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updated: 1/31/2012 7:34 PM

District 53 teachers want to return to bargaining table

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Teachers in Oak Brook's Butler Elementary District 53 said Tuesday there's still wiggle room in their contract negotiations with the school board and they're eager to return to the bargaining table for face-to-face talks.

The two sides broke off formal negotiations more than 10 days ago after agreeing on all provisions of a proposed three-year pact except compensation.

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"We'd like to sit back down and get this done before it causes conflict or tension within the community of Oak Brook," union President Andrew Griffith said. "We'd like to sit down and get this deal done as two professionals."

But school board President Alan Hanzlik said district officials aren't in a rush to resume talks unless the union is ready to make significant concessions.

"They've got our final offer," he said. "We've been down this road many times and we have told them we will not meet in the middle (on compensation). We are at our high limit."

The school board declared an impasse in contract talks Jan. 12 after nearly a year of negotiations and both sides submitted their final offers Jan. 19 to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Those offers were posted Monday on the labor board's website at www2.illinois.gov.elrb/Pages/FinalOffers.aspx.

The two sides met 24 times over the past year, including three sessions with a federal mediator, but could not reach agreement on pay.

The school board is offering salary increases of 2.3 percent in the first year, 2.8 percent in the second and 3.3 percent in the third.

The union wants 3.3 percent raises in the first year and 3.8 percent raises in each of the next two.

The school board went public with its offer Monday, sending letters and emails to parents and residents and putting extensive details about its offer on the district's website.

Griffith said the public relations campaign caught teachers by surprise. "That was unheard of," he said. "We did not expect this."

He said it was even more surprising because he had been negotiating with Hanzlik until after 9 p.m. Sunday.

The high-achieving district serves a combined 435 students at Brook Forest Elementary and Butler Junior High. The union represents 48 teachers.

District officials already have conducted three community informational sessions this week in which Hanzlik said they received "strong feedback that our offer is more than fair."

Griffith said members of the Oak Brook Education Association are disappointed they weren't allowed to participate in those sessions and upset that the district already has raised the possibility of a strike in the materials it has distributed to the public.

"We haven't even broached that subject within our own organization," Griffith said.

He said teachers have been working under the terms of their old contract since Sept. 1 and have been professional in carrying out all their duties.

But Hanzlik said the school board has been "very methodical and consistent in our messaging about these negotiations" and wants the community prepared for any eventuality.

"We don't want a strike but, on the other hand, legally they have the right to file an intent to strike notice," he said.

Residents want to know the district is ready to respond to such a threat, he said, "and we know exactly what we will do."

Griffith said the union already has made concessions in many areas but wants to ensure the district continues to attract and retain top-notch teachers.

"In recognition of a challenging economy, we have made very significant adjustments to our initial economic proposals -- adjustments that modify, trim and rearrange the economic package, all in an effort to bridge the gap between the parties and set up conditions that will lead to a fair agreement for all," he said in a written statement. "In fact, our last proposals are such that they would not require the school district to spend more money this year than last."

The school board says the average District 53 teacher is paid $83,834 a year for 181 days of work, the third-highest salary among elementary districts in the state. It says the average teacher also receives $15,124 in benefits, bringing the annual compensation package to $98,958.

The most senior teachers at the top of the salary scale receive annual pay of $99,721 and total yearly compensation packages of $114,845 with benefits, officials said.

Griffith argues that 58 percent of district teachers receive less than the $83,834 average salary and that seven teachers are off the salary schedule and on the retirement track. He said many union members don't take the health or dental benefits the district offers.

If and when the two sides return to the bargaining table remains to be seen.

Griffith said the union already has demonstrated a willingness to move more than the school board on compensation. He said union members still hope to resume talks because the school board has not legally imposed its final offer on the teachers.

Hanzlik, though, said the board will not budge on pay unless the union is willing to give something else up, such as the end-of-career 6 percent pay increases that artificially boost pensions.

"Propose something to us of significance," Hanzlik said, "and we will certainly listen."

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