Janesville66°

Teachers' union tries new approach

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 23, 2008
— Sam Loizzo called school board members Tuesday, asking for the opportunity to address the board.

The move by the new president of the Janesville Education Association comes one day after teacher-contract talks broke down, again.


Loizzo would not reveal what he hoped to say to the board until after he says it.


“I really feel that there are just some things we could talk about and hopefully get some communications cleared up,” Loizzo said.


If the board agrees, the move offers hope that the two sides may yet reach an agreement on the 2007-09 contract.


Also hopeful were statements Tuesday afternoon by negotiators from both sides of the table. Both said they believed they had been close to an agreement.


“We could have been done last night,” said Dave Parr, co-lead negotiator for the teachers.


“We believe we’re close,” said Superintendent Tom Evert.


Loizzo and Evert said in separate interviews that they would be willing to meet again, outside of mediation.


Loizzo rekindled the negotiations as he took the reins of the teachers union earlier this month. He and Evert agreed to meet with small groups of negotiators and no lawyers.


The small groups agreed on some key issues Jan. 14. They met again Monday, but something Evert said caused union negotiators to believe the board was not interested in continuing to bargain.


Those present from both sides agree that as Evert made some opening remarks, he said the word “mediation.”


Union negotiators took the statement to mean that the board was no longer interested in bargaining and that the board wanted the process to continue with a state mediator. Union negotiators felt there was no point to continuing to talk, so they walked.


Evert says he was making the point that the board believed they had presented “a very fair offer,” and that if the few remaining issues couldn’t be worked out, then the mediation process was the board’s next step.


Evert had a six-point agenda of items he wanted to resolve, but the two sides never got to discuss those.


“We actually believed if we could come to agreement on 1 through 6, we’d have a settlement,” Evert said.


Barring agreement, “we’re very optimistic that a mediator can get both sides to come to the middle,” Evert said.


The union negotiators—Loizzo included—said the board had wasted their time at Monday’s meeting if all the board wanted was mediation.


Ironically, the two sides had agreed on some key aspects of a new contract. They even were close on a solution to the issue of teachers paying insurance premiums.


The board was proposing that the teachers pay part of their health-insurance premiums for the first time. Both sides had agreed to make no changes this year but to institute premium payments next year.


Loizzo said people on both sides of the table are worried that backroom deals would be made, but he noted that no deal can be made without a vote from both the union membership and the board.


Loizzo said he wants to have two meetings for teachers after a tentative settlement is reached—one to present the agreement and talk about it and then a meeting to vote it up or down.


COMMON GROUND

The two sides in the Janesville teacher-contract talks had come to agreement or near-agreement on key points:


-- Elimination of early-release days, the once-a-month days when kids go home early and teachers stay until 5 p.m. for training. Teachers would continue to have training sessions on one other Monday, from 4 to 5 p.m.


The board wants a joint task force to find ways to keep the same number of training hours even with the loss of early-release days. The union wants a recommendation that elementary teachers get 90 minutes of prep time each day.


-- Health-care benefits would not change in the current school year, but teachers would begin paying premiums, among other changes, for the first time starting next year.


Teachers wanted premium payments of $25 a month for a single or $50 for a family, if the members agreed to join a wellness program. Payments would be $50 or $100 for those who didn’t join the health plan.


The board negotiators said they didn’t get a chance to propose the following at Monday’s meeting: For those in the wellness plan, paying 5 percent of the premium cost not to exceed $29.80 for a single and $74.14 for a family. For those not in the wellness plan, payments would not exceed $59.60 or $148.28.


-- The sides had these salary offers on the table:


Teachers called for an increase of 3 percent per cell on the salary schedule this year and 5 percent next year. A per-cell increase works out to a bigger actual pay raise because most members advance from one cell to another on the salary schedule each year. The higher increase in the second year would offset the premium payments that teachers would begin to pay that year. Teachers also would add a “lane” at the top of the salary schedule to increase pay for veteran teachers and recognize the added college credits they are obliged to pay for to keep their licenses.


The board proposed 3.31 percent per cell in both years. That would mean an average salary increase of 4.78 percent in 2007-08 and 4.55 percent in 2008-09, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations. The lowest increase would be 3.31 percent, while the highest would range well above 6 percent, Tullar said.


-- Early retirement: The two sides agreed to continue this benefit as-is through June 30, 2009, according to board negotiators. The board had earlier tried to reduce the benefit from eight years to six years.


Evert said he viewed all agreements so far as tentative, and everyone involved would have to sign off on any final settlement.



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