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School Board Delays Vote on Deal with Custodians Union

Interim agreements with teachers and aides pass, but board concerned about lack of clarity in memorandum with custodians.

The Wauwatosa School Board approved two of three proposed interim agreements with district employee unions Monday night, but postponed a vote on the third deal with the custodians union because its language was not clear.

The board unanimously voted to put off a decision on that agreement until no later than June 13 after several members cited omissions in it compared to the other two deals, and said they would not vote on an incomplete document.

Interim agreements with the four unions are needed to close a $6.5 million budget shortfall that could occur if Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal, containing more than $800 million in state aid cuts, is adopted by the Legislature before the state budget repair bill goes into effect.

The budget repair bill, AB10, requires most public employees to pay more toward the cost of their pensions and health care benefits.

Of the union agreements, the largest share is borne by the , which represents teachers. The agreement, which freezes salaries at this year's levels and requires teachers to  make larger contributions toward the cost of their benefits, will save the district $4 million next year.

with the much smaller Wauwatosa Education Support Professionals (WESP), which represents teacher aides, mirrors that with the teachers.

Those two agreements were passed unanimously, although board member Michael Meier said he did not approve of the WEA deal because of "the way it locks us in for a year." He added that teachers "should have given up more."

The proposal with the custodians and maintenance workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), however, lacked one important clause included with the others: It did not specify the life of the interim agreement.

Board member Phil Kroner was first to note the omission.

"I wanted clarification," he said. "It appears that the agreement covers the life of the contract."

The AFSCME contract runs two more years, until June 30, 2013. The language of the letter of understanding with the union said only that "all employees covered by the agreement... shall continue to be paid the salary they were paid in the 2010-2011 school year," but did not say for how long.

The other two agreements noted that they were reached to provide "certainty regarding the economic terms and conditions of employment for the 2011-2012 school year." The AFSCME agreement did not contain that clause.

"It is ambiguous," said Human Resources Director Dan Chanen. He went on to say that union officials did not want to commit to certain terms that might jeopardize their existing contract if the budget repair bill were to go into effect before the district could approve its own agreement with the union.

"There is an interest on behalf of the association (AFSCME)" that the agreement be approved soon, Chanen said. "If AB10 were to go into effect, it would be more likely to invalidate their contract."

That did not sit well with Meier, who vowed not to vote for any measure that conflicted with the will of the Legislature and administration as contained in AB10.

Board member Mary Jo Randall said that it was her impression that AB10 would not effect existing contracts, but Chanen said that was only true up to a point. Any modifications to a contract after AB10 became law would be subject to its provisions.

Therefore, if it did go into effect before the district could pass its own interim agreement, the union would suffer both major concessions sought by the district and what would amount to the loss of its remaining two-year contract.

Board member Anne Fee said, "I share Mr. Meier's concerns. Is there a time crunch that this needs to be voted on tonight?"

Superintendent Phil Ertl said he thought it was safe to postpone the agreement for a short time, suggesting that the language of the letter could be refined quickly and a special meeting called later this week.

The fourth union with which the district needs to cut an interim deal is the Wauwatosa Education Support Association, representing administrative assistants. Ertl said the district was "making progress" on that agreement, but he declined to offer details.

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