Janesville65.9°

Were teachers really ill?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 5, 2008
— For the second time in less than a month, a small group of Janesville teachers called in sick to protest what they see as unreasonable demands by the school board.

At the same time, the union representing those teachers moved in the opposite direction, calling off a protest scheduled for Tuesday. The district reported that 92 teachers were absent for various reasons on


Friday, an unusually large number. Last year on the first Friday after winter break, only 51 of the approximately 850 teachers were absent.


This is the second sickout during the contentious contract talks. Some of the same teachers called in sick Dec. 10, saying they were protesting the school board’s bargaining stance.


As on Dec 10, Friday’s sickout was most noticeable at Parker High School, where 26 teachers were absent. Districtwide, 111 teachers were absent Dec. 10.


All the absences were covered, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations. Schools use substitute teachers to cover absences. They also use teachers who would normally be having a preparation hour. A principal or assistant principal also may take over a class.


Janesville Education Association President Dave Parr said Friday he hadn’t heard anything about the sickout and declined to comment on it.


One teacher who talked on condition of anonymity said he didn’t think any of the union’s officers were involved in the sickout.


Parr said the union “postponed” its plans to attend Tuesday’s school board meeting in a large group after a new effort to end the contract stalemate was announced.


Superintendent Tom Evert and Sam Loizzo, the teacher who will replace Parr as president Monday, recently worked out an agreement for the two sides to meet with small delegations and no lawyers on Monday, Jan. 14.


“We just have to move in a good direction, that’s all I want; that’s what all of us want,” Parr said when asked what the postponement meant. “So with the postponement of the job action, I think this will give them a chance. We are bargaining in good faith, and we look forward to them bargaining in good faith as well.”


The sickout was an independent action unrelated to official union business, said teachers who contacted The Janesville Gazette.


District personnel director Steve Johnson said people calling in sick with no valid reason would be violating their sick-leave benefit and could be punished.


“People may have the right to engage in civil disobedience, but there’s also consequences that come with that,” Johnson said.


Johnson said the kind of discipline would depend on the individual teacher’s situation and record.


The teacher who spoke anonymously said teachers feel the district has enough money to give them a cost-of-living increase.


“All of us are just growing more and more concerned at how the process is just being dragged out. That’s frustrating for everybody,” the teacher said.


Teachers felt particularly hurt when the school board took $1 million out of its reserve fund last October to reduce property taxes. Teachers felt that the reserve fund was in good shape because their good health allowed the district to sock away more money than projected in recent years.


Teachers believed the money earmarked for health insurance was their money—part of their compensation package—and should have been used for a salary increase and to reduce staffing and program cuts, the teacher said.


Some teachers have declined to join the sickouts, because they believe it detracts from students’ learning, the teacher acknowledged.


The teacher said he knows a large part of the community will react negatively to the sickout, but even so, “we kind of feel like the only card we have to play is the civil-disobedience card.”



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