South-Western school board president Cathy Johnson said it's too early for the school district to discuss who will represent it during union talks in 2010.

South-Western school board president Cathy Johnson said it's too early for the school district to discuss who will represent it during union talks in 2010.

Johnson was the only school board member to respond to a Record poll about the school district team that will negotiate with the unions.

Johnson said it is premature to speak of negotiations, because new school board members won't take office until Jan. 4.

Contracts with groups representing the district's administrative, teaching and nonteaching groups will expire June 30. Contract talks cannot begin more than 90 days preceding that date.

Johnson defended the team the district has used in the past.

Along with from district officials who sit on the team, Johnson said the school board hires professional attorneys for the negotiating team.

Those attorneys all "have training in negotiations and all are professionals with in-depth knowledge in a wide array of areas, both educational and financial," she said.

Whatever choices are made for 2010 will be "based on the needs of the district," she said.

District critics have said they fear now that an operating levy has passed, the school board will not take seriously the district's financial situation and will allow raises and increased benefits for employees.

School board members already authorized bonuses for the superintendent and treasurer.

Superintendent Bill Wise, who is paid $155,800 annually, will receive a bonus of $4,560.

Treasurer Hugh Garside earns $118,450 a year and will receive a $3,554 bonus.

Both Wise and Garside agreed to no raises this year. Garside's new contract, starting in August 2010, will include no raise for the next five years.

Board members who did not reply to The Record's e-mails are Amy Baker, Mindy Garverick, Greg McCarty and Randy Reisling. District spokeswoman Sandra Nekoloff said Johnson, as board president, is designated as the board's spokesperson.

Johnson said despite the approval of an operating levy in the November election, the district still must cut $15-million from its budget during the next three and a half years.

The two new board members, who will be sworn in next month, spoke to The Record about the negotiating team last week.

Jo Ellen Myers -- who has said she fears union negotiators will push for raises in salary and benefits since the levy passed -- said she thinks at least one school board member should sit on the negotiating team.

Karen Dover said the team used in the past has experience with district operations and the contracts.

"I think you need to have people on the team who understand the particulars of the contract," she said.

School district critic Bob Ruth noted five of six members on the recent negotiating teams -- the district treasurer, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent for personnel, a personnel director and building administrator -- are administrators. Whatever percentage raise is granted to teachers in contracts is often granted to administrators, Ruth said. This gives administrators a "vested interest" in seeing raises approved, he said.