One Year Later: From Contracts to Handbooks - WBAY

One Year Later: From Contracts to Handbooks

Updated:

Programming note: Part 2 of this story will air tonight on Action 2 News at 10 when district administrators weigh in savings from Act 10 and projections for their 2012-13 school budget.

One year after collective bargaining changes for a majority of public workers, Target 2 surveys school districts across Northeast Wisconsin.

Click here for full survey results

The new legislation came fast, forcing many school boards, administrators and teachers to act quickly.

"If I could do anything over again, I would have spent more time up front talking about the problem," Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker told Action 2 News in a recent interview.

Reflecting back, administrators remember the decisions.

"In the context of what was going on in the state of Wisconsin, it was devastating for morale," Manitowoc Schools Superintendent Mark Swanson said. "It was brutal."

An analysis of 53 school districts across Northeast Wisconsin found nearly 75% rushed to approve new contracts with teachers last spring, a move it no longer needed under collective bargaining legislation that was becoming law.

"In my point it was absolutely the right thing to do because it has given us a year to really look into things," Pulaski Schools Superintendent Mel Lightner said.

Now those contracts are set to expire, a majority in June, the rest next year as school boards now approve employee handbooks giving board members and administrators control over issues that were once bargained for.

"It's been a rocky ride I think for school board members because like the state in general, Wisconsin was the epicenter for a huge struggle over collective bargaining," John Ashley said, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Some ratified contracts, though, resemble what happened in Green Bay, taking the old contract and suspending a good portion of the language.

"There was no certainty as to when some of the changes to the Governor was proposing would occur, so we as a board felt it was important to have a teacher contract, so we made that decision," former Green Bay School Board President Jean Marsch said. "And we felt though there were some changes that needed to be made in the contract."

For the past year teachers show up to Green Bay school board meetings in levels not seen in years.

"What they see as working with the teachers is really not working with the teachers," Green Bay Education Association President Toni Lardinois said. "What they are doing is providing proposals to the teachers and saying this is what you have - take it or leave it in most cases."

Neenah was one of 14 districts bypassing negotiations, opting immediately for employee handbooks to govern everything from working conditions to benefits.

"Like all of our teachers and support staff, there was a significant amount of unrest, and I'm not going to suggest that's absent today."

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