Janesville School Board says no to negotiations
JANESVILLE The Janesville School Board is saying no to a request by the district's employee unions to bargain a new contract. The teachers union president is responding with sharp words.
The board voted in closed session Tuesday to reply to the unions with a letter, which was delivered Thursday.
Teachers union President Dave Parr said he was disappointed.
"I'm absolutely stunned we couldn't just sit down and talk," Parr said.
Parr hinted the unions were willing to offer terms favorable to the district.
"If they would have listened, I think this would've been a relatively easy negotiation. I anticipated it being done in one night," Parr said.
The board voted three times regarding its response. Karl Dommershausen and Kevin Murray voted at one point to open negotiations, losing 7-2. Murray was the lone "no" vote on related issues, school board President Bill Sodemann said.
The unions representing teachers and most other staff members jointly made their request Sept. 24, after Dane County Judge Juan Colas ruled portions of Wisconsin Act 10 unconstitutional.
Act 10 ends the ability of most public-employee unions to bargain for anything except wages. Janesville School District unions have contracts that protect them from Act 10 through June 30, 2013. The unions asked to bargain a new, one-year contract beginning July 1, 2013.
The school board delivered its letter to union officials Thursday, and Superintendent Karen Schulte sent it to all employees.
"Although the board of education appreciates and commends the unions that you represent for the positive spirit of cooperation. ... It is the board's belief that commencing bargaining at this time is premature," Sodemann wrote in the board's response.
Sodemann said the Dane County ruling has "no specific effect" on labor relations in the Janesville district.
Parr responded Thursday with an email saying labor relations statewide are governed by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which is located in the judge's jurisdiction, Dane County.
Sodemann noted that Colas has been asked to stay his ruling—put it on hold—pending an appeal by the state.
If the judge or an appeals court agrees to stay the ruling, that would "dramatically" affect the scope of bargaining, Sodemann wrote.
"If Judge Colas doesn't grant a stay, will the district then wait for a decision from the court of appeals? And then the Supreme Court?" Parr wrote. "Regardless of Judge Colas' ruling, simply meeting with the board would have shown our community the importance of working collectively to find mutually beneficial solutions to our shared purpose."
The district also is trying to determine the effect of the expiration of a ruling by the Wisconsin Employment Relations regarding the legal definition of "wages," Sodemann wrote.
The letter suggests negotiations would be more "productive" once these issues are resolved.
Sodemann's letter said the board and administration are serious about including input from everyone in the district in the development of an employee handbook, which would dictate benefits and working conditions when the contracts expire.
Parr disagreed, saying district workers have not been "real partners" in the handbook development, as they have been in Monona Grove, Verona, Platteville and Madison.
Parr acknowledged that Schulte held focus groups earlier this year, but, he said, the administration now is writing the handbook and presenting it to the school board.
The board has held meetings with workers about the health-insurance aspect of the handbook, but Parr noted that insurance plans were prepared and presented before employees had any say about it.
That approach "clearly positions the employees as an afterthought rather than partner in handbook development," Parr wrote. "The district can continue its extreme, top-down approach and signal that it does not really view educators as partners, or it can include we, the employees, in a meaningful way in the development of our handbook.
"In which type of district do you think talented educators prefer to invest a career?"