Extending Teacher Contracts

Thursday, March 10 was an eventful day.  With the approval by the state Assembly of legislation stripping public employees of nearly all collective bargaining rights, it appears that our school district has about a day to negotiate with our teachers and other bargaining units represented by MTI about an extension of our current collective bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of June.   (We have already agreed to extensions for our two bargaining units represented by AFSCME and for our trades workers.)

Board members have received hundreds of emails from our teachers and others requesting that we extend their contracts and that we do it quickly.  Here is the response I sent to as many of the emails as I could on Thursday night.  I apologize to those to whose messages I simply didn’t have time to respond.

Thanks for contacting me to urge the School Board to extend the contract for our teachers and other represented employees.

This is a difficult situation for all of us and one that all of us would have preferred to have avoided.  However, it is here now and we have to deal with it.

Like all our Board members, I respect, value and like our teachers.  I want to do whatever I can to ease the stress and uncertainty that we’re all feeling, but I’m also required to act in the best interest of the school district and all of our students.

The situation before us is that if we do not extend the contract with our teachers, then, once the legislation approved today goes into effect, collective bargaining will effectively come to an end.

The School Board met tonight to discuss the terms of a contract that we could responsibly enter into for the next two years, given the uncertainty we face.  We agreed on a proposal, which we submitted to MTI this evening.  Like our previous settlements with other bargaining units, the proposed contract gives us the flexibility we need to adapt to the requirements imposed on us by the new state law, as well as the reduced spending limits and reduction in state aid that are parts of the proposed budget bill.

The proposed contract is written so that it gives the District discretion over changes in salary and in contributions to retirement accounts and to the cost of health insurance.   I recognize that you can feel uncomfortable about the extent of the discretion that our proposal reserves for the school district.  We have to write the contract this way, because any change in the contract – like re-opening the contract to adjust its terms – triggers application of the new state law that abolishes nearly all collective bargaining.  So we have to draft the contract in a way that any adjustment in its economic terms does not amount to an amendment or change to the contract, and providing the school district with discretion to make such changes seems like the only way to do this.

Our proposal also calls for changes in some of the terms of the current agreement – like the requirement that we collectively bargain the school calendar – that we view as necessary for the efficient operation of our schools but that we also view as not impinging upon the core protections that the agreement provides for our teachers.

The agreement does not seek changes in a number of terms of the collective bargaining agreement that restrict our discretion, and that I personally might have liked to have seen, but that we ultimately concluded we did not need to have.  The changes we propose are considerably more modest than those many other school districts in the state have insisted upon.

Our proposal reflects the choices and values of the school board, as we try to balance the competing interests of the district, our students, and our teachers under the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.  If you or anyone else is unhappy about how we are attempting to strike that balance, blame us and not the superintendent or anyone else in the administration.

MTI presented us with its proposed contract terms this evening.  I am disappointed with what we received.  MTI’s proposal calls for a continuation of the status quo for four years in our contract with our teachers, in seeming disregard of the significant financial hardships the state will impose upon us.  Speaking for myself, I can say that there is simply no way in the world I could consider agreeing to the contract terms MTI has proposed.  It is not even in the ballpark.

Friday will be the critical day for our negotiations.  Board members have cleared our calendars so that we can meet at 3 pm.  Our hope is that we will be able to ratify a new contract at that meeting.

Please urge your representatives to approach this bargaining with a realistic sense of what is possible in today’s environment.   Like you, I very much hope that it all works out.

Ed Hughes

Madison School Board

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12 Responses to Extending Teacher Contracts

  1. Jackie Hilmer says:

    It doesn’t matter what other districts are doing. We need to do the right thing. In these days and times when people interfere with grieving families at funerals, hold committee meetings on people just because of their muslim faith and disallow the right for workers to even go to the table and talk about what they want (collective bargaining) Right and wrong is being completely thrown out the window. Think about what is right and strive for that regardless of politics or precedent. Strive for the best. Teachers deserve a living wage with benefits and good conditions and a fair grievance procedure because it is right!

    • RJN says:

      So in essence, our city will be left with a district full of much larger class sizes, significantly less support staff, little to no music, band, art, etc., perhaps no athletics, less fresh and eager new teachers, and essentially less overall opportunity for students. But we will have a well compensated core of more tenured teachers in fewer subject areas, and resentment towards this “selfish” group will certainly fester in the community. And by the way, from my experience as a parent in this district for 14 years now, seniority, whatever the subject, certainly does not translate into a better educator! If MTI can’t sacrifice, and/or the board caves, I will seek other options to educate my three kids. It DOES matter what other educational institutions are doing,…we are competing to offer the best education out there! I think, considering the effects of the Great Recession, some sacrifice is expected regardless of how things went down at the capital.

  2. BarbS says:

    As always, Ed, thank you for sharing your thoughts and positions with us.

  3. Dave says:

    MTI’s proposal continues to show they they are irrational and selfish. They refuse to acknowledge less money available and always want to blame the state for not giving the district more money. They always want guaranteed pay increases. The more money to pay increases, the less money to be spent on kids and programs. We can all complain its not fair that the state gives less, but that is current economic reality, so we must handle it in a fair way.

    MTI is simply a big bad bully who just pushes everyone around to get their way. What kind of example does this set for our children? Now you have the opportunity to stand up to that bully. Now we will learn who the school board really supports, the union bully or the helpless children. Are you going to give the money to MTI or the children?

  4. Andy B says:

    Ed, I stumbled upon your blog and loved the transparency it brings out. Can you or someone else explain this teachers wanting to be paid for the days they left their jobs to go protest? Is this fact of myth?

  5. Gary says:

    Wow, it Unions like MTI that is proving the Republicans were right all along. How is this new contract offer, in which places a huge burden on the taxpayers, beneficial to our children? I think the chants of “SHAME SHAME SHAME” should be re-directed to the MTI…

    Saddened in Madison

  6. cbl1m7 says:

    SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!

  7. Dee Thompson says:

    Please stay strong vote against the MTI proposal. Encourage the rest of the board to avoid teacher layoffs

  8. Lauren says:

    Of course I want teachers to be compensated fairly. But part of what defines fairness is acknowledging the limitations we have to work within. If the money isn’t there to get what they want, it’s not there. For MTI to then expect the district to eat that cost through layoffs and program cuts (both of which recall the symbolic yet disturbing images of animals eating their young) does not demonstrate the commitment to the future of education (young teachers) and the future of our community (children) that they claim to have. Let’s keep kids first. All the time. Period.

    • Victoria Halverson says:

      How can the board enter into an agreement with MTI when you don’t know right now what the extent of the cuts to the district in the state budget will be? How incredibly irresponsible. You are elected by the taxpayers. Do you understand that many of us have lost jobs, taken pay cuts, are paying increased costs for health insurance and trying to fund 401K’s for our retirements? The fact that MTI is not making any concessions — not paying anything into the pension fund or for health insurance. All other government employees will begin doing so within the next few weeks. Board Members — do you understand that we as taxpayers cannot withstand huge property tax increases?? I would hope that any referendum that may be forthcoming as a result of this careless action on the part of the Board will be defeated!!! Do what you’re elected to do — represent us!! Do not enter into a hasty agreement with MTI that will result in the district being hamstrung when the large cuts to state aids are realized. This action really crystallizes this issue — it is not about the kids. It’s about the greed of MTI and the stupidity of a Board that enters into an agreement before it has the critical information it needs to ensure the best outcome for our children and the Madison taxpayers.

  9. Laura Chern says:

    Hi Ed,
    It looks like the district and union have reached a reasonable compromise. I hope the teachers are able to ratify the proposal. Here is a link to the article in the State Journal:

    http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/article_08e4dde4-4ce5-11e0-83f1-001cc4c03286.html

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