The Madison School Board unanimously approved one-year collective bargaining agreements with its employees Thursday, taking advantage of a legal window to change long-standing policies favored by the teachers union.
However, it remains unclear what would happen if the state’s new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, is reinstated in full. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas has ruled key portions of the law unconstitutional, but the state plans to appeal the decision.
Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore said the contracts, which extend through June 30, 2014, will stand even if a higher court overrules Colas. But Act 10 nullified any union agreements entered into or modified after the law took effect.
School, city and county officials in Madison have quickly hammered out new agreements since Colas’ Sept. 14 ruling. The School District and Madison Teachers Inc. exchanged initial proposals Sunday and completed in three days a closed-door process that historically has played out over months.
Just as in 2011, when the School Board and MTI acted in a matter of days to adopt two-year agreements before Act 10 took effect, the district was able to secure almost all of the changes it had proposed, with some modifications.
For example, rather than eliminating a clause that requires the district to employ union teachers, the contract allows the district to hire nonunion teachers for programs affecting fewer than 10 students. For larger programs, School Board approval is required.
The district also changed its hiring process to make it easier to recruit external candidates, added an extra day of professional development and required teachers to attend two evening parent conferences. Those changes are intended to help raise minority student achievement.
None of MTI’s major proposals were adopted, although the district agreed to offer Unity and Physicians Plus health insurance if possible. Unity told the district it would not allow that arrangement.
One concession the district made was to cap employees’ contributions for health insurance premiums at 10 percent for nonteaching positions. The current contract caps teacher contributions at 10 percent but has no contribution cap for other employees. The union had sought to keep the contribution at zero.
Under Act 10, the district could have made all of the changes unilaterally. Before Colas’ ruling, the district had been preparing to develop an employee handbook to replace its current contract, which expires June 30.
Bruce Powers, who described himself as a “Madison taxpayer against MTI,” attended Thursday’s noon School Board meeting to oppose the agreement but was not allowed to address the board. He questioned why the board would rush to approve an agreement when Colas’ ruling could be overturned on appeal.
“They’re showing they’re bull-headed,” Powers said afterward. “They don’t understand who pays the bills, and I’m tired of it.”
School Board president James Howard said the board agreed to negotiate because it’s what the employees wanted. He said he doesn’t expect the district to continue developing a handbook until after the Act 10 appeals process.
“That’s the preferred method for our employees,” Howard said. “We were only doing the handbook because it was required by Act 10.”
MTI executive director John Matthews said he didn’t see a need for a handbook before June 30, 2014.
The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union plans to continue developing a handbook with the city of Madison, said Jennifer McCulley, a staff representative for the AFSCME Local 60, which represents district food service and custodial workers.
“While it’s not as urgent, we want to make sure we do the handbook right,” McCulley said.