As Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and the more than 800 members of its teachers union gear up for next year's contract negotiations, both sides say it will be a difficult year, but neither is expecting a strike.
With the current five-year contract set to expire in June, the two sides are forming their teams to begin negotiations in January.
They hope to have a tentative agreement in place by mid April, said district spokeswoman Venetia Miles. Within 90 days of reaching an agreement, the new contract will need to be approved by a majority of the District 214 Education Association's members as well as the school board.
The district's team will be made up of administrators and building level officials, while the union's team will be volunteer members of the education association.
The education association is one of the few independent teachers unions remaining in the state. Without an affiliation with larger groups like the Illinois Federation of Teachers or the Illinois Education Association, the District 214 union doesn't have the lawyers or money behind its efforts. Both sides said the relationship works for them for now.
"It's been beneficial to both sides," Miles said. "It seems to work for us. We're very pleased with the relationship we've developed with our teachers.
"The administration has a very positive relationship with the presidents of all of our associations," she added. "Because we're so collaborative, we solve problems as they come up so they don't have an opportunity to grow."
While there are pros to working directly with the union, there are benefits to working with a larger organization, according to the IEA.
"Our members enjoy being part of something that's bigger than themselves and extends beyond their building or their own school district," said Charlie McBarron, IEA director of communications.
The IEA offers members access to professional development, legal assistance and professional negotiators during contract talks, McBarron said. He estimated that the number of Illinois districts with completely independent unions like District 214 is in the single digits.
With negotiations starting soon after the new year, there already are subcommittees working in several areas to discuss various issues and see what agreements can get worked out before formal talks begin.
Miles said she couldn't yet comment on what issues would be sticking points between the two sides, but Association President Jim Arey said everything is on the table.
"I wouldn't say it's an easy year," Miles said. "But both sides recognize that the ultimate goal is for us to provide the best education for our kids and the best environment, and neither team loses sight of that goal."
The sticking point likely won't be about money, Arey said. According to a Daily Herald story in 2012, the average teacher in District 214 earns $99,570.
Arey said unions have been vilified that they just want more money and more things, but said that at the end of the day it is always about the students.
"With state cutbacks on the budget you have pressure on the district to provide the same kind of services without increasing the budget," Arey said.
"If you are trying to do business at the same rate, things are going to have to be cut and those cuts impact working conditions."
Issues such as job descriptions, benefits and insurance, intellectual property rights over curriculum teachers create, support staff, professional development and hours will all be topics of discussion this year, Arey said.
"Teachers don't work 185 days, we're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Arey said, adding that with technology teachers are expected to be on the clock many more hours than in the past.
Another issue could be the length of the contract. The current deal is a five-year agreement, but Arey said a shorter term may be discussed because of the many changes in education right now.
Miles said there has never been a strike in District 214 and she doesn't expect one during the upcoming labor talks.
"I don't think a strike benefits anybody and if you are going to strike it needs to be something that benefits not only your members but the entire community," Arey agreed. He said that unless there was a drastic situation, there won't be a strike.
"I believe we can get this thing done," he said. "Part of this is going to be trust."
District 214 educates about 12,000 students at Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove, Hersey, Prospect, Rolling Meadows and Wheeling high schools.