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Teachers agree to listen

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
December 16, 2011
— Janesville public school teachers aren't saying no, but they haven't said yes to economic concessions, either, their union president said after teachers met Thursday night.

Eighty-five percent of union members who attended the meeting voted to send representatives to a meeting with the school board, said Dave Parr, president of the Janesville Education Association.


Two other employee unions had already agreed to the meeting Tuesday, so the teachers will join them, Parr said.


The meeting could be a first step toward economic concessions by the unions, something the board has sought since last spring to help balance its budget. Until now, the answer always has been "no."


The teachers' decision is only to listen, Parr stressed. Any deal would have to be approved by a vote of the members.


"We really don't know how it's going to work, right now, but we're going to be there (Tuesday)," Parr said.


School board President Bill Sodemann said Tuesday would be a small step in the process, if the unions agree to continue.


"I don't see any particular proposals being offered yet, just verifying what the law says and what our attorney says we can and can't do," and to see if the unions are "on the same page," Sodemann said.


The meeting will be held under the terms of a new law authored by Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, which allows unions to reopen their contracts without threat of losing their contract protections.


The law requires that the result of negotiations be a net savings for the district, Sodemann said.


Legislation passed by Republican lawmakers last summer requires concessions from teachers and some other public-employee unions, but unions with contracts in place are shielded until those contracts run out.


All three Janesville School District unions have contracts that continue through June 2013.


The concessionsópension payments and potentially contributions to help pay for other benefitsówere meant to make up for massive cuts in state aid to schools and local governments, legislators have said.


"We're going in with an open mind, so if they want us to bring back a specific offer, at that point then we'll do that," Sodemann said.


Parr said teachers want to hear what the board wants, and what it's willing to offer in return.


Parr would not say what has changed the union's mind.


"A few things have come out of our membership, some ideas, and we're willing to explore those ideas," Parr said.


"It's not going to be a simple giveback by the JEA. The school board is going to have to give us something that is valuable to us, as well," Parr said.



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