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A look at points of contention in handbook

Sept. 2, 2011

Information that the teacher unions have circulated pinpoints many things in the New Berlin School District handbook that slam their new working conditions.

Here's a summary their objections, and various comments on those points by school officials:

The day is 60 minutes longer for elementary teachers and a half- hour longer for secondary teachers. Also, teachers will have to be available to students before and after school on a regular basis.

School Board member Art Marquardt said the board's purpose was to put all the teachers on an eight-hour day plus a half hour for lunch. Before, elementary teachers were required to be at work 7.5 hours per day, including 30 minutes for lunch. Lunch is no longer included in their work day which has been lengthened to eight hours. So, they will be in the building 8.5 hours, according to Superintendent of Schools Joe Garza.

Secondary school teachers always had to be in the building for eight hours, but that included lunch. Now it won't, so they too will put in 8.5 hours a day.

The number of hours teachers are actually with students is less than their full day of work, Marquardt said.

School Board members doubted that requiring teachers to be available before or after school would affect many.

"We have an excellent, excellent teaching staff and many always have gone above and beyond" in being available to students because they are dedicated, School Board member Keith Hastings said.

Teachers fear that the teachers convention will not be paid after this year and that school will start for teachers on Aug. 15 next year. The school start date has not been set, however. This year they started Aug. 30 for the Sept. 1 opening day.

Preparation time is no longer guaranteed. Teachers could be asked to substitute-teach during their prep times, for no additional pay.

"We will most likely continue to observe where we're at on the issue and seek feedback," Hastings said.

If the prep time arrangements are not working, the board can revisit the issue, he added.

Sick days are being capped at 45 from 60 and the number allowed per year is reduced. Also, if someone is recovering from surgery or has cancer and is out for extended time, co-workers can donate their sick days to that colleague. But that will end after this year.

Forty-five days is when long-term disability insurance kicks in, Marquardt said.

But long-term disability will not be what it was before. Instead of paying 90 percent of the employee's salary it will cover 60 percent.

The district had been covering the gap between 60 and 90 percent, Marquardt said, but will no longer do that.

Part of the reason is to encourage employees to have nonemergency surgery during the summer, he said.

Also, looking at companies and other public entities, he said, "Nobody supplements long-term disability."

Teachers now start with four days of sick leave and earn six days a year.

Employees also will now pay for their own health insurance while on disability leave.

Employees cannot have microwaves, refrigerators and coffeemakers.

There is a misunderstanding that the handbook prohibits teachers from having such appliances, Hastings said. They cannot bring their own anymore, but they continue to have access to all those appliances supplied by the district, he said.

The ability to file a grievance has been reduced to cases of firings, discipline or alleged workplace safety issues. Nondisciplinary issues such as suspensions with pay, letters in personnel files can no longer be the focus of a grievance.

If their time or money is involved, employees can file a grievance, Marquardt said. Employees can protest other things not involving time or money with a letter that would be placed in their employee files, he said. The restriction should reduce the number of small grievances that get filed, he said. Any grievance, even a small one, costs at least $200 to consult the district's attorney, he said. Grievances generally run $10,000 to $100,000 each, Marquardt said.

The maximum vacation for year-round workers, such as maintenance and grounds workers, is cut from five weeks to a new maximum of three.

That's unfair for employees who have given 20 to 35 years of service, said Dennis O'Halloran, president of the union representing buildings and grounds workers. He said he surveyed private sector employers and found that UPS gives seven weeks of vacation and Harley-Davidson and Briggs & Stratton both give six weeks.

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