Nicolet teachers outline desires, concerns in 'meet and confer' session

Union members advocate use of pre-Act 10 salary schedule

Oct. 10, 2012

Glendale - Act 10 prevents Nicolet teachers from bargaining over anything but wages but that doesn't mean the School Board and administration don't want to know what they're thinking.

The Nicolet School Board held a "meet and confer" session last week, giving teachers a chance to sound off on issues that they would like the board to keep in mind as they all head into the next bargaining session.

Teachers at the meeting called last year a "transition" in that certain aspects of the salary schedule - like steps based on years of service or lanes based on higher education - and teacher evaluations were in flux. They said the board and administration should continue those practices now.

"We're looking for a little bit more consistency," Nicolet special education teacher and Nicole Teacher Association President Robert Rinka said after the meeting.

They also said they are concerned over previous teacher evaluations, especially in light of the statewide, state-mandated educator effectiveness model in a pilot stage currently but expected to take effect across the state in the 2014-15 school year.

"We don't have a good past history of trust in terms of evaluation," social studies teacher Phyllis Santacroce said. "Now that we're attaching evaluation - as we should be, frankly - to retention and possibly compensation, those issues of trust become that much greater."

Teacher requests

On behalf of the NTA, social studies teacher Mark Schill presented administrators and board members with a list of requests, asking that: salary, benefit and compensation information for all administrative team members be disclosed to them; information regarding teachers who individually bargained contracts, and an explanation why they were allowed to; steps for years of service be reinstated through the 2013-14 school year; lanes based on higher education be continued through the 2013-14 school year; and consumer price index wage raises be applied to teachers' actual wages and not the base wage defined by the state, which can be less than actual wages and as a result apply a percentage increase to only a portion of their actual wages.

Above the CPI wage increase allowed by Act 10, school boards are able to provide an additional amount of supplemental pay - in most cases, to account for the difference between the CPI wage increase calculated on the state base wage and teachers' actual wages. The Nicolet board did that in the 2011-12 school year but distributed the extra money in a way that gave more to teachers who were making less overall.

The teachers told the board that it should use steps again and continue to use lanes to determine teachers' pay, and use those numbers to calculate the CPI increase.

"We would ask that steps were reinstated until the new state (evaluation) system is in place, that we would continue lanes through the 2013-14 school year," Schill said, "and that there is a real cost of living increase, 3.16 percent per cell, not the cost of living increase based on an artificial base wage."

'Free agent' concerns

At the meeting, teachers questioned the district's practice of reimbursing administrators' higher education credits while the practice of incentivizing higher education for teachers with salary lanes is in doubt.

"How can we encourage this from administrators, but not from teachers?" Schill said.

Director of Business Services Jeff Dellutri said after the meeting that paying administrators for credits or increasing pay for different levels of higher education achieve the same goal of encouraging professional development.

"It's just a different way of skinning a cat, I suppose," he said, adding that the board hasn't said anything about removing lanes.

In response to the teachers' request for information about a particular individually bargained contract, Dellutri said there have been teachers who have been able to bargain for higher pay at the start than the salary schedule would suggest, but only because they were applying for tough to fill jobs or because Nicolet was contending with other offers.

"It was a person we worked to keep," he said, "and we did what we had to do to keep the person in a competitive marketplace."

He added that there have been other instances where Nicolet has not offered compensation to keep a person for or to fill a position.

Rinka said the older salary schedule is built to reward more experienced teachers, and the district should use it instead.

"It's the inequity that we get a little concerned about," he said. "We have staff members who have been here a long time and are looked on as master teachers, and you could have a new teacher come in and get more than them."

He added that a marketplace of "free agents" could lead to teachers bouncing around between districts chasing after the highest salary, and as a result weaken programs that benefit from long-standing staff members.

Looking forward

Board members and administrators told teachers at the end of the meeting that they would keep the various concerns and requests in mind as the bargaining session approaches.

Board President Marilyn Franklin said it was good to create an environment where teachers and administrators could talk freely.

"The important thing is they felt comfortable," she said, "and we felt comfortable."

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