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The teachers of District 65 want to let the community know the status of our negotiations with the School Board.  The current four year contract is expiring and, as you may have heard, we ended the 2015/2016 school year without agreement on a new contract.  The Evanston/Skokie community knows that our teachers are professional educators who are dedicated to the children.  Although there is no agreement, throughout the summer, teachers have continued to engage in learning opportunities and prepare for the new school year.  While the teachers know they may not be starting the 2016/2017 school year with a contract, they remain committed to all of our families.

As early as the fall of 2014, the teachers repeatedly offered to begin a collaborative form of bargaining and to begin as soon as possible.  We knew that there were challenges ahead.  It took nine months for us to receive a response to our offers, and those offers were not accepted.  The teachers were confused, because it seemed like there was a lack of interest in partnering with us.

While we tried to get things started earlier, the Board’s team did not begin bargaining with the us until February of 2016.  At that time, teachers first learned that neither the School Board nor the Superintendent had chosen to participate as members of the Board’s bargaining team.  Teachers were unsettled by this decision.  We believe that having all stakeholders present at the bargaining table leads to an efficient bargaining process by allowing for directness of communication and greater transparency. It had always been a helpful District 65 practice.  

While both sides met between February and June, the majority of the time was spent addressing working conditions and non-financials. These types of things can include classroom safety, teacher evaluation, professionalism, and respect.  We consider these items to be vital, since the teachers’ working conditions are the learning conditions of the children.  Progress has been extremely slow, and many of these issues have yet to be resolved. We have only touched upon economic issues.

In May, it was apparent to the teachers that we still had a long way to go, and we requested the assistance of a federal mediator. We believed that this was something that could have and should have been helpful in moving things forward.  At that time, such a request needed to be done jointly, but the Board’s team did not agree to it. After two informal meetings over the summer, we once again requested a mediator and once again the Board’s team rejected our request.

It should be noted that teachers found it hopeful when the School Board included a thriving workforce goal in the District 65 Strategic Plan. That goal says that the District wants to “foster a collaborative, creative and inclusive workplace that attracts, develops, and actively supports the best talent.” Teachers believe that this is something that can be achieved when actions match words.  As the plan states, “a thriving workforce is at the heart of this strategic plan.  Without a skilled and knowledgeable workforce, we cannot successfully implement any of the strategies we have developed.”  

We conducted several surveys of our teachers during the 2015/2016 school year and know that they are eager to work in an environment that respects them as professionals, values them as educators, and creates a school district where they want to stay and build their careers. As indicated in the strategic plan, “Collaboration and trust between employees are highly correlated with improved outcomes for students (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Bryk et al., 2010).” A stable workforce of teachers can better build relationships and connect with students and families. We believe that crafting a fair and equitable contract in a timely manner would help to advance the thriving workforce goal – that a thriving workforce leads to thriving children.

So while we would prefer to be sharing information about a complete settlement of the issues, that is just not possible right now. As we indicated, some informal sharing of information and discussions have occurred over the summer.  There are formal negotiation sessions already scheduled for three consecutive days in August.  These will occur prior to the start of the new school year.  

The District 65 Educators’ Council, an organization comprised of nearly 700 pre K-8 teachers, remains optimistic that future talks will be productive and that they will lead, sooner rather than later, to an agreement. Our goal is as it has always been – to complete a fair agreement that maintains and supports high-quality classrooms that best serve the children while attracting and retaining outstanding educators.

We know that our community honors and values the education of all children. Teachers feel your support, and we see it in the 2015 Illinois 5-Essentials Survey.  The survey shows that all of our K-8 schools are at or above the Illinois average for Teacher-Parent Trust.  We are humbled by that support and thankful for your patience.