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Milton schools pondering union deal

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 16, 2011
— As early as Friday, the Milton School Board the Milton teachers union could consider a proposed labor settlement hashed out in recent days between Superintendent Bernie Nikolay and teachers union President Michael Dorn, officials said.

Officials offered no specifics, but Nikolay on Tuesday said he and Dorn were working on a draft for a multi-year labor deal that would mean substantial pay cuts for teachers through benefits concessions similar to those outlined in the budget repair bill signed last week by Gov. Scott Walker.


The deal could help avert most staff and program cuts and would leave the district's 4-year-old kindergarten plans intact in the face of a possible $1.8 million district budget deficit in 2011-12, Nikolay said.


The deficit estimate is based on education funding cuts in Walker's proposed biennial state budget. Nikolay indicated that without union concessions, the district estimated it could have to lay off as many as 20 to 25 staff.


Before the state budget crisis, the district expected a $1 million budget surplus and planned to spend the windfall on startup costs for a new 4-year-old kindergarten program and other educational programs, officials have said.


Nikolay said the district plans to keep its fledgling 4K program because despite looming state cuts, extra students brought in by the program eventually would generate revenue for the district in the form of increased state aid payouts.


Nikolay said he plans to ask the full school board to view the labor proposal Friday.


Labor talks in the Milton School District normally are hashed out between union negotiators and a school board labor negotiations committee, which makes a recommendation to the full board.


Nikolay said he believes it's necessary to short-circuit that process and send a labor proposal directly to the full board because there's little time before the budget repair bill is officially published.


"These are exceptional circumstances. We're under an extremely tight timeframe, and we're trying to find a solution. This is out of the ordinary for us," he said.


Although officials say the budget repair bill won't be published until March 25, once published it will nullify almost all collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions.


The teachers union had first asked the district on March 3 to enter labor talks on a three-year contract extension. At the time, the board stalled on talks, saying it wanted to learn more about pending state budget cuts and the budget repair bill.


Board President Rob Roy on Tuesday declined to comment in any detail on labor talks between Nikolay and Dorn.


Roy said the board had planned to meet Friday to discuss the district's ongoing superintendent search, which has been narrowed to two candidates.


Roy said the board is aware the labor proposal would be added to Friday's agenda, but he said there's no guarantee board members would act on the proposal as early as Friday.


The Gazette was unable to reach Dorn for comment.



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