Teacher contract negotiations moving slowly in Fenton HS District 100
Teacher contract talks are moving slowly in Fenton High School District 100 against a backdrop of growing faculty unrest with the Bensenville district's administration.
The district's three-year contract with the Fenton Education Association expires Aug. 14, and the two sides have made little progress in addressing key issues, including salaries, a union official said.
FEA President Michael Laudermith said representatives of the 112-member association have met with the district's negotiating team about a dozen times since talks began in March.
"It's been difficult to schedule more of them," he said. "We've reached agreements on a few small issues, but not any major agreements yet."
The two sides are scheduled to meet several more times next month, with the next meeting set for July 7.
Laudermith said some union members are disappointed none of the district's seven school board members have a seat at the bargaining table.
But while there are no board members on the negotiating team, Acting Superintendent Gayle Wahlin said they are still "very much involved" and will remain involved until a contract is signed.
"We've exchanged proposals. We've had a very collegial, professional exchange and dialogue," she said. "We feel we are making progress."
Wahlin said she is hopeful the two sides can come to an agreement before the district's 1,500 students return to Fenton this fall.
Laudermith, however, said talks are taking place in the midst of growing teacher dissatisfaction with the new administration. That includes Wahlin, who replaced longtime Superintendent Kathie Pierce when she retired in January, and Principal James Ongtengco, who took over last July when longtime Principal Todd Leden left to serve as superintendent of Kaneland Unit District 302.
Laudermith said a majority of union members expressed concerns with Wahlin and Ongtengco through an informal "climate survey" earlier this year.
"Those of us who have been here a long time, we're just afraid decisions are being made for purely financial reasons," he said.
Laudermith said that includes proposals to eliminate instructional coaches and not to replace several retiring teachers.
He said there also is frustration that Wahlin's contract as interim superintendent calls for her to work only 100 days a year.
"When you're not here every day, I think it's hard to become invested in the welfare of the district the way a regular, full-time superintendent would," he said. "Our current principal, who I think is very well-intentioned, is new to the district. I don't know how well he has thought out the changes."
Laudermith said a federal mediator was called in before the district finalized contracts with its other two unions. He said the union is not at that point yet and it's "really too early to say" if a teacher strike is a possibility.
"The process is still ongoing," he said. "We have more sessions scheduled for July. We're hopeful we can reach more agreements."