Janesville School District officials, staff hold ‘friendly’ discussions

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Frank Schultz
Friday, March 29, 2013

— They met, they conferred, and they’ll meet again.

It wasn’t a dramatic event, but it was important.

On Thursday, Janesville School District administrators, board members and union and non-union employees met to discuss the employee handbook/contract for the upcoming school year.

Both sides stressed that they were “conferring” and not “negotiating.”

Act 10 prohibits public employees bargaining for anything other than base wages.

A Dane County judge has ruled much of Act 10 unconstitutional, but that ruling is being appealed, and the school district’s labor lawyer has told officials that the ruling does not apply outside of Dane County.

Legal experts continue to disagree about whether negotiations on matters outside of wages are possible.

While those issues are working their way through the courts, school districts have been careful about how to approach their upcoming contracts.

But state law also tells the district “that certain things have to be done by certain dates in the year,” said Bill Sodemann, school board president.

Those “certain things” include issuing contracts.

About 20 people attended the meeting, and the primary discussion was about changes to the health care plan, post-retirement benefits and when contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System will start and how they will be implemented, said Dave Parr, president of the teachers’ union.

Teachers and other staff need to know what their contracts or the new handbook will include.

Depending on how the courts rule about what can and cannot be negotiated, the handbook might replace the negotiated contract. The handbook would cover everything from working conditions to health care benefits.

As such, teachers wanted to be part of the discussions regarding the new document, Parr said.

“We’re hoping that we can come to a mutual beneficial agreement,” Parr said.

The board, administration, unions and non-represented staff will meet again next week. Parr said he expects that the next meeting will clarify some of the outstanding questions the union and other staff have.

“I think it went well,” said Parr. “I think it went in a good direction, and I look forward to more meaningful discussions.”

Sodemann described the meeting as a “good discussion, a friendly discussion.”

Teachers and staff sign contracts in April and May. If they sign before the handbook/contract is in place, they can rescind up until June 15.

Sodemann said that the board wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to extending the June 15 date, if necessary.

Last updated: 8:15 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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