Kenosha School Board Delays Contract Decision on 4-3 Vote

MacIver News Service | November 13, 2013

[Kenosha, Wisc…] Unions in Kenosha moved at breakneck speed Tuesday hoping to get new contracts approved by the school district, but in the end, their efforts were stalled.

On Monday, the Kenosha Unified School District’s superintendent, Dr. Michele Hancock, announced the school board was going to hold a special meeting at 8:00pm on Tuesday to discuss and possibly take action on new collective bargaining agreements.

That same day, the Kenosha Education Association (KEA) put out an urgent call to its members and other affected unions that they had to vote to ratify their contracts by Tuesday afternoon at 4:30pm, just hours before they hoped the school board would ratify them.

On Tuesday, union members ratified the contracts, and they were then passed out to school board members just before their 5:30pm meeting, according to Tonya Ruder, the school districts media relations director.

The school board voted 4-3 to postpone any action on the contracts until its November 26th meeting.

“There are a few board members that felt they did not receive the contracts in time to make a decision,” Ruder told the MacIver News Service.

At this time, school board members and the district are unsure whether or not it is even legal to ratify new labor contracts. Ruder said a request for information was given to the district’s legal council, and they hope to have an answer before the next meeting.

The KEA amended its constitution in March 2011 (during the Act 10 riots) in order to allow for quick passage of contracts. That allows the union to suspend a 10-day notification requirement before votes and suspend absentee voting, according to an announcement put out on November 8th.

Back in 2011, members said, “this flexibility, even should it prove unnecessary immediately, might well be needed in the future, given all the uncertainty created by the Walker Administration.”

The KEA was decertified on August 31, 2013 when it failed to hold its annual recertification election, as required by Act 10.

However, on October 21st, Dane County Judge Juan Colas issued an injunction that barred state commissioners from enforcing recertification elections anywhere in Wisconsin. Colas had previously ruled parts of Act 10 unconstitutional in a lawsuit involving two unions from Madison and Milwaukee on September 14, 2012. That ruling has been appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard on Monday.

Colas’ ruling on October 21st indicated he felt his decision applied to the entire state, and that’s when Kenosha and other unions bolted into action.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) put out a statement on Tuesday, however, explaining why the unions will likely lose this case in the end.

“Circuit court decisions have no precedential value on anyone other than the parties to the lawsuit – and none of the thousands of public employees in Kenosha were parties to the Madison Teachers, Inc. lawsuit. Further, no court with jurisdiction over the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) has ever declared Act 10 to be unconstitutional,” Rick Esenberg, WILL President and General Counsel, wrote.

Additionally, Esenberg warned the Kenosha Board of Education could be held liable for any agreements it makes that will eventually be found in violation of Act 10.

“If the Kenosha School Board did in fact collectively bargain, and tonight [Tuesday] approves a CBA with terms that violate Act 10, then it would be subjecting itself to litigation by taxpayers who object to their money being spent illegally or teachers who do not wish to be bound to an illegal contract,” he wrote.

That contract could become void depending on the Supreme Court’s decision. The court’s decision, however, might not come until the summer of 2014. By then, the Kenosha Unified School District might already be on the line for a significant amount of money if it agrees to the new contracts.