Frustration mounts in West Chicago high school teacher contract talks

  • Tensions are mounting in West Chicago High School District 94, where teacher contract talks have bogged down.

      Tensions are mounting in West Chicago High School District 94, where teacher contract talks have bogged down. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/31/2017 5:14 PM

Negotiators for the West Chicago Community High School school board and teachers union plan to return to the bargaining table Sept. 13 amid growing frustration with the slow progress of contract talks.

The two sides have remained locked in negotiations for more than a year, unable to come to an agreement after nearly three dozen formal bargaining sessions and subcommittee meetings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The district has made its second contract offer and now awaits the union's response, said school board President Gary Saake, who declined to discuss the proposed terms.

Meanwhile, tensions are running high as the talks drag on.

Earlier this week, the West Chicago High School Teachers Association, the union representing 141 employees, released a lengthy statement on social media indicating negotiators have made "no tangible progress" and members have reached a "tipping point."

"We have reached no tentative agreements on any topic," union President Brad Larson said Thursday.

Association members also have voted to suspend volunteer sponsorship and coaching of student organizations and teams pending an agreement between the two sides. The union identified 18 such clubs, but five had no sponsor and were not meeting, Superintendent Doug Domeracki said in an email.

Larson, an English teacher at the high school, said there's been no movement in recent years toward adding new student organizations to a list of paid extracurricular positions.

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"We hope the action we have taken creates new opportunities for communication among all stakeholders about the kind of school our students and residents deserve and want to have for the future," the association's statement read.

The union gave no official notification to the high school about the move that is set to take effect Sept. 5, Saake said. The district is working to find new sponsors within the school or through parent volunteers in the interim.

"It's our intention for these clubs to continue," Saake said.

The main unresolved issues involve "teacher compensation, teacher benefits and teacher and student working conditions," Larson said.

"Unfortunately, we believe things may become more difficult before the situation improves," the association's statement reads. "We did not set out to create such a situation, and we will make every effort to avoid disruption and conflict going forward. This, however, is largely dependent upon the decisions made by the Board of Education."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The union also aired concerns about the board's contract proposals.

"The board seems willing to run the risk of being unable to attract high-quality teachers and to accept a situation in which newly hired teachers stay in the district for only a few years -- just long enough to get the experience necessary to move on to surrounding districts with better compensation and working conditions," the statement reads.

School board members are expected to deliver a brief response during a meeting Sept. 19 at the high school. But Saake said the board "vehemently" disagrees with the union's claims.

He said the district has "had excellent response rates" to open teacher positions. As for the reasons educators give for leaving the district, Saake said, "it's almost never due to pay," but rather family considerations.

"We're not getting that feedback that people are leaving because of compensation issues," he said.

Saake also said he was "kind of mystified" by the union's vote to suspend club sponsorships.

"We don't think it helps get us any closer to an agreement," Saake said.

A one-year contract extension on an original three-year pact expired Aug. 13 -- three days before students began classes.

A teacher at the top of the pay scale this year received a $94,919 base salary. A beginning teacher received $42,932.

The high school enrolls about 2,100 students from Carol Stream, West Chicago and Winfield.

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