Janesville62.2°

Teachers 'contract' in-service flu

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 11, 2007
— Some Janesville public school teachers called in sick Monday to protest the state of contract negotiations between their union and the school board.

District officials confirmed a higher-than-usual number of absences at Parker High School, but they could not say what the reason was.


There didn’t seem to be a higher-than-usual absentee rate in the rest of the district, however, said director of human resources Steve Johnson.


Teachers who asked that their names not be used confirmed to The Janesville Gazette that some teachers informally had agreed to call in sick Monday.


“I consider it a mental-health sickness; I’m sick of the negotiations,” said a teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Monday was chosen because it was the second Monday of the month, the day that students are released early while teachers are required to stay at work longer than usual in order to attend “in-service” training sessions.


The in-services have been an issue in the negotiations. Many teachers say they usually are a waste of time.


Teachers stay until 5 p.m. on early-release Mondays. The union has proposed ending any training sessions at the usual quitting time, 3:45 p.m.


The school board has offered to set up a joint task force on the issue, but the task force would have no authority to make any changes.


Districtwide, 111 of the 846 teachers were absent Monday, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations. That compares with 91 on the December early-release day in 2006.


Parker Principal Dale Carlson reported 25 absences that required substitute teachers. Normally, teacher absences run five to 15, including teachers who are out of the building for field trips or workshops, Carlson said.


Parker employs about 130 members of the teachers union.


The unnamed teacher said he and others are upset over a number of contract issues, including the board’s insistence that the teachers begin paying health-insurance premiums.


Teachers say they have saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years by staying healthy and paying high co-pays for treatment, and the district has pocketed those savings.


From the teachers’ point of view, the district has a healthy reserve fund because of the health-care savings. Superintendent Tom Evert said that’s only one of the reasons.


Some teachers were upset when the school board in October used $1 million from the reserve fund for property-tax relief.


“That is probably the straw that has broken the camel’s back. To do that in the middle of negotiations is really insulting,” the teacher said.


“I suspect that such actions will be viewed as unfair by the general public, but the public must understand that the political system is unfair for teachers,” the unnamed teacher said. “It is unfair that the district can take our unused health-care savings to use as it pleased. It is unfair that we have to work without a contract. … It is unfair the state skimps on its school funding commitments and teachers are expected to make up the difference.”



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