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On Oct. 26, the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) activated the timeline for a strike at District 65. DEC posted the notice after School District 65 and DEC bargaining teams met with a federal mediator on Oct. 5, 11, 13, 14 and 26. Activating the timeline is an initial step that a union must take before it can go on strike.
On Nov. 1, DEC held a general membership meeting, which about 400 teachers attended. By a unanimous voice vote at that meeting, the teachers agreed to give the DEC executive committee the right to issue the 10-day strike warning and to issue the strike.
The District’s collective bargaining agreement with DEC expired before this school year started, and teachers are teaching without a contract in place. Paul Goren, Superintendent of District 65 Goren said, though, that teachers are being compensated, and their benefits remain in place. The parties started negotiating in February and agreed to use a federal mediator starting with the first session on Oct. 5.
Dr. Goren and Candance Chow, President of the District 65 School Board, expressed disappointment with DEC’s decision to activate the strike timeline. In a letter to District 65 parents, they said, “For nearly a month, a federal mediator has helped to facilitate our deliberations and narrow down outstanding issues so that an agreement can be reached. Despite our grim financial outlook, we continue to make offers and compromises in good faith and to respond to the needs DEC has expressed. Our offer of additional planning time responded to one of DEC’s top priorities and reflects our mutual commitment to high quality teaching and learning in District 65.
“With the initiation of this process by DEC, the threat of a strike becomes more likely,” Dr. Goren and Ms. Chow said. In light of certain legal requirements that must be met after the timeline is activated, they estimated “the earliest a strike could occur is at the end of November.”
The timeline is activated by a written filing with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). Each party was required to post its most recent offer, along with a cost summary of the offer, to the IELRB, the mediator, and the other party on Nov. 2. The IELRB then posts those offers and cost summaries on its website seven days after receiving them. The District also is required to post those offers and cost summaries on its website, in addition to notifying the media.
Ms. Chow told the RoundTable that the numbers posted on Nov. 2 may not reflect offers made by either side after that date.
A labor organization must then wait at least 14 days after the conclusion of this process before it can strike. It also most provide a written 10-day notice of intent to strike. Each of these requirements must be met before a strike could occur.
DEC President Paula Zelinski said in a letter to members of DEC that additional dates are scheduled with the mediator for Nov. 3 and 18. “Your team remains united in supporting our teachers and returning to you with a fair contract.”
While not disclosing the details of any proposal, Ms. Zelinski said the areas of priority to teachers are teacher evaluation, classroom safety, substitute shortage, working conditions (planning time, number of meetings, length of meetings, and autonomy), foreign language at sixth grade, and fair compensation.
The District’s letter also said, “It is the sincere hope of the Board and Administration that an agreement can be reached during upcoming bargaining sessions.”
District 65 has previously pointed to a structural deficit that it is facing, saying it is something that must be addressed. The District projects it will operate at a deficit of $4.5 million in 2017-18, and that the deficit will grow to in excess of $10 million by 2020-2012. These numbers do not take into account the potential impact of legislation in Springfield which, if enacted, could reduce the amount of funding District 65 receives from the State and/or increase its costs.
On Nov. 2, the School Board met in a private session to discuss negotiations. The District and DEC were scheduled to continue negotiations with the mediator again today, Nov. 3 and for three additional days.
“My hope is that we will continue to negotiate and come up with a contract that is good for the teachers, the students and the District,” Ms. Chow said.