One board member opposes teacher contract

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008
— The Janesville School Board easily approved the 2007-09 contract with district teachers Tuesday, but not without some controversy.

Bill Sodemann was the only board member voting “no.” He said the board should have bargained for a better deal.

Sodemann said he couldn’t justify an average teacher raise of more than 4.5 percent at a time when many of his constituents are getting much smaller raises, if they get any at all.

Sodemann said the board didn’t achieve its negotiating objectives. He said one goal was to have all employee groups, including administrators and the custodians, maintenance, clerks, aides and food workers, paying insurance premiums at the same rate, 5 percent of the estimated cost.

But the teacher negotiated what amounts to a 3 percent premium share, Sodemann said. The administrators’ contract states that they will pay the same as teachers, so that should be adjusted automatically, but other unionized employees now at the 5 percent level are sure to ask for similar consideration, Sodemann said.

The contract did not settle the question of whether the district is intentionally over-estimating health-care costs, something teachers have accused the district of, Sodemann said. Sodemann had proposed that any overage be funneled into employee Health Reimbursement Accounts if the district’s health plan experienced fewer claims than expected.

Sodemann presented numbers showing the cost of the new contract over two years is $523,000 more than an offer the board made in January.

Sodemann said he might have been able to vote for the January offer, although it would have been difficult.

Board member Kevin Murray defended the contact, saying the district needs to attract the best teachers, and a starting salary around $31,000 is nowhere near what some teachers could earn in the private sector.

“School teachers are our greatest resource in the district. They are the greatest thing we’ve got going,” Murray said.

“They’re paying health insurance (premiums) like they’ve never had to do before, and it was a big step for them,” Murray said.

Board member Tim Cullen said there’s a feeling among some teachers that the school board doesn’t appreciate them, “and nothing could be further from the truth, including Commissioner Sodemann.”

The teacher’s raises are higher than most employees across the economy, but those raises are an attempt by the board to say that teachers do matter to them, Cullen said.

“If we didn’t appreciate them, (the contract) wouldn’t look like this,” board member Dennis Vechinsky agreed.

Sodemann said after the meeting that his plea for fiscal restraint doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate teachers.

Board member Amy Rashkin said people need to realize that the contract is a compromise.

“I want our teachers treated as well as we can afford to treat them,” Rashkin said.

Board member Lori Stottler said paying premiums was a big step, and the teachers have taken much smaller salary increases in past contracts in order to maintain their health-care benefits.

How they voted

The Janesville School Board voted on the 2007-09 teachers contract:

In favor: Todd Bailey, Tim Cullen, Kevin Murray, Amy Rashkin, Lori Stottler, Dennis Vechinsky.

Against: Bill Sodemann.

Absent: Debra Kolste, DuWayne Severson.

Last updated: 8:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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