Some Madison Metropolitan School District staff members were surprised when they received their first paycheck of the year last week.
It was less than what they’d signed their contract for in the spring, when various salary increases were included in MMSD’s budget plans. That plan changed by June, when the School Board approved its preliminary budget for the 2020-21 school year without those wage increases amid uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 effect on the budget.
Madison Teachers Inc. is considering legal action over the change, which executive director Ed Sadlowski called in an email to the Cap Times a “breach of individual contract." The district maintains that language in the contract and in the preliminary budget motion in June make the change, which saved about $7.8 million, legal.
Regardless of the legality, teachers who contacted the Cap Times questioned the district’s communication on the topic. All of the teachers who contacted the Cap Times asked to remain anonymous.
“Until receiving my October payroll notice yesterday I was never under the impression that my base pay would remain at my 2019/20 contract,” one teacher wrote. “Also, because the district raised health insurance premiums, the overall loss in pay is higher.”
Teachers were required by law to return their signed contracts for the 2020-21 school year by June 15.
The budget vote this summer took place in a June 29 public meeting, and district spokesman Tim LeMonds pointed to a mention in the June 26 staff newsletter, which he called “the primary mechanism used for communicating to all staff.” In that newsletter, a “Budget Update” section on page two includes a mention of the pay freeze in its fourth paragraph among other details of the preliminary budget timeline.
“This effectively pauses our previously planned compensation increases and a few Strategic Equity Projects, not previously approved,” the newsletter states. “Although it is our hope that our budgetary landscape improves by late fall, we also need to be prepared for State budget reductions that may be coming in the upcoming months.”
Another teacher wrote in an email she did not know “anyone who was aware of the pay freeze until we got an email with a preview of our checks and we all realized our salaries were not updated.”
At the time of the preliminary budget approval, district chief financial officer Kelly Ruppel was projecting a loss of $7.6 million in state aid from what had been anticipated in earlier projections. Removing the salary increases saved $7.8 million.
Sadlowski wrote in an email the union is seeking “clarification on whose authority the unilateral change” was implemented. He added that they hope for “a swift resolution that adheres to the agreed upon terms” and that resolving it now would “help to avoid further acrimony than this adverse action has already created.”
“While we remain confident that the matter will be mutually resolved in a prompt fashion given the leadership of Superintendent Jenkins, MTI is also preparing legal recourse against MMSD, should it be necessary,” Sadlowski wrote.
Copies of teacher contracts provided by various staff members to the Cap Times indicate the agreements are subject to “Board of Education policies and handbook provisions.” The motion from the June approval, which came on a 5-2 vote, stated that, “By approving this budget, it is understood that the Employee Handbook will be modified as necessary to implement the approved budget,” according to the meeting minutes, which LeMonds said made the change from the contracts allowable.
As no state budget repair bill that could cut education funding has come to fruition yet, district officials and MTI have begun negotiating over a base wage increase that could be reinserted into the budget before the board approves final budgets this month. The board will have to approve two budgets, one for if the Nov. 3 operating referendum is successful and one for if it fails.
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