Teacher appreciation day or skirting collective bargaining?

On Monday, Milwaukee Public Schools teachers and school psychologists received a letter from outgoing Superintendent Gregory Thornton notifying them that their March 28 paycheck would include a one percent bonus.

In a note that began with breezy weather chit chat, Thornton said, “I want to stop and take a moment to thank you for all your hard work on behalf of our students this school year. I am pleased to announce that you will be receiving a one-time non-base building payment equivalent to one percent of your salary.”

Thornton reiterated his thanks and the gratitude of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors and signed off saying, “We will continue to seek out way to show our appreciation to you not only in terms of salary but other creative approaches.”

One teacher, speaking on the condition of anonymity, quipped, “a going away present?” and added, “The cynic in me sees it as a payoff so we don’t complain about the district’s refusal to bargain salary this year.”

An email sent to members this morning by Milwaukee Teachers Education Association echoed that sentiment, calling the bonus – on which the district will spend about $3.6 million – a union-busting tactic.

“For the third time in two years, MPS administration – under the direction of the School Board – has undermined the collective bargaining process and disrespected educators by unilaterally issuing members a one-time bonus rather than bargaining with your union,” MTEA President Bob Peterson wrote in the statement. “Two bonuses have been issued for educational assistants and bookkeepers, and one for the teacher unit.”

The release notes that despite Act 10’s restrictions on collective bargaining, other southeastern Wisconsin school districts – including Cudahy, Franklin, Racine, Brown Deer, St. Francis and Watertown – have used collective bargaining to negotiate wage increases.

“The district’s refusal to respect the bargaining process, and the lack of a clear path for career advancement, restricts our ability to attract and retain quality educators,” said the MTEA statement.

“This is the same school board that gave a 3 percent bonus to Dr. Thornton recently. Does the board value those who leave more than the members of the MTEA who are committed to our schools and our students?”

MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia confirmed the MTEA statement and that two bonuses were given to educational assistants and bookkeepers, but denied that there have been three bonuses in two years to teachers.

“The March 28 payment is the first for teachers,” Tagliavia said. “Teachers were under contract last year and received a 3 percent base-building salary increase plus step and lane increases.”

Tagliavia also balked at the suggested that the district has refused to meet with the union.

“In January alone, the district met three times with the MTEA,” he said. “MPS and the MTEA have established a workgroup to investigate career advancement opportunities.”

On Tuesday, School Board Director Meagan Holman told WITI-TV’s Beverly Taylor, “There were lots of meetings (between MPS and MTEA). They bargained to impasse.”

In a call to action, the union encouraged its members to contact school board members and insist that it sit at the table with the MTEA to “develop a compensation schedule that will meet the needs of educators and our district.”

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