Contract talks with teachers, usually a relatively smooth process in Oak Grove District 68, have hit a snag with the resulting gridlock spilling into public view.
Salary and insurance compensation are the main points of contention as about 90 teachers in the Green Oaks-based district are for the first time are working without a contract.
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Teachers, represented by the Oak Grove Education Association, and district officials have met 13 times since last March, the last three guided by a federal mediator. The parties have been working toward a four-year agreement.
But another session hasn't been scheduled and both sides now are airing their versions of events publicly.
Teachers last Friday began an informational picket, prompting the school board to respond with a message to parents.
"When we have picketing, as a board we really owe the public our perspective," said board President Jennifer Manski.
In the letter, Manski said that average teacher salary increases of between 11 and 14 percent over the four years of the previous contract were "inconsistent" in the current economic market. The salary increase being offered for a new four-year pact is "in line with economic realities in Lake County," she added.
Teachers in turn created a website, www.oakgroveteachers.com.
"The difference this time is we've always finished our contracts before school started. Always," said Kathleen Mackinnon, a 26-year Oak Grove veteran and chief negotiator for the teachers. "A lot of our parent community had no idea we were working without a contract."
Neither side would discuss salary specifics. But Mackinnon questioned Manski's figures, saying they seem designed to "inflame rather than inform," the community.
"We have no idea how she figured that out," she said, adding that her wages have increased a total of 9 percent over the past four years.
Manski said she was citing an average and the figures weren't meant to be inflammatory.
The board is proposing an increase for entry level teachers but proposals for the higher salaried teachers remain at issue, she informed parents.
Teachers say their training and experience, including 85 percent with masters degrees and beyond, is maintaining Oak Grove's high standards. Salaries are at average levels compared with other districts, teachers assert, and the last union salary proposal would reduce total compensation costs of the district.
"We are attempting to work with the board to arrive at a reasonable agreement that recognizes our current economic environment," according to the teachers' website.
As for insurance, the district says it want to provide the same level for all employees, which amounts to a contribution of about $15,000 each for family coverage. Depending on the type of coverage, teachers could pay up to $272 per month more.
Mackinnon said a strike vote has not been taken.
"We're going to give it some time. We're hoping to set up another mediation meeting."
Manski also was hopeful.
"We'd like the teachers to come back to the table," she said.