January 25, 2010
RUSD approves teachers' contract by 7-0 vote
The vote was 7-0 in favor, with board treasurer Don J. Nielsen abstaining. Teachers had approved the contract by 97% on Thursday.
In the few remarks they made prior to voting on board vice president Sue Kutz's motion for ratification, members had only praise, although Julie McKenna, who voted against the district's last contract with its teachers, did say, "I realize some in the community will be dissatisfied we didn't go for zero percent," as opposed to the 1.4% and 1.5% salary hikes in the new agreement. You can read the contract here.
Dennis Wiser called the contract's attempt to offer a comparable benefit package to teachers "a very important step," one that needs to be continued throughout the district.
Pamala Handrow, recognized that the district has "a way to go" regarding student achievement, but said the contract's "language reflects a concerted effort to concentrate on students."
Kutz said it shows "a collaborative working together to improve student achievement. The organizational culture of the district is changing."
That, in fact, was the over-riding message of much of the meeting, as the board heard from Alan Harris, who became deputy superintendent in October, explain the process the district is going through to implement its North Star Journey, the district-wide plan for school improvement. Harris illustrated the plan with a metaphor, a map of the United States during the Civil War, showing the various "Underground Railroad routes to freedom."
The district has a goal, he said, not a uniform plan for every school.
Dr. James Shaw, RUSD superintendent, left, went further, agreeing that the district will treat all schools the same while realizing they each have different needs. "That's a change for us," he said, noting that he hopes to change the negative perception that "we're from Central Office and we're here to help."
While the new contract does provide pay hikes for teachers, and payments for those at the top of the experience scale, Shaw, board members and Keri Hanstedt, employee relations manager, stressed that what's important is the focus on improving education. "It addresses school reform and the North Star," Hanstedt said. "I'm very proud of this agreement." When asked befire the vote what might happen if it were rejected, she said, "I would be concerned." Arbitration, she said, would include comparisons with districts "that aren't having as much financial difficulty" as Unified. This is the district's first contract since the QEO law was repealed, and nobody was eager test the results of arbitration.
Said Shaw, "The focus is on compensation," but the agreement has major language to move us toward the North Star. There's language in the contract supporting teachers to have time to look at data, to improve instruction, to help each other."
The only negative opinion offered came during the public input session of the meeting, when Jim Morrison of the Racine Taxpayers Association passionately urged the board not to approve the contract, but rather to take 90 days to study it. Referring to the district's newly announced plans for major "reinvestment" -- referendums for the construction of new schools -- Morrison said that would be "trying to breathe life into a dead horse" if the contract were approved.
The district "is on shaky ground" with the reinvestment program, Morrison said. "If you want to create an earthquake, then go ahead."