MILTON—Second-grade teacher Andy Gross received a medallion for two decades of service to the Milton School District a few weeks ago.

But at a Monday, June 13, Milton School Board meeting, Gross handed it back to board president Joe Martin, saying he could keep it until the board felt like adequately paying him for those 20 years of service.

“I’d like you to hold on to this. It says 20 years, but to me, I feel like it’s 11 because that’s what you value me at and it’s not fair,” Gross said. “When you want to give this back to me someday and you show me the respect that it’s 20 years, I’ll take it back. Until then, you can have it.”

Teachers clad in black shirts filled Monday’s meeting, during which both school staff and local residents spoke out against a proposed 2% wage increase, which fell far short of the 4.71% raise the Milton Education Association was allowed to ask for under a bargaining agreement.

Gross spoke in opposition to both the wage offer and a pay structure that he said doesn’t begin to compensate him for the years he’s spent with the district.

The school board went on to vote 5-2 to approve a 2% base wage increase and a $750 step increment increase for the 2022-23 academic year that starts July 1. Board members Mike Hoffman and Shelly Crull-Hanke dissented.

Combined, the two increases come out to a 3.02% raise, according to a memo to the board from Human Resources Director Christopher Tukiendorf.

State law allowed the Milton Education Association to negotiate for a 4.71% wage adjustment based on the state Department of Revenue’s inflation calculation that was released in January.

Act 10, which was signed into law in 2011, prevents public employee unions from negotiating yearly wage adjustments higher than the rate of inflation.

Between mid-March and late May, the district’s human resources committee and the union couldn’t reach an agreement on wages, Tukiendorf’s memo said.

The district initially proposed a 1% increase, while the union asked for the full rate of inflation at 4.71%. The district later countered with 2% as the union dropped its request to 4.1%.

The district cited inadequate funding in the state’s 2021-23 biennial budget as its reason for needing to tighten its belt on wages and benefits.

The state’s biennial budget, drafted by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, added no additional per-pupil taxing authority for districts for the two years of the current biennium. The legislature said school districts should use funds from federal COVID-19 stimulus packages to balance their budgets.

In past biennial budgets, Wisconsin school districts had seen between $100 and $200 in per-pupil taxing authority added each year.

Milton Superintendent Rich Dahman said the district’s legal counsel advised administrators to not go to mediation with the union, since the district wouldn’t be entering into negotiations in good faith.

“Unless there was a larger pot of money available that the district could, and was open to, putting on the table through mediation, she strongly recommended that the district not go to mediation,” Dahman said. “You should go with an intent that you’re open to and have the ability to do some back and forth negotiation.”

Board member Jennifer Johns, a member of the human resources committee, addressed the teachers in the audience, promising that she had researched compensation and benefits offered by similar districts. What Milton offers its teachers is better than other districts, Johns zaid, and it needs to also provide good compensation for its support staff.

“You need good support staff to do your job, and we understand that they need to be compensated as well,” Johns said. “There’s real dollars here, this is real money that the community is spending. When you look at the comparables, the numbers speak positively of your salary and your benefit package.”

Neighboring school districts

The Janesville and Fort Atkinson school districts have either approved or are planning to vote on a plan to provide their teaching staff with wage hikes of 4.7% for the 2022-23 school year, school board members said.

Jake Selck, a fifth grade student at Northside Intermediate School, asked board members to pay his teachers so that they won’t consider moving to other districts to be paid well.

“These teachers have taught me that when a disagreement happens, both sides should talk it out and find a compromise. If the kids in Milton are expected to compromise, why aren’t the adults practicing what you teach?” Selck said. “I want my favorite teachers to stay in Milton but Fort Atkinson, Whitewater and most of the state will pay them more for the same work … my future is counting on you to do the right thing.”

Insurance deductibles rise

The wage adjustment also comes as Milton school staff enrolled in the district’s health reimbursement plan will pay six times as much in insurance deductibles starting in July. Those on single plans will see their out-of-pocket costs go from $100 to $600, and family policy holders will see their deductibles go up from $200 to $1,200.