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Hudson teachers, district play waiting game

Hudson is waiting along with other school districts across the state to see what will happen if and when Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget bill passes.

According to district Deputy Director Nancy Sweet, the Hudson Board of Education is expected to sign an agreement with the local teachers' union to extend the deadline for notification of early retirement from Feb. 1 to March 25.

Sweet said the agreement benefits both the district and teachers. Teachers who are unsure what their retirement benefits would be if the budget bill passes, could lock those benefits in under the terms of the current contract if they wish to retire at the end of this school year. Seven Hudson teachers have already notified the district they will retire this year.

Sweet said the move would also benefit the district by providing a greater degree of flexibility in staffing for the coming year. She added that she had already heard from several teachers who are considering, some very reluctantly, retiring early because of the Walker plan.

Hudson teachers and the administration were about to begin negotiations on a new contract when the budget bill was introduced. School board member Mark Kaisersatt heads up the personnel committee and is a member of the negotiating team. When asked about how the pending legislation will affect those negotiations, he said, "Under normal circumstances, we would be beginning the negotiations process next month. However, with all the activity down in Madison, we've adopted a wait and see approach. There are simply way too many unanswered questions as to how the budget repair bill will affect school districts and there is no advantage to beginning the process when we don't know where we stand."

Hudson teachers have made some concessions regarding health insurance costs in recent years. Financial Services Director Tim Erickson said "Our teachers' contract for health insurance has a cap or maximum district contribution of $697 per month for a single and $1,581 per month for a family plan. This cap has been in place and the dollar amount has not increased since it was negotiated into the 2007-2009 Negotiated Professional Agreement."

Erickson said this means that any increases above the cap are fully paid for by the teachers. Prior to that contract, the district paid 95 percent of the health premium. Since the cap was put into place, changes have been made to the insurance plan to lower premiums, such as higher deductibles and higher co-pays for prescription drugs.

He added that the district contribution for single and family per month in 2007-2008 was $682/$1,548; for 2010-2011 it is $697/$1,581. The increase in the district's contribution from 2007-2008 to 2010-2011 is a little over 2 percent. "This demonstrates the cost containment on health insurance that has been achieved through the more recent negotiated contracts with our teachers union," said Erickson.

Erickson said that the proposed change to health insurance contributions in the budget bill affects those government units that participate in the state health insurance plan. Hudson does not participate in the state plan. "But the proposed change to bargaining law will remove a union's right to bargain benefits and the current (Hudson) contract expires on June 30th.

The proposed change to the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) is to have employees pay for one half of the total required contribution to their pension. WRS is a state-run pension system and membership is mandatory for most employees.

Erickson said that as the district understands the budget bill, it would require all employees to contribute 5.8 percent to the WRS. The impact to the employee is a 5.8 percent reduction in pay, which will be withheld from pay on an after tax basis.

Regarding the biennial budget, Erickson said the impact is not clear at this time. It could mean a loss of state aid of $3 million or more.

"If current funding formulas stay in place, it will affect each district differently. A good example of this is two years ago when the state cut public education aid 3 percent statewide. This 3 percent cut translated to more than a 10 percent reduction in aid for Hudson. This is due to the formula factors built into aid distribution for school districts," said Erickson.

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