Teacher's union wants to discuss contract changes with MPS

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee's teacher's union (MTEA) is asking state lawmakers for permission to discuss contract changes with the Milwaukee Public School District. The teacher's union got that contract before the changes to collective bargaining took effect, but now, they want to go back and revise.Meanwhile, Governor Scott Walker is trying not to say "I told you so."

The Milwaukee Public School District budget is tight, and got a lot tighter in January, when the city told the district to contribute nearly $10 million more to the city's pension plan because of the market downturn. "The $10 million has been absorbed. It's part of the preliminary budget, and we have accounted for it," MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton said.

With that and other added expenses, Superintendent Thornton has had to come up with strategies to make the district run. "Two grades actually put together. It would mean that class sizes would escalate," Thornton said.

Then, Bob Peterson, Milwaukee Teacher's Education Association President, approached Thornton about helping the district meet the financial challenges. "I'm pleasantly surprised. I mean, they could certainly have sat idly. They stepped up to me and said 'hey, we want to be part of the solution,'" Thornton said.

However, this means revisiting the contract, which is a no-no under Act 10, except during the 90 days between November and February. Peterson, who didn't want to talk with FOX6 on camera, says the union didn't approach the district during that window because it just didn't know how bad the financial situation was.

The union's solution is to ask the Wisconsin State Legislature to create a new window of time for the district to negotiate financial concessions. "After attacking us and belittling us for doing these reforms, they're essentially, at the last minute, asking us to give them a special exemption to go back to do what we allowed other school districts to do," Governor Walker said.

Governor Walker says he thinks there is time for the Legislature to pass a provision for the window by attaching it to legislation set for passage. "Even if they came late to the dance, I'm glad they asked to come to the dance," Walker said.

Even if the window of contract negotiation is given by the Legislature, the union membership would still have to vote on any concessions its leadership proposes, and they may or may not agree to it.