Teachers uninons, monkey wrench and mo’ money

Jul 20, 2013 by

Protracted, costly negotiations reminiscent of pre-Act 10 years

In the aftermath of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 legislation, negotiations between school districts and teachers unions went from drawn out, costly ordeals to brief exchanges that in some districts have been settled in as quickly as 15 minutes.

Not so for the Waukesha School District, which only this week finalized base pay increases for the school year that just ended and hasn’t even started working on a deal for the upcoming year.

The district imposed a base pay raise of $400 Wednesday after a mediator declared an impasse after a year of talks, and $500,000 in attorneys fees and other costs for the district.


The negotiations, which were originally delayed to September 2012 because of uncertainty surrounding the legality of Act 10, stumbled on the fact that the union sought an across-the-board percentage increase of 1.64%. The district wanted to provide the largest increases for the lowest salaried teachers. The district’s initial proposal would have meant a 0.5% increase in base pay.

“In the midst of the negotiations, it was demeaning, their attitudes were patronizing and there was no real negotiation that took place,” Jill Andersen, a Waukesha West High School teacher who attended the talks with the union, said after walking out of the meeting following the board’s 7-0 vote approving an imposed increase.

District officials said it was not their fault communication broke down but rather the teachers’ refusal to work with them that caused the impasse, which was declared by a mediator July 9.

“(The negotiations) were very slow and unproductive. For all practical purpose…all meaningful proposals were initiated by the district,” board president Dan Warren said.

In the end, all full-time teachers who did not retire following the 2011-’12 school year will receive a $400 check representing a raise for the last school year.

The district also approved a supplemental pay raise for teachers ranging from $89 to $800, with the higher payments going to newer teachers, who were disproportionately burdened by the requirement to pay a higher percentage of their salaries toward benefits following Act 10.

The district contends that teachers on average will receive a 1.56% increase. Union President Cathy Atkinson calls that figure misleading because more than half the district’s teachers will receive a raise of less than 0.6%.

According to data available through the Department of Public Instruction, the average full-time teacher salary for the Waukesha School District for the 2012-’13 year was $59,572, with a low salary of $24,001 and the high at $93,313.

Adding part-time jobs

For teacher Andersen, the base pay raise and supplemental bump adds up to a $975 annual pay increase. She compares that with the $10,000 decrease in take home pay she absorbed when she began to pay more for her benefits.


To compensate, Andersen said, she had to increase her part-time hours at a book store to 15 to 20 extra per week on top of her full-time teaching job, causing her teaching performance to suffer. Andersen also works part time for the union as vice president.

Atkinson, the union leader, said she understands that district officials have to operate looking at the bottom line, but she also said she wished they would be more understanding to the human element of the negotiation. Atkinson said she has seen talented teachers leave the profession in the past year because they wanted a better paying job before starting a family.

Act 10 limits bargaining to base pay, and increases to base pay can be negotiated by the union up to cost-of-living increases.

“Just because they can do certain things doesn’t mean they have to,” she said.

Atkinson said the negotiations are important because they increase transparency and give teachers a voice at the table, however limited.

Warren, the board’s president, said the district was doing what was best given the law it operates under. Warren, who has been on the board for 21 years, said historical factors play a big role in what is going on in schools now. In the past, Warren said, payroll costs have grown each year at a rate of about 3%. At the same time, he said, legislatively defined revenue caps have meant an inflow increasing at only about 1.5% each year. With payroll making up 75% of a typical district’s budget, something has to give, he said.

“The reality is, if your costs have been allowed to go at 3% and you’re only getting half of that, something’s got to give,” Warren said. “That’s the dynamic that has been going on for a long time (prior to Act 10).”

One thing the union and district agreed on is providing a stable learning environment within the schools.

Gray said that despite the district taking a $25 million hit over the past three years, not one teaching position has been cut.

“Our number one priority is job security,” Gray said.

Moving forward, both sides also said they hope for smoother, more productive negotiations.

“I’m hoping for a more collaborative process this time around,” Atkinson said.

via In era of quick union bargaining, Waukesha ends a slugfest.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts

Tags

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.