Despite hearing protests from a majority of residents in a packed Village Hall for over four hours, the School Board on Monday approved a ratified two-year contract with the teachers union.
The and the teachers reached a tentative agreement on a two-year contract settlement at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, and the measure went to the board on Monday and was approved unanimously after four hours of heated debate. The board room was packed, and 50 to 75 more were gathered in the library watching the meeting on a live feed.
Residents were given a presentation by the board that outlined the significant changes in the ratified contract, but the majority of those in attendance felt the presentation only scratched the surface.
All the rules for a structured public meeting were thrown out the window, and the meeting morphed into more of an open forum between the board and those in attendance.
Residents pleaded for the board to table the vote on the contract until more information could be gathered regarding the new contract. Residents said they wanted time to review the contract, discuss and debate it. They claimed the quick passage of the contract was an attempt to hoodwink the public.
“Reaching an agreement on a Friday night and voting on a Monday night is a terrible way to push something through and not give us a chance to talk about it,” said resident Daniel Stiller. “You are supposed to represent us, and as you can see by the people that are here, were are not happy about this.”
However, the board signed a privacy provision with the teachers union in October before negotiations began. It restricted the board from releasing the actual 80-page contract document to the public before both the board and the teachers union approved it. The agreement also guaranteed a “yes” vote from board members Lori Blodorn and Gina Palazzari, who are on the negotiating team.
Even if the vote were delayed a week as requested, board members explained that they still would not be able to release the full contract document for the public to view.
“The intent of these confidentiality provisions is to preserve the privacy of the contract negotiations until there is a tentative agreement on both sides,” said Blodorn, who is also on the bargaining team.
When members from the audience peppered board members with questions about the contents of the contract, their frustration only grew. The board was unable to tell residents how much the co-pay for teachers would be with their new insurance provider. Board Members Faith VanderHorst and Scott Ternes both said they had not read the entire contract.
“We have to rely on our other board members,” VanderHorst said. “But in fairness to everyone, I will probably read it, but I will not read anything I don’t already know.”
Those comments didn’t sit well with those in attendance.
“You wouldn’t have this anger if this was a one-year contract and you put it on the web for a week for people to view it, and you presented why this is a good idea,” said resident Paul Jenz. “ “What we have here is a major trust problem, and nobody trusts you right now.”
Savings in the ratified contract
The school district is facing a $5.1 million deficit next year, but the new contract agreed with the teachers will save the district $5.8 million in employee costs, according to information presented by the board.
The new contract approved by the board increases the employee contribution to their retirement pension from zero to 5.8 percent, which saves the district $3 million.
The contract includes a new insurance plan from Humana that includes a $250 to $300 deductible. The employee contribution will increase from 5 percent to between 8 and 12 percent depending on an employee’s choice of plans. This is projected to save the district $2.4 million, or 12 percent of the current cost.
Changes in the pay structure for flex and homeroom duties will save the district $400,000. The district will also decrease its OPEB liability by only paying for five years of benefits for newly retired employees rather than the current 10 years.
The contract will also implement a merit-based pay scale in the second year of the contract.
“As a bottom line, we believe that this is more financially beneficial for the taxpayers in Menomonee Falls,” said Board President Kathy Shurilla. “We do believe that, and we’ve done a lot of research on that.”
The high cost of inaction
“There is no clear winner in any of this. Not teachers, taxpayers, or board members,” said Board Member David Noshay. “We have been put in a ridiculously difficult situation by all our lawmakers Democrat or Republican.”
The ambiguous status of the Budget Repair Bill placed the board in a precarious position. Since Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal has yet to be recognized as law, the district still needed to recognize the union and negotiate.
However, if a deal wasn’t reached before July 1, the district would need to honor the current contract that they union has agreed to rather than the ratified contract that includes cost-saving measures.
Shurilla said they spoke with a Republican lawmaker who said they shouldn’t expect the repair bill to be recognized as law until sometime in October. Board Member Scott Ternes said that for every month they waited, it would cost the district approximately $250,000 because they are bound to the existing contract.
“We’d have to cut into the fund balance, which means we have to raise short-term borrowing, and our bond rating would decrease,” Ternes said. “There are a lot of consequences to solve something that is an unrecoverable expense.”
Board members said they would rather lock in the savings they can agree to, rather than wait for the status of the repair bill to be confirmed. The board also wanted to secure 18 months of savings from switch to the new health care provider.
A fresh start if the bill is recognized as law
The debate and contract discussion could start anew if and when the repair bill is recognized as law. The contract agreed to by the district and union would be null and void depending on when the courts recognize it as becoming law.
If the repair bill voids is determined to have been law before the agreement was reached, the contract is null and void. However, if the repair bill is recognized as law on a date after this agreement, the district would be bound to this contract for the next two years.