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Step by step, Janesville teachers are getting a pay increase

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
October 25, 2009
— You might think that Janesville public school teachers are like most of us in that they haven’t gotten a raise this year.

After all, their contract isn’t settled, and the school board is pushing for a freeze on teacher pay.


But most teachers did get a pay increase starting in September, district officials said.


For example, a teacher who has earned 24 college credits beyond his bachelor’s degree and is entering his eighth year in the district is being paid an annual salary of $46,195 this year. That’s an increase of $1,185 from his salary last year, or a 2.6 percent raise.


The increase is referred to as a “step” on the teachers’ salary schedule. Teachers get step increases starting in their second year of teaching and each year through their 17th year, if they go on to earn master’s degrees and doctorates.


Of the 824 members of the teachers union this year, 578 got step increases this fall. The remaining 246 teachers are referred to as “maxed out” on the salary schedule; they remain frozen at last year’s pay.


If those step increases become a part of the new contract, the cost to the district will be $715,869.


If the school board convinces the teachers to accept a freeze, the teachers would somehow have to pay back the money from step increases.


“We can look at something different for the second year (of the contract) to compensate for the freeze, so I think there are ways we can look at it,” Superintendent Karen Schulte suggested.


The Janesville School Board is well aware that most taxpayers are facing pay freezes, pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs. So it froze administrative salaries for at least the first semester and offered a freeze for teachers as its opening offer when negotiations began last May.


It has been customary in years when the contract isn’t settled for the district to pay the step increases based on the old contract, officials said. Those payments were not an issue when pay hikes were just around the corner.


But with a freeze proposal on the table, the district leadership asked the union to agree to forego the step increases until the contract was settled.


The union said, “No.”


There’s no law or contract language that requires the district to pay the steps in absence of a new contract, but the district did so anyway, officials said. If they hadn’t, the union could have taken the district to court or to a grievance procedure, said Dave Parr, president of the union, the Janesville Education Association.


Schulte said the district’s attorney advised them to pay.


“It was past practice. We did have an obligation to pay that, and I think it should be clear. ... It was not a choice on our part,” Schulte said.


The union had good reason for saying, “No,” Parr said.


First, administrators and members of other district unions were not asked to forego step increases, Parr said.


Only principals and assistant principals get step increases on an abbreviated schedule—they have only three steps spread over their first six years as administrators, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations.


Just a few principals qualified for step increases this year, Tullar said.


Parr said it would have been different if everyone was asked to share the pain, but teachers were singled out.


“They were saying, ‘You’re the problem.’ That’s essentially what they were saying … Who wants to be singled out like that?” Parr said.


Meanwhile, negotiations drag on with no indication of an end in sight.


“I don’t know what we’re going to do at this point. We’re listening to the JEA. They’re listening to us. Nothing has been decided beyond what our proposal was at the beginning,” Schulte said.


“If the district comes to the table ready to negotiate, we’re ready to settle and move on,” Parr said. “It’s not in our interest to hold out. It’s in our interest to come to a settlement, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”


At the table, the teachers are asking for changes in working conditions that they say will help them do their jobs better and that will encourage experienced teachers to stay in Janesville.


The district, Parr said, seems fixated on one issue—money.


“Our most important factor is contract language. We’ve made it perfectly clear to them that this is what we want. Money is not everything,” Parr said.


Parr said once the district deals on working conditions, “the rest will fall into place really quite easily.”


“People need to bear in mind we’re in negotiations,” Schulte said. “All kinds of things could come out of that.”



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