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Janesville teachers union says 'no' to concessions but offers help in other ways

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 19, 2011
— The union representing Janesville public school teachers has again said no to a proposal to begin paying more for their benefits.

The reasoning is the same: A fear that reopening the contract would put teachers at risk, said Dave Parr, president of the Janesville Education Association.


Parr said, however, that teachers are working on plans to make voluntary contributions by agreeing to things such as furlough days or work-for-free days.


Parr said teachers have developed a long list of ways to help that could add up to $1 million or more in savings to help the district close its 2011-12 budget gap.


Parr plans a meeting of union members the week of March 21, to discuss and agree on a specific proposal to bring to the school board.


Teachers only will agree if the board agrees to save a number of teaching positions, Parr said. The JEA also wants the community to step up.


Parr said the JEA did not create the problem, however: “We want to be part of the solution, but we want the community to be part of the solution, too, and the school board represents community.”


The only large revenue sources the board has at this point are a referendum that would allow property taxes to rise or use of district reserves.


School board President Bill Sodemann said he was disappointed the union would not reopen its contract, but not surprised.


This is the second time the union has given this answer.


Parr in an email quoted a line from the budget repair bill that appears to say that if a contract is reopened, the bill’s provisions would take over, eliminating most of the union’s collective bargaining rights.


The bill is not a law yet, however. Parr said he understands that, but he said the fear is that Gov. Scott Walker would find a way to make the provision retroactive.


Parr said Walker ignored union contracts when he was county executive of Milwaukee County, and the JEA is fearful of that track record.


Parr said the JEA’s voluntary plan would not be written down, so that would not amount to a reopening of the contract.


Teachers would pledge to take certain actions and have certain amounts taken out of their paychecks, Parr said, so the district would know exactly how much it stands to save.


Parr said he hoped to make a proposal to the school board within two weeks after spring break, which begins Monday, March 21.


The district must issue layoff notices by May 1, but Parr said there’s no urgency to make a deal before then because the district could later rescind the notices.


“Anything we get is helpful, so we will gladly work with whatever they have,” Sodemann said. “But it’s hard to build a budget on something we don’t know about.”


Sodemann said he is working with members of the state Senate and Assembly on the possibility of a bill that would allow reopenings of contracts that were approved before Walker proposed the budget repair bill. The new law would ensure the contracts remain intact through the end of their terms.


Sodemann said he’s had positive response, but the idea won’t be taken up until the budget repair bill becomes law.


Asked to respond to that idea, Parr expressed concern about the Legislature’s intentions, adding, “I don’t know. I’d have to wait and see.”


Sodemann said at midday Friday that he had not yet heard any response from the district’s two other employee unions about reopening their contracts.



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