Negotiations end with impasse for teachersTeachers in the Superior school district are receiving a raise, but they aren’t pleased with how it came about.
Teachers in the Superior school district are receiving a raise, but they aren’t pleased with how it came about.
The Superior School Board voted on Tuesday to impose its final offer after failing to come to an agreement with the Superior Federation of Teachers, Local 202, in negotiations.
The Board voted 5-0 to approve a 2 percent wage increase for Superior school district teachers, applied retroactively to July 1. Board president Len Albrecht abstained from voting, and vice president Christina Kintop was not present.
Business director Jack Amadio said the board’s decision puts the district on solid financial footing.
“We put an offer out there that we felt the district could afford, so I think going forward we’ll be all right this year,” Amadio said. “When we went in, we looked at the numbers, we knew the revenue cap and we felt that this was a fair and equitable offer.”
Step increases remain in place and the 2 percent raise is applied “across the board,” Amadio said.
The board’s decision to move ahead marks the first time since Act 10 went into effect that the administration and union have not managed to come to agreement.
Kim Kohlhaas, Local 202 president, said the union is disappointed.
“It’s been a challenging year,” Kohlhaas said. “The district has definitely made some changes that have impacted the staff, and this was the board’s opportunity to let the teachers know they are heard and valued.”
Kohlhaas cited changes to health insurance and the addition of three more staff development days as concerns.
The School Board voted in June to move to a higher-deductible health care plan for the 2012-13 school year to absorb a $700,000 budget hole. Employees could switch to the new plan or remain with the old plan and pay a larger portion of their premiums.
Because of the changes, Kohlhaas said, the union had hoped for a larger increase in compensation.
“This is about more than just wages,” Kohlhaas said. “You have to look at the whole package.”
Under the guidelines of Act 10, school districts can offer teachers a raise equal to the increase of the cost of living. Anything more requires referendum approval.
The allowable increase this year was calculated as 3.16 percent, based on the Consumer Price Index at the date the contract began (July 1).
The School Board and union had been in negotiations for nearly a year before an impasse was reached.
Mary Klun, chair of the Superior School Board’s personnel committee, said there was no shouting or arguing over the wage increase, “just total disagreement about what was acceptable.”
The two sides came to verbal agreement at their last meeting that they had reached impasse, and the board was then free to enact its final offer.
“As a board we talked about, did we want to be the district that imposed when other districts have settled?” Klun said. “Those are things we discussed. … But it almost felt like we were being deceptive to continue to go on when we knew we couldn’t give more.”
The School Board did not address the wage increase as an action item or a discussion item at its committee of the whole meeting last week.
“Frankly it was something we were reluctant to do, but tonight we just all agreed that financially we can’t afford any more and that some teachers might like to get their two percent now and not have to go on forever,” Klun said. “I’m not going to pretend it’s going to make people happy because they were obviously hoping for more.”
Board member John Hendricks said the decision to impose the board’s final offer was not hastily made.
“This is something that has occupied the board every single month since we began negotiating,” Hendricks said. “This is a well-considered decision.”
Robert Morehouse addressed rumors that other districts in the state gave their teachers the maximum 3.16 percent increase. Some did, he said, but they offset the raise by freezing step increases or reducing other benefits.
The deal given to Superior’s teachers is “substantially better than what 98 percent of districts gave their employees,” Morehouse said.
School districts differed greatly in what they offered, according to a report from the Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrator and Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials.
Teachers in Wausau received no wage increase and no step movement, while those in Rice Lake received a 2.5 percent wage increase.
River Falls also offered a 2.5 percent total package but froze step increases, and Menomonie settled on a 2 percent wage increase across the board.
“Unions across the state, because of the changes Walker has made, are feeling like they’re losing ground,” Klun said. “They would like it if the districts can help make some of that ground up, but unfortunately, Walker took money away from the districts as well, so we don’t have the money to do it. So it’s not that we don’t understand where they’re coming from. It’s just that we offered what we could and we can’t afford to do any more.”
Negotiations will soon begin for the 2013-14 school year, but the district is waiting for the latest news on funding.
As of Tuesday, Amadio said he’d heard nothing, and he didn’t expect any information until Gov. Scott Walker unveils his 2013-15 biennial budget on Feb. 20.
“There is concern because there’s anything from a zero increase up to what has been offered by the Superintendent of Instruction (Tony Evers) — up to $250,” Amadio said. “So we’re really in the dark, and nobody seems to know, including DPI (Department of Public Instruction), what his intentions are.”
If more cuts are in store for public education, Kohlhaas said the administration and the union need to work together.
“I respect the board,” Kohlhaas said. “It’s a tough position, and they’ve had to make decisions I know they don’t want to make, but we need to really look at surviving this together.”