Ten years ago this summer, more than half of Wisconsin’s school districts had gone without teacher contracts for over a year. This summer, contracts talks are being completed in as little as 15 minutes.
“I mean really, what’s there to talk about?” said Christina Brey, spokes-woman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union.
Under last year’s law that curbed collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin, only changes to base wages are subject to negotiation. And those raises are limited to a cost-of-living increase set by the state Department of Revenue, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
For the just-ended school year, the maximum cost-of-living increase was 1.64 percent. For 2012-13, the maximum increase will be 3.16 percent. Districts that want to exceed the limit must put the question to the voters through a referendum.
Brey said it’s still too early to establish an average for how long it’s taking to settle contracts. But negotiations are going quickly for the most part, said Barry Forbes, associate executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
In the Cadott School District, bargaining only took one meeting to settle, with additional correspondence to finalize the agreement. Superintendent Joe Zydowsky said this year’s negotiating went shorter than last year’s, as both sides had a better understanding of the new bargaining laws.
“It was the first time we negotiated under the new rules,” Zydowsky said of the 2011-12 contracts.
He added the union agreed to the capped cost-of-living increase for both this coming year and last year (1.64 percent for 2011-12 and 3.16 for 2012-13).
In Bloomer and Chippewa Falls school districts, union talks have yet to take place. Chippewa Falls Superintendent Tom Hughes said he expects a quick settlement for contracts at his district as well.
Bloomer and Cadott will be entering their second year of negotiations under the state’s new bargaining laws, while Chippewa Falls will face the restrictions for the first time. Chippewa Falls passed its union agreements before Act 10 went into effect in 2011.
Contract negotiations in other regions of the state have gone about as quickly as Cadott’s. It took just 15 to 20 minutes for teachers and the Whitefish Bay School District to reach an agreement, said Mark Kapocius, the district’s director of human resources.
The two sides met a week ahead of the formal negotiations, when Kapocius said the district established that money was available only for a 1.25 percent increase in base wages. When the two sides got together, the only thing to determine was how to distribute the increase. Kapocius said the two sides came with nearly identical proposals.
It took an hour, maybe an hour and a half, for the Hamilton School District in Sussex to negotiate a 1.64 percent increase, said Bryan Ruud, associate superintendent for business services.
While bargaining is largely precluded under the new law, it’s still possible for the two sides to have a good relationship, said Miguel Salas, executive director of the Lakewood Uni Serv Council, which represents Hamilton teachers.
“Where employees are organized and you have a district that is willing to listen, like Hamilton, the parties can still reach some productive results,” Salas said.
Hamilton spread its pay increase evenly, Ruud said, with each teacher’s salary increasing 1.64 percent.
Whitefish Bay’s top-earning teachers were given lump-sum payments of $200, Kapocius said, while the rest were paid $758 in addition to their regular salary, essentially condensing the salary structure.
Actual salary structures are no longer negotiable; they’re being incorporated into employee handbooks. Forbes said some districts have simply dictated what the handbook will say while others have worked with teachers. Many districts are maintaining their old salary structures for the time being, he said.
With a new teacher evaluation system on the horizon, Forbes said, it does not make sense to change the structure when more changes would be needed in a couple of years.