Janesville30.6°

Janesville School Board makes an offer that could save district $3.5 million per year

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
March 16, 2011
— The next move is up to the unions. The clock is ticking.

The Janesville School Board on Tuesday night agreed to ask district employee unions to go against their members' economic interests and give back some of their pay.


The school board met in closed session for two hours and then voted to approve a change in the contracts of all three employee unions.


The change is a simple one: Each employee would contribute half the amount that goes to the state pension fund on their behalf. Now, the district makes all the pension payments.


Because the board had already approved the contract change, all the unions have to do is ratify it, board members said.


The change would save the district about $3.5 million a year, going a long way to closing next year's budget shortfall.


Two of the three unions have declined to reopen their contracts to make any concessions. Union leaders could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.


The teachers union earlier declined to reopen, on the advice of union attorneys. Attorneys said there was a danger that the state budget repair bill could become law while negotiations were going on. If that happened, the contract would be nullified.


But the bill will not become law until the day after it is published, and Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette has vowed not to publish it until the last possible day, March 25.


The district's labor lawyer has told the board there's no danger to changing the contracts now. It's unknown whether the union lawyers agree.


Teachers union President Dave Parr said Monday that he had asked for a legal opinion, but he could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.


Board president Bill Sodemann said the employee's pension contribution currently is about 5.8 percent of salary, so a worker making $30,000 would contribute $1,740 a year. A worker making $50,000 would contribute $2,900.


The offer goes to all three of the district's unions, one representing 822 teachers, one representing 351 aides, clerks and secretaries, and one representing 178 custodial, maintenance and food-service workers. Some employees work part time.


If they approve the change, they would begin paying when the new fiscal year starts July 1 and continue through the end of the contracts in June 2013.


The district's remaining employees, about 114 of them who are not unionized, will begin paying in the next pay period, said board member Lori Stottler.


The non-represented group includes a range of workers, including administrators, therapists, social workers and confidential secretaries.


It's only fair that all employees chip in, Stottler said.


Sodemann acknowledged that the change runs against the workers' economic interest, but doing so would help the district out of a bind, and it would save some of their co-workers' jobs.


The district is contemplating district-wide job cuts to balance next years' budget.


The board did not ask for a higher contribution for health insurance. State workers will soon begin paying 12.6 percent of their health premiums. Janesville district workers now pay 8 percent of their premiums, or 3 percent if they join the district wellness program.


A health-insurance increase was not included because it would not provide as dramatic a boost to the budget as the pension contribution, Sodemann said.


The board also wanted to make the offer as attractive as possible, Sodemann said.


The unions' contributions could make it easier for the board to also ask taxpayers to chip in via a referendum, Sodemann said.


Board member DuWayne Severson said that was not discussed at the meeting.


Stottler said some board members have indicated that a referendum and/or using district reserves to plug parts of the $13.4 million budget hole would be easier to do if the unions helped.


Already on the table are $8.4 million in possible cuts in positions, programs and other expenses.


Severson said he wanted employees to contribute more, but the board reached consensus only on the pension change.


The board voted unanimously. Greg Ardrey participated in the discussion via telephone, but he could not vote because he was not present.


Sodemann said the offer could be negotiated, but he noted any changes would have to be made by March 25.


Union leaders would be receiving the offer as soon as possible today.


"Time is of the essence," Sodemann said.



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