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Teachers OK new contract in closest vote in JEA history

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 3, 2008
— The great contract battle of 2007-08 is over. Now it’s time to heal, and there’s plenty of healing to do, teachers-union leaders said this morning.

The longest Janesville School District teacher-contract negotiations in memory came to a close Wednesday as teachers voted to ratify a two-year contract.


The vote was the closest in the history of the Janesville Education Association, with about 59 percent voting yes, said Dave Parr, co-lead negotiator for the teachers.


More than 80 percent of the 800-plus teachers voted, one of the biggest turnouts for a ratification vote, Parr said.


With 41 percent voting no, the district has a long way to go to build “bridges of trust” with the teachers, Parr said.


“People have to feel valued when they go to work,” Parr said. “I don’t think salary and benefits is the driving factor for teachers. … We just like to feel valued, and right now a lot of teachers don’t feel that.”


At the same time, teachers are excited to be able to focus solely on what they love to do—teaching, said co-lead negotiator Jennifer Fanning.


Union leaders seemed reluctant this morning to go over their outstanding complaints against the administration and school board. But teachers have complained about school board negotiating tactics and bargaining positions during the yearlong process. Many teachers said they felt a lack of respect from the other side.


The school board side at times also seemed displeased with the teachers’ tactics.


Teachers took to the streets in protest, cut back their in-school hours to the letter of the contract, and a small number of them even staged two sick-outs to make their feelings known.


At times, hope for a voluntary settlement dwindled. But just when relations had sunk to a new low, the two sides found a way back to the table.


A key disagreement was a school board demand that teachers pay premiums for their health care for the first time. That idea became part of the new contract, but many of the teachers who voted no were afraid the change would “open the floodgates,” and they worried how that would affect them over the course of their careers, Fanning said.


Parr said the premium-payment issue was a “political move” by the school board. He said he hopes politicians ultimately will resolve the problem by solving the health-care problems that everyone faces.


Other teachers were willing to pay premiums, but they weren’t willing to start doing it in a year when the district was racking up “incredible surpluses” in its budget, Parr said.


Union leaders said this morning that positive things came out of the process, including increased participation by teachers in their union and a better informed public.


“We’d like to thank the public for their support of their children’s educations,” Parr said.


Superintendent Tom Evert said the board would vote on the contract at its meeting Tuesday night. Approval is expected.


“It’s been a long and difficult process. The contract is a result of many hours of hard work and true negotiation,” Evert said. “I would like to thank members of the JEA negotiating team and JEA President Sam Loizzo for all the hard work and effort. The district moves forward.”


Evert said the ratification should make it easier for all to do their jobs.


“It has been a difficult year. We’ve had too long a period without a teachers contract, and we’ve had the added burden of having to make up snow days on Saturdays in the spring, Evert said. “It’s time for good news. Let’s get all the difficulty behind us and move forward.”


The two sides already have discussed putting together a “reconstruction committee” of district officials and rank-and-file teachers, said JEA President Sam Loizzo. The committee would deal with outstanding issues.


Working conditions is one key issue, Parr said.


Teachers realize their jobs take more than 50 hours a week, and they understand they have become not just teachers but social workers, police, psychologists and even parents, Parr said.


But those tasks keep getting heaped on without as much support as teachers need to accomplish all that is asked of them, Parr said.


“Hopefully in the next eight months, we can work on some things where we never have to go through a round of negotiations like this last one,” Loizzo said.


Teachers also are calling for “a permanent seat at the leadership table.” That means a non-voting JEA member would be at all school board meetings to answer questions of board members, Loizzo said.


“We would hope the School District of Janesville would consider teachers more of allies rather than adversaries of this district,” Parr said.


CONTRACT DETAILS

Some details of the tentative 2007-09 contract that Janesville public school teachers ratified Wednesday:


-- Salary—An increase of 3.31 percent in each cell of the salary schedule this year, 3.5 percent in 2008-09.


-- Premium payments—Starting Sept. 1, teachers who participate in the district wellness plan contribute $17 for a single or $43 for a family per month. A teacher who does not join the wellness plan contributes $46 for a single or $115 for a family.


The payments equate to about 3 percent and 8 percent of the premium cost, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations.


If the district takes a premium holiday—when it does not pay into its self-funded health plan because claims are lower than projected—employees enjoy a premium- contribution holiday.


-- Prescriptions—A three-tier formulary requires co-payments of $5, $15 or $30, depending on cost of the drugs. This replaces the current system: $5 for generics and $10 for brand name drugs.


-- Co-payments—A $100 deductible for lab work, hospital stays, surgery and emergency services is removed. Deductibles of $300 for a family or $100 for a single remain in place for some other medical services.


-- Early retirement benefits—No change. The benefit sunsets June 30,2009, and becomes the subject of bargaining in the next contract.


-- A new “lane” is inserted in the salary schedule, between the pay level for a master’s degree plus 30 college credits and the Ph.D. level.


The new lane is for a master’s degree plus 42 credits. About 30 teachers are expected to benefit when the change takes effect next school year.


-- Summer school pay, which has been $18.70 an hour for many years, now is tied to the hourly rate of the bachelors’-plus-12-credits pay level. This summer, that equates to $22.03 an hour.



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