Act 10 ruling leaves school district in limboThe Superior school district is in limbo, and it’s waiting for the state to deliver answers.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior school district is in limbo, and it’s waiting for the state to deliver answers.
The district has stalled since a Dane County ruling overturned portions of Act 10.
If the ruling stands, unions will be free to negotiate benefits — including heath care — and wages above the rate of inflation.
“If Act 10 goes away and there isn’t any response from the state, it will be a mess,” said Jack Amadio, business manager for the Superior school district.
Superintendent Janna Stevens said both the Superior Federation of Teachers Local 202 and AFSCME Local 1397, which represents the district’s support staff, have asked to reopen negotiations.
The district denied both requests under the advice of its legal consultants.
“If Act 10 is overturned, we’ll need to go back to the bargaining table,” Stevens said. “That would have some large ramifications for us.”
The state is challenging the Sept. 17 ruling of Dane County Judge Juan B. Colas, which struck down parts of Act 10. Among the provisions ruled unconstitutional is the section that prohibits bargaining on anything other than base wages.
Until a final decision is reached, Stevens said the district has been advised not to enter into negotiations.
Meanwhile, a budget for the 2012-13 school year must be approved by November.
Based upon current projections, Amadio said the school district is looking at a 2.5 percent increase in its tax levy. The district reduced its tax levy by 0.45 percent last year after a combined 17 percent increase in the two years previous.
The district receives its final equalization aid numbers on Monday and will vote on the 2012-13 budget at its Nov. 5 meeting.
After the budget is set, the district will return to the Act 10 dilemma.
Colas’ ruling, if it stands, would force districts to negotiate benefits, including health care insurance and the employee contribution to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
The Superior school district made significant changes to its employee health care plan in June. The changes were not subject to negotiation at the time.
For the 2012-13 school year, employees had the option of moving to a higher deductible plan or remaining with their current plan. Regardless of which option employees chose, the district would contribute $342.95 per month for a single coverage plan and $1,097.46 for family coverage.
That leaves employees with about $47 per month to pay for single coverage and $149 for family coverage if they switched to the higher deductible plan. Employees choosing to remain with the same coverage provided in 2011-12 pay $171 per month in premiums for single coverage and $546 per month for family coverage.
School district employees also saw their contribution to the WRS increase last year, and another jump is scheduled for Jan. 1. The latest change, mandated by the state, will move both the employer and employee contribution rate from 5.99 percent to 6.65 percent.
The increase will cost the district an additional $212,000 for one year.
“I do think it’s been difficult for the unions,” Stevens said. “They’ve had to absorb a lot.
“But I think we did a nice job last year working collaboratively with both groups to put together a handbook.”
As part of Act 10, districts were required to draft employee handbooks to take the place of union contracts after they expired.
Dana Parask, executive secretary for the Superior Federation of Teachers, talked about Superior’s new handbook when it took effect in July. He said union members appreciated the efforts of the School Board and administration but remained leery of the process used to craft the handbook.
“In this district, they’ve been very good about listening to us, but in terms of contract versus handbook, I would always go with the mutually agreed upon result rather than the situation now where we present concepts to them and they decide whether or not to adopt those,” Parask said.
“I will say that, in general, they’ve been very good at listening; but even the best listeners can’t see all sides of the topic.”
If Act 10 is overturned, the change would likely be effective from the time of the ruling, not retroactive to when the legislation first passed.
“I can’t imagine that they would overturn the act and say you have to go back to the contract of 2010,” Amadio said.
Schools received no new money that year and were forced to reduce their revenue caps, he said. Superior balanced its budget through increased employee contributions to the WRS and health insurance.