West Chicago Dist. 94 to resume teacher contract talks with mediator
Bargaining teams for West Chicago High School District 94 and its teachers union were scheduled to resume talks with a federal mediator Monday night as the two sides try to end a standoff in their long-running contract dispute.
The school board was expected to offer a new contract proposal when negotiators held their second mediation session since early November. Two more meetings with the mediator tentatively are scheduled for Dec. 13 and Dec. 20.
The school board and the West Chicago Teachers Association, the union that represents 141 district employees, began discussions in April 2016, but salaries and health benefits have remained major sticking points.
The two sides agreed in October to ask a federal agency to assign a mediator to the talks.
"I'm hopeful they're becoming more focused with the mediator present, that he can help direct us all toward something that's going to be agreeable to both sides," school board President Gary Saake said Monday morning.
Teachers have been working under the terms of their old contract since it expired Aug. 13. Union President Brad Larson did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday.
Saake said the board's new proposal will offer annual pay raises, but he would not disclose any additional terms.
"We've still got a considerable gap to close. I always remain optimistic," he said. "Nothing is insurmountable. We just need to have both sides understanding what's possible and what's not."
During a September school board meeting, Saake read a lengthy statement that revealed divisions over proposed salaries for teachers.
Saake said the union's most recent proposal called for a six-year contract giving teachers a nearly 30 percent average increase in compensation, including benefits, in the first year of the deal.
The union's proposal also would have the district pick up the full employee portion of their retirement contributions, double extracurricular stipend pay and reimburse no less than 75 percent of the total tuition costs for educators pursuing their first master's degree.
In September, Saake said the board had offered a three-year contract with annual salary increases tied to the Consumer Price Index as opposed to fixed percentages; increases in total compensation, including salary, retirement contributions, health insurance and other benefits; and flexibility in the use of faculty time during the school day.