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Without tipping their hands about the issues remaining between them, Superintendent Paul Goren, Board President Candance Chow and District Educators Council (DEC) representative Jean Luft spoke at the Aug. 15 Finance Committee meeting. The current four-year agreement between the District and DEC, the teachers’ union, expires on Aug. 23, and a new contract has not been reached.
“I want to take this opportunity to assure our families and community that school will start on time,” Ms. Chow said. “Our teachers, support staff, and administrators are excited to welcome our children back for the new school year on Aug. 24. I know our entire team – teachers, administrators, and staff – have worked very hard planning this summer, and we are all looking forward to an excellent school year.”
Saying she was addressing concerns about the role of the School Board and the Superintendent in the bargaining process, Ms. Chow expanded on information she told the RoundTable last week: “At the onset of negotiations, we decided to follow common practice used by many school districts to appoint a bargaining team and to work closely with these team members throughout the process. Representing the School Board is a team of senior executive administrators and two of our school principals. Dr. Goren continues to be at the bargaining table and lead planning efforts, and members of this Board have been actively involved from the start. …
“I am confident that [in this set of negotiations] there is a greater sense of transparency and strategic involvement by the full Board. … As a Board, we very much support District 65 teachers … and we are committed to reaching a fair agreement that honors the hard work of our teachers and is financially sound.”
Addressing the some two dozen members of DEC who attended the meeting, Dr. Goren said the Board and administration have “tremendous support for each and every one of you. I am deeply grateful for all you do for our children, our families, and community.” He said the District’s negotiating team “is committed to working collaboratively to develop a contract that reflects your dedication and hard work.” He also said the District is facing “significant financial challenges that must be addressed” but added, “We are committed to reaching a fair agreement with our teachers, as well as our other bargaining units.”
Dr. Goren described the work undertaken during the bargaining process: reviewing the contract section-by-section; having the bargaining parameters and strategies decided by the Superintendent and the Board; having “senior officials with executive authority” at the bargaining table; having Board members serving “directly with team members on working committees related to working conditions, finances, and benefits to set parameters for our bargaining positions; being himself involved “in every planning session” and having reviewed every proposal and being familiar with DEC’s proposals; and having briefed the Board President and Vice President each week and updated all Board members weekly.
“Both the DEC team and Board’s team spent the spring discussing a wide range of issues related to working conditions, and several tentative agreements were reached. Yet there is still work to be done. … I am committed to remaining at the table until an agreement is reached.
“I want to reiterate my support for our teaching staff and the work they do to make a difference for our children. I am hopeful that we can continue productive conversations this week and continue to make progress. I believe we can reach agreements together that reflect our joint commitment to the children and families we serve. … We are committed to keeping our community informed with the information that we are able to share.”
Dr. Goren invited the DEC members to stay for the remainder of the meeting, at which the tentative budget for the upcoming year would be discussed.
Ms. Luft, a former president of DEC, read a statement as the official DEC spokesperson. She and the many other DEC members at the meeting wore red T-shirts that read, “There is no substitute for a good teacher.”
DEC represents nearly 700 teachers from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, Ms. Luft said, “and we want to express our concerns about contract negotiations.” The statement disputed some of Dr. Goren’s and Ms. Chow’s remarks, both that evening and in the RoundTable.
Ms. Luft said DEC disagrees with the statement that the Superintendent and the School Board have been “actively involved” since the start of the bargaining process.
“Getting information through layers of filters is not direct engagement. The teachers are puzzled by the fact that, when you were told in May that we had asked for a federal mediator, you took no action.
“In November 2014, DEC offered to work with the School Board on a collaborative form of bargaining known as interest-based. We asked early, because it involved extensive training for both sides. It took nine months for us to receive a response, and, when we did, the answer was ‘No.’ When the Board President says that the School Board offered to do a ‘hybrid’ form of bargaining, that was six months after telling us ‘No’; and this ‘offer’ was done on the first evening of actual bargaining. Waiting for 15 months and doing it at the last minute showed a lack of commitment to collaborating with teachers.”
DEC’s statement also disputed that “Dr. Goren joined the negotiations table in June as the conversion shifted to economic issues,” saying instead that what Dr. Goren had joined were “small-group discussions and not actual negotiations. … Teachers took this to mean that the School Board and Superintendent have little or no interest in the teachers’ contract except when it comes to money. We have been stuck on non-financials since March, and that is a big part of why we asked for the federal mediator. … Teachers feel a lack of concern and respect. You need to remember that the teachers’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions.
“Going forward, we expect you to … be a full partner in negotiations. We are eager to reach a mutual agreement on a fair contract that attracts and retains the best teachers for the children of District 65.”
Representatives from District 65 and DEC met Aug. 15-17 but did not reach an agreement. Negotiations are expected to resume after Labor Day, DEC President Paula Zelinski told the RoundTable.
With the high spirits and edgy anticipation typical of the first day, students greeted friends and were welcomed by teachers and principals, as District 65 schools opened on Aug. 24.
The teachers’ contract expired on Aug. 23, and even though negotiations have been ongoing for six months, no agreement has been reached. Both sides, however, appeared to put aside differences to prepare for the opening of school.
Paula Zelinski, president of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers’ union), told the RoundTable, “The teachers continue to advocate for improved working and learning conditions. … While we made some progress [during negotiations Aug. 15-17], there is still much to be done, and we ended the third day without an agreement. Our bargaining team is comprised of teachers and it was important to them to get their classrooms ready and the school year started. So it is likely that we will begin bargaining again after Labor Day. We are in the process of agreeing to dates and times. We remain optimistic and are committed to the children of Evanston/Skokie.”
Paul Goren, District 65 Superintendent, told the RoundTable the parties had made “good progress” during last week’s negotiations and added, “We have scheduled after Labor Day but our team can continue as soon as possible.”
He also said, “Our teachers, administrators, and support staff were excited to welcome our children and families back on Wednesday and to celebrate a new school year in District 65. During the week of Aug. 15, the bargaining teams representing the District 65 Board of Education and the District 65 Educators’ Council held three sessions to discuss issues related to working conditions and finances. We made good progress and reached several tentative agreements. However, there is still work to be done and we look forward to continued progress.
“We are eager to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible and work collaboratively through the remaining issues. Both teams are currently in the process of finalizing several dates for upcoming bargaining sessions.
“We have great support for our educators and the work that they do. We remain optimistic that we can continue to move forward and can reach a fair and equitable agreement with our colleagues.”