Madison teachers union may request contract talks

School superintendents confused over Act 10 ruling

Published On: Sep 17 2012 12:11:05 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 18 2012 07:34:01 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

The Madison teachers union may be one of the first to request that the district begin new collective bargaining contract negotiations in light of a court ruling overturning parts of a state law that previously forbid it.

John Matthews, head of the Madison teachers union, said Monday that even though the current contract runs through next June, he'd like to act now on the next contract, saying he'd like to take advantage of the opportunity the court ruling has given him.

"We're way ahead of the curve, we're way ahead of anybody else in the state in doing that, if the school board would simply cooperate with us," he said. "But to say 'No' out of hand, that's not responsible."

Matthews said the request is likely to be sent to the district on Tuesday.

Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore said the district would not negotiate with the union until attorneys could answer questions about possible ramifications of the court decision.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he will request a stay of the ruling, which would keep Act 10 in effect while the appeals process takes place.

"We're still not certain how each one of those things would play out, so we're looking to get that information," Belmore said. "And to know, as we move forward, that we're doing the very best thing for our employees and students."

Belmore would not give a timeline for a decision whether to pursue bargaining with the union or moving forward on an employee handbook that would replace a union contract in July 2013.

If the district opened up the bargaining process now, and then an appeals court ruled that Act 10 was constitutional all along, the district could be in violation of the current contract. School board members said they are going to be leaning heavily on the advice of lawyers.

"Some say we're right back to January 2011 and what we should be doing is bargaining again and negotiating a contract. It's undetermined where we are, and we'll have to decide how to move forward. We really don't know at this point," said James Howard, president of the Madison School Board.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards has a team of lawyers pouring over the issue to advise their members. The association said it's telling members to consult with lawyers and follow the appeals process for the lawsuit.

Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators Executive Director Miles Turner said on Monday that his group was fielding a lot of questions from superintendents about what to do next.

Turner said it is "very unclear" what the ruling means. His group has not taken a position on what to advise superintendents to do because he doesn't know yet what the right answers are.

Instead, Turner said it is putting together a panel discussion for its annual meeting on Friday that about 300 superintendents from around the state are scheduled to attend.