District 158, teachers union in mediation over contract
Huntley Community School District 158 officials are in mediation with the teacher's union on a new contract.
The Huntley Education Association sought mediation June 15 after little progress was made in negotiation sessions with the school board over the summer. Another mediation session is scheduled Aug. 26, coinciding with the first day of classes.
District officials are optimistic there will be no disruption of school. Teachers went on strike for two days in 2008, and were poised to go on strike again during contentious contract negotiations in 2012.
"We remain hopeful that we will reach a resolution soon," said Michael Fleck, school board vice president and chief negotiator. "There were a lot of issues that the teachers brought (up) as compared to the current contract. We really weren't able to get any solid agreement on many of them."
The union represents roughly 700 teachers. Several attempts to reach a spokeswoman were unsuccessful.
In the contract that expired June 30, teachers received yearly step increases of 3.5 percent for each of the three years of the contract, and teachers off the salary schedule received a 2 percent yearly increase over the previous year's base salary. Among the issues being negotiated this time are base pay, health insurance, and obtaining and retaining quality teachers with competitive pay.
"We want to increase the base (salary) to be more competitive and that is being met with some resistance," Fleck said. "There is always the issue of salary structure, but we need to start with the first steps to be able to attract and retain quality teachers."
Fleck said the union raised so many issues that officials weren't able to address any of them in depth.
"The financial packages that were discussed were fairly significant overall increases because there were so many different requests that were brought (forward), many of them having a financial aspect to it," he said.
Fleck said while the school board is willing to offer more financial incentives, the state of education funding has given officials pause.
"We are certainly concerned about the financial health of the state and how that can have an impact on education," he said. "There's a lot of unknowns there, of course. That is going to have an impact on just how far the board can go. Looking at salary alone, there is the opportunity for increases, but there are so many other aspects, such as health insurance, that need to be looked at, as well."
Officials also are looking to curb the length of the contract.
"In such a volatile political climate right now and being as tied to the state's budget as education is, it would be imprudent to try and do too long-term of a contract not knowing what the landscape is going to look like beyond a couple of years," Fleck said. "The right agreement could be a three-year agreement, but given what is being requested it would be very difficult to commit to that. We're committed to high-quality education in District 158 and allocating the funds appropriately to be able to do that, but we need to be realistic."