Madison Metropolitan School District leaders are hoping a letter with reissued contract offers for next year will help smooth over an issue that led to a Madison Teachers Inc. grievance and rally earlier this month.
When MMSD issued its renewal contract proposals to teachers at the beginning of May, many were upset to see their current salary on a contract for next school year. They anticipated the contract would indicate a raise based on the salary schedule for longevity or professional development — known as "steps and lanes" advancements — as it had in the past.
Instead, they worried that signing the contract would lock them into their current salary, even as district officials and School Board members have indicated they plan to fund the raises in the budget. Contracts must be returned by June 15 under state law, a couple of weeks before the district is expected to approve its preliminary budget and before the state is likely to have its budget finalized, which dictates much of the district’s spending levels.
District officials acknowledged the past practice, but said they realized that without a budget approved, they could not include the raises in the contracts. Now, after meetings between MTI and MMSD leaders, the district plans to reissue the contracts along with a letter explaining the change from past years and outlining what’s in the current budget draft.
“I don’t think there was any disagreement around providing steps and lanes and around providing the cost-of-living adjustment that is already moving forward,” board member Christina Gomez Schmidt said Monday night. "It felt like it was a little bit of a miscommunication around the timeline.”
The note from human resources on the initial contracts sent to staff stated the current salary number “indicates that you will make no less than your current salary placement in the upcoming year.”
“It wasn’t intended at all to offend anyone, but the language in it could be improved,” superintendent Carlton Jenkins told the School Board Monday night. “We can’t be about restorative justice if we can’t take from those lessons ourselves.”
Jenkins said discussions with union leaders went well, and he hopes that they can build a “trusting and transparent relationship” out of the collaboration that followed this contentious incident. He added that they are working to eliminate any unilateral decision-making when it comes to employee issues.
“We really had some strong conversation, but it wasn’t just fighting,” Jenkins said. “People genuinely wanted to take a step forward.”
MTI filed a grievance over the contracts on May 7, noting that the steps and lanes advancements are included in the board-approved Employee Handbook.
MTI communications specialist Michelle Michalak wrote in an email Monday that the union’s staff would review the proposed letter Tuesday morning. Lawyers were expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the wording of the letter and the contracts.
“MTI continues to request the MMSD reissue individual teaching contracts for the 2021-22 school year reflecting the annual step increase as required by the Employee Handbook,” Michalak wrote. “It is our hope that we can resolve this matter through the grievance procedure in the interest of both parties as required by Board of Education policy set forth in the MMSD Employee Handbook.”
Multiple School Board members apologized to staff members Monday night. They also stressed the importance of transparency as the issue moves from the short-term — the contracts this year — to the long-term question of whether the board needs to reconsider policies or the handbook needs to be changed related to how salaries are presented.
“If we are to limit any kind of confusion moving forward, we definitely want to be as transparent as possible,” board member Maia Pearson said.
It is likely the Employee Handbook committee, which includes administrators and MTI representatives, will guide any decisions on changing the handbook, but the board asked to be kept in the loop throughout the process.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.