Schools Budget Balanced on Last-Minute Deal with Union
District got agreements with teachers, aides and custodians but had to play hardball with secretaries.
It came down to the wire, and it wasn't pretty. But Wauwatosa students will get the best end of a hard-fought deal.
School administrators on Monday will present a budget that is balanced, thanks to a last-minute agreement with the last of four school employee unions — the one representing administrative assistants.
Suddenly faced with a huge and unexpected budget deficit less than three months ago — and having Monday as a deadline for solving the problem — district officials raced to talk with four unions representing school employees about making major concessions to fill a $6.5 million gap.
The School Board on Monday will receive both the proposed budget for the coming year and the final union agreement that will make a balanced budget possible without big cuts in school programs or personnel.
Teachers came in first with an arrangement that freezes their salaries for a year and increases their pension contributions and health care payments. That agreement saved the schools $4 million out of a $6.5 million shortfall.
Next were teachers aides, who agreed to the same deal.
The custodians seemed to be holding back, but they really were worried only about how changes to their contract could essentially void it, given provisions in the ongoing state budget debate in Madison.
Three weeks ago, though, the custodians made the biggest concession of all, agreeing to the same terms – a pay freeze plus higher pension and health payments – for a full two years. That is both the life of Gov. Scott Walker's proposed biennial budget and the custodians' contract.
The last union needed to come on board was the Wauwatosa Education Support Association (WESA), which represents administrative assistants. According to district documents (see attached PDF file), WESA declined to reopen its contract to discuss concessions.
The district decided to play hardball.
If the union did not agree to negotiate concessions, the district threatened to impose up to 24 unpaid furlough days — or even to outsource the whole contract. That could have meant laying off the whole contingent of school secretaries and forcing them to reapply for their jobs as non-union workers or find other employment.
The union in turn threatened to file a grievance, which would have forced the issue into mediation and possibly arbitration, a time-consuming process that would have made a balanced budget impossible without cuts to jobs or school programs.
But the two sides continued to talk, and apparently WESA blinked first.
An agreement with the administrative assistants will be presented to the School Board with exactly the same concessions agreed to by teachers and aides — a one-year salary freeze and higher pension and health care payments.
Superintendent Phil Ertl had promised from the beginning of the crisis that he would present a balanced budget for the board to consider tonight so that it could be amended and approved before the end of this month, which is the statutory deadline.
Ertl also said throughout the process that he hoped that budget would reflect no changes that would cost jobs, reduce class offerings or increase class sizes.
In the end, about 10 positions were to be cut in the final district staffing plan, but only four of those were through layoffs, the rest through the attrition of retirement. Just two full-time positions were lost; the other two were part-time jobs.