Before Caving, Madison School District Will Put Up Good Front in Unnecessary Teacher Contract Negotiations

The Madison Metropolitan School District announced several changes that the school board will be looking to glean from its teachers when the two meet to negotiate their next working contract. Issues like allowing the district to employ non-union teachers, switching health care providers, and adding additional time for professional development are all on the district’s wish list headed into what could be a contentious bargaining cycle.

However, until Dane County judge Juan Colas repealed Act 10’s collective bargaining limits last month, these were all changes that the district would have made without resistance once the current contract expired.

The district is looking for several changes relating to how educators are required to do their jobs in Madison’s public schools. Since their proposed changes do not apply to salary concerns, they all could have been enacted at the district level without approval from teachers and staff members. Act 10’s provisions had previously limited collective bargaining between public sector unions and local school boards to only compensatory matters.

These changes include adding an extra day for professional development in order to prepare teachers for educator effectiveness and school accountability programs that were enacted for the 2012-2013 school year, switching health care providers from Physicians Plus to Unity, changing teacher workloads from the equivalent of five classes per day to 25 hours of instruction per week, and allowing for potential raises once the state’s next budget becomes clearer.

Madison Metropolitan School District is choosing to bargain with Madison Teachers’ Incorporated (MTI), the group whose lawsuit overturned the collective bargaining limits of Act 10. Though talks are in their early stages, there seems to be several issues that could become sticking points when the two groups hammer out their contract.

The biggest problem may be the district’s proposal to allow teachers who are not members of MTI to work in Madison’s classrooms. In an article with the Wisconsin State Journal, MTI president John Matthews called this proposal “divisive and illogical.” MTI’s proposal also calls for the district to drop a mandate to increase teacher health care contributions to 10 percent of premium costs. Both are decisions that the district could have pushed through without bargaining before Colas’s ruling on Act 10.

The school board will hold closed meetings on Monday and Tuesday night to discuss the upcoming negotiations. However, these rushed procedures could needlessly hurt taxpayers, depending on how future appeals of the Act 10 ruling progress. The state, led by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, has requested that the bargaining law be upheld while Colas’s ruling is appealed in higher court.

The process could wrap up by the end of the week, or it could drag on for months while the courts deliberate over the final fate of Act 10.

If the Madison School Board actually sticks to their proposal, we could see a lasting stalemate between the board and its teachers that could continue into 2013. Still, with the spectre of an Act 10 ruling on the horizon, the pressure will be on for each side to come to an agreement. With the union’s influence over the current board still strong, we may see the district cave to most of MTI’s demands.