Act 10, Scene 2
Shana Lewis is a problem-solver for Wisconsin school districts
Published in 2012 Wisconsin Super Lawyers magazine
on November 12, 2012
Updated on February 19, 2013
In early 2011, while visiting her husband’s parents in Summerfield, Fla., Shana Lewis watched the family printer spit out 146 pages of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed Act 10 legislation, which overhauled public labor relations in Wisconsin.
“I expected that there would be some changes to collective bargaining,” says Lewis, a labor, employment, school and municipal lawyer, who works primarily with about 50 Wisconsin school districts. “But I had no idea that it was going to be such a sweeping change.”
A flurry of negotiations sprang up at the Madison office at Lathrop & Clark (now Boardman & Clark), amid a tumultuous political environment. When Senate Democrats decamped, leaving Act 10 in a sort of legislative purgatory, Lewis helped districts extend union contracts and buy time. “We were working around the clock at that point,” she says. When teachers and school staffers joined the protests at the Capitol, Lewis worked with those in the districts she represents to keep curriculums on track. She also helped determine if leaving a school to go picket or protest at the Capitol might be considered a strike. (In one case, Lewis says, the court determined it wasn’t a strike.)
She helped administrators navigate through the gray areas of open records laws. And she did it all before Act 10 actually went into effect on June 29, 2011.
More than a year later, the legislation is still taking root. “I had my first negotiation session the other night under the new rules,” Lewis says in a conference room that overlooks Lake Monona at Davis & Kuelthau’s Madison office. “Previous to 2011 … I’d sit at the table with the school board or the committee with the school district administrator and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with teachers and support staff.”
“We’re not doing that so much anymore,” Lewis continues. “There’s still collective bargaining, but it’s abbreviated and restricted. But that doesn’t mean that there is any less to do.”
Lewis, the eldest of three kids, grew up in Glendale, minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Her grandfather, the star of Ron Terry’s Polka Party on WGN, instilled in his family a love for live performance. At 6, she first acted in a community production of The King and I. A constitutional law class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and then her J.D., inspired her to become a lawyer.
After 13 years practicing law, Lewis still makes room for the stage. She’s on the board of Madison-based Forward Theater Company and visits New York annually to see shows with her husband, Robert Magasano, whom she met in college. The couple lives with their dog and three cats near Lake Waubesa.
A large part of the cases Lewis works on involve allegations of employee misconduct, she says, often helping with school investigations. First Amendment issues also tend to crop up.
“If a student brings leaflets to hand out to people and they have religious content, there are often points of view on both sides of that issue, and Shana has to come in and resolve those issues,” says Kirk D. Strang, chair of the labor, employment and public education team at Davis & Kuelthau, whom Lewis considers a mentor. “A school is the great meeting place of parents and students and the wider society, and in that framework, you encounter almost every legal problem you can imagine.”
“I think she already made her mark before she joined us,” Strang says. “She is, I think, a real star in our discipline.”
“When the opportunity arose for us to bring Shana on board at our firm, we jumped on it,” says Ann Rieger, the firm’s president. “[Her clients] trust her to find the right solution for them, and that is a fabulous quality and relationship to foster.”
“One of the most fulfilling parts of my job,” Lewis says, “is that I’m part of the solution. I’m the person that the district administrator or superintendent calls when he [or she] … wants to kind of figure out, ‘Okay, what can I do?’”