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Teachers given contract extensions, concessions made

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Three area school districts Friday reached new contract agreements with their teachers that would bring employee health insurance or pension payments more in line with pending state legislation. School officials in La Crosse, Onalaska and Holmen districts said they made the move now to provide staff with some stability and prepare for the deep state aid cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget.

“Teachers can be more effective educators when some of the uncertainty has been reduced,” said Lauren Chafoulias, Onalaska School Board treasurer.

Several of the agreements also match or exceed levels sought in Walker’s budget repair bill, which would mandate all state workers pay 12.6 percent of their health care premiums and half of their pension fund contribution. That bill has stalled as the 14 Senate Democrats remain out of state.

La Crosse

The La Crosse School Board approved extending a teachers contract through June 30, 2012, that raises both health insurance and pension payments.

The “memorandum of understanding” revises the current contract, set to expire July 1, to increase the teachers’ share of health insurance payments to 12.6 percent and provide half of their pension contribution.

Educators previously had paid 10 percent for family plan coverage and nothing for single coverage or pension.

The agreement freezes salaries and added several work conditions, such as requiring new high school staff teach six rather than five of eight periods.

Still, board member Steve Kopp questioned why the agreement was being rushed through a special meeting rather than taking more time to consider even further savings.

“I think there’s a lot of money still on the table,” Kopp said in casting the only no vote.

But board member Tom Thompson said the one-year extension gives the current tense situation in the state time to “calm down.”

“I see this as a win-win situation,” he said. 

Representatives of the La Crosse Education Association were set to meet this morning on the agreement.

La Crosse expects to lose $4.4 million in state aid under the proposed budget.

Onalaska

Onalaska teachers also accepted a contract extension through June 2012 that freezes salaries and requires they pay half of their pension plan contribution, giving up about $1 million in compensation.

The district’s teachers already pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs, but agreed Friday to switch to a less expensive plan, school officials said.

The move erases all but about a third of the estimated $1.5 million budget deficit the district faces from the state budget cuts.

“Our association, along with administration and school board, came together to solve some very difficult issues for all,” Dan King and Alli Pratt, co-presidents of the Onalaska Education Association, said in a written statement. “We feel that collaboratively we accomplished that goal.”

About 220 staff members will be covered under the agreement.

Holmen

The Holmen School District’s new one-year contract with teachers limits salary increases to less than 1 percent and adds the 50 percent contribution to their state pension.

As with Onalaska, Holmen teachers pay 20 percent of their health insurance but until now had not paid into the pension fund.

The new pact also reduces sick days allowed from 10 a year to eight.

In all, the new contract reduces total wages and benefits by more than $850,000, or 3.4 percent, according to a district release. It affects 337 teachers and other staff in Holmen schools.

The district faced an estimated $2.6 million shortfall due to state aid cutbacks. The new contract will cut that to $800,000, school officials said.

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