Administrators tentative on breaching their silence on repair bill
Don't go there.
That was the message from many Rock County city managers and school superintendents about the state budget repair bill and how it would strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.
The Gazette asked if they would welcome the flexibility it would give or if they dreaded the labor unrest it might create.
Some were wary of inflaming an already volatile situation. Others didn't want to speculate until they knew how much shared revenue would be cut.
Beloit Turner School District Superintendent Dennis McCarthy reflected the general feeling of wariness.
"I'm not looking to add fuel to the fire," McCarthy said.
Randy Refsland, Clinton schools superintendent, said changes might help flexibility and the bottom line, but he was not sure they're good things.
Changing health insurance plans, for example, could save the district money, but bargaining for layoff language, school calendar changes and other working conditions doesn't have an impact on the budget, he said.
"If you arbitrarily make decisions, you end up with an employee base that's disenchanted," Refsland said.
If the law passes, "it's our intent to be working with our associates. If we make some changes, we're going to get input. We want staff input—they're in the classroom."
Edgerton City Administrator Mona Flanigan said it's too early say much.
"We do not have an official position regarding the proposed bill," Flanigan said. "Until the next announcement about the budget, it would be too difficult to understand the impacts."
The Edgerton city budget totals about $3.3 million, including $847,000 from state shared revenues.
Release of the state budget bill scheduled for Tuesday is expected to reveal the extent of cuts to shared revenue for cities and schools.
Milton City Administrator Jerry Schuetz echoed Flanigan's sentiments.
In an e-mail to the Gazette, he wrote that it was difficult to make any predictions about the bill's impact on Milton's budget until he knew what would happen with state shared revenues.
Schuetz went on to say that his experience with collective bargaining has been positive.
"While I do believe some modest changes to collective bargaining laws could assist local government in becoming more efficient, I also recognize that there is value to a process for both employees and management to be found in the collective bargaining process," Schuetz wrote. "Although time consuming, the process itself can and has, in my experience, produced several good outcomes for citizens and employees."
He also pointed out that the state's financial crisis wasn't created overnight, nor was it cause solely by benefits and pensions.
"I believe it is important to remember that public-sector employee compensation alone did not create the state budget crisis, nor will changes eliminating collective bargaining alone fix the crisis," Schuetz wrote.
"Incremental economic changes coupled with fiscally responsible decision making and fiscal discipline in Madison is the real tools necessary to balance our state budget," Schuetz wrote.
Without contracts reached through collective bargaining, school districts would have more flexibility, Parkview School District Superintendent Steve Lutzke said.
He was "not necessarily excited" about having to strip employees of their current working conditions.
"We haven't sat down and had any formal discussions. We haven't given any serious consideration of what working conditions and compensation (would look like) if all that went away," Lutzke said.
Until he knows the outcome in Madison, Lutzke said he doesn't want to invest large amounts of time and resources trying to figure out what might happen.
The district already was scheduled to begin negotiations next week on new teachers' contracts, he said. The current contract expires June 30.
Evansville City Administrator Dan Wietecha said he supports the changes the League of Wisconsin Municipalities proposed last week regarding collective bargaining. He declined to comment beyond supporting those changes.
Evansville School District Administrator Heidi Carvin said there are too many unknowns in the proposal, and she wasn't sure how to respond.
The district has a lot of local control under collective bargaining, and the proposal appears to take away some of that control, such as benefits, Carvin she said.