LETTER: A response to teacher negotiations
To the Editor:
I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to answer Morrie's comments regarding our recent bargain over teacher salary. Before we get into it, let me first say it has always been the union's policy to not comment publicly on bargains. They can be complicated and sometimes contentious, so we always thought it respectful to "keep it in the family."
So, to diverge from that policy is done with great apprehension and care but due to the new paradigm of Act 10, specifically removing the teacher's right to request interest arbitration, the only recourse we have is public opinion. Though we still don't think it is healthy for negotiations to become political battles, and we teachers are going to do everything in our power avoid that, we are not willing to allow public statements, which lead to an unfair perception, go unanswered. We believe the community deserves both sides of the issue.
There are two statements from the previous article we would like to expand on and give some context to. First, Morrie stated, "the union never moved from their offer of $1,100." It is important that an appropriate context is given to that statement. The official bargain only lasted two meetings.
We met the first time, where the teachers made their opening proposal. We were informed that the board had already voted on what their maximum offer would be. After reviewing the district's budget, the second meeting we then presented a plan that would close the gap between differing offers by adjusting the existing budget. Morrie informed us that the committee was not willing to accept our plan but they would take it to the board, the bargain then ended in earnest.
I give this context because it is important. To say we never moved in our proposal without that context paints us unfairly and could falsely imply that the union was unwilling to negotiate. It was clear the offer the board made was not changing- we believe that was even explicitly stated in the bargain; we never got to the part where we "meet in the middle".
If lowering our offer would have moved the board we would have done so without hesitation, but it was made clear that was not going to be the case.
Lastly, Morrie states, "the board initially offered $775 and through negotiations adjusted our offer to $880." I just wanted to clear up the careful wording of that statement. The board pre- approved an increase in compensation that was broken into three categories, the base wages was one of the categories.
Essentially one of the other categories that we were in agreement on cost less than projections, so that surplus was simply moved to the base wage. The teachers are thankful they did that, but the key word I want noticed is adjusted. At no point, to our knowledge, did the board ever actually change the value of their offer. Money was moved around because of savings elsewhere. We feel that Morrie's statement that it was done because of negotiations is debatable.
Let me conclude with the most important message we want to share with the community; these are tough times for everyone, but we want it known how proud we are to work in this district. During these contentious times by almost every reasonable measure (test scores, student enrollment, attendance, student opportunity, etc.) New Richmond has continued its march to the top quarter of schools in Wisconsin - and we're not stopping until we are at the top.
There are few things in our careers that give us more pride than that, because the quality of people is rarely measured accurately in times of comfort, but rather in times of struggle. I want all stakeholders of New Richmond schools to know that this is a fabulous district. We teachers will continue to do everything in our power to keep it that way.
Jarrod Hamdorf and Scott Herron
Union head negotiator and union co-president