The Port Washington-Saukville School Board unanimously approved a one-year teacher contract extension at a special session that drew more than 250 people representing a mix of support and opposition.
"The one-year proposed contract will provide the district with stability during a year of transition," School Board President Patty Ruth said.
Supt. Michael Weber said the teacher’s association also needs to vote on the one-year extension, and the board was "informed that they would do that on Tuesday or Wednesday."
The board had previously intended to discuss the issue at a March 28 meeting that was canceled due to . The issue was rescheduled for Monday's special session, at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
Gov. Scott Walker's bill, among other things, eliminates most collective bargaining rights for many public employees. The law now is facing a legal challenge, due to allegations that Republican lawmakers who passed the bill violated the state open records law to move it through committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote.
The board also approved a motion on Monday night that voids the contract extension if the state finds Gov. Walker's law was indeed in effect before the allegations.
Board members felt they had held enough discussion since the canceled meeting to move forward with the contract, Ruth said.
"I think I should share something from the process aspect for everyone," she said. "You may be under the impression that the board has not spent many hours and many meetings to get to the point where we are tonight."
"It is not that we are unprepared at all," Ruth said. "There've been many hours and it's not ... like it’s a surprise for us tonight to look at this."
Aaron White, who lives in the Port Washington-Saukville School District, said he is hopeful the decision to move forward with the contract will help restore focus.
"It has been a stressful two months," he said. "I think (the approved contract) helps to calm things. It lets cooler heads prevail, instead of making a knee-jerk decision."
White has a 1-year-old daughter and also works as a teacher. In thinking about his daughter entering the school district, he said, his mind is on the long-term effects of the political issues in play.
A big concern, he said, is whether teachers will have the tools needed to provide a quality education.
Patrick Modjeski of Port Washington said he believes the decision to extend the contract was made from the start.
"I believe (the meeting) was a setup, a public forum ... just to appease the public," Modjeski said.
Modjeski said he is in support of paying teachers what they are worth, but believes voting on the one-year contract was rushed.
The School Board faced a crossfire of accusations that its mind had been made from the start, as audience members questioned whether their opinions would be taken into consideration.
School Board Member Myron Praeger said that the decision to vote on the contract extention felt rushed to him at first. Board members have since spent time in meetings and discussion, Praeger said, examining details and listening to district residents before making a decision.
"We listen to every e-mail, we look at every comment," Praeger said. "We want to be fair, and I think the community wants us to be fair."
Ruth pointed to seven specific meetings where board members met to discuss the contract extension.
Despite comments that the issue was rushed, a number of audience members urged the board to make a decision Monday, including Terry Wozny, a teacher at Port Washington High School.
"I'm a teacher in the district and I want to urge you to ratify the contract," he said. "Its time to move forward and end this hostility between groups."
What’s in the contract?
School Board Member Jim Eden, chair of the negotiations committee, outlined the key points of the extended contract. Under the contract extension:
- Wages will be frozen for the 2011-12 school year, but will allow teachers working toward their own higher education to receive financial incentives.
- Union members will pay 13 percent of their health care costs.
- The cash in lieu of benefits provision will be reduced by 13 percent.
- There will be a shift in the type of drug card benefit, to a four-tier $0/$10/$25/$50 plan.
- Post-employment health insurance benefits will be capped at $150,000.
- Teachers now will have to wait until the age of 57 and have spent 20 years with the district to be eligible for those benefits, an increase from age 55 and 15 years of service.
- Teachers hired after April 1, 2011, will not be eligible for post-employment health benefits outlined in the contract extension.
- The contract includes language that allows the board to penalize teachers who participate in an unauthorized work stoppage.
Those in attendance received an informational sheet detailing the key points in the contract (see attached document with this article). A copy of the entire teacher contract was not made available.