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updated: 11/7/2012 3:03 PM

'Small steps' in West Chicago District 33 contract talks

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Teachers are growing increasingly uneasy about the slow pace of contract talks in West Chicago Elementary District 33, the union's chief negotiator said.

But school board President Christine Scheck said she's still optimistic about reaching an agreement with the Elementary Teachers Association of West Chicago.

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"It's slow but we're talking and to me that's such a plus," Scheck said Tuesday evening. "We're having some good conversations and there's a willingness to talk."

The two sides have been at the bargaining table for more than a year and met Monday with a federal mediator for the third time since September without reaching agreement on several significant issues, including pay and benefits. Two more mediation sessions are scheduled, one shortly after Thanksgiving and the other in the first week of December.

Union negotiator Mary Catherine Kosmach said the two sides have been "making small steps," but her membership is growing concerned. "Teachers have been working for 2 months without a contract," she said.

The most recent pact for the district's 284 teachers, a four-year contract, expired Aug. 30. Negotiators for both sides said they were "very far apart" in September when they called for the federal mediator.

The district serves roughly 4,000 students at six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool that meets at two locations.

Kosmach said neither side has set deadlines to reach an agreement. "We want to be fair to our teachers and fair to our community," she said.

She said teachers continue to focus on improving student learning, preparing for parent-teacher conferences and reaching out to the community, including collecting clothes for those displaced by a Sunday fire that swept through a 24-unit apartment complex in West Chicago.

As both sides gear up for the next round of talks, teachers remain cautious.

"We're taking it one meeting at a time," Kosmach said.

Scheck, meanwhile, said she's convinced the two sides can find common ground.

"I know the holidays are tough," she said, "but if we need to meet on weekends and over the holiday break, I think we need to do it. This is important to the community."

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