School’s out for summer, but many Wisconsin teachers have to take second jobs - TAI News
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Mandy Brice makes a drink at Trappers Run Golf Club in Wisconsin Dells on Wednesday, June 19. Brice, a first grade teacher, bartends on the side to help pay the bills. (Olivia Herken)

Having summers off was once considered an added perk for hardworking teachers. But as teacher salaries in Wisconsin stagnate, many educators will click the lights off in their classroom for the year and pick up a bartending rag, don a Little League coach’s hat, or gas up their lawn mowers to make ends meet over the summer months.

“I don’t know really that many teachers who don’t have some kind of side hustle,” said Tracy Drill, a special education teacher at Sennett Middle School in Madison. In the summer, Drill bartends as much as she can to help pay the bills.

Wisconsin teachers are making less than they were 15 years ago because salaries have not kept up with inflation. Teacher pay has declined by 12% since 2009 when adjusted for inflation, according to a November 2023 report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Many teachers say these low wages are a direct result of Act 10, legislation enacted by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 that effectively stripped power from public unions to negotiate wages and made cuts to their benefits. The law sparked large weekslong protests at the state Capitol.

More than a decade later, a group of public unions is challenging Act 10 in court. A Dane County Circuit Court judge heard arguments on May 28 on whether to dismiss the case. It’s likely that the lawsuit will make its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which gained a liberal majority last year with the election of Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

While studying to be a teacher at Viterbo University in La Crosse, most of the teachers Hallie Weibel knew and learned from were well-to-do — they took annual family vacations, owned nice homes and newer cars.

“I assumed that that was the lifestyle I was going to be able to provide for my family with this career. And then it was so different as soon as Act 10 passed,” Weibel said.

Almost immediately, Weibel lost about $400 a month from her paycheck. Her insurance costs skyrocketed while coverage worsened. Fifteen years later, now an eighth grade English teacher in Holmen, Weibel makes only about $200 more than she did when she first started teaching, even after moving school districts and taking on debt to get more licensing, training and her master’s degree.

To help support her family of five, Weibel officiates weddings on the side and offers day-of coordinating. Last summer she worked 27 weddings, and she is slated to work about 23 this year, filling up many of her Saturdays and eliminating days she used to dedicate to grading and planning.

Other Wisconsin educators are making extra cash this summer by waitressing, bartending, teaching summer school, coaching, working construction, babysitting, refereeing, tutoring, mowing lawns and weed whacking, selling crafts, working in juvenile  detention centers or respite care, and delivering groceries.

Mandy Brice, a first grade teacher in the Wisconsin Dells, has always worked a second job and currently bartends every Wednesday night at Trappers Turn Golf Club. She previously tried to quit bartending for about a year but soon realized her family of four couldn’t keep up with the bills.

Brice said she would work more bartending shifts if she could, but she has two sons who are avid athletes. But her Wednesday night regulars take good care of her.

“They honestly treat me really well and they tip well just because I think that they know my situation, they know that pretty much every time I’m working I’m probably missing one of my boys’ games, and it’s just something I have to do. It has to be done for our family,” she said.

Having to take on second — or sometimes third or fourth — jobs has an impact on teachers who are already feeling burnt out in the classroom.

Sometimes Drill’s students will notice she looks tired after working the night before. Colleagues at her school sometimes need to take the day off because they’re so exhausted from working their extra jobs. And because there’s a shortage of substitutes, the other teachers have to help pick up the slack, adding to their already heavy workload.

“It’s just a spiral,” Drill said.

During the school year, Brice has to rush out the door after school to get to her bartending shift in time. She may not finish her shift until midnight, meaning she is tired at school the next day. “It’s tough. I mean, it really is tough,” she said.

Most teachers at Brice’s school also have side jobs, and they all commiserate together, she said. Weibel said there’s a makeshift network of extra jobs for teachers, and staff often share ideas on openings and gigs.

“We all talk about it at lunch and just sit there and figure out, well, what can we do? What should we be doing right now to make a little bit more money?” Brice said.

The teachers say the solution to this problem is simple: higher wages.

“Pay us what we’re worth. We put in blood, sweat and tears into our profession. And it’s definitely a lot more than just summers off, that’s not why I went into it. I know that that’s what I’m sure some people assume,” Brice said. “I’ve been teaching now for 18 years. I got my bachelor’s, I got my master’s degree. I mean, pay me like I’m a professional with experience, just like you would in any other profession.”

Correction 11:13 a.m.: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect name for the bar at which Mandy Brice works.

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