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Janesville teacher contract not a done deal

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 9, 2010
— In a normal year, the tentative contract agreement between the Janesville School Board and public school teachers would be approved with little or no public discussion.

This is not a normal year.


At a meeting Wednesday, board member DuWayne Severson was making a point about the contract when he said this:


“You’re assuming the school board also approves this—which is not a done deal—which is far from that.”


Severson declined to comment after the meeting. He has argued that the board must hold the line on taxes in a year when so many taxpayers are suffering financially.


The Gazette contacted the eight other board members for their views, but no clear majority emerged for or against the contract.


Union members are scheduled to vote on ratification Wednesday. The board is scheduled to vote Sept. 21.


Negotiators announced the agreement Aug. 26. It includes a pay increase that would add an unplanned $1 million to this year’s budget.


Soon afterward, the board learned it might have to come up with another $1 million to cover health-insurance costs, also not planned for in the budget.


Those costs are estimates and could change. Several board members said Wednesday they’re waiting for a detailed cost study before making their final decisions.


Lori Stottler said she expected the contract to be OK’d, but then she said: “There’s too many numbers I don’t know, yet, to say yes or no.”


Stottler noted that utilities, insurance and other costs will continue to rise, as would teachers’ wages under the proposed settlement.


With no more federal stimulus funding and absent a tax increase, that could mean numerous layoffs in 2011, Stottler said.


Bill Sodemann, also worried about taxpayers’ ability to pay, had the strongest reservations.


“I am waiting for some costing of items that worry me,” Sodemann said.


For example, it appears teachers would see no increase in what they pay toward their health-insurance premiums, while the school board—meaning taxpayers—must cover any increase in insurance, Sodemann said.


Greg Ardrey said the contract is not a done deal.


“I think it’s one of those things. We will have to cost out everything and see what position it puts us in,” Ardrey said.


Peter D. Severson, who was on the board’s negotiating team, would not comment.


Other board members, while they might have reservations, are leaning toward approval.


Kristin Hesselbacher said she likes the four-year contract, which would allow the district to plan for the long term, “plus we wouldn't have to turn right around and negotiate another two-year contract in the next few months, which takes up a lot of staff and board time. I would rather focus on student achievement, and I suspect the teachers would, too.”


The other board member on the negotiating team, Kevin Murray, said he supports the agreement.


Both teams need to educate their members, Murray said.


Karl Dommershausen said he’s comfortable with the contract but is willing to hear other opinions.


“I think the negotiating team has worked very hard to get this settlement, and although some of it I am uncomfortable with, I am going to back our negotiating team,” Peggy Sheridan said.


On the union side, Janesville Education Association President Dave Parr said he believes members will vote for it, although some have concerns.


“I do feel this is a good deal for both the school district and JEA members,” Parr said. “It’s kind of a compromise. We probably could have gotten more money through arbitration, but I think it helps the taxpayers that we took no raise for last year.”


The average teacher will see a 3.25 percent increase this fall, said Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations. That does not include a 0.5 percent increase in January.


Some 365 of the 840 teachers would get smaller increases because of the way their salary schedule works. They would see a 2 percent raise this fall and the 0.5 percent in January.


---


A public budget hearing on the Janesville School District’s 2010-11 budget will be next Tuesday night, after all.


The board met Wednesday morning to consider board President Bill Sodemann’s proposal to move the hearing to Oct. 12.


Sodemann had expected a quick vote, but the board debated the pros and cons for 45 minutes before voting to keep the hearing date as previously announced.


Sodemann said recent changes in the district’s finances, including the tentative agreement with the teachers union and unexpected health-insurance costs, could be worked into the budget if the district waited.


Those two items could cost $2 million in a $114 million budget, although final figures are not yet known. Possible budget cuts or tax hikes to cover the $2 million are also unknown.


CFO Keith Pennington said the budget presented Tuesday will not include those items, and it will include three furlough days for every employee, even though those nonpaid days off are not a part of the teachers contract. Money from a recent federal stimulus bill was expected to cover costs so that the furlough days would not be needed.


Board members noted that the budget is usually changed after the hearing as new information becomes available. In past years, budget hearings were often held in July.


Members also argued that the public could comment on budget cuts and other matters as they came up in subsequent meetings.


Even Superintendent Karen Schulte, who had liked Sodemann’s idea, said she had changed her mind after the board’s discussion.


“I think it’s confusing (to the public) no matter what we do,” she said.


Board member Lori Stottler said she was concerned that if the board waited until Oct. 12, it would have little time to adjust to any information that could come up in a hearing. The board must set the tax levy at its last meeting in October.


State law requires a public budget hearing. Also required is publication of a budget summary 15 days before the hearing. The summary was published in the Gazette on Aug. 30.


Few people normally show up for budget hearings.



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