Janesville teacher pay hike is zero, for now

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

JANESVILLE--The new world of teacher employment is about to arrive in Janesville.

The immediate impact: As the school year begins, Janesville public school teachers will receive the same pay they got last year.

The school district and teachers negotiated and failed to reach a contract earlier this year. Then last week, the two sides went to mediation and failed again, spokespersons for both sides said.

The only question in negotiations was base pay, as required by the state law governing public-employee union negotiations known as Act 10. This is the first year that Janesville teachers face the new rules.

The law restricts any pay hike to the rate of inflation, which this year was set at 2.07 percent.

The Janesville Education Association's opening bargaining position was the full 2.07 percent. The school board offered zero; no change.

“It is clear that at this point that we are at an impasse,” school board President Greg Ardrey said Wednesday after the board was updated by officials in closed session the night before.

It appears the board will impose a settlement, as Act 10 allows.

“That's what we're going to have at this point,” Ardrey said.

Dave Parr, Janesville Education Association president, said that's what he expected after mediation failed.

If the board imposes a settlement, it needs to decide what the pay increase, if any, will be. That's a conversation the board must have in open session, probably during one of its two meetings next month, Ardrey said.

The board includes some who usually come down on the side of increasing teacher pay, those who don't and some who will be making their first such decisions.

Ardrey said he expects the discussion will be “interesting.”

Meanwhile, teachers still are wrapping their brains around the new reality.

Under the old rules, in the absence of a new contract, teachers would move ahead on the salary schedule based on years of service and college credits. The salary schedule is gone, but Parr said many teachers don't understand that.

The automatic pay hikes were referred to as “steps” and “lanes.”

“I am asked nearly every day, 'When do I get my step and lane?'” Parr said. “It's still a hard adjustment to make because they've never known anything else.”

It's also confusing because teachers' colleagues in surrounding districts all got increases for years of service, and some got increases for education, Parr said.

The Janesville School Board could have given those kinds of increases, but it chose not to, Parr said.

Parr still is holding out hope that a challenge to Act 10, now before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, will result in the law being overturned.

The state Constitution outlaws discrimination, Parr reasons, and the fact that school boards have given bigger pay increases to some employees while giving less to teachers is discriminatory.

If the Supreme Court rules in the teachers' favor, and if the ruling is applied statewide, even though it stems from a Dane County case, then the Janesville union would file for back pay that it should have received, Parr said.

Lawyers for school districts have argued that the Dane County case cannot be applied statewide.

If the district and union had come to a voluntary settlement, then the union would not be able to file for back pay, Parr said, so he believes the school board is taking a risk by imposing a settlement.

But if Act 10 remains in effect, changes for Janesville teachers are far from over. An official at Tuesday's school board meeting said the administration plans to go forward with a new kind of salary system starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The system would divide teachers into four pay groups: beginning, developing, effective and distinguished.

Teachers hired this year are being assessed to determine what level they are in, said Steve Sperry, director of human resources.

Teachers new to the profession are being paid the starting salary from the old salary schedule, around $35,000, Sperry said.

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