Wisconsin Teachers Convention Future in Doubt

The mid-semester break in Wisconsin has served as a good time to hold the Wisconsin Education Association Council conference, but with the annual teachers union convention canceled districts are considering whether to do away with the mid-semester break in the future, writes Matthew DeFour at the Wisconsin State Journal.

Sun Prairie and McFarland schools have already decided to hold classes next year on the days previously set aside for the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) convention as the Council announced in May it would cancel its fall convention.

Others, including Cambridge, Belleville and DeForest, are thinking about doing the same, while  Middleton-Cross Plains is continuing its past practice of requiring teachers to work for 7.5 hours in exchange for the two days off.

“Early indications are people would favor having regular classes on those days to reduce breaks in instruction for students,” DeForest Superintendent Jon Bales said. “

It also allows for the addition of makeup snow days at the end of the year without going too far into the month of June.

Attendance at the WEAC convention has been noticeably low in past years and parents questioned how it improved the classroom experience for their children, said Kim Henderson, president of the Wisconsin Parent Teacher Association.

“Most people are never traveling so they’re trying to find someone to watch their kids,” Henderson said. “Most parents would rather have the time when the weather is nice.”

Union officials acknowledge that attendance has dropped off, with Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews estimating about 10 percent of WEAC’s membership going.

WEAC canceled its convention this year largely because it was unclear how many districts would allow teachers to attend under the new collective bargaining law, spokeswoman Christina Brey said.

The Madison School District previously paid teachers for the two days off to attend the convention, but was one of the first and largest districts to change its contract to require teachers to attend school-based staff development instead this year.

Madison teachers will now spend the two days learning about a new approach for identifying special education students, the implementation of consistent curriculum across the district, and new tests to assess student progress and whether the district is closing its achievement gap, Deputy Superintendent Sue Abplanalp said.

“Right now teachers are … trying lots of different strategies and we’re not sure if they’re working,” Abplanalp said. “We really need to focus on systemic reform in our district to make sure the strategies are effective.”

Elementary teachers will also have planning time in the afternoon, though middle and high school teachers are unhappy that they won’t, Matthews said.