Janesville42.2°

Are school district pay raises justified?

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 28, 2010
— Some will ask: Should teachers get raises when so many in the community don’t have jobs or are seeing their pay cut?

Teachers will see pay raises of at least 2 percent this fall if they and the school board approve a tentative agreement that was reached Thursday.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said teachers should be compared not to the private sector but to other local public employees, who are getting raises.


“Are teachers any less than those other public servants? No, of course not. They’re valuable to our community and to our district,” Schulte said.


Jim Reif, co-lead negotiator for the teachers, said the union’s goal was to retain and attract the best teachers, and that means not falling behind on pay.


“If we’re going to revitalize the Janesville economy, we need to have good schools,” Reif said, “and these raises are pretty much on average with everything else in the area, so while it is an increase, we are simply keeping up with all the other school districts in the area.”


Schulte acknowledged the high local unemployment rate, a fact she said she brought to the negotiating table, but she said other districts in Rock County have settled for even higher pay increases.


School board member and negotiator Kevin Murray said he can think of nothing better to spend the money on than the teachers who have such a big influence on his grandchildren.


Teachers went without a pay raise last year. They would get no back pay for 2009-10 under the tentative deal.


Nonpaid furloughs, which had been proposed as a budget-cutting measure, are not in the tentative deal.


The pay proposal—which was reported incorrectly in Friday’s Gazette—calls for a pay increase of 2 percent per cell, starting this school year, plus another 0.5 percent in January. A cell is a pay grade on the salary schedule.


As usual, some teachers would receive more than 2 percent if they were among those who advance on the salary schedule.


Teachers advance on the schedule through longevity in their first 17 years on the job and by earning—and paying for—additional college credits. Long-term teachers don’t see any longevity increases.


The per-cell increase would be 1.5 percent for the 2011-2012 school year. The contract would be reopened to increase teachers’ pay if the Midwest Region Consumer Price Index annual average increased by 2.5 percent or more. The pay raise could not be reduced.


Teachers would see a 2 percent per cell increase in 2012-13. Again, the contract would be reopened if the CPI increased by 2.5 percent or more.


Reif said teachers are foregoing a higher pay increase in order to get changes in working conditions.


Murray said what most excites him about the contract is that it’s for four years, which gives the district the opportunity to plan future budgets.


Schulte agreed, saying the district can be proactive and set goals rather than reacting to finance changes as they come up.


Final contract approval might come by the end of September, officials said.


Negotiator: Contract helps teachers

The No. 1 issue for Janesville public school teachers, when surveyed two years ago, was not pay but rather working conditions, said teacher and contract negotiator Jim Reif.


Reif said he is pleased, therefore, that the tentative four-year contract settlement reached Thursday includes changes that will make teachers’ work lives easier. Among those:


- The infamous sunset clause is gone. The clause ended teachers’ early retirement benefits at the end of each contract unless the clause was renewed in the next contract. That slowed negotiations and made planning for retirement problematic.


“That has been a thorn in the side of Janesville School District and JEA negotiations for at least 10 years,” Reif said.


- “Professional development” sessions will no longer be for 75 minutes one Wednesday a month. Instead, they will be for 45 minutes each Tuesday morning. And half of those sessions will be chances for teachers to “collaborate” on ways to improve their work in the classroom.


Teachers had complained that the sessions were too often yawn-inspiring lectures at which they learned little. They wanted more planning time, and now they’ll get it.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said the planning time should help teachers improve students’ reading and math scores, a prime goal of the school board.


- More flexibility is allowed in using “earned release time,” which is hours teachers may take off work in exchange for hours they put in working on committees, running student clubs and other school-related activities for which they are not paid.


Previously, teachers could use this comp time only on the four annual workdays when students weren’t in school. Now, they’ll be able to take time off during the school day during hours when they aren’t assigned to other duties. For example, they could leave school after students leave instead of staying until the required 3:45 p.m.


- Online classes from outside the UW System previously were not allowed for professional advancement. Now, teachers can take online classes from any regionally accredited university.


- Technology teachers who need to brush up on skills can now get credit for taking technical college courses, which previously was not allowed.


- Survivor benefits, something never covered in the contract before, are now in the contract.


Superintendent Karen Schulte said the district’s “Journey to Excellence” emphasizes employee satisfaction, and that fits with these changes.


“We believe through this contract we are saying that the working conditions are important, and we made changes because of that,” she said.



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