The Madison teachers’ union president warned of possible legal action Monday if the Madison School District refuses to reissue teacher contracts with automatic raises tied to experience and educational attainment.
Madison Teachers Inc. president Michael Jones asked the School Board during its meeting to tell administration to either reissue updated contracts or employ the services of a federal mediator to resolve the dispute and to avoid future conflicts surrounding employment-relations issues.
“We are, unfortunately, at an impasse in our interpretations of the (employee) handbook. Although the language hasn’t changed ... the interpretation of it has so significantly that we’re now asked to sign a contract and future contracts with an uncertain trust,” he said. “We cannot set up a system that builds up even more uncertainty when we’re trying to do the exact opposite of that, which is why if this cannot be resolved through the board or through an agreed-upon mediator, we will do our best to address our collective concerns through the courts.”
MTI filed a complaint against the district in early May for sending out employee contracts that didn’t include the raises, known as step and lane increases, a change from what had been a decadeslong practice.
The district proposed sending letters to teachers that would outline the wage increases, along with an apology. The idea found favor among board members during last week’s meeting but wasn’t gaining traction with the union.
Teachers are required by law to sign and return their contracts by June 15, but MTI leadership has recommended members hold off while the union works with legal counsel and district administration to remedy the problem before the deadline.
Roughly 150 teachers, union members and supporters marched around the Doyle Administration Building earlier this month to protest the district’s lack of communication ahead of the change in teacher contracts.
Masks in schools to continue
Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eased COVID-19 guidelines and the local public health emergency order will expire next month, the district will continue to require masks and social distancing in the schools and buses, the district’s executive director of student and staff support said.
“We will be making no changes to our overall approach through the end of this school year,” Jay Affeldt told the board.
The CDC on May 13 said those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks or physically distance unless otherwise required by a local agency. And Public Health Madison and Dane County’s order requiring masks and other mitigation measures expires June 2.
Vaccines are not yet available for anyone under 12 years of age, though. As of Thursday, 30% of those 12-15 had received at least one dose of vaccine, while 62% of those 16-17 had.
As of Monday, the district has seen about 234 COVID-19 cases among students and staff in buildings this school year.
The board in a 6-1 vote approved spending $744,000 to hire temporary nursing staff to assist with COVID-19 contract tracing for the upcoming school year.
The lone no vote came from Nicki Vander Meulen, who said she could not approve the increase until the conflict over teacher contracts was resolved.
It was the only point at which anyone on the board referenced the dispute publicly in the meeting Monday.