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updated: 7/6/2011 10:09 PM

Dist. 26 board and union at contract impasse

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The Cary Elementary District 26 school board announced Wednesday that contract negotiations with the teachers union had reached an impasse.

The two sides have spent the past eight months and 17 meetings trying to hammer out a new labor agreement to succeed the current contract that expires Aug. 23. Both sides now have submitted final offers to the federal mediator and to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

In a news release sent late Wednesday afternoon, the school board said the district declared an impasse after the union, the Cary Education Association, made no significant movement in its recent offers.

The main unresolved issues are salary, insurance, retirement benefits and the length of the teachers' work day, the release says.

"We weren't close on the financial issues," school board member Chris Jenner said. "It's a combination of all the issues that go into our labor costs. We believe that we did move significantly from our original offer. We believe that it's fiscally responsible. It achieves the board's financial goals."

The district proposed a two-year contract that includes a new compensation structure that it says will maintain an acceptable educational program while balancing the budget. During negotiations, the district had requested about $2 million in salary and benefit concessions from the union.

The board's proposal includes a salary rollback to 2008-2009 levels, which would amount to an average salary decrease of 1.7 percent in the first year and a 2.6 percent increase in the second year.

The district would continue paying the 6-percent end-of-career salary increases.

Cary Education Association leaders proposed a "hard freeze" for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, leaving salaries at current levels, according to a copy of the union's proposal dated June 29. Teachers would not receive step increases, but would receive lane increases under the proposal estimated to save the district about $275,000 per year.

In addition, the board proposed eliminating the $20,000 retirees receive immediately after retiring, as well as the $10 per day of sick leave the teacher had not used. These benefits were expected to cost the district about $1.1 million in the next four years.

But the union argued that the retirement benefits should remain the same because their proposed salary freezes would result in smaller Teacher Retirement System contributions.

Furthermore, the board and union could not reach an agreement on insurance, with the union asking the board to pay for 85 percent of single health care premiums both years and 100 percent of dental for singles both years. The union estimated a savings of $152,280 annually.

However, the board offered to pay $7,000 in 2011-2012 toward the elected coverage and $3,000 in 2012-2013.

The union proposed adding 15 minutes to the school days, as opposed to the district's proposed 30 minutes.

A teachers union spokesman could not be immediately reached Wednesday.

In the last three years, the district has trimmed 75 teaching positions, eliminated special programs like music, physical and art, and closed two elementary schools for a total savings of about $9 million.

"These actions obviously have significantly diminished the quality of the district's educational programs and it is clear the community can no longer afford the salary and benefits previously provided to the teaching staff," the school board said in its statement.