Janesville80.5°

Teachers display their disapproval with contract negotiations

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 10, 2007

Janesville public school teachers have worked without a new contract since they returned in August, and it was clear Tuesday night that many of them believe the school board is at fault.


At least 200 members of the Janesville Education Association, along with a few teachers from the Beloit Turner and Whitewater districts, marched with signs around the Janesville School District’s administration building and then packed the school board’s meeting.


The board later discussed the negotiations in closed session.


“We’d like to be working with a contract,” said Nancy Potter, who carried a sign that said, “The value of great teachers—priceless.”


JEA President Dave Parr repeated his plea for the board to make an offer so the two sides can settle the contract. But Superintendent Tom Evert said this morning that the board is waiting for JEA’s response to its latest offer.


“I’m quite surprised that JEA continues to say that the ball is in the board’s court. I’m very confused by that,” Evert said. “The board team has made the last offer.


“This is Example A of why the board team feels so strongly that we need to get with the mediator as soon as possible. We need the neutral, third-party referee.”


Evert said the board still is willing to negotiate outside of the mediation process if JEA makes a counter-offer.


Both sides agree health insurance is a major issue. The board wants teachers to start paying premiums, something they don’t do now.


“The misunderstanding is that teachers don’t pay for their insurance, and they do,” said teacher Lesley Murphy.


Murphy said Janesville teachers have the highest co-pay—20 percent—of any teacher group in the Big Eight Conference.


But many Big Eight teachers are covered by HMOs, and it’s not fair to compare an HMO to Janesville’s plan, which allows employees to choose their providers, said Angel Tullar, the district’s manager of employee relations.


Teachers were adamant that the district can afford to give them what they called a fair settlement.


The district’s reserve fund, also called the fund balance, grew by about 13 percent over the past year.


A big part of the fund’s increase was from lower-than-expected health-care claims. Parr said teachers produced those savings by taking good care of their health and paying those high co-pays.


“It’s time they pay us back for doing what we know is right,” Parr said to the teachers.


Ron Shuler, a math teacher at Marshall Middle School, carried a sign that said: “The district’s new math: Increasing reserve fund equals teacher concessions.”


“According to the data I’ve seen, most school districts have reserve funds of 16 to 17 percent (of the budget), and we have over 25 percent, so I think the board can afford to give us a fair contract,” Shuler said.


Figures discussed at the school board meeting showed a fund balance of $26.7 million, or 26.5 percent of last year’s expenditures.


Evert noted the fund balance is within state guidelines and said the district is “one or two catastrophic illness and situations away, at any time, from that fund being reduced significantly. … This is the difficulty with the self-funded insurance. We have to meet our claims, and when the good years are here, it appears there is money. However, we know we will experience bad years and have to tap into the fund balance.”


Teacher Maryanne Messier read a statement at the board meeting, which included this:


“In the interests of the Janesville community and children, we request that you abandon the misguided notion of extracting further concessions and instead focus on negotiating a fair contract …


“You can either tell us that you care about Janesville’s children and appreciate our dedication, or you can tell Janesville that you instead seek to accumulate an already large reserve fund balance.”


Storyline

What’s up: The Janesville School Board and the union representing more than 800 teachers are at odds over a 2007-09 contract. Teachers are working under the terms of their old contract.


What’s new: Teachers marched with signs and packed Tuesday’s school board meeting to express their displeasure.


What’s next: The two sides are expected to meet soon with a state mediator.



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