Janesville76.8°

JEA asks its members to express displeasure

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 2, 2008
— A new year, a fresh start?

That seems to be the idea of both Janesville public school teachers and school board members.


Talks on a 2007-08 contract have produced conflict but no results thus far.


Now comes a new initiative.


Superintendent Tom Evert, acting under orders from the school board, recently made an overture to the new president of the Janesville Education Association.


The idea, according to a memo to board members, is to negotiate with smaller teams—four to five members on each side—and no lawyers.


So Evert approached Sam Loizzo, who Monday becomes the new JEA president.


Loizzo said he didn't feel comfortable making a commitment without first getting approval from the JEA's negotiating team.


So Loizzo talked to co-lead negotiator Dave Parr, the outgoing union president and others, who said yes. "I'm always interested in going forward," Parr said.


Then Loizzo invited Evert to his house Dec. 26. Evert took along a board member, and they had an informal discussion for about 90 minutes, Loizzo said.


Loizzo said he agreed to a Monday, Jan. 14, meeting.


That is one week after Loizzo meets with the JEA's executive board, and the date also gives Loizzo time to meet with the JEA negotiating team, he said.


Loizzo said they'll use two white boards, and each side will write what they're looking for in a settlement in hopes of finding a way to a compromise.


Loizzo hopes the session will lead to movement forward "a heck of a lot faster than we have in the past."


Loizzo said he's optimistic, but it appears the two sides remain entrenched.


The board's top priority is to have teachers start paying part of the cost of their health-insurance premiums out of their own pockets.


Teachers, on the other side, have put together a two-pronged argument for why premium payments are not necessary and why the board can afford what the union defines as a fair settlement:


-- Janesville teachers have some of the lowest health-care costs among state teacher groups, and they already pay relatively high co-pays. The district already has foregone paying premiums into its self-funded health insurance plan three times this year because of low payouts, Loizzo said.


-- The district is running a healthy reserve fund, in large part because teacher health-care payouts are lower than projected.


"They've got a source of gold there, and they want to keep mining it, and yet they keep saying they have to cut programs for students," Parr said. "Why do they have to cut programs for students when they have plenty of money?"


The board uses its reserve fund when it sees fit, including a $1.5 million spent to keep this year's taxes down, Parr noted.


Evert has said the board must be prudent, because although the district has been lucky with health-care costs in recent years, it's only a matter of time before it's hit with a surge in high-cost payouts.


TEACHER ACTION

The Janesville Education Association is asking its members to turn out at Tuesday night's school board meeting as a statement of their displeasure at the board's bargaining stance. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. The union's action committee is putting together a report card on the school board's performance in negotiations, said Dave Parr, co-lead negotiator for the union.



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