After 12 hours of negotiations Wednesday, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 leaders are optimistic both sides are "very close" to a contract agreement for support employees who have been on strike since Monday, according to a District 15 representative.
Negotiations will continue at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, spokeswoman Morgan DeLack said in an email Wednesday evening.
"Although it has been difficult, District 15 has continued to keep our doors open and educate children through the ESPA (Educational Support Personnel Association) strike. The absence of many of these valued staff members is felt across the district by our teachers, administrators, parents and especially our students," DeLack said. "We all hope for an amicable resolution soon."
Union officials representing striking secretaries and other support employees said earlier in the day they made two offers Wednesday to immediately end the walkout, but both were rejected by the district.
In a news release late Wednesday afternoon, Illinois Education Association spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said the union offers involved binding third-party arbitration and public negotiations. The release said the union also offered binding arbitration before the strike began.
"We are disappointed the board did not accept our offer for third-party binding arbitration, because the strike could have been over today," Shanahan said late Wednesday night. "Our members want nothing more than to be with their students and be back in their classrooms and schools. Even still, we did make progress, and we're looking forward to Sunday."
A federal mediator is overseeing the negotiations between the district and the Educational Support Personnel Association union, which is affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.
In a document released by the district highlighting areas of agreement and unresolved points, pay remains an issue. District 15 is offering a five-year contract with a 1.85 percent increase in each of the first two years, and 1.85 percent to 2.25 percent annually for the three-year balance to coincide with the applicable tax cap.
While the union seeks a 2.5 percent annual wage hike in each year of a five-year deal, Shanahan said it would not amount to much -- 10 to 25 cents more an hour -- for the lower-paid workers.
The 168 striking nurses and special education classroom aides were expected back at work Wednesday after a Cook County judge issued an order Tuesday prohibiting them from being on strike.
Judge Neil Cohen ruled in favor of a district complaint that sought injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order to prohibit the "essential" workers from striking.
Cohen's order meant 286 employees of the original 454 were allowed to continue the strike.
Still on strike are secretaries, sign language interpreters, clerical workers and other employees.
Shanahan, who accompanied the strikers to a rally earlier in the day, said the employees who returned to work wore armbands in solidarity with their colleagues still off the job. She said union attorneys plan to fight Cohen's order.
"We are all here and we are all together and we are fighting for those people who were forced back to work, too, because we don't think that's right and we think they legally have a right to be out here," Shanahan said.
Superintendent Scott Thompson said the legal maneuver was about keeping students safe in school.
Deputy Superintendent Matthew Barbini said officials were optimistic about reaching a settlement when they headed into Wednesday's negotiations.
"We have every intention to continue bargaining in good faith and arriving at an agreement that's amenable to all parties," Barbini said.
The support employees have been without a contract since July 1. Negotiations on a new deal began in February.
Under the previous contract, District 15's wage scale had support employees starting at $11.30 an hour and going up to $37.76 per hour, depending on the job and years of employment.
Schools remain open for the district's roughly 12,800 students, in part because the teachers' contract doesn't allow them to honor the support employees' picket lines. The teachers union made a controversial 10-year deal with the district in 2016.