How a 'surreal' 90 hours led to a deal in District 211 teacher talks
At last Thursday night's crowded and rancorous Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 board of education meeting, the chances of avoiding a teachers strike seemed slim, with neither side voicing a hint of concession to end their deadlock in contract negotiations.
But immediately after school Monday, nearly 90 percent of teachers union members voted in favor of an agreement to avert a strike Tuesday morning.
The deal came together through talks over the weekend and into Monday morning between Superintendent Dan Cates and Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211 President John Braglia.
Though many details of the four-year contract won't be released until they're finalized in January, Braglia Wednesday described a "surreal" 90-hour process involving face-to-face meetings, emails and phone calls leading up to Monday's union vote.
District officials released a statement Tuesday describing the weekend's efforts only in the broadest terms.
"The negotiating teams worked diligently and for long hours over the weekend to reach an agreement," the statement reads. "The district declines to comment at this time until the board of education approves the tentative agreement."
Braglia said the work he and Cates put in certainly had something to do with the agreement but that negotiations often come down to pressure and leverage on both sides. With both sides hoping to avoid a strike, these factors were bound to be different days before a potential walkout than they were a month earlier, he said.
A key compromise came when the district agreed to hire more counselors in exchange for the union lowering its demand for higher raises, Braglia said. That agreement will lower counselors' workload from a maximum of 350 students to 280, allowing more individual attention, he said.
"We'd give up some of those raises we were looking for to offset the last four years," Braglia said.
Other compromises included the district increasing the overall benefits package for teacher assistants and the compensation of department chairs, while the union agreed to cooperate with the outsourcing of drivers ed instruction as a cost-saving measure, Braglia said.
Though he welcomed the idea at the outset, Braglia now says it might have been detrimental to have a school board member sitting in on contract talks. The board member, Anna Klimkowicz, was not in the weekend talks between Braglia and Cates.
Braglia said that's not a criticism of Klimkowicz, but he believes a board member's presence got in the way of the productive rapport between him and Cates.
"It seemed to me (the board members) wouldn't allow (Cates) to do what they hired him to do and utilize the relationship he and I had had for 10 years," he said.
Braglia also drew attention to the fact that the next contract of the district's support-staff union has been delayed. The district and its schools cannot operate without clerical and food-service staff, and the teachers union intends to stand by them and see their contract approved simultaneously, Braglia said.
"We're in this together," he said. "We will not leave them alone."