'Handbook' a concern this school year
JANESVILLE Smiles and cheers dominated the annual staff get-together at Craig High School on Wednesday, but at least one worry was on the minds of hundreds of Janesville School District workers.
"We know this is a year of anxiety for all of you and for all of us," Superintendent Karen Schulte said in her yearly speech to the staff.
Schulte was referring to what everyone calls "the handbook." It's a document that will replace union contracts starting July 1, 2013.
Most of the 1,200 or so employees in the auditorium were union members who will be affected.
The district is just beginning the process of writing the handbook, which will dictate working conditions and benefits.
A new state law forbids unions from negotiating for those items. The school board will have the final say.
The school board Tuesday adopted "guiding principles" for the handbook process. School board President Bill Sodemann read them at the meeting. Here's one of them:
"We will recruit, retain and recognize high-performing employees that embody the standards of integrity and accountability to the Standards of Professional Behavior."
Sodemann acknowledged at Tuesday's meeting that the principles sound like platitudes, and Schulte said no one should try to read between the lines. Details will come later.
In the meantime, staff can only wonder what will happen to their take-home pay, what their insurance premiums will be and how work rules might change.
Talk among teachers is that a number of "high-performing" veteran teachers are considering retirement in June.
Sodemann tried to allay concerns Wednesday.
"We know that when you face change, there is some angst and uncertainty," Sodemann told the staff. "Your take-away from what I just read to you should be that although some change will be coming, our board is committed to making sure our district is an attractive place to work. The plain fact is, we have to be competitive with other districts."
"We have to be competitive to recruit and retain the very best for our students," Sodemann said. "That will be our goal as we have this handbook developed. Not all change will be popular. We do feel that through flexibility, our best days are yet to come."
Union leaders also spoke to the staff but said little about the handbook. Teachers union President Dave Parr didn't mention it.
Board members, district officials and workers' representatives will begin the handbook in an open meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Educational Services Center, when insurance will be the main topic, officials said.
Staff from several schools wore theme T-shirts for Tuesday's meeting.
The Edison Middle School T-shirt read, "Keep positive, and teach on."
School starts Tuesday.