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Madison Schools Closed Wednesday as Teachers, Students Protest


MADISON, Wis. (WTAQ) - Schools in Madison are closed Wednesday, after 40 percent of teachers’ union members called in sick by late Tuesday night.

They’re protesting Governor Scott Walker’s proposed cutbacks for public unions.

Madison Teachers Incorporated has 2,600 members, and director John Matthews is urging them to attend a State Capitol rally planned for Wednesday to oppose the cutbacks. He said his group only has one day to make a difference.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will vote on the measure Wednesday, and the full Senate will take it up Thursday.

Republican legislative leaders say they have the votes to pass the bill – which ends public union bargaining rights except for pay raises at or below inflation. Workers would also have to pay more for their health insurance and pensions.

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad told parents earlier Tuesday that contingency plans were being made to keep the schools open. But by 11 p.m. Tuesday, he said there were serious concerns about maintaining a safe and secure environment at school.

Although the students won’t be there, Nerad still expects staff members to show up. Earlier, he said those who take a sick day would need to show medical proof, or else be docked a day’s pay.

Madison teachers cannot take personal days off with less than 3 days’ notice. Matthews said it’s the first coordinated absence by his group in 16 years.

Meantime, about 800 students at Madison East High School walked out of class Tuesday to take part in a State Capitol protest. Organizer Ona Powell’s mother is a Madison teacher and said, “I felt outraged that unions were being attacked and didn’t want my mom hurt by this.”

Madison teachers’ union director John Matthews said his group had nothing to do with the student walkouts. But he did call them a “teachable moment.” Students and-or teachers also held protests during school hours in Shullsburg, Sheboygan, and Merrill.

Similar demonstrations are planned in other Wisconsin schools Wednesday. In Merrill, school finance director Louise Fischer said Walker’s plan could save taxpayers $800,000 a year in extra teacher pension contributions.

The district needs to cut up to $3.6 million to balance its budget next fall, and some officials say Walker’s plan could prevent some teachers from being laid off. The Merrill School Board approved preliminary layoff notices for 34 teachers last month.