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February 18, 2007

Concessions Made in Advance of MTI Negotiations by a Majority of the Madison School Board

It will be interesting to see how voters on February 20 and April 3 view this decision by a majority of the Madison School Board: Should the Board and Administration continue to give away their ability to negotiate health care benefits ($43.5M of the 2006/2007 budge) before MTI union bargaining begins? Read the 2005 MMSD/MTI Voluntary Impasse Agreement [1.1MB PDF; see paragraph's 2, 10 and 11]. The 2007 version, alluded to in Andy Hall's article below, will be posted when it sees the light of day.

This is an important issue for all of us, given the MMSD's challenge of balancing their growing $331M+ budget, while expenses - mostly salaries and benefits - continue to increase at a faster rate. Mix in the recent public disclosure of the district's $5.9M 7 year structural deficit and I doubt that this is the best approach for our children.

Recently, the Sun Prairie School District and its teachers' union successfully bargained with DeanCare to bring down future costs for employee health insurance.

Andy Hall, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal asks some useful questions:

But with the Madison School Board facing a $10.5 million budget shortfall, is the board giving away too much with its promises to retain teachers' increasingly pricey health insurance and to discard its legal mechanism for limiting teachers' total compensation increase to 3.8 percent?

Yes, School Board Vice President Lawrie Kobza said Saturday, "I feel very strongly that this was a mistake," said Kobza, who acknowledged that most board members endorse the agreement with Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union.

State law allows districts to avoid arbitration by making a so-called qualified economic offer, or QEO, by boosting salaries and benefits a combined 3.8 percenter a year.

"To agree before a negotiation starts that we're not going to impose the QEO and negotiate health care weakens the district's position," Kobza said. She contended the district's rising health-care costs are harming its ability to raise starting teachers' salaries enough to remain competitive.

The "voluntary impasse resolution" agreements, which are public records, are used in only a handful of Wisconsin's 425 school districts, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Four of the 7 current Madison School Board Members were backed by MTI during their campaigns (Arlene Silveira, Carol Carstensen, Shwaw Vang and Johnny Winston, Jr.). Those four votes can continue this practice. Independent School Board members Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts have spoken publicly against the concessions made in advance of negotiations. If you support or oppose this approach, let the board know via email (, or phone.

Related links, media and transcripts:
  • What's the MTI Political Endorsement about?:
    In 2006-07 the Madison School district will spend $43.5M on health insurance for its employees, the majority of the money paying for insurance for teachers represented by Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) That is 17% of the operating budget under the revenue limits.

    In June of 2007, the two-year contract between the district and MTI ends. The parties are now beginning negotiations for the 2007-09 contract.

    The Sun Prairie School district and its teachers union recently saved substantial dollars on health insurance. They used the savings to improve teacher wages. The parties joined together openly and publicly to produce a statement of the employees health needs. Then they negotiated a health insurance package with a local HMO that met their needs.

  • The MMSD Custodians recently agreed to a new health care plan where 85% of the cost savings went to salaries and 15% to the MMSD.
  • Ruth Robarts discussed concessions in advance of negotiations, health care costs and the upcoming elections with Vicki McKenna recently. [6.5MB MP3 Audio | Transcript]
  • What a Sham(e) by Jason Shephard:
    Last week, Madison Teachers Inc. announced it would not reopen contract negotiations following a hollow attempt to study health insurance alternatives.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who suggests the Joint Committee on Health Insurance Issues conducted a fair or comprehensive review needs to get checked out by a doctor.

    The task force’s inaction is a victory for John Matthews, MTI’s executive director and board member Wisconsin Physicians Service.

    Losers include open government, school officials, taxpayers and young teachers in need of a raise.

    From its start, the task force, comprised of three members each from MTI and the district, seemed to dodge not only its mission but scrutiny.

Tuesday's school board seat 3 primary election candidates commented on concessions in advance of negotiations (one of whom, Beth Moss is supported by Madison Teachers, Inc):
  • Pam Cross-Leone:
    "I really think that ...taking the health care off the table and not even exploring ways of bringing some of those costs down is irresponsible," said candidate Pam Cross-Leone, an employee in Madison Gas & Electric's customer-service unit who said she handled similar issues in her former role as a union steward.
  • Beth Moss:
    The third candidate, Beth Moss, who has been endorsed by Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, said she wasn't ready to form an opinion until she has had a chance to read the agreement.
  • Rick Thomas:
    Candidate Rick Thomas, a business consultant and former small-business owner, said he only learned of the agreement on Friday so he would need more details before forming a final opinion. But at first glance, he said, the pact appears to be a mistake because "obviously health care is a huge expense so it's going to be something you have to negotiate."
These decisions directly affect the viability of upcoming, necessary referendums. Posted by Jim Zellmer at February 18, 2007 5:23 PM
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