0% Appreciation! School Board Declares Impasse in Negotiations

By Scott Farnsworth, Interim Executive Director


I believe it was during the 2001 contract negotiations that then KEA President Bill Neiman addressed the School Board with the following:

“I have a doctor who keeps me and my family healthy, and I pay him very well for that.  I have an attorney who watches over my financial interests, and I pay him very well for that.  I have a public school teacher who takes care of my children’s education in a caring and safe environment and shapes their future on a daily basis… and I really appreciate it!”

That pretty much summarizes the negotiations for this year’s salary increase with the District.  As much as they appreciate and praise you for all of the great work you have done with the students in your classroom, your work on a myriad of committees to develop curriculum and other programming, and all the extra hours put in outside of work hours to stay on top of planning and preparation – their position is that there is just no money available to fund any kind of salary increase for this year.

We do not doubt the sincerity of their appreciation one bit – why would we?  The staff of KUSD – teachers, ESP, noon hour supervisors, substitutes – and secretaries and custodians and, yes, administration – have made super-human efforts to minimize the impact of the drastic cuts to education funding on the classroom and students.

We do, however, dispute their position that they do not have the money to provide the minimal 1.62% salary increase that we can negotiate under the limitations of Act 10.

Here’s why:  In May of this year, the district put forward proposed cuts to the budget of $6,553,008.  These cuts were made to cover the 9% increase in the health insurance premium, as well as the loss of revenue from the cut in categorical aids ($150/student in state funding) in the Governor’s proposed biennial budget, an additional $3.2 million.  By mid-July, however, the state budget was passed with that $3.2 million in categorical aids restored.  Thus, at the July 28th regular monthly meeting of the School Board, CFO Tarik Hamdan brought back revisions to the cuts that reinstated just under $1.2 million in spending, restoring “tech refresh” to the ESC’s spending and 4 of the 9 secondary teachers  it had proposed to cut due to declining enrollments.  Remaining on the bottom line: $2.14 million in “Unallocated Variance.”

In July, this seemed to us to be a very sensible position – none of the employee groups had started negotiations and the figure seemed in keeping with reserving more than enough funding to cover a 1.62% increase in the salary line item in the proposed budget.  A year earlier, Dr. Joe Mangi had, in fact, brought forward similar cuts to provide a 1.9% increase to all staff, praising administration for their efforts to find the money, “because anything less would cause a reduction in people’s take-home pay.”  The School Board approved it unanimously, and we expressed our great thanks to them, the administration and Dr. Mangi for doing more than required, and taking an important first step in healing the rift that had developed under the previous administration.  Lo and behold, the District ended the year with nearly $4 million unexpended from its salary and benefit line items – or such was the projection in May of this year.

Oh, the difference a year makes.

The District’s position was that none of the $2.14 million in “Unallocated Variance” is available to fund salaries – there was just no money for that purpose (even though it seems to be paying the salaries of those 4 restored secondary positions).  We were simply wrong to think that was the case.  In fact, we were told that we needed to take a 0% increase, and even that acceptance would require the lay-off of some thirty positions (this seems to be the sole tactic in the attorney’s repertoire – accept our position of there will be lay-offs).  The situation is that desperate.

Kenosha, with all its economic growth is, apparently, in worse shape than Janesville, Beloit, Burlington and Franklin, all of which settled a 1.62% salary increase for their staffs.  Racine was going to voluntarily give their staff their step-and-lane advancements which, their CFO stated, would average a 2.6% increase (for which, we were told, WILL is suing Racine Unified – though there is no record of such a suit on the WILL website, nor has there been a story about it publicized).

Again, the District’s attorney – in an example of logorrhea that made clear why he could never be a teacher – explained that we were just wrong about the budget and that the money was not there.  Cuts in programming – “bread and milk,” in his family budget analogy – did not equal funds for salaries.

We argued that it was a matter of priorities – as with any budget – where money is spent, and that insisting on a 0% increase, when the District had an “Unallocated Variance” available (not to mention another $3 million to add to its reserves – from unexpended monies in its salary and benefit lines, apparently) was a terrible message to send to its employees.  We thought it deserved additional consideration and discussion.

The District called an ‘impasse.”  Apparently, the “meat” on the list is to be cut instead!

You should take a moment to reflect on how you feel about this news – and then share those thoughts with School Board members.  They are the ones who will have to give you nothing, and spend the “Unallocated Variance” on something else!