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Hudson School District makes one-year contract proposal to teachers

The School District of Hudson made a counter proposal to the local teachers union Thursday night - the third meeting in the past four nights. Another meeting is scheduled at 5 p.m. tonight (Friday) with the Board of Education. If the teachers accept the district's proposal, the contract would be approved this evening.

If the teachers do not accept the counter offer, however, it could push negotiations into next week. That would be a dangerous situation for teachers who are hoping to get a contract extension approved before the state's budget repair bill goes into effect.

The bill is currently on hold because of a temporary restraining order blocking Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the budget repair law until the judge can rule on the merits of the case. The law, which repeals nearly all collective bargaining for public workers in the state, can't become effective until one day after it is published. The ruling has now been pushed to the State Supreme Court and a ruling could come at any time.

Some school districts around the state are agreeing to contract deals in an effort to get contracts in place before the bill does become law, but the vast majority of districts are waiting to operate under the new law.

School district attorney Michael Waldspurger told Scott Ellingson, leader of the Hudson teachers' bargaining unit, that this was the district's "best offer under what we face." He said the board gave the proposal a lot of thought.

"I do not envision the board being acceptable to a counter proposal - time is not our friend," Waldspurger said.

Ellingson said "is this a take it or leave it offer?"

Waldspurger responded by saying a counter proposal at this time "is at your own peril."

Ellingson, and the other group of teachers at the table, left the meeting for a 35-minute caucus, but did express a number of concerns when they returned.

Under law, however, a counter proposal by the teachers would negate the district's proposal, setting up another round of meetings. That would prolong the situation with the risk that the Budget Bill could become law in the meantime.

Ellingson said the district's proposal has to first be approved by West Central Education Association, based in Menomonie. Ellingson was texting with WCEA Executive Director Brett Pickerign during Thursday night's meeting. Local teachers also have to vote on the contract, but Ellingson said that could be achieved after school Friday, before the scheduled 5 p.m. meeting. That's provided the union accepts the school's offer. A meeting of teachers is tentatively scheduled at 4:15 p.m. today.

The school district's proposal calls for a one-year contract extension (The teacher's proposal was for two years).

Some of the biggest items in the contract involve items that will not be known until a future date. Items that were spelled out in previous contracts, will now be regulated by "policy or handbook" - terms that came up often at Thursday's meeting.

For instance, the new contract would eliminate lanes and steps. Ellingson had questions about compensation for teacher pursuing advanced degrees. Waldspurger said those items would be determined by "policy or handbooks." Unfortunately for the teachers, those policies cannot be determined on short notice.

"To develop a handbook in a short time is not realistic," Waldspurger said.

He did say, however, that the board would want input from teachers, and others, in developing the handbooks for various issues throughout the contract and insinuated that the district would be fair to teachers. Regarding teacher salaries, Waldspurger said the contract allows all teachers to have the same salary as last year and does provide for jobs/duties changes at the same rate as last year.

Another big item in the contract proposal was the status of teachers near retirement. The district's contract would allow teachers who are retiring in the next five years to retain current benefits. It does, however, change the potential retirement age from 55 to 57. Other future retirement benefits (teachers outside the five-year window) would be addressed by "policy or handbook."

For a look at the complete school district contract proposal see the attached item.