are dictated by the state and they don't know what is coming down the line.

"We don't know the parameters around innovation because there is so much at the state level in flux," Rogers said.

Just two years ago, the state cut funding to the district by $2 million.

"Our hands are tied," School Board Member Cheryl Maranto said. "I know the reason we are surviving is because of what happened to your pay and benefits."

The board is ramping up their lobbying efforts, meeting with state Sen. Alberta Darling, in the hopes that this can change, she said.

Maranto urged those in the room to communicate with the governor and legislators, share these personal stories and fight for education, otherwise "who the heck is going to want to go into this profession?"