Over 20 teachers listened closely to several Watertown school board members Tuesday evening at the Educational Service Center as the board’s human resources committee discussed the process of creating the employee handbook.

Board members in attendance included Kate Lapin, Lori Werth, Tammy Bird and Dennis Rambo. District human resources director Ivan Thompson led the meeting reviewing various parts of the employee handbook that are in the developing stages. Superintendent Cassandra Schug was also present.

“We’ve never had a committee meeting with this big of an audience,” Thompson said. Although many staff members were in attendance they were only allowed to listen and could not comment.

The board is in the process of creating an employee handbook because the state eliminated unions and collective bargaining rights and the board has the sole decision on the staff’s working conditions and compensation. While many school districts already have handbooks in place, the Watertown district delayed the process of having to create the handbook by extending the teachers’ contracts for one more year. The handbook must be in place by June 2012, when those contracts will expire. Thompson said they plan on having the handbooks finished by February 2012, in order for teachers and other staff to review it prior to signing contracts in March. It must be complete no later than June 30, 2012.

The handbook will explain in detail the requirements of the teachers and other staff members in every subject from compensation to the amount of hours worked in a week. All issues that were negotiated prior to this through the union, will now be determined solely by the board. Thompson said many school districts used an outline of a handbook purchased from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. Watertown also purchased this copy but has decided to adjust it according to the district’s needs.

Thompson and Schug have been meeting with several different groups each week in order to properly create the handbook. Thompson said at the beginning of the week he meets with a group of about nine teachers called the Teachers Listening Committee. In that group he reviews the subjects in question and the teachers respond with their ideas and thoughts. From that meeting Thompson takes his notes and meets with the central office administrators. The following day he meets with all of the school principals. Once a month he will meet with the board’s human resources committee.

To create the handbooks Thompson said he has been researching several area school districts handbooks that are already in place. While some school districts have one handbook, Watertown has elected to create a handbook for each separate employee group. The teachers handbook will be completed first and the rest of the handbooks will follow suit from that version.

“It’s a work in progress. This contract that we currently have with the teachers was developed over the past 45 years,” Thompson said. “Here we are writing a handbook in less than a year. We want it done by March so teachers will know their working conditions.”

While the administrators have been looking at the current teacher contract for direction there are a lot of details that refer to the association or the teacher’s union and those all must be stricken. While the district is looking for input from all different groups, Thompson reminded there might not be a final agreement on all issues.

“Part of this is that you might not have an agreement with everyone,” he said. “That is because it is not negotiable anymore. The board has the final decision.”

Thompson explained the language being used in the new handbook comes from existing handbooks that were approved by legal counsel and are used in other school’s handbooks. Once Watertown’s handbook is finished it will also be reviewed by legal counsel.

Several sections of the handbook that were reviewed at Tuesday night’s meeting included the mentoring program, work hours, mandatory meetings, posting of vacancies, lunch breaks, licensure and certification, job sharing, teacher assignment and reassignment.

While some have minor language changes others will have major revisions, which in most cases will simplify the expectations of that specific issue.

In the work hour section of the handbook, Thompson explained it will simply say all teachers must work 40 hours a week. Work hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. for three days of the week. One day of the week, Fridays, teachers will be allowed to leave 15 minutes after students. Administrators are also considering one day a week that teachers must stay until a certain time, such as 5 p.m., in order to hold mandatory meetings. Those meetings could include anything from curriculum discussion, team meetings, professional development or even open houses and concerts. Those details are still being discussed.

“This says they are expected to work 40 hours a week but we acknowledge that the vast majority of our staff puts in much more time now and likely will in the future,” Thompson said.

Posting of vacancies will be on the district website and new this year all teachers will be notified of the opening by email. Another change made states that current employees can email Thompson to apply for another position in the district, rather than the only previous option of writing a letter.

Lunch breaks will include 30 minutes of duty free time for all employees who work at least six hours a day.

All teachers must have updated licenses and certification. The district will continue to notify and alert teachers of their deadline to renew their certification.

Thompson said the job sharing section of the current contract will likely be eliminated from the new handbook, but the board may still consider it if an employee shows interest. In the last 10 years there have only been three job shares.

The school calendar will be determined solely by the board. Thompson said discussion has been made to allow for teacher input when the calendar is being put together.

In the current contract teachers at the elementary school are notified of their school assignment and reassignment by May 30 and high school and middle school teachers are notified by June 30. Discussion has included making that one date for all teachers. Oftentimes when a teacher resigns, shuffling of the staff can take place to fill that void. Thompson said teachers in the Teachers Listening Committee have shown their concern to keep the notification dates so they can prepare for their class in plenty of time before the start of school.

“Most other school districts wrote these handbooks and said here it is to their staff,” Thompson said. “We acknowledge there’s a lot of anxiety here about this so we want our staff’s input. Our focus is to have a good place to work.”

The human resources committee will meet again on Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

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