Union representatives and school board members in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 and Huntley Unit District 158 say contract talks are progressing toward resolution and that a teachers strike is avoidable.
In Community Unit District 300, where teachers are working under the conditions of an expired one-year agreement, the board of education and union, LEAD300, have met twice with a mediator to lay out ground rules and expectations, board vice president Joe Stevens said. Negotiations will resume at 6 p.m. Friday.
"I can't say that I feel like anything has really changed yet," Stevens said. "It is just a process we are going through. I assume there will be some movement made on both sides at the next meeting or after that."
LEAD300 communications chairman Mike Williamson said the union had presented a number of issues to the board ranging from class sizes to salaries and insurance to the culture in the district. Williamson said some of the issues have not been discussed in more than a decade.
"We are trying to solve things in the district that have been problematic in the district for a long time for one group or another," Williamson said. "We haven't bargained individual issues for groups like elementary middle or secondary or special education for five or six years now."
As for a strike, both Stevens and Williamson said neither party has considered the idea.
"There is a whole legal process before that kind of thing could happen," Williamson said. "It would require a pretty fundamental stoppage of everything where nothing is occurring and nothing is changing. But none of us feels like we are to that point. We are optimistic about coming to an agreement and that the process can work."
Meanwhile, in District 158, where teachers last went on strike in 2008, the school board and teachers union had reached a tentative agreement on Sept. 5, but the Huntley Education Association membership rejected that contract in a vote on Sept. 10.
"At this time, the Board of Education and the Huntley Education Association are in communication and continue working together in an effort to conclude the negotiation process," a joint news release sent Thursday said.
Union co-president Julie McLaughlin said she could not provide details about the vote.
"There are many points that we want to keep discussing," said McLaughlin, who declined to offer specifics. "The HEA and the district do want to continue working together in reaching an agreement as soon as possible."
The two sides are working on a contract to replace a one-year agreement that expired on June 30. Teachers have been working under the conditions of the expired agreement, which included pay freezes.
Board member Donald Drzal said agreeing on compensation and salary figures has been the most difficult part.
"We all wanted an extended contract," Drzal said. "We had a one-year agreement last year and we are looking to go beyond that. But stretching the terms out into future years is hard because there are a lot more unknowns given economy and the possibility of the state passing the pension burden down to the district. It is hard to address that knowing unknowns are going to exist."
Both parties had requested a mediator but did not use one during the most recent negotiation sessions. Future meeting dates have not been set.