Dist. 33 teachers, board still talking, still disagreeing
Negotiating teams for the West Chicago Elementary District 33 school board and teachers union returned to the bargaining table Tuesday in hopes of ending a strike that entered its second day.
But so far, it appears no deal is in sight.
Hours after a negotiations session with a federal mediator began, key disagreements on salary, health insurance, class sizes and the extended school day remained on the table late Tuesday night, said Mary Catherine Kosmach, the union's chief negotiator.
"If we can't get an agreement that is fair and reasonable for our teachers, then we're going to have to go back on the picket line again," Kosmach said. "That's not where we want to be."
Kosmach said both sides did come to a tentative agreement on language regarding methods for teacher appraisals and reductions in force.
Discussions broke off Sunday between the two sides after more than 16 months at the table, triggering Monday morning's walkout by 284 teachers. Talks resumed at 4 p.m. Tuesday in an effort to reopen classes for nearly 4,000 students at six elementary schools, one junior high and a preschool program that meets at two locations.
But it appeared both sides were standing firm -- at least for now.
"We've always said we need to have an offer that's financially responsible for the district," school board spokesman Dave Barclay said earlier Tuesday. "We've said we've gone as far we can go as to the money we've put on table. We have to work within the parameters of a financially responsible contract."
He said the negotiating team is keeping the rest of the school board informed on the status of discussions and the board is "prepared to make decisions that would help shorten the duration of a strike."
The board met in closed session Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, and additional meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday nights. A regularly scheduled board meeting open to the public is planned for 8 p.m. Thursday.
Teachers remained on the picket lines Tuesday at Gary and Pioneer schools, West Chicago Middle School, and at the highly visible corner of Route 59 and Main Street in downtown West Chicago.
Meanwhile, teachers are trying to solicit the support of parents by asking them to contact school board members and ask them to "treat (the district's) professional teachers in a fair manner," according to a letter to parents posted on the union's website. The letter also appeared as a full-page paid advertisement in Monday's Daily Herald.
The union also is trying to send letters to parents by mail, so it sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the district to obtain names and addresses for all students in the district. That request was made two weeks ago but denied by the district, Kosmach said, until the request was made again, and now the district has agreed to oblige.
Barclay said the district's attorney has told district officials they must comply with the request, unless parents have opted out of the student directory. The district sent an automated phone message to parents Monday night informing them of the union's FOIA request, and a news release Tuesday afternoon that parents must inform the district if they do not want the information released.
The release states parents who decide to opt out must email firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. Wednesday, or fill out a form at their home school anytime between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday.
District officials say they must legally comply with the union's FOIA request by Thursday.
"We felt we have an obligation to tell our parents how their students' info is being shared," Barclay said. "There were a lot of upset parents."
Kosmach said teachers are just trying to even the playing field since the board has sent communications to parents about the negotiations.
"They've used email. They've used letters to homes. They're robocalling. Some of the parents are getting tired of it. We're sending letters to let them know where we're at," Kosmach said.
Many parents, she says, also have requested yard signs from the union that read "Support the Teachers who Support our Children."