Getting people together to negotiate a teachers contract in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23 has been more difficult than expected, a situation that has frustrated both sides, district and union leaders say.
District 23's teachers are at the midway point of a four-year contract. The deal, approved when the district's financial picture was uncertain, called for the compensation portion of the contract to be renegotiated at the two-year mark.
Those negotiations are proceeding with the help of a federal mediator, but the talks haven't gone as quickly as everyone had hoped. One of the big reasons for that was the recent shutdown of the federal government, officials said.
"It's a struggle," Superintendent Deb Wilson said. "The shutdown delayed things. We've gotten one session in, and we hope to lock down two more dates in January. It's frustrating, because we want to get moving on this."
Dan Perillo, spokesman for the Prospect Heights Education Association, the local union, said that the delays have had an effect on teachers' morale.
"We want to negotiate, and we'll always be ready to do so in good faith," he said. "But it's been hard getting things scheduled. And our teachers are continuing to work under the terms of a deal that's two years old, so that's taken a toll."
A group of District 23 teachers attended Wednesday's school board meeting to affirm their desire for a fair contract. Perillo stressed that teachers understand that the shutdown-related delays are beyond the district's control.
"We're not blaming anyone at the district for that," he said. "But we wanted to remind them that we're ready to negotiate and we expect them to be, too."
Meanwhile, contract negotiations are also under way in nearby Mount Prospect Elementary District 57. A federal mediator has been enlisted there, too. One bargaining session has taken place, and union members expect at least one more to occur before winter break.
District 57 teachers' last contract expired at the end of June. Carolyn Story, spokeswoman for the Mount Prospect Education Association, said teachers are discouraged to be without a deal but continue to work as hard as ever.
"Teachers would like to have a fair contract as soon as possible," she said via email.
School board President Karen Nejdl, in a statement posted on the District 57 website, said the district also wants a fair deal, one that benefits the district's teachers, students and taxpayers.