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With repair bill looming, teachers settle contracts

February 23, 2011 | 08:50 AM
Walworth — Just the proposal of Gov. Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill has already had a major impact on the contracts of local teachers.

Last week, the school boards and teacher's unions at Big Foot High School and Walworth Elementary School settled contracts for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

These agreements were made despite recent comments from local union leaders that they weren't happy with aspects of the contract.

At Walworth Elementary School, the contract negotiations were headed to mediation and Big Foot High School was headed to arbitration. (See page B2 for the Walworth Elementary School settlement.)

Big Foot Teacher's Union President Michael Manghera said if the Governor's bill passes, and the teachers hadn't settled on their contracts, the effects of it would take place immediately.

Manghera said the teacher's union had filed for arbitration and was prepared to go through with it, but with the possibility of the Governor's proposal becoming a reality the union decided to move forward.

"It gives members some peace of mind," Manghera said. "It is our responsibility to provide the best all-around settlement."

After the board approved the contracts, it issued a statement to the teachers at the school.

"We recognize that our employees are heavily impacted by the proposed actions of the Wisconsin Legislature," according to the board's statement. "We understand the impact that these possible actions will have on Big Foot High School employees and their families. We are also very appreciative and proud of the high quality educational experience that faculty and support staff provide the students of our communities.

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"While we cannot guarantee a certain level of benefits or language, we will be sensitive to the needs of our employees and their service to the district and promise to keep lines of communication open," according to the School Board's statement. "We will encourage dialogue and make every attempt to include representation in discussions on issues prior to making decisions on matters where bargaining may no longer be required."

What is the agreement?

District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann said for the 2009-10 school year the agreement was for a total package increase of 4.1 percent, which included a 1.62 percent increase in salary.

"It is a good agreement and certainly a very reasonable agreement," she said. "It is a win for kids and I think the taxpayers would be comfortable with it."

For the 2010-11 school year, the total package increase was 3.75 percent, which included a 1.5 percent salary increase, she said.

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However, those settlement numbers don't totally jibe with Manghera. He agrees with all the figures except the 3.75 percent total package increase from the 2010-11 school year.

According to Manghera, the total package increase is how much more the district is spending on salary and benefits from the previous year. He said two teachers, who were high on the salary scale, retired at the end of the 2009-10 school year. He also said a number of other teachers left the district.

Manghera said those teachers were replaced with teachers who are lower on the salary scale, which means the district is only spending $1,427 more in salaries in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.

He said because of the changes in staff the total package increase is only 0.093 percent.

With the agreement, the teachers have a contract until July 30.

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Kaufmann said the salary increases is basically what the district had budgeted for.

Reaction to Governor's bill

Unlike many schools throughout the state, Big Foot didn't close its doors because teachers were in Madison protesting. However, local teachers are concerned with the bill and have been traveling to the capitol after work to protest, Manghera said.

Manghera said his primary concern with the proposal isn't the increase teachers and other public employees would pay toward their benefits.

"With his proposal to have public employees pay more for insurance and retirement benefits, you won't find any union members who are unwilling to sit down and discuss it," he said. "In essence, (the bill) guts unions and all their bargaining rights."

He also is concerned with requirements to have unions vote annually to stay a union, and the prohibition of employers from collecting union dues.

"Simply, it is a blunt attempt to attack unions," Manghera said.

Kaufmann said her concerns have less to do with the changes to collective bargaining, but more with cuts to funding for the schools.

"The bigger issue is cuts to education both statewide and nationally," she said. "It will change how we do business."

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