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updated: 3/22/2013 11:48 AM

District 94 support staff 'optimistic' for contract

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Negotiating teams from the West Chicago High School District 94 school board and its support staff union are heading into a Saturday meeting with hopes of reaching a new contract.

School board spokesman Tony Molinaro said the sides plan to focus on wages and health insurance -- the two most significant sticking points in negotiations that began in February 2012.

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"We're hoping there will be some movement on their side," Molinaro said.

Monica Piszczek, Support Staff Association spokeswoman, said she is "pretty optimistic" an agreement can be reached Saturday once the two sides begin meeting at 1 p.m.

"We will be talking about some changes that we've made and the board will notice some movement on our part," Piszczek said. "I'm optimistic. I believe the board is going to come in pretty open-minded as well, since this has gone on a long time."

Support Staff Association employees, including administrative assistants, deans' assistants, personal care and program assistants, clerks, custodians and maintenance workers, have been without a contract since July 1, 2012. The union declared an impasse in negotiations more than three weeks ago and final offers from both sides are available at d94.org.

The board issued a statement Wednesday outlining its focus for the negotiation session and explaining its salary and health insurance proposals through the example of a program assistant who makes $30,000 a year.

"Since the final offer is public now on our website and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board site, we felt it's time to start talking about the details about it and being a little more transparent to the public," Molinaro said.

The board proposes total salary increases of 7.25 percent over three years for the majority of union members, or 7.25 percent in total bonus money instead of raises for employees at the top of the wage scale.

Piszczek said about 30 veteran employees would be offered bonuses instead of raises to their base pay, but the union is calling for the raises to be given equally to all members.

"It looks good on paper that they're going to give everyone the same increase," Piszczek said. "But when they say bonus, the increase would not compound from year to year."

In the case of a sample program assistant making $30,000, the raises offered would amount to a $30,750 salary this school year, $31,596 next year and $32,227 in 2013-14, according to district figures.

The board's health insurance proposal includes the same cost splits as offered to teachers and administrators. Employees would pay 15 percent of the cost of three insurance plans, 20 percent of a fourth and 30 percent of the fifth and most costly.

The board also is offering an incentive of $500 to employees who switch from a no-deductible health plan to any of the other four options available during the first open enrollment period after a new contract is approved.

Piszczek said the union would prefer some level of incentive be offered each year of the contract to give employees more time to consider changing their coverage.

Hanging over contract negotiations is what Piszczek called the board's "threat of outsourcing custodians."

Molinaro said the board held public discussions at a meeting about a month ago directing its business manager to study outside sources for custodial and maintenance service, but no threats were made.

Piszczek said the Support Staff Association wants to reach a new agreement sooner rather than later so none of its members will be put in jeopardy.

The earliest the district could begin seeking proposals from private custodial companies is April 2, but Kim Chambers, assistant superintendent of administrative services, said the district will not be sending out any such request at that point.

A federal mediator has been assisting with negotiations since November and will be on hand Saturday to help the board and union seek consensus on salaries, health insurance, retirement incentives and any other remaining issues.

"We're willing to keep going through that process," Molinaro said.

Saturday's negotiation session comes as 2,125 students at West Chicago Community High School are beginning their spring break, scheduled for March 25 through 29.

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