Dist. 33 board, teachers make final offers before possible strike
It's no secret teachers and school board members in West Chicago Elementary District 33 remain far apart in contract talks that have ground to a halt after roughly 15 months at the bargaining table.
But on Monday the size of the chasm, particularly over issues involving salary and benefits, became public for the first time when the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board published the details of each side's best and final offer on its website.
Teachers in the district are seeking 4.85 percent raises for each of the next three years, including so-called step increases that reward seniority, according to details released Monday. In each of the past two years, teachers have received 6.25 percent raises.
The school board is offering 3.25 percent raises in each year of the proposed three-year pact.
The board also is looking to extend the step increase schedule from 12 to 23 years, reducing the amount of automatic pay increases from 4.5 percent a year to 2.5 percent. The union, however, is offering to expand the schedule to 18 years and reduce the automatic step increases to an average 3.6 percent a year.
The board earlier this month declared an impasse in the talks, sparking the process that led to the release of both offers. The teachers union, meanwhile, filed an intent to strike notice last week and suggested a walkout could come as early as Jan. 7.
Salaries and health care benefits remain top sticking points.
Both sides say they're willing to return to the bargaining table, but they haven't met since Dec. 3.
The school board will host a town-hall meeting Wednesday to discuss its offer with residents and answer questions. The session is scheduled for 7 p.m. at West Chicago Middle School, 238 E. Hazel St.
The board will meet with district employees at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the same location.
In addition to salary, the two sides remain far apart on health care issues. The district wants to place a cap on the amount it will pay for its share of employee insurance premiums and the teachers oppose it.
The district currently pays 80 percent of premiums for single or family coverage with no cap.
The most expensive plan District 33 offers is a Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO that costs the district $15,000 per employee, and school board member Dave Barclay said most employees opt for it.
Due to District 33's contract with its teachers, the board cannot change any parameters of its health care offerings, including raising co-pays or changing carriers, without negotiating.
Barclay said the board has tried negotiating with the union's insurance committee for three years but could not reach an agreement.
"Since we can't change anything, we have to keep costs down," Barclay said.
Now, the board is offering to pay 80 percent of the premium up to $12,500 this year; $12,875 next school year; and $13,261 in 2014-15.
"They would have to pick up more of the premium if they wanted to stay with the most expensive plan," Barclay said.
Chief union negotiator Mary Catherine Kosmach, a fifth-grade teacher who has been with the district since 1979, said the caps are unacceptable. She said premium costs already are slated to go up 6 percent, and the union estimates the cap will create roughly $300 more in monthly insurance payments for an average teacher.
"That's a lot of money. and you're going to get what raise?" Kosmach said "They settled with our custodians two weeks ago on a three-year contract that didn't come up until July 1, 2013. They didn't touch the insurance and now the only group that would be paying for insurance via a cap are the teachers."
Other unresolved issues include class sizes, teacher workloads and the length of teacher work days.
School board members said the district faces "major financial difficulties" due primarily to the state's fiscal crisis and declining property tax revenues. They said the district has cut programs over the past three years but still faces ongoing deficits that have consumed its reserves.
The district's deficit was more than $1.4 million over the past two years and the projected deficit for next year is more than $3 million, officials said.
Kosmach said the school board is not showing a willingness to compromise and is making proposals that undervalue its 284 teachers.
Both sides say they want to return to the bargaining table. The school board sent a series of proposed dates for negotiations over the district's winter break to the teachers union, and Kosmach said she will review them this week.
The district serves roughly 4,000 students.