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UPDATE: School District, teachers union reach interim agreement

April 29, 2011

The Wauwatosa School District and the union representing the district's teachers have reached an interim agreement that will save more than $4 million in wages and benefits for 2011-12, the district announced today.

The agreement is not an extension of the teachers union's current contract, which runs through June, but rather an interim deal meant to address the shortfalls created by taxing authority cuts proposed in the 2011-13 biennial state budget.

District officials have said Wauwatosa could face a roughly $7 million budget deficit next year.

"We need to prepare a budget, and this is a way that we're able to do that while maintaining the best education possible (for students)," Superintendent Phil Ertl said.

Under the agreement, Wauwatosa's teachers agreed to contribute half their retirement benefit costs, estimated to save the district $1.945 million. Salaries will be frozen for the 2011-12 school year, saving another $1.37 million, and insurance coverage will change to a high-deductible health-care plan, which the district says will save $1 million.

Wauwatosa's current post-retirement benefits will be maintained for one more year as well.

As part of the agreement, the district will provide certain teachers with a one-time stipend - a total of roughly $36,000, Ertl said - to pay for 2010-11 coursework.

Debbie Brent, president of the Wauwatosa Education Association, said the agreement helps address the district's financial concerns for 2011-12.

"First of all, it provides a structure and a framework with which to move forward and to allow us to continue to offer the resources we need to educate the kids in Tosa," she said.

Brent said the union and the district aren't negotiating a successor to the current contract because of the uncertainty looming in Madison over changes to collective bargaining and contributions to health insurance and retirement accounts.

"There's a lot that's really kind of taken out of our hands (locally), if you will," she said.

Ertl said the financial agreement does not address working conditions such as class sizes, schedules and the like, so the district is putting together administrative guidelines to address those issues.

If the two sides do not reach a new contract agreement by the end of June, teachers would continue to operate under the current contract, pending state changes.

The district's teachers "were awesome in these discussions," Ertl said, and he hopes Wauwatosa's other represented groups - two of whom have contracts that don't expire until 2013 - work cooperatively to help address the budget shortfall. Enacting agreements with those groups similar to the deal with the teachers could result in a total savings of about $5.2 million, he said.

Ertl said talks are ongoing about agreements with the other groups, who represent the district's custodial workers, educational assistants and administrative assistants.

"They sense the seriousness of what we're facing (with the budget), and they, too, don't want to negatively affect what's going on in the classrooms," Ertl said.

The proposed agreement with the teachers union will be presented to the School Board on May 9, and board members are expected to vote on the proposal May 23.

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