Both sides say tentative agreement is a win for teachers and Janesville
On the agenda
The Janesville School Board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. The agenda includes:
- A public hearing on the proposed 2010-11 budget.
- A report on athletics budget cuts.
- Resolutions to borrow $16.35 million to pay off the district’s unfunded liability to the Wisconsin Retirement System and to take $410,000 from the Fund 10 balance for the same purpose.
- A first reading of a policy that would provide free passes to all high school sports, theater and music performances for district residents age 65 and older. The policy also would provide free passes to each staff member and a guest for school-sponsored events at the schools they are assigned to and at Monterey Stadium when their school is the home team. District employees and retirees also could buy, at a price to be determined annually, season passes for all high school sports events.
JANESVILLE The tentative Janesville teachers contract is a good deal for the teachers and for the community, negotiators for both sides said Friday.
Negotiators met with a Gazette reporter to go over details of the deal, which the school board will discuss at its meeting Tuesday.
“In my opinion, this contract saves the district money,” said school board member and negotiator Kevin Murray.
It also improves working conditions, which, along with good wages and benefits, will attract the best teachers, providing a quality education that is vital to the community, Murray said.
“At times like these in Janesville, when some people aren’t getting pay raises, it’s difficult to talk about that, but I am convinced that this is a good tentative agreement,” Murray said.
The teachers are scheduled to vote on the contract Wednesday. The board will vote Sept. 21.
Jim Reif, co-lead negotiator for the Janesville Education Association, said the teachers’ main goal was not a pay raise but rather changes in working conditions, and that was a major accomplishment.
The deal provides no pay raise for last year, when teachers worked under terms of their 2007-09 contract. Teachers would see a 2 percent increase on their salary schedule starting Aug. 28 and another 0.5 percent Jan. 24.
The increases would be 1.5 percent for 2011-12 and 2 percent in 2012-13.
Those figures represent the minimum raise a teacher would receive. About 57 percent of teachers would get additional raises for rising on the salary schedule because of longevity.
The average teacher raise this fall is projected to be 3.25 percent.
Teachers also make more money when they hit continuing-education milestones. They pay for those courses.
Reif said Janesville teachers took less than the average per-year increase in contracts settled elsewhere across the state so far. That average is around 2.25 percent per year, he said.
Negotiators on both sides said they believe that if the contract had gone to an arbitrator, the teachers would have gotten much more.
JEA President Dave Parr said an arbitrator would have given teachers raises that would have cost $2 million more than the deal now on the table.
“We do understand the economic times in Janesville, and we were willing to work with the board to take less than the state average,” Reif said.
Superintendent Karen Schulte said arbitration also could have hurt relations between teachers and district leadership. “We have worked hard at building a culture of trust … and I don’t think arbitration would have been conducive to that. And from an economic viewpoint, I also don’t think we would have won.”
Co-lead negotiator Cathy Haen said she has heard from teachers who see the deal as a sign that district leaders are willing to back up their words about wanting to improve employee satisfaction.
“I think this is something that a lot of people are pleased with because they feel they were listened to,” Haen said.
Schulte took on criticism in a Gazette editorial that questioned whether teachers should be getting raises at a time when many people are out of work or seeing their wages rolled back.
Schulte said she understands many employers are struggling, but she said others are giving raises, including the Mercy East clinic, where she has heard of a 2 percent raise this year.
“That’s something I’m not hearing the newspaper talk about at all,” Schulte said
“We’re obviously not trying to trash people getting raises; that’s also stimulating the economy,” Schulte said.
Negotiators said the contract would let teachers get on with improving education.
One provision, for example, allots half of required “professional development” meetings for teachers to plan and work jointly on improvement programs at their schools.
“I believe we will see some improvement on our student achievement,” said Steve Sperry, director of administrative and human resources.
“It’s a win for the public, it’s a win for the taxpayers, it’s a win for the board,” Reif said. “The board now gets four years to do some of that long-range planning. … And we get a lot of the contract changes (that teachers wanted), which allows us to focus on student learning.”
Murray, who has argued passionately with fellow board members to hold the line on taxes, said he is comfortable defending the deal to anyone.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’m not losing any sleep.”
Schulte has plan for budget gap
Superintendent Karen Schulte doesn’t want taxes any higher than already set by the school board.
She doesn’t want to cut the budget any more, either.
That leaves Option 3, which is what Schulte will recommend to the board: Fill an expected budget gap of about $2 million with cash from district reserves, known as the Fund 10 balance.
Schulte on Friday noted that the board already has cut several million dollars worth of programs, people and supplies from the budget. The board has also tentatively agreed to a tax levy increase of 3.1 percent.
Schulte said she doesn’t want taxes to go even higher in these tough economic times.
Schulte’s recommendation is not on Tuesday’s board meeting agenda, but if the board asks her how she would pay for the increased cost of the tentative teachers contract, this is what she will tell them, she said.
The contract is expected to cost the district about $1 million more than was budgeted for. The district also is considering an unbudgeted $1 million increase in health-insurance costs.
Schulte said she is confident that this one-time withdrawal from the fund balance would not put district finances in jeopardy. The board has a policy that governs use of the fund balance, and Schulte is preparing a memo that outlines how her plan would fit those guidelines.
School board member Lori Stottler has said she’s worried that this year’s spending could lead to layoffs in the 2011-12 budget. Schulte said it’s too early to say if that might happen.
“Obviously, sure, that is a possibility,” Schulte said. “I think we worked incredibly hard not to have a lot of layoffs this year at all, but obviously we may not always have that ability.”
Schulte said she’d be able to say more on that topic once this year’s fall enrollment is known.
Enrollment is the basis for state school aid—the more students, the more money. Enrollment that is lower than projected would create another gap. This year’s fall enrollment won’t be known for a couple weeks.