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Article updated: 12/26/2012 5:02 PM

Dist. 33 teachers, board heading back to bargaining table

By Christopher Placek

Negotiating teams in West Chicago Elementary District 33 are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Jan. 3 and 4 -- just days before teachers legally will be allowed to strike.

The school board and teachers union both have agreed to resume talks with a federal mediator as the threat of a job action looms. The two sides last met Dec. 3.

The teachers union served the district with its intent to strike notice on Dec. 21, which sets in motion a 10-day notice period for a possible job action as early as Jan. 7 -- the first day students are scheduled to return to school from a two-week winter break.

But Mary Catherine Kosmach, the union's chief negotiator, said if a strike does occur, it won't be until after a scheduled Jan. 9 meeting with all 284 members of the teachers association.

She said she's hoping to be able to share "good news" with the teachers following the Jan. 3 and 4 negotiating sessions.

"We want to reach a fair agreement so we can continue to meet the needs of our students," Kosmach said. "We're there to work. We're going to the table to negotiate in good faith and get an agreement."

In an earlier news release, Kosmach said the board's Dec. 3 declaration of an impasse in contract talks "made a difficult situation even more divisive, and for the first time made a strike a real possibility," though the union's goal is to come to agreement with the board.

The union offered Jan. 3 and 4 as possible meeting dates, which were agreed upon by the board's negotiating team, school board President Chris Scheck said.

"We're hoping that both sides can make some progress and get this settled," Scheck said.

The school board had offered a total of six dates over the holiday break for possible negotiations, but union officials said they didn't want to meet until after Jan. 1 to allow their members the opportunity to travel out of state to visit family for the holidays.

Kosmach said the request was only fair since both sides have been locked in negotiations since September 2011.

The two sides continue to differ on issues that include health insurance costs, salary and benefits, class sizes and teacher workdays.

Both sides said they would inform parents if and when a strike date is set so they can make necessary preparations.

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