Board member objects to procedure on union talks

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
— A Janesville School Board member is objecting to the way negotiations ended last week between the board and the district's unions.

The two sides met once before Christmas to consider how the unions might help the district save money next school year.

A second meeting was scheduled Dec. 29, but it was not held after school board President Bill Sodemann sent a letter to the unions.

Kevin Murray was one of four people on the school board's negotiating team. He said the board should have met to consider its next step before the letter was sent.

Sodemann, also among the negotiators, said he followed board policy in deciding not to hold a special meeting.

The policy states the board's president can call a special meeting if a majority of the board approves.

Sodemann said he reached all board members and that only two of the nine, Murray and Karl Dommershausen, objected.

Murray said a deal with the unions still might be possible, but he wouldn't know for sure without discussing it with the rest of the board. He said he might ask Sodemann for a special meeting in advance of the board's next regular meeting Tuesday.

Murray said he doesn't know if the unions would have been open to other ideas because the scheduled meeting didn't happen.

The unions had proposed changing their health insurance to a point-of-service plan they said would save at least $1.4 million.

In exchange, the unions wanted the school board to approve an employee handbook that would take the place of union contracts in 2013.

Sodemann responded in the letter that the claim of savings was questionable and that the district should take more time to consider options before changing the insurance plan.

Also, creating the handbook could not be done quickly enough, Sodemann wrote.

The handbook would include work rules but also would outline benefits union members now receive, with financial implications. The unions made it clear they wanted a handbook favorable to them.

"It would not be prudent to agree to make commitments to rush through a new handbook in exchange for possible, unknown, one-year savings on an insurance plan," Sodemann wrote in the letter. "If you would still like to meet on the 29th to go over this information or to get confirmation from our insurance consultant of these findings, we are happy to do so. If you are willing to discuss any other options, we would still wish to meet. If the unions do not wish to discuss any other options, then meeting on the 29th may not serve any purpose. Please let us know how you would like to proceed from here."

Sodemann said Dave Parr, president of the teachers union, had said "that if the health insurance/handbook idea was not going to work, to let him know so that they would not waste time on another meeting. The letter was done in part as a courtesy to them (the unions) as well as to clarify what the understandings were."

Last updated: 7:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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