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District 861 budget hinges on union contracts (08/14/2013)
By Jen Burris

The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) negotiations committee has started the negotiation process with all five district unions. The outcome of these contract negotiations will directly affect the future of district finances, as 70 percent of the districtís annual general fund expenses are currently spent on employee salaries and benefits.

WAPS Finance Director Dan Pyan recently announced that the district may only need to cut $300,000, rather than the previous $700,000 estimate, for the 2014-2015 school year. Earlier this month, he said the budget reductions needed were still uncertain, and that final numbers wouldn't be known until after the contracts are settled.

The teachers' union ó the district's largest bargaining group ó works under a contract with "steps and lanes" that determine individual wage increases year to year, even when no base raises are made. The steps of the contracts are based on the number of years spent at WAPS, and the lane changes are based on continuing education credits and degrees teachers may earn while employed by WAPS. Pyan told the negotiation committee at its first meeting that even without any contract increases, the cost of salaries and benefits would be approximately $300,000 more over the next two years, mainly due to health insurance increases.

All union contracts expired on June 30, requiring union members to continue working under an old contract that has been temporarily extended.

Employee contracts are discussed with the districtís negotiation committee ó which is made up of administrative officials and three school board members ó†Jay Kohner, Steve Schild, and Brian Zeller ó and union representatives. These meetings are used to negotiate terms of a new contract, but if the two sides canít compromise, a mediator from the state Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) is used to help everyone come to agreement on the new terms. According to WAPS Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell, approximately half of the contract disputes that have taken place over her 15 years at WAPS have required some mediation to reach a settlement. The differences between district and union proposals can sometimes climb to seven-figure disparities. Once the negotiation committee has come to an agreement with the union, the School Board takes a final vote based on the negotiation committee's recommendation. 

 

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