Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 22, 2003

Teachers' contract tabled, HLWW board member walks out

By Lynda Jensen

The teachers' contract for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District is on hold, following the regular board meeting last Monday during which a board member also walked out.

Long-time school board member Jim Fowler prematurely left his last official meeting over the contract being tabled; saying after the meeting that micro-managing by the board is interfering with its abilities to function.

The teachers' contract was recommended for approval by the negotiations committee, which is composed of Fowler and board members Charles Weber and Charlie Borrell.

The negotiations committee spent five months meeting with teachers in order to formulate the contract, which proposed a 5.73 percent increase in salary and benefits over the course of two years.

The failure of the contract to be passed angered many teachers. The contract was already approved by the teachers' union before the meeting.

Teacher Chris Starr of the Education Association declined comment about the situation, although she noted that there is no teachers' union meeting taking place Tuesday, Dec. 30, which was rumored. Starr is on the negotiation team for the teachers' union.

"Teachers are encouraged to attend the special school board meeting on the 30th," commented teacher Dick Sonstegard.

The special school board meeting, which has the contract on its agenda, will take place noon at the high school auditorium.

The contract subject cropped up immediately as the meeting began, when board member John Lideen requested to discuss, then table the item, rather than make a decision that night.

Lideen asked the board to talk about the contract, but not to vote that night since he and others didn't have a chance to review the document carefully.

In addition, the two new board members should also see the document, since they will inherit the decision upon taking office in January, Lideen said.

Board Member Ken Zimmerman conceded that the new board members should have a chance to look at the agreement.

"This is 80 percent of the next two years of our budget," Lideen said.

Board Member Al Doering agreed. "I know absolutely nothing right now," he said.

The committee did its work and is supposed to present its findings to the board. "That's how it's supposed to work," he said.

Raymond noted that this is exactly what is scheduled for the meeting ­ discussion from the committee's findings and then a decision. "This is the committee process," he said.

Traditionally, three members of the board are placed on the committee.

Weber noted that the committee would report to the board that evening, since the contract was the fourth item on the agenda.

Supt. George Ladd noted that the teachers approved the contract already.

Lideen reiterated his concerns. "We are doing the taxpayers a disservice without fully knowing ourselves. This is 80 percent of our budget for two years. To make a decision in 20 minutes, or one hour, or even five hours would be negligent," he said.

"We came to an agreement," Fowler said. "You either vote it up or down."

A motion to table the contract succeeded with Borrell, Lideen, Zimmerman, and Doering voting in favor, and Weber, Fowler, and Raymond voting against.

At that point, Fowler stood up. "This is a dysfunctional board and I'm not going to participate in this last meeting," he said.

"Teachers and the board negotiated in good faith for five months," Fowler said after the meeting. Tabling the contract was a slap in the face to the committee, he said. "I can't endorse this type of board conduct."

"There is no tweaking or refining of that agreement," Fowler said. The agreement is a union contract, he noted.

Fowler served eight-and-a-half years on the board. He decided against running again in the last election.

Later in the meeting, with Fowler absent, the board discussed the contract.

It is noted that three teachers are scheduled to retire in 2002-03 and one possibly may retire in 2003-'04.

"I fully intend to vote for this (contract)," Borrell said. "I know that Jim is upset, but others need to know. The committee should do more about communicating to other board members."

'You'll be broke in three years,' auditor says

Strong words were delivered to the board about its budget by auditor Mike Burkhardt during the annual audit for the 2002-'03 school year.

Burkhardt noted that cash on hand was reduced by $682,000.

If the district continues this spending, it will be in statutory operating debt in three-and-a-half years, Burkhardt said. "You don't want to go down that road."

Doering objected to the numbers, saying that the cash on hand was changed by the state's withholding money due to its financial troubles.

Nevertheless, the district still dropped $400,000 even taking this into account, he said. And Burkhardt was uneasy about simply clipping off the difference, since it was still money spent, he said.

"In three years, you'll be broke," Burkhardt said. "I think the district needs to take a real close look at its expenses," he said.

Board members asked several questions about different aspects of the spending.

"Whatever you spent, you knew you were spending," Burkhardt told them.

Space crunch discussed

The board also reviewed ideas about using portable classrooms and the space issues at HLWW from meetings with various committees (building and grounds, budget committee, administrative members, MEEP and DCAC).

It was noted that the board is now leaning toward having a k-3 elementary in each community, a middle school for grades 4-8, and a high school for 9-12.

As a short-term fix, it was discussed using three portable classrooms for Humphrey Elementary next year of which would house grades 4-7, to house grades 8-12 at the Howard Lake building along with pre-school, community education and district offices, and using two portable classrooms for special education, the library or a computer room.

For the 2005-06 year, it was suggested to house grades pre-K-3 and 9-12 at the Howard Lake building along with the district offices and community education, to house grades pre-k-3 in Winsted, and house grades 4-8 at Humphrey with an additional four portables erected.

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