Oak Creek makes no exception to tuition reimbursement policy

March 25, 2014

Oak Creek — The Common Council denied a one-time exception to grandfather in a lieutenant who was "caught in the middle" of the city's tuition reimbursement policy since it was amended Dec. 18, 2012.

The city amended the policy in 2012 to clarify it will reimburse up to $22,500 for any combination of degree programs from an accredited university for full-time, non-union officers. Different terms and conditions apply for union employees.

Lt. Dave Stecker, who is not in a union, got his bachelor's in criminal justice from Marion College under the original policy, which the Common Council approved in 2007. It was after he began his master's program in criminal justice at Marion that the council applied new reimbursement restrictions.

The Common Council approved the original tuition reimbursement policy June 19, 2007. It reimbursed full-time, non-union officers up to $20,000. Stecker believed he would be reimbursed up to that amount for his bachelor's and up to that amount again for his master's.

But the change in 2012 clarified the reimbursement amount was a total per employee, not per degree. At that time, the amount also was increased to $22,500 to accommodate increasing tuition costs.

Stecker had four remaining credits when he approached the Personnel Committee in 2013. He now has three remaining credits. Stecker asked for an additional $4,000.

Stecker was the only police and fire employee affected by the policy change, Police Chief John Edwards said.

The motion to deny Stecker's request was approved on a 3-2 vote (one alderman was absent) from the March 18 Common Council meeting.

"There's no way I can expect taxpayers to pay every last cent of an employee's schooling. I spoke in favor of paying a portion of employee's education two to three years ago. I'm still doing that up to the max of $22,500," Alderman Tom Michalski said during the meeting.

Alderman Daniel Bukiewicz voted in favor of Stecker's request to be compensated.

"I think it's a small cost," Bukiewicz said. "In my point of view, it's an investment back in our people. We stop investing in our people going forward, they're just going to stay rank and file, we won't have that management talent we need when the time comes to replace."

Stecker deferred all comments to Edwards.

"It was unfortunate that he was caught in the middle. He did everything he was supposed to do and followed all the rules," Edwards said. "He understands the council makes these decisions, and is moving forward."

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