Janesville33.7°

Positive glimmer in teacher contract talks

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 15, 2008
— The adversaries in the Janesville School District’s teacher contract talks aren’t saying much, and that could be a good thing.

The two sides issued brief, nearly identical statements after meeting for 3-1/2 hours Monday.


Most previous negotiations have concluded with each side speaking liberally, often making conflicting or contradictory statements. The barbs seemed to get sharper as the talks dragged on.


Until Monday.


“We had a very positive meeting, and we are optimistic about reaching a voluntary settlement,” said Jennifer Fanning, co-lead negotiator for the teachers.


“There was excellent discussion of issues. We are optimistic about reaching a voluntary settlement,” said Superintendent Tom Evert.


“Voluntary settlement” are key words. They mean avoiding a “qualified economic offer,” or QEO.


Under Wisconsin law, a QEO is not so much an offer as it is an order from the boss. If the two sides go through mediation, and the mediator declares a deadlock, then the school board could impose a QEO.


A QEO requires a 3.8 percent increase in salary and benefits combined. The union has no choice but to accept, but no law can make teachers happy about it.


A QEO leaves the two sides as opponents awaiting their next round, when succeeding contract comes up for renewal. A voluntary settlement means a greater chance for everyone to get back to business without labor strife hanging over their heads.


Mediation has been in the works, but it appears that a date for a first session has now been pushed into February, Evert said.


Monday’s session included just four or five members on each side, and no lawyers.


Asked why things went so well, Fanning said: “I think we’re just working together well. … It takes a little time to work through issues.”


The two sides have been working through issues since last spring.


The long and sometimes rancorous process led to teacher demonstrations of discontent.


Now, “both sides believe that we are moving forward,” Fanning said this morning.


“We took a few steps forward, which is always good,” Evert said.


The two sides revealed only one of those steps: They will meet again Monday.



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