Janesville71.4°

Milton School District reaches labor deal

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 19, 2011
— The Milton School Board and the Milton teachers union on Friday ratified a deal on a two-year labor contract extension.

District officials say the contract goes a long way toward the district balancing a possible $1.8 million district budget gap brought on by pending state budget cuts and the state budget repair bill—mostly through increased payouts for health and retirement benefits for teachers union members.


Under the new contract, union members would have to pay 12.6 percent of the district’s costs for health insurance coverage and half of the district’s cost for pension benefits.


That could save as much as $1.1 million in 2011-12, according to district estimates.


The deal also eliminates contract language for class size, and makes job performance the first criteria in layoffs and non-renewals, putting seniority second.


It also allows teachers union members who retire by April 30 to leave retaining the health insurance benefits they had prior to Friday’s contract extension.


The contract was drawn up in a draft proposal this week by Superintendent Bernie Nikolay and teachers union President Michael Dorn.


The teachers union’s general membership approved the draft contract Thursday night in a 165-7 vote, the union said. The board approved the contract 6-0 in a special meeting Friday. Board member Jon Cruzan was absent.


Dorn said the contract was a bitter pill for union members to swallow.


“The approval was overwhelming, but it wasn’t enthusiastic. We knew we had to settle the contract for our own benefit and the benefit of the district,” he said.


Without concessions from the union, the district was looking at cuts to 20-25 staff. Now, under the agreement, Nikolay says the district will avert most if not all staff cuts.


“We’re approaching a balanced budget without staff cuts but I won’t rule out a small number of staff being cut. If we do that, we would hope to do that through attrition,” Nikolay said.


District officials are still examining about $700,000 in possible additional cuts to balance the district’s 2011-2012 budget. Nikolay has said the district intends to keep its fledgling 4-year-old kindergarten program in place.


Dorn said the teachers union does not have an official stance on 4K in the district.


Although the labor deal came on the heels of a Madison lawyer on Friday blocking publishing of the state budget repair bill, public employee unions in recent weeks have raced to ready labor deals before the controversial bill could become law.


Once published, parts of the law would nullify almost all collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions.


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


Friday’s contract extension theoretically protects the teachers union from other changes under the budget repair bill that would further erode the union’s ability to collectively bargain, collect union dues and remain organized.


Board member Mike Pierce said the board faced mounting public pressure over settling the contract before the budget repair bill passed.


“We (the board) were reluctant. We’d heard it from the public on both sides,” he said.


Yet, amid unprecedented state cuts, Pierce said the board decided it had to move on the proposal. Pierce said he does not believe the board was trying to outfox the state legislature or take advantage of district teachers.


“We were trying to make a positive place for the teachers and move on,” he said.



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