Wisconsin’s Ripple Effect
On March 9, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that ended collective bargaining rights for public sector employees and thus reversed an era of organized labor in the state. But it didn't stop there. Other states--Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, to name a few--jumped on the bargaining rights bandwagon proposing and, in many cases, passing similar provisions. It's no wonder, then, why the appointment of Paul Kreutzer, a Wisconsin superintendent who was an outspoken supporter of Gov. Walker, to the small suburban district of Katonah-Lewisboro (N.Y) Public Schools in Westchester County, N.Y., was met with concern from the district's teachers union and many members of the community.
"Seeing him standing next to such a lightning rod figure as Scott Walker must have sent shivers up the spines of organized labor," says Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Board Association.
Kreutzer has been the superintendent of the School District of New Berlin (Wis.) for four years. The conservative New Berlin board of education supported Gov. Walker, and because Kreutzer understands the superintendent to be an agent of the board, he supported the measure as well. When it was announced in April that Kreutzer was the finalist for the vacant superintendent position in the Katonah-Lewisboro district, seeing a picture of Kreutzer standing with Walker was more than enough to upset the district's union.
Kreutzer's unanimous approval from the Katonah-Lewisboro board of education on April 26 occurred amid hundreds of chanting Westchester County protesters from with signs that read, "Wisconsin's shame has arrived."
In a statement, the board of education said the search was comprehensive and that all board members believe Kreutzer will be a capable leader.
"The fear they're experiencing is genuine, and I'm acknowledging it, but what they're afraid of doesn't exist," says Kreutzer. He says that the role of the superintendent is to carry out the work of the board in an apolitical fashion. Although Kreutzer did not say whether he personally supports revoking collective bargaining rights, he supported Walker because the New Berlin Board of Education did, but he says he has no plans to support such measures in the Katonah-Lewisboro district.
"We don't know where his ethical or moral compass is," said Sandy Grebinar, president of the teachers union.
Despite the backlash, the board didn't budge. Kremer says that from what he's read of the situation, it appears the board conducted a thorough search, in which there were seven finalists from 44 candidates.
"I believe this candidate is qualified for the job," says Kremer. "Is he carrying around a piece of baggage? Yes."