As Expected, Madison School Board Caves to Union

Madison Teachers Receive Roll Back of Act 10’s Provisions, Limited Benefit Contributions with New Contract for 2013-2014

Well, that was predictable.

Just two days after the Madison School Board and Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI) released their proposals for what appeared to be a long, drawn-out negotiating process, the two sides agreed on a tentative contract for 2013-2014. The School Board will get their extra day of professional development, two nights of parent-teacher conferences, and the ability to hire some non-union teachers from the deal. In return, the district will eschew many of the structural changes and opportunities for financial made possible by Act 10.
On Monday, the Madison Metropolitan School District released its proposal for this year’s contract talks. These negotiations were made possible by a ruling from Dane County Judge Juan Colas that repealed the collective bargaining limits of 2011’s Act 10. That ruling is under appeal, and it has yet to be determined whether or not the bargaining limits will be upheld in a stay while the appeal from the state is being heard.
Even with that limbo, MTI – the group behind the lawsuit challenging Act 10 – jumped on their window of opportunity to negotiate. The district discussed contract talks on Monday and Tuesday before meeting to formally negotiate a new pact for 2013-2014 on Wednesday. Despite suggestions that the process could be long and arduous, the two sides were able to agree on a contract that evening.

They moved quickly, anticipating a higher court overtuning the Colas reprieve.

The contract includes several benefits for teachers in 2013-2014. The district will not require employees to contribute 10 percent of their health insurance premiums to help control costs. It will also maintain current salary schedules for employees and continue to provide the same retirement benefits that it has in prior contracts. This ability to retain past practices when it comes to pension and health care benefits is a stark turn from the employee contributions that Act 10 would have required.

It will add to the long-term obligations the district must face.

Avoiding increased benefit costs may pay off for teachers next year, but it could also hinder the district once the 2013-2015 budget becomes clearer. The state has already seen Milwaukee’s public schools deal with financial hardship thanks to locked in contracts that could not take advantage of Act 10’s cost cutting tools. If the next budget is similarly lean, Madison may not have the opportunities it needs to divert more money to their classrooms.

The district was able to achieve some of the goals that were set out before negotiations. The biggest is a provision that will allow Madison public schools to hire educators that are not part of the teachers’ union. This issue was a sticking point in debates over a potential urban charter school that was proposed – and eventually rejected – earlier this year. The School Board will also require teachers to spend an extra inservice day to prepare for educator effectiveness and school accountability reforms that will have significant effects on classrooms across the state.

The new contract will also simplify the teacher transfer process and ensure that local educators are more available for evening parent-teacher conferences.

The full details of the contract were released Thursday night during a special Madison School Board meeting.

That was, well, quick.

After challenging Act 10 and gaining a temporary legal victory, the union was able to spell out the terms of a contract that essentially blocks the reforms that the state was attempting to hand down to them. However, with a new budget on the horizon and uncertain terms hanging over the fate of Act 10, it may turn out to be a burden before all is said and done.