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updated: 1/11/2012 6:27 PM

West Chicago High School teachers declare impasse in contract talks

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Contract talks have broken down after nearly 11 months of negotiations between administrators and teachers at West Chicago's Community High School.

Members of the West Chicago High School Teachers Association late Wednesday filed a notice of the impasse with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

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The filing requires both sides to submit final offers to the labor relations board by the middle of next week, union officials said. If no agreement is reached, the those offers will be posted on the labor board's website at www2.illinois.gov/elrb by Jan. 25.

The filing could be the first step toward a possible strike, but it does not prevent the two sides from continuing to negotiate.

The union's four-year contract expired Aug. 22, and teachers have been working since that time under provisions of the earlier agreement.

The two sides have been working with federal mediator Charles Evans for several months.

Tony Molinaro, one of three school board members on the district's negotiating team, said the talks have been "a slow process but we feel we've made a lot of progress."

He would not provide details, but said the district has "a fair offer on the table, especially in light of economic conditions in the community."

"The differences are very small," he said. "We want to keep talking, we want to keep sitting at the table."

Union President Kristina Mallon, however, said negotiations are at a standstill.

"The teachers have worked for months to bargain in good faith," she said, "but negotiations are not progressing any more."

In a written statement, the union's lead negotiator, Amy Gibson, said there has been "a drastic change in what had been a collaborative relationship. In the past, both sides came to the table believing we could reach an agreement benefiting everyone, and we were always able to work through our disagreements. The board of education's aggressive approach to the current negotiations has made this process drag on for months longer than it should have."

Mallon said the two sides have been "passing proposals continuously," with the most recent coming from the district on Jan. 3.

She said the union has made significant concessions and "we are more than comfortable going public with our final offer" if an agreement isn't reached by Jan. 25.

She said the union's negotiating team will meet Friday night "to discuss where we are and where we go from here."

The threat of a strike remains a possibility, she said, "but we hope not to go there."

"The teachers are doing everything in their power to shelter the students from any ill effects of working without a contract," she said.

The union represents 138 members who serve roughly 2,150 students from West Chicago, Winfield, Carol Stream, Warrenville and unincorporated areas near Wheaton.

Molinaro said the district continues to hope the two sides can reach an agreement.

"Our focus remains on providing excellent education for our 2,100 students," Molinaro said, "using taxpayer money wisely and staying within our budget."

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