Mequon-Thiensville unveils employee handbook

Published on: 8/17/2011

Mequon - Out of the ashes of a collective-bargaining for teachers comes a newly minted handbook in the Mequon-Thiensville School District. It is being described by officials as a fluid document subject to further revision.

In recent months, the School Board and administrators have been scrutinizing various components of the handbook in lieu of bargaining, which officially ceased in the district June 30 as Gov. Scott Walker's Act 10 took effect. Elected officials unanimously approved the document Monday with the caveat revisions this school year are unlikely.

"Having said that, this is not a document that stands the test of time and will never change again," Superintendent Demond Means said. "I like to think of it as an evergreen document."

Components within the handbook were created with consultation by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. The organization has created a template districts can use.

Means said the handbook was crafted with a desire to provide teachers with "explicit expectations" in the new working environment. A number of changes have been implemented for district teachers.

While previous iterations of collective bargaining agreements entailed layoff and recall rights, the handbook states any future reductions in the work force will be made at the determination of administration. The change prompted concerns from some faculty, who spoke at Monday's meeting.

Homestead High School English teacher Angie Cicero said she had reservations about the ambiguity surrounding the staff reduction language. While she praised current building principals, Cicero said future changes at the administrative level could result in decisions that do not take the entire picture into account.

"(The language) just seems vague, and that's disconcerting," Cicero said. "As it's stated, a person could be reduced for a reason as simple as, 'I don't like you.' There has to be a fairness, predictability and understanding of all this."

Means said principals would be charged with looking into more concrete data, including past performance evaluations, if the district needed to resort to reductions.

Emily Errthum, a Homestead math teacher, said she has been thankful for the supportive, respectful manner administrators and board members engaged in the transition process. But Errthum aired concerns about a change in severance benefit eligibility from age 55 to 58.

"People age 50 to 54 have been in the process of planning their retirements," Errthum said. "People age 55 to 58 are going to need to adjust their personal and financial planning in a drastic way."

In addition to the age change, the handbook states the district will offer a $10,000 severance payment, instead of the $20,000 that had been in place during collective bargaining. Changes also were made to health, dental and life insurance eligibility.

The board in its deliberations emphasized the district is in new territory and the agreement remains a work in progress.

"From those at a corporate mindset, it's easy to look at this and say, 'of course,' " board member Mary Cyrier said. "But this is a huge change for teachers. I think this is a great first step, but I also think it's something we should keep looking at very hard."

In the upcoming school year, Means said he and Gail Grieger, business services manager, will meet with a group of seven teachers to discuss the efficiency and effectiveness of the handbook.