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MTI files lawsuit over contract dispute

MTI files lawsuit over contract dispute

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Teachers set up tables, chairs and laptops outside of La Follette High School to demonstrate their support of the Madison Teachers, Inc. Framework for Phased Re-entry on March 4.

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Seven Madison Metropolitan School District employees have filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of Madison Teachers Inc. members seeking the court’s opinion on the ongoing contract dispute.

Many MMSD staff members were upset last month when the district sent out contracts for the 2021-22 school year with their current salary reflected, rather than a salary that included raises based on experience and certification, as contracts have in past years. Those increases, known as “steps and lanes,” are part of the Employee Handbook, which is approved by the School Board.

That means, according to MTI, that it’s an already agreed-upon raise. But the district has maintained that until the budget is approved it cannot include a raise in contracts.

Staff are required by state law to return their signed contracts by June 15, which has caused some members concerns that the district will remove the raises from the budget and point to signed contracts as honoring an agreement.

The board is expected to vote on the district’s preliminary budget on June 28, with approval of the final document in October after enrollment numbers are finalized. Thus far in the budget process, School Board members have spoken in favor of including the steps and lanes increases and fully funding the maximum allowed base wage increase.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that MMSD must pay salaries as set out in the Handbook’s salary schedule and issue a permanent injunction to prohibit MMSD from paying employees salaries that would not align with the Handbook salary schedule.

[Reissued Madison teacher contracts don't 'resolve the issue,' MTI says]

Earlier this week, MMSD sent out new contracts to staff with their current-year salary and added language “+ steps/lanes + base wage increase,” which MTI communications specialist Michelle Michalak wrote in an email did not satisfy the union’s concerns.

MTI president Michael Jones, one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in an MTI press release that the reissued contracts, which were not agreed upon by the union, “highlights that lack of collaboration.”

“The District’s failure to address and resolve the contradictions within the issued contracts, which leaves educators uncertain about what they are being offered in compensation for the upcoming school year, sows more uncertainty after a year of constant trauma and unrest,” Jones said.

MMSD spokesman Tim LeMonds wrote in an email Tuesday that the district was "continuing to work with MTI to come to an amicable agreement and a place of mutual understanding on the matter.” He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Last month, LeMonds said the change in wording on the initial contracts was “the result of our district leaders being sensitive to questions posed last year by Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), as we worked through the unique circumstances associated with a sustained pandemic.

“Last fall … MTI brought to our attention the perception MMSD was in breach of our contract because the 2019-2020 contracts given to staff listed salaries the Board had not yet officially voted to accept,” LeMonds wrote. “It was later determined MMSD administration did not have the authority to include expected salary increases in staff contracts prior to the Board approving the budget through an official vote, as was previous practice.”

[MMSD still finalizing plans, but 'full return' likely if local COVID-19 trends continue]

MTI filed a grievance over the contracts last month, but according to the press release announcing the lawsuit, MMSD administrators “denied that grievance without comment.

“MTI and its members actively sought correction of these contracts by the District, to no avail,” the press release states. “Those efforts included numerous meetings, as well as a formal grievance pursuant to the District’s internal grievance process.”

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