School district starts year on grim noteThe Superior School Board ushered in the New Year on Tuesday with a fresh set of worries and a grim forecast for the future.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior School Board ushered in the New Year on Tuesday with a fresh set of worries and a grim forecast for the future.
Superior schools faced a $2.9 million reduction in funding for 2011-12 that caused the district to cut its budget by 8.32 percent. The district avoided major program cuts, but there is little optimism for the 2012-13 school year.
“From my understanding, they’re talking more cuts to education this year,” said Christina Kintop, board vice president.
The district is also drafting a new employee handbook to take the place of current union contracts when they expire on June 30. That process became a point of contention at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting.
About 25 members of AFSCME Local 1397, which represents the district’s school bus drivers, packed into the meeting room Tuesday to voice their displeasure over a proposal for the handbook. Of interest was language that eliminates the special rate of pay for drivers of buses equipped with wheelchair lifts. Those drivers currently receive an extra $2 per hour for driving special needs buses.
Lance Nelsen, AFSCME Local 1397 staff representative, said the union members are dissatisfied with proposed changes and how they came about.
“What we reject are items that are unilateral in nature,” Nelsen said. “Items that we have been told cannot be changed.”
Nelsen said the bargaining unit is not opposed to change and compromise, but he feels the board has disregarded the union to serve its own interest.
Three district bus drivers and one parent of a special needs student also spoke out against the proposed handbook language Tuesday.
Carrie Holmes, who has driven a school bus for more than five years, said bus drivers have already taken a pay cut through increased contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System and increased health insurance costs. Some bus drivers are working just to cover their health insurance, she said.
Holmes also said it can be easy to forget the important role school bus drivers play.
“We are not hauling mail or freight; we are hauling your children,” she said.
During northern Wisconsin’s harsh winters, drivers must be at their sharpest to navigate the roads and get all of their students safely to school.
Holmes asked the board to consider the immense responsibility school bus drivers assume, especially those who drive special needs buses.
Special needs drivers must ensure all students are properly secured, and they must be prepared for medical issues that may arise.
“We hear you; we understand,” Kintop said, but the reality is the board is handcuffed by the state.
“You have to understand that we get a budget we have to maintain,” Kintop said.
Board member Mary Klun objected to issues concerning the employee handbook being raised at the school board meeting. She said the appropriate place for the bargaining unit to raise concerns would be in closed session.
Klun also assured the union members the proposed changes were not finalized. The school board as a whole must vote on any policy change in open session before it can go into effect.
“This will be the first of many difficult discussions I’m sure we’re going to have on this policy handbook,” Klun said.
The Superior School Board is not slated to take any action on language for the employee handbook at its regular meeting Tuesday.