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Article updated: 1/11/2013 8:44 AM

West Chicago school board sets deadline in teacher contract talks

W. Chicago district would execute its last offer if no new deal by Feb. 21

By Marie Wilson

The West Chicago District 33 school board announced Thursday night it intends to implement its last contract offer to the teachers union if the two sides cannot come to agreement before the board's Feb. 21 meeting.

Board President Chris Scheck said the board will provide official notice to the teachers union of the board's intent to implement its offer unless resolution is reached within six weeks.

"We are more than willing to continue to meet" before then, Scheck said.

The union's chief negotiator, Mary Catherine Kosmach, said Thursday the board's unwillingness to compromise is preventing talks from accomplishing a solution on the divisive issue of health insurance and progressing to other topics such as class size and teacher appraisals.

The board's announcement of the Feb. 21 deadline came at a meeting packed with more than 50 teachers, many of whom could not fit in the board room and listened in from a separate floor of the John E. Hennig Educational Service Center. The meeting also brought the announcement that board member John Haffner, who has been part of the board's negotiating team, is resigning.

Twenty-three teachers wearing blue shirts and buttons that read "ETAWC," for the Elementary Teachers Association of West Chicago, spoke, saying the union truly represents the views of all teachers. Those who spoke began their comments saying "I am ETAWC," then reminded the board of work they do after school helping with extracurricular activities, literacy events and fundraisers.

Union members said they have taken students on weekend field trips on their own time, made donations to the district's educational foundation and started new clubs -- efforts they want recognized with a fair contract.

"Every new year, I purchase gym shoes so our students can participate in gym class," said physical education teacher Denise Kazar.

Teachers said they agree with the stance of their union, which is seeking to contribute the same amount toward health insurance premiums -- 30 percent -- as do district administrators who choose certain plans.

"I stand behind those teachers that have been part of the negotiating team," art teacher Linda Fallon said.

During hours of negotiations Wednesday as well as Jan. 3 and 4, the sides focused on health insurance but did not come to a consensus.

The board said its latest health care proposal offered to delay changes and eliminate a cap on premium payments that teachers have opposed.

Kosmach said the offer would have required teachers who choose coverage above the cheapest plan to contribute more. She said the union wants its health insurance costs to be handled the same way as administrators' contributions, especially because administrators receive perks the union is not seeking, such as a cellphone allowance and funding for professional membership dues.

According to an administrator salary and benefits fact sheet for 2012-13, the board covers administrators' contributions to the Teachers' Retirement System, saving them 9.4 percent of their salary, while Kosmach said teachers must pay the 9.4 percent from their paychecks.

Board members have said they are unable to increase the cost of the three-year contract they are offering the union's 284 teachers because of economic conditions.

"We want to do what's best by our workforce and our students, and that's a balanced budget going forward," board member Sue Stibal said.

Board Secretary Dave Barclay said negotiating troubles may be a result of the union's apparent lack of trust in the board.

"The negotiating team will not discuss proposals that are within our affordability," he said.

After hearing from the 23 teachers, Scheck thanked them and said the board values and recognizes their work.

The union plans to meet with its membership after school Wednesday to discuss its next move, but no more negotiating sessions were planned as of late Thursday. A walkout still is possible because the union filed an intent to strike notice last month.

Deadline: Walkout possible as intent to strike notice has been filed

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