Janesville50.9°

Teachers, board begin contract negotiations

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 20, 2009
— The Janesville School Board's opening offer to its teachers is a wage freeze in the coming year and a 1.34 percent increase in 2010-11.

The teachers did not make a specific offer on wages as the two sides sat down to bargain for the first time Tuesday at Craig High School.


The Janesville Education Association made a detailed series of proposals that concentrated on working conditions.


The teachers proposed doing away with "professional development" training that the district requires.


Teachers must complete a professional development plan and take college courses to maintain their state licenses, chief negotiator Jim Reif pointed out, so that should suffice, as it does in many other districts.


The school board's team had quite a different idea, proposing to expand the hours of professional development.


The teachers' main goal is to create a better work place so Janesville can attract the best teachers possible and retain good teachers, Reif said.


Reif contended work rules are driving teachers away at a higher rate than in comparable districts.


The board team made another work-rule proposal that didn't sit well with some of the approximately 100 teachers who came to listen to the session: That teachers be restricted to time off from work to attend their own children's school activities only twice a year.


The existing rule is being overused, so it needs to be reigned in, said Mike Julka, the labor lawyer who spoke for the board's team.


The teachers proposed opening all negotiating sessions to the public. Julka said the school board discussed this in advance and wanted closed meetings, at least for starters.


Reif said open meetings would allow taxpayers and teachers to follow the process, build trust, and ensure "no appearance of inappropriate or backroom deals."


The two sides agreed to discuss Julka's idea of issuing joint news releases after each session or conducting joint interviews with the news media.


The two sides also agreed to meet next on June 3 and to hold four other meetings over the summer.


The board proposed ending the longstanding practice of providing teachers early-retirement benefits, but negotiator Steve Salerno said later that that's negotiable.


Reif said saving early retirement was a top goal identified in a survey of teachers.


Reif noted the teachers' longtime contention that the district has pocketed money committed to teacher health insurance because it wasn't needed to fund the district's self-insured plan.


Reif said the amount in question is about $8 million over five years, and he said the board wouldn't have to raise taxes to provide raises: "Just return some of that $8 million to us, and we'll be satisfied."


Julka said he hoped the teachers would consider that the district's health costs and Wisconsin Retirement System payments are on the rise.


The state of the economy and the state's budget woes also were considered in the board's salary proposal, Julka said.



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