Negotiators mum in Janesville

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
— Call it pizza diplomacy.

Members of Janesville School District unions, school board and administration met for an hour and ate pizza Tuesday evening.

They agreed to meet again Thursday, Dec. 29.

The topic was sensitive: possible concessions by the unions to help the district balance its budget.

Spokesmen for both sides said afterward that they would not talk publicly about anything that was discussed.

"We agreed that the pizza was good," joked Bill Sodemann, school board president.

Nobody has said "no," acknowledged Dave Parr, president of the teachers union, but neither side would be discussing what was said at this and future meetings.

Parr was appointed spokesman for all three of the district's employee unions Tuesday.

Tuesday's discussion was cordial. "No yelling, no screaming," Sodemann said.

Asked if the groups were negotiating or whether they had reopened their contracts, Sodemann simply repeated that they would meet again Dec. 29.

The board in the past has asked the unions to make the pension payments that many other state and local government employees started paying this year. But if that issue was on the table with the pizza Tuesday, those who were there would not say.

A small number of school district employees—those not represented by unions—started making those pension payments earlier this year and are expected to contribute about $355,000 to the district this school year.

If all district employees made the pension payments, the district would save about $3.7 million this school year, according to district Chief Financial Officer Keith Pennington.

The payments amount to an estimated 5.8 percent of a worker's pay this year and 5.9 percent starting in January.

All three unions have contracts, with raises this year and next year, that run through June 2013. The contracts protect them from a new state law that requires other government workers to begin paying for pensions and in some cases to start paying more for health insurance.

The school district is facing a projected deficit for 2012-13 that could be as high as $10 million, officials have said. A big cut in state aid this year and next year is a major reason for the problem.

The school board already has voted to save perhaps $500,000 to $700,000 next year by increasing the maximum high school class size from 30 to 32.

The board raised fees, cut about 110 jobs and trimmed about $9 million in spending from the current year's budget.

Last updated: 7:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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