Janesville75.3°

Teachers protest, ask for public support

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 8, 2008
— Marshall Middle School teachers picketed this morning in front of their school. They hoped to convince people that their side is right in the ongoing contract dispute with the school board.

The teachers plan to picket every day until an agreement is reached on the 2007-09 contract, said teacher John Maglio.


The plan is to picket before school and then report to work as required, at 7:45 a.m. Maglio said he hopes five to 10 teachers will picket each day, but about 20 picketed today.


Only Marshall teachers picketed, but Maglio hopes teachers from Monroe Elementary School join them. He said teachers at Marshall came up with the idea independently, but it might draw teachers at other schools.


“We feel bad about this whole situation, and we’d like to voice our stance to society and the public and get them behind us,” Maglio said.


Maglio said teachers want to do what’s best for students, and that includes retaining good teachers. He suggested that teachers leave Janesville every year for jobs in districts where they are “more supported.”


“We’re just trying to raise awareness of some of the issues,” Maglio added. “We’re not trying to be intimidating or create any problems.”


Teachers are within their rights to stage a protest on the public sidewalk as long as they keep moving, Maglio said.


District spokeswoman Sheryl Miller said the district has no problem with that.


Maglio raised objections similar to those that other teachers have expressed about the negotiations.


The school board proposes that teachers pay health-insurance premiums for the first time. Teachers say they already pay a 20 percent co-pay for doctor visits and some other services. They also say that their health-care costs are among the lowest among teacher unions in the state.


“We don’t feel it’s really fair to be socked with additional fees when we’re already in that situation,” Maglio said.


Maglio said he blew out his knee a few years ago and paid almost $2,000 in co-payments. He was able to make the payments, but other teachers had more difficult situations, he said.


“A lot of people assume we have better insurance than we have,” Maglio said.


A 20 percent co-pay isn’t high at all, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations.


Tullar, who is on the same plan as the teachers, said she pays around $13.50 for a doctor’s visit.


“When people say we have terrible insurance, I really can’t believe it,” Tullar said. She said she hears from staff members who are amazed at how little they have paid for their treatment.


“If staff members have examples of extraordinary expenses, we would like to hear about that,” Tullar said.


The district has a self-funded health plan, and Tullar is interested in making sure no one is over-paying.


Superintendent Tom Evert called the district’s health coverage “outstanding” and said he hadn’t heard from staff members suggesting that it should be changed.


Maglio said it was wrong for the school board to reduce this year’s property tax increase by $1.5 million when the board also cut programs and positions.


“If they have enough money to give away, it seems silly that we should have to pay back more,” Maglio said of the premium proposal.


The school board believed taxpayers deserved credit for their strong support of the district, Evert said.


Evert corrected misinformation that has been going around: $1 million of the tax-relief money came from the district’s reserve fund. The other $500,000 was from interest earnings on money borrowed for the high school expansion projects.


Teachers have contended that the district’s reserve fund is in very good shape and could be used to give them a better settlement than the district is proposing.


The two sides recently agreed to a small-group negotiating session on Monday. The union later announced that it was calling off its plans to have a large group of teachers attend Tuesday night’s school board meeting.


The union’s action committee decided at a meeting Monday night to take no new job actions, other than the picketing, until the session Jan. 14, said Dave Parr, co-lead negotiator for the union.



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