Janesville teacher pact raises ire at meeting
Teachers vote on ratification of the 2009-13 contract this evening. The school board is scheduled to vote next Tuesday.
JANESVILLE Passions ran high and fingers wagged as the Janesville School Board discussed the tentative agreement with the teachers union Tuesday night.
The board took no action, but members gave a rare performance, discussing details of negotiations and lamenting what might have been.
Past contracts have been approved with little more than perfunctory comments from the board.
If the board had voted Tuesday, it would have approved the contract, probably on a vote of 6-3. But none of the board members would have been satisfied.
Bill Sodemann and DuWayne Severson were—predictably—the most upset, mostly with costs of wages and benefits at a time when so many of their constituents are suffering economically.
Both men let slip thoughts guaranteed to enrage teachers, commenting in a standing-room-only boardroom filled with teachers who remained politely silent most of the evening.
Sodemann said a change to the salary schedule in the last two years of the four-year deal would greatly increase the salary of the union’s president.
DuWayne Severson suggested that it was unsavory that two teachers who sat on a committee that worked out compensation for DECA and National Honor Society advisers were beneficiaries of that contract provision.
Jim Reif, co-lead negotiator for the teachers, objected angrily when his turn to speak arrived.
“It is simply criminal and wrong,” to suggest that the contract was written to benefit one member, Reif said.
The change, which increases pay for veteran teachers, eventually would benefit every teacher, Reif said.
Reif said teachers were on the committee as a result of an agreement between the teachers and the district two years ago to work out a way to pay DECA and National Honor Society advisers, something he said happens in 90 percent of districts statewide.
“We didn’t give those two people money because they served on it. We gave it to them because they deserved it,” Reif said.
But those were minor points. Several board members suggested the result of the higher salaries would be cuts of teacher jobs and larger classes in 2011-12. Sodemann suggested the loss of 25 to 30 of the 800-plus teacher corps.
DuWayne Severson said up to 40 teachers could be cut. He said next year’s budget would need to be cut by $4 million to $6 million, the board would not raise taxes to cover that, and it could not cut any more without cutting teacher jobs.
Sodemann had analyzed the budget and come up with estimates of teacher pay and benefits that he said exceeded previous years.
“What would it have been if this wasn’t the worst economy since Hoover? I’m afraid to ask,” Sodemann said.
It’s not a question of whether teachers deserve the pay hikes, an impassioned Sodemann said, it’s a question of whether the community can afford them.
Even supporters of the deal said they’d have preferred lower costs and other changes.
Kevin Murray said approving the contract would open doors to trust-based talks with the teachers on health insurance and other benefits.
Several members said they couldn’t see rejecting the deal, which likely would result in an arbitrator awarding the teachers much more.
Peter D. Severson was the other member who said he couldn’t support the contract, even though he was on the negotiating committee. He went on at length about the 15-month negotiating process and his concerns.
Parent Jack Hoag chastised DuWayne Severson and Sodemann for their comments.
Hoag noted that board members gave their negotiating team the power to negotiate and then on Tuesday cut the agreement to pieces.
Hoag said teachers work hard, some coming in weeks before the start of school to prepare, and they deserve what the agreement would give them.
“I would encourage you to support the contract. Your people worked hard to get it. You trusted these people, and I think you should leave it at that,” Hoag said.
Several teachers spoke, including Wendy Haag: “For the first time in a very long time, I feel our agreement reflects a respect for us as professionals and a desire to build trust between our employer and the teachers.”
In a related matter, the board held a public hearing on the 2010-11 budget. Only one person spoke. Al Lembrich asked how the board could justify a tax increase during these economic times.
“Your planned spending ignores reality and is unsustainable,” Lembrich said.