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August 23, 2011

The start of school each fall brings new opportunities and circumstances for school staff members. This year professional teaching staff in the Hamilton School District, like most districts in Wisconsin, will have a newly-created employee handbook that will define employment parameters.

The Hamilton School Board approved the “Professional Teaching Staff Handbook” Aug. 23 at a special meeting which will replace collective bargaining agreements that expired June 30 and previously delineated many responsibilities, rules and procedures.

District administrators drafted the handbook during the summer and solicited feedback from teachers who serve as instructional leaders throughout the district prior to School Board approval.

Goals in establishing the handbook were to serve the interests of the district and its employees, said Superintendent Kathleen M. Cooke, Ph.D. As they developed recommendations for the School Board, administrators weighed several considerations, including the district’s long-term financial health, ability to attract and retain high quality staff, and continuation of high quality of programs that parents and community members have come to expect.

The most significant changes for employees deal with retirement contributions, the district’s healthcare plan, retirement healthcare benefits, paid time off and implementation of a dress code.

  • Retirement contributions – In line with new legislative requirements, school employees will pay 50 percent of their Wisconsin Retirement System contributions, which amounts to 5.8 percent of their annual salary.
  • Health insurance plan modifications – As a self-insured organization that experiences costs as much as 70 percent below the comparable for state employees (based on most recent comparisons available), the district chose to make additional plan modifications that encourage wise consumer use of healthcare services to provide even greater cost savings. Deductibles will increase between $150 and $600, a $25 office co-pay was added and employee-paid prescription drug payments increased. The changes are expected to save the district more than $379,000.
  • Retirement healthcare benefit – The district will eliminate its early retirement benefit and convert to a defined annual contribution in a Healthcare Retirement Agreement (HRA) that will do away with a $36.6 million liability over the next seven years – as much as 90 percent of it in the first year alone.
  • Paid time off – Paid time off will be reduced, but there will be more flexibility in how it can be used. The change is expected to increase student contact time and reduce substitute costs. Changes reward good attendance by annually allocating unused sick, emergency  and personal days to a HRA at a value equal to the daily substitute rate once an employee reaches the new accrual cap of 30 days.
  • Dress code – To promote a greater sense of respect that the district believes professional educators deserve, staff are expected to dress in no less than business casual attire. Some opportunities will exist on school spirit days, special events and as a monthly charity fundraiser for staff to wear jeans and school-affiliated tops.

Certified teaching staff members will learn more about the employee handbook next week at meetings with administrators.

In other personnel business, School Board members approved a -2.13 percent total aggregate compensation package for district administration and confidential support staff members. The package factors in a salary adjustment, employee contribution to the Wisconsin Retirement System, increase in co-pay and deductible health insurance, elimination of early retirement benefit and establishment of a Health Retirement Account.