Negotiators for West Chicago High School District 94 and its teachers union are no closer to resolving a contract stalemate as the two sides head back to the bargaining table next week for the second time this month.
The school board presented its latest offer -- a three-year deal -- during a session with a federal mediator Nov. 27. Talks with the West Chicago Teachers Association, the union that represents 141 district employees, have dragged on for more than a year, with bargaining teams still deadlocked over salaries and health benefits.
"We don't believe that we are close to a settlement at this point," union President Brad Larson said Tuesday. "The movement the board made at the last bargaining meeting did not bring us close to a settlement."
Larson said there's room for movement on both sides but expressed concerns that the board's proposed compensation would create a "revolving door" of young teachers who stay at the high school for a few years before moving to a district that pays more.
Union members are preparing to make a counterproposal when negotiators hold a mediation session Dec. 13. Another meeting with the mediator tentatively is scheduled for Dec. 20.
"What we're looking for is a way to make sure that whatever the compensation basis is, the teachers who work at West Chicago are able to maintain their earning power and that we are able to put together a salary structure that would allow the district to hire and retain high-quality teachers over the long term," Larson said.
Larson called the board's three-year offer a "fairly short-term contract" that would be retroactive to the start of this school year. Teachers have been working under the terms of their old contract since it expired Aug. 13.
"Their purchasing power would either stay the same or would be reduced by the board's proposal," Larson said of existing teachers.
Larson said the union would prefer a four- to five-year contract to give both sides relief from lengthy negotiations.
"This is not healthy for the process and not healthy for the district in our view to be consistently trying to bargain and settle a contract," Larson said.
School board President Gary Saake said last week the board's latest proposal provides annual pay raises, but he would not disclose additional terms.
"We're definitely trying to be competitive here, and we do want to make sure we hire and retain our staff, but at the same time we have to work within a budget," Saake said Tuesday.
The two sides agreed in October to ask a federal agency to assign a mediator to the talks.