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School board responds to teachers

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
February 19, 2008
— The school board thinks Janesville public school teachers aren’t getting the whole picture about contract negotiations.

Superintendent Tom Evert, acting on school board orders, tried to set the record straight by sending a letter Monday to members of the Janesville Education Association.


The letter outlines the school board’s last contract offer and data comparing salaries in Big Eight Conference schools.


Evert said the e-mail letter was an attempt to respond to what teachers said when they addressed the school board at its meeting last week.


“The board is interested in clear, accurate communication with JEA members regarding its latest offer,” Evert said this morning. “There were times during the public commentary during the board meeting held at Craig (High School) where it was apparent that JEA members were not aware of the board’s offer. Thus the effort to educate the JEA members …”


School board member Dennis Vechinsky said he didn’t think many teachers know all the details.


“I’ve told (teachers) what we’ve offered them, and they’ve said, ‘I don’t know what to believe anymore; that’s not the way the JEA is putting it out,’” Vechinsky said.


A key contention of the teachers has been that they rank last in average salary when compared to teachers in the Big Eight Conference—Beloit, Madison, Middleton and Sun Prairie.


Evert provided 2006-07 data from selected salary-schedule cells that showed Janesville teachers ranking second from the top in starting salary, second-to-last in some other categories and in the middle in others.


Dave Parr, co-lead negotiator for the teachers, agreed that the average Janesville salary is second-lowest in the Big Eight for 2006-07, and previous statements that Janesville was lowest were in error.


But “numbers can show anything,” Parr said, and if you combine Janesville’s salary plus benefits, Janesville is the lowest in the Big Eight because Janesville health-care costs are so low.


Parr said the information in Evert’s letter appeared to be accurate in describing the board’s offer in January.


Parr sent a letter to JEA members today but did not directly address Evert’s letter. Rather, he discussed contract-offer costing issues. The Janesville Gazette could not confirm Parr’s statements in time for today’s publishing deadline.


“The most recent board offer turned down by the JEA negotiating team included the following provisions,” Evert states near the top of his letter, which goes on to spell out elements of the offer.


Evert said the salary offer is a 3.31 percent increase in each cell of the salary schedule this year and next year. A per-cell increase means 3.31 percent for some teachers, but others would get even bigger increases, some as high as 6.62 percent, Evert said.


“As a reminder, the 2005-07 settlement included increases of 2 percent per cell,” Evert wrote.


The offer includes the board’s key negotiating goal, which teachers have fiercely resisted: Teachers would begin paying part of their premiums.


Teachers joining the district wellness program would pay a 5 percent premium. Those not joining would pay 10 percent.


Vechinsky indicated he would not back down from the premium-paying idea, noting that it’s become the norm with other employers while teachers continue to resist.


“They’re going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, is what it amounts to,” Vechinsky said.


Read the memo handed out to teachers [PDF]
View the salary schedules[PDF]

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