Nearly 150 Madison teachers and supporters protested Monday outside the Doyle Administration Building after the School District sent out employee contracts without wage increases tied to experience and educational attainment — a change from what had been a decades-long practice.
The teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc., filed a grievance with the district Friday demanding it reissue teaching contracts for the 2021-22 school year that reflect the annual increases, known as step and lane increases, as required by the district employee handbook.
The district issued a response Monday saying staff will receive letters at the end of June, after the 2021-22 budget has been finalized, that reflect their pay increases.
District spokesperson Tim LeMonds said questions raised in the past by MTI led the administration to determine that, contrary to previous practice, it may lack the authority to include expected salary increases in contracts prior to the School Board’s official budget vote.
“These amounts reflected salary increases in a manner consistent with regulations prior to Act 10, which no longer apply,” he said, referring to the 2011 Republican law that stripped most collective bargaining rights from most public-sector unions.
If the 2021-22 preliminary budget draft is adopted as is, teachers would see an average salary increase of 3.23%, including a 1.23% cost-of-living base-wage raise plus automatic raises for length of service and educational attainment. That’s up from a 2.5% increase in the current year’s budget.
Teachers are required by law to sign and return their contracts by June 15, but MTI leadership has recommended staff wait to sign and return their contracts while the union works with legal counsel and district administration in an effort to address the issue before the deadline.
“Things are tentative, but that being said, going on 40 years they showed those steps and lanes because that is something that needs to be accounted for,” Madison Teachers Inc. president-elect Michael Jones said. “That ensures stability in terms of the workforce, in terms of knowing who’s going to be working in the district, how much they’re going to be paid so there’s no question as we’re working throughout the summer.”
Friday’s grievance is the latest dispute in the strained relationship between the district and the union after a year in which the two sides clashed publicly over changes to the layoff procedure and reopening schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of communication from the district ahead of the change in teacher contracts demonstrates a lack of respect and unwillingness by the district to collaborate with the union, Jones said.
“The last thing we need in any education system is more uncertainty, especially now,” he said. “We need to have that semblance of stability.”
Ben Senson, a science teacher at James Madison Memorial High School for over 30 years who took part in the march, said disputes such as these make it difficult to attract a diverse and highly skilled workforce, which the district has said is one of its top priorities.
“We can’t recruit and retain,” he said. “I’ve had over 20 student teachers in my 30 years; the last year and a half is the first time I stopped recommending they apply at (the district).”
Senson pointed to the dissolution of the collaborative relationship between the district and MTI over the past few years as the reason why he stopped encouraging his student teachers to seek employment in Madison schools. He said that in recent years he’s seen recommendations brought forth by collaborative committees to the district get completely ignored.
“Half the institutional knowledge lives within the union and half the institutional knowledge lives within the district,” Senson said. “In the past three or four years it seems like the district has just thought, ‘We know everything, we’ll just do what we want to do and we won’t really ask for the input of the teachers anymore.’”