Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Schools hoping for no layoffs in 2011-12

by Lisa Seiser

March 03, 2011

For the time being, teachers in the Lake Geneva Joint 1 and Badger High school districts can breathe a sigh of relief.

Unlike other schools in the area and state, no teachers in either district have received notices of contract nonrenewals for the 2011-12 school year.

However, with unknown answers regarding limited collective bargaining and state school aid funding, local School Boards, teachers unions and administrators will continue discussions to determine how to deal with possible future budget shortfalls.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget repair bill led the Lake Geneva Area (Joint 1) Elementary School Board of Education into an hour-long closed session Monday morning to discuss the possibilities of nonrenewals. Currently, Wisconsin law says preliminary notices that teacher contracts will not be renewed must be served by Feb. 28 unless another date is specified in the local collective bargaining agreement. But, the timeline regarding a decision on nonrenewals in the Lake Geneva Schools districts has been extended for future talks.

"We don't want to cut anyone," Lake Geneva Area (Joint 1) School Board of Education President Joe Spiegelhoff said about teachers and staff Monday morning after the meeting. "We are trying to use our money the best we can and keep everyone. The goal is not to have to cut anyone."

Spiegelhoff said no final decisions have been made, yet, and talks will continue as more information about the state budget is released.

Walker's proposed budget repair bill, which would require teachers and other public employees to contribute more to his or her pensions and health insurance, would also limit collective bargaining. But, it may be the state budget cuts coming later this week from Walker which will provide the districts with more answers about the future.

Superintendent Jim Gottinger has said he believes statewide school aid will be decreased as much as $900 million. That means the local districts could lose significant funding from the state. Those losses in state revenue aids would require the district to make budget cuts and teachers and staff could be on the chopping block. Nearly 80 percent of all expenditures in the local school districts is spent on personnel salaries and benefits.

But, Gottinger said after the meeting Monday, "the best news is no news" regarding the possible contract nonrenewal situation. At least for now, the teachers and staff are safe.

"We are working with the Joint 1 teaching staff to look at cuts we need to do with the least impact to staffing," Gottinger said. "We are in the discussion stages."

Gottinger said the Badger High School District and Joint 1 teachers are in separate situations because of their contracts. The Badger contracts end following the conclusion of this school year. For Joint 1 teachers, their contract continues through the 2011-12 school year.

That means the School Board may be able to negotiate a new contract with the Badger teachers which will not require any staff cuts. Gottinger said the possible loss of collective bargaining rights for teachers could give the districts more "tools" to deal with the budget shortfalls through staff salaries and benefits.

However, Gottinger said because the Joint 1 teachers are under still under contract, concessions from them will probably be necessary in order to ensure the same staffing level as the current school year. He said he expects the teachers to work with the the administration and School Board to reach those concessions in the coming weeks.

Dawn Nelson, president of the Badger Professional Educator's Association, said she is waiting to see what happens. She said the BPEA is still waiting to meet with Gottinger about the budget and collective bargaining implications.

Walker was expected to present his budget Tuesday afternoon in Madison. Information about the possible school aid cuts was not available by presstime.