West Chicago Dist. 33 board: Little progress in talks
Hours of negotiations Thursday and Friday failed to end a bitter contract dispute in West Chicago Elementary District 33, where a possible teachers strike still looms.
Though teachers legally could strike as early as Monday, Jan. 7, when students are scheduled to return from winter break, no such strike will occur before both sides next meet on Wednesday, Jan. 9.
Students' schedules are expected to be normal at least through Thursday, Jan. 10, officials said.
In a statement released late Friday, school board President Chris Scheck said: "From the board's perspective, little or no progress was made in resolving major financial differences between the teams. Nonetheless we will continue to work toward a positive resolution."
Wednesday is also when the teachers union will next meet with its 284 members, chief union negotiator Mary Catherine Kosmach said.
The two sides were at the bargaining table for roughly 15 months before talks broke down Dec. 3 and the board declared an impasse.
Since then, both sides released their final offers on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board website in mid-December and the board held a town-hall meeting to present its side of the talks.
The union filed an intent to strike notice before the holidays.
Talks resumed Thursday and continued Friday for four hours each day as the two sides sought agreement on several key issues, including salaries, benefits, class sizes, teacher workdays and especially health care.
School board member Dave Barclay last month said the difference in cost to the district between the two "final" offers is roughly $3.5 million over the life of the proposed three-year contract.
The two sides also are negotiating so-called step raises for teachers who have spent 12 or fewer years in the district.
Before talks resumed this week, the school board's final offer sought to extend the current step increase schedule from 12 to 23 years, reducing the amount of automatic pay increases from 4.5 percent to 2.25 percent for each of the next three years.
The board also was proposing a 0.75 percent increase to the base salary in each of the next three years for teachers on the schedule -- representing a total 3 percent annual raise for each year of the pact.
Additionally, the board was offering a new longevity increase for veteran teachers off the salary schedule, with a 2 percent raise this year, and a 1 percent raise in each of the following two years. Nearly half the District 33 teachers are veterans who have been with the district longer than 12 years.
The union, meanwhile, was offering to expand the step schedule to 18 years and reduce the automatic pay increases to an average of 3.6 percent a year. The union also proposed a 1.25 percent increase to base salaries in each of the next three years for all teachers.
As a result, roughly half the district's teachers would receive 4.85 percent annual raises.
Health care also was an issue, with the district seeking to cap the amount it pays for its share of employee insurance premiums. The teachers opposed such a cap.
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 Barclay said most employees opt for it.
Due to District 33's contract with its teachers, the board cannot change its health care offerings, including raising co-pays or changing carriers, without negotiating.
The board entered the latest round of talks 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.
Kosmach, a fifth-grade teacher who has been with the district since 1979, said premium costs already are slated to go up 6 percent and the union estimates the proposed cap would create roughly $300 more in monthly insurance payments for an average teacher.
District 33 serves roughly 4,000 students at six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool that meets at two locations.
The district already has said it will provide some services in the event of a strike.
On its website, wego33.org, district officials said Gary Elementary, 130 E. Forest Ave., would remain open during a strike to serve students in first through fifth grade. Gary would be staffed by administration, teacher's aides, paraprofessionals, and nonprofit workers.
The district also may keep a second school open, but no location was named.
Registration for district services would be required and officials said they would provide guidelines via the district's emergency phone notification system, email, regular mail and online.
Preschool and kindergarten students, as well as students in sixth through eighth grade, would not be offered the program.
To keep those students engaged, the West Chicago Park District and West Chicago Public Library announced they will offer programs during school hours in the event of a strike.