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.
Madison School Board