Janesville75.1°

Amendment could let teachers union modify compensation, save district $3.1 million

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JAMES P. LEUTE
June 9, 2011
— The Janesville teachers union would discuss reopening its contract if a state budget amendment offered by a local legislator survives, the teachers union president said.

Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville, last week added an amendment to the 2011-13 budget bill that would allow districts and unions to reopen a contract to modify compensation and fringe benefit requirements only.


In Janesville, that could mean a savings of $3.1 million.


The measure cleared the Joint Finance Committee, and Knilans is confident it will be part of the budget.


It's likely Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill will pass this summer, but whether the JEA agrees to reopen the contract is uncertain.


"This is still a huge ‘if' scenario," said Dave Parr, president of the Janesville Education Association. "The budget bill hasn't been passed yet.


"If it does pass, we will evaluate our position. The membership is aware of this, and we'll have a general membership meeting this fall to discuss our options."


Parr said union attorneys in the past advised him to not reopen the contract because doing so could automatically make the contract subject to the budget repair bill, wiping out most of the teachers' rights and benefits.


Board President Bill Sodemann said he's pleased Knilans' measure passed the committee and likely will be part of the budget bill.


"It's exactly what we asked him to look at—language that would take away the fears of the union—and I commend him for it," Sodemann said.


The school district would save an estimated $3.1 million if the Janesville Education Association agreed to modify its contract so employees would pay 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pension fund.


Sodemann said the $3.1 million would pay for the salaries of many laid-off employees.


The school board and teachers union approved a new teachers contract last fall, months before Walker introduced his budget repair bill. The bill would wipe out most collective bargaining powers now enjoyed by public-employee unions. The unions could negotiate for wages only, but even those negotiations would be limited by the rate of inflation.


The bill also would allow all governmental bodies to require employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pension fund and 12.6 percent of their health-insurance costs.


The Legislature's passage of Walker's bill was controversial, and it's now being argued before the Supreme Court. If it becomes law, it would not take effect until a union's contract runs out. The Janesville teachers' contract runs through June 2013.


As a result of a significant budget shortfall, the board has eliminated more than 100 teaching and non-teaching positions for the coming school year.


The school board has asked the JEA to reopen its contract twice, the last time asking only for a concession on pensions, not health insurance. The JEA declined both times.


Knilans said his measure is a direct result of the situation in Janesville, where concerns over provisions in the budget repair bill the kept the union from reopening its contract.


"Now, as long as 2011-2013 biennial budget passes, the JEA will have the opportunity to open up their contracts with the school board, take out the pension contributions then close the contracts without any provisions of the budget repair bill taking effect," he said.


"That $3.1 million should help open up some more hiring and classes and save taxpayers money."


Knilans said the Janesville district isn't the only one that could benefit. The Milwaukee district, he said, could save $18 million if its union employees agree to the pension payments, but the union there has said it has no plans to reopen its contract.



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