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Contract negotiations between the District 65 School Board and the bargaining team for the District Educators Council, the teachers’ union, have become strained. The School Board sent a letter dated June 10 directly to teachers, summarizing the Board’s “final offer” and saying the DEC bargaining team rejected the offer. Keith Terry, a School Board member and a member of the Board’s negotiating team, told the RoundTable the only reason the Board sent the letter to the teachers was because DEC had sent the teachers a letter saying the Board “failed to bring a fair settlement to us. …”

Mr. Terry said, “We presented a fair offer. It’s balanced. It extends the school day, which is something parents requested. It keeps us focused on educating our kids.” He said the Board “stretched its financial resources to make the offer,” and added, “We were willing to do what’s right for the teachers.” He said the Board wanted to put the facts before the teachers.

On June 23 Dorothy Millard, president of DEC, told School Board members at a regularly scheduled Board meeting, “You have jeopardized your relationship with the teachers and with the union leadership” by sending the June 10 letter. She said by sending the letter, the School Board broke “an agreed-upon confidentiality agreement” and “attempted to undermine the authority of our negotiations team.

“We believe that the Board’s motive was to force the [DEC] negotiations team and DEC membership to accept a contract that does not fairly and equitably compensate teachers for the work that we do and keep pace with the rising cost of living,” she added. “This only rallied the teachers and made it apparent to them why the talks have not resulted in a settlement by the end of the school year.”

The Board’s June 10 letter told teachers the Board offered to increase the teacher salary schedule by 3 percent in each of the next four years, and to increase “step” movements an average of 2.7 percent per year in the teacher salary schedule. The letter says that almost 80 percent of all returning teachers next year will move up a step and thus receive, on average, a 5.7 percent increase next year. In addition the letter said teachers may receive pay increases due to “track” movements.

The letter gave two examples: a $63,275 salary (slightly less than the average teacher salary) would increase to over $79,000 over the four-year period, with the negotiated increases. The maximum teacher salary would increase from $88,820 to $99,969 between now and the final year of the contract.

The Board’s letter says the teams reached tentative agreement on all but one issue: “The DEC team rejected the Board’s final offer because it would result in teachers’ contractual daily pupil contact time being increased by a maximum of eleven minutes per day.”

The DEC team sent teachers an e-mail response to the Board’s June 10 letter. DEC characterized the Board’s letter as “incomplete and misleading.” The DEC team says the average pay increase of 5.7 percent in the first year is counterbalanced by a 20-minute, or a 5 percent, increase in the length of the day, “thus resulting in a less than 1 percent increase in salaries for teachers.”

The DEC team also mentioned other issues, among them that the teachers would be expected to pay a greater portion of medical insurance costs, that many teachers would not receive pay increases due to track movements, and that track movements only occur every three years after tenure. The DEC team said their final offer to the Board included two options: one in which additional pupil contact time was reflected in the salary; and one in which there were no changes to the current pupil contact time. The Board rejected both options, DEC said.

Ms. Millard told the School Board on June 23, “Our goal is to bring back a fair and equitable agreement to the teachers.” She added, “Both sides must get back to the table. We’re waiting to hear from you. We have schools to open and children to teach. We must move past the Board’s lack of judgment.”

School Board President Mary Erickson responded, “We feel that we have duties not only to give as much as we can in recognition to teachers but also to keep the District on sound financial and fiscal footing. And that’s what we feel our offer did.” She added, “We would love to move on and get the negotiations moving to a fruitful end so the teachers would have a contract to vote on before the beginning of the school year. …We are 100 percent for moving this process along and coming to a fair and equitable conclusion.”