Negotiator: District, educators can reach agreement
Janesville teachers have some of the lowest health-care costs in the state, and the district is flush with cash in its reserve fund, Lewis said.
But the board is insisting that the teachers start paying health-care premiums while it ignores the teachers’ suggestions for further health-care savings, Lewis said.
Why make teachers pay premiums when the health-care cost in the district’s self-funded plan is already so low, Lewis asked.
“The district’s position doesn’t make any sense,” unless the board is trying to “demoralize” or “punish” the teachers, Lewis said.
The result could ruin district efforts to attract and retain good teachers, Lewis said.
“Mr. Lewis’ comments are a prime example of why we need the services of a professionally trained mediator to reduce the antagonism and angry rhetoric and focus on the issues,” said Superintendent Tom Evert.
Fringe benefits for the average Janesville teacher cost $19,111 last year. That puts Janesville’s costs lower than in 85 percent of the districts in the state, according to a Janesville Gazette analysis of Department of Public Instruction figures.
Lewis noted that the DPI figures include all fringe benefits, not just health care, and he maintains that Janesville health-care costs were the lowest among teachers in this part of the state.
But Evert said all aspects of the contract must be considered when settling a contract. That includes staff training, which has been a top issue for the teachers, as well as health care, early retirement and salary.
“All four parts of the puzzle need to be addressed at the same time” in order to reach a compromise, Evert said.
Lewis said the board recently used the reserve fund, known as the fund balance, to reduce property taxes, and he suggested they also could use it to fund a contract settlement.
But Evert noted that money in the fund balance can be used only once, while an increase in compensation is an annual expense.
Imposing premium payments on teachers clearly has been a top priority of the school board since before negotiations began last spring.
The school board already has approved premium payments for non-unionized employees, and it struck the same deal with AFSCME Local 938, representing custodial, maintenance and food-service workers.