The residents and teachers spoke — and it appears the Shorewood School Board is listening.
At an , members were implored to get teachers involved in the development of a new employee handbook that will spell out working conditions.
Shorewood — like school districts around the state — is creating the handbook to set work rules on matters that used to be negotiated with the teachers union, such as benefits, hours and more. After the passage of the state budget repair bill, only wages are negotiated now.
Even though the district is no longer required to negotiate with the teachers, the two dozen people in attendance at the Aug. 11 meeting voiced concerns that a proposed handbook would be put in place without input from the staff.
But several School Board members at a special meeting on Monday night assured the public that wouldn't happen.
“The goal of this document when it’s finished (is that it) needs to be in the best interest of our students and, by extension, that means also our teachers and staff,” board member Colin Plese said. “I’d like to see more of a collaboration between administration, board, teachers, staff and community."
“It shouldn’t just be getting input and making changes, but also work on crafting words with the group,” Plese added. “What we really need to do is provide a secure environment for our employees.”
Board member Rob Reinhoffer called it "good practice" to work with the labor groups.
Added board member Michael Mishlove: "It's a morale issue. It's the charge that we are unilaterally forcing down the employee's throats, rules and regulations. These are issues as a board, we need to think about how we are going to address."
Mishlove said it's important that the district ensure that teachers continue to have academic freedom in the classroom. The change in state law means that teachers are now at-will employees, meaning they can be terminated without cause. Some teachers have said that not having the protection of a contract could affect how they teach.
"I don't want something that stifles innovation in teaching and excellence in teaching," Mishlove said.
"If curtailing the freedom of what the district can do as an employer... is necessary to safeguard and foster innovation, then I'm all in favor of having those kind of provisions," he added.
Superintendent Blane McCann said the district doesn’t need to rush through approval of the entire handbook, but there some aspects that need to be approved soon.
Those include two financial provision: imposing a state-mandated increase in contributions to health care premiums (12.6 percent, up from 7 percent for a family plan and 4 percent for a single plan); and determining how much cash to teachers who opt out of the health care plan should receive ($5,000 instead of $6,000).
In addition, the grievance policy needs to be approved soon, as teachers will be back in the district within the week, said school officials.
Controversial changes to the are expected to be voted on at a regular School Board meeting Tuesday night, however, some board members said the policy should be vetted further, with teachers and other labor groups at the table.
"This is one that needs to go through a collaborative process with stakeholders," Plese said. "I will not vote in favor of this policy if we don't collaborate with employees."
For the most part, the procedure for filing a grievance will follow the same basic steps as it always has, School Board President Paul Zovic has said — that is until an appeal reaches the board. While employees used to be able to challenge a board decision with arbitration, now the board would have the final say, under the new rules.
In addition, teachers would be limited to grieving termination, discipline and safety issues. Previously, employees could grieve anything in their contract.
Board Vice President Ruth Treisman said the board should follow through with approving the procedure on Tuesday because teachers will start reporting to work in two days and it's important to have this policy in place by then.
Monday's meeting also served as an opportunity for the board to make changes to the working document before McCann takes it to different labor groups for discussion.
Board members voiced changes, particularly on gray areas or vague language, which McCann noted.
McCann will take the draft to each district school and hear concerns from different labor groups. He hopes to have met with all groups by the end of September and bring back a refined handbook in early October.