Janesville36.8°

Teachers union says re-opening agreement would pose too high a risk

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 8, 2011
— Janesville public school teachers decided Monday not to re-open their contract.

Attorneys from the state teachers union told the membership they put themselves at risk if they try to modify their contract now, union President Dave Parr said.


District officials had hoped the Janesville Education Association would negotiate concessions to help the district through its budget crisis.


The school board will have to lay off dozens of teachers and other district employees in order to balance its 2011-12 budget. Concessions from the teachers potentially could have saved some of those jobs.


"Our members were open to a number of options (to help with district finances), but we just couldn't take the risk," Parr said after the meeting Monday at Craig High School.


The scenario that scares teachers begins with Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.


The bill would wipe out existing contracts for all public-employee unions, leaving the unions with only the right to bargain for wages. Wages could rise only as much as the consumer price index.


Existing contracts, however, shelter employees from the bill's effects until those contracts end. The Janesville teachers' contract lasts through June 2013.


The bill is not yet law. It is stalled because the state Senate can't vote on it until at least one Democratic senator returns to the Capitol to give the Senate a quorum.


Union attorneys said the Senate could modify the bill to make it retroactive, Parr said. If that happens, even if the union and school board re-opened and closed the contract before the bill becomes law, the contract would still be wiped out.


Even a side agreement or a memo of understanding might be considered a re-opening of the contract, Parr said, so the safest option for teachers is to do nothing.


Walker's history of dealing with unions when he was the Milwaukee County executive also makes teachers fearful, Parr said.


Most of the district's teachers—about 650 of them—attended Monday's meeting, Parr said. They did not vote, and no one made a motion that a vote be taken, Parr said.


Parr was asked whether the union might consider re-opening its contract if a budget repair bill could be passed that safeguards the contract.


Parr responded: "As the facts become clearer, we'll look at all our options, but all we can base (a decision) on today is the facts as they are today. … We're between a rock and a hard place, and there's no way out at this time."


Meanwhile, the district on Monday issued a new estimate of its budget shortfall for 2011-12. The shortfall, previously estimated at $15.6 million, is now at $13.38 million.


The change is in the estimated state aid the district would receive from Walker's proposed budget. Instead of a reduction of $5 million in aid from this year's amount, the reduction is now projected to be $2.83 million.


The district also now has an estimate of its allowable property tax levy for next year, an increase of only 0.34 percent, or $122,802.


So property taxes would do little to solve the district's budget crisis.


ANOTHER CONTRACT UP FOR SCHOOL BOARD VOTE

Another union of Janesville School District workers has reached a tentative contract agreement, which the school board will consider at its meeting tonight.


The tentative agreement parallels the agreement reached recently with the union that represents custodians and maintenance and food service workers. It provides for no salary increase in the current year and 2 percent increases in each of the following years.


The union represents 351 aides, clerks and secretaries, 296 of whom are part-timers.


The agreement would not require workers to pay any of their pension contributions, a benefit they won in the previous contract, said Angel Tullar, coordinator of employee relations.


The agreement also does not change workers' contributions to their health insurance, although the 296 part-time workers don't receive any district-paid health insurance.


Contributions to health insurance are capped at $17.37 per month for singles, $43.19 for those on the family plan.


The agreement calls for a district-union committee "to study the issue of part-time employee health coverage."


The school board Feb. 22 approved the custodial/maintenance/food service contract on a 5-4 vote after a sometimes emotional debate.


The minority wanted to send the contract back to be renegotiated in light of the governor's proposal to require public employees to pay half their pension payments and 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums.



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