District 158, teachers union call in mediator

HUNTLEY – District 158 and its teacher union have requested a mediator to resolve their differences, but both parties Tuesday were tight-lipped about what stands in the way of a contract agreement.

One thing is clear. The district and the Huntley Education Association will not have a new contract by the start of school Aug. 22. Both parties still are finalizing a date to meet with a mediator.

The district’s teachers will continue to be paid under the contract that expired in July.

“Although D-158 teachers will be starting the year without a new contract, all parties remain committed to seeing this through without affecting the school year,” the district and union said in a joint statement Tuesday.

At this time last year, HEA members were in the process of ratifying a one-year contract that froze total compensation at 2011 levels.

HEA co-President Julie McLaughlin declined to comment specifically on current negotiations, which began in spring. But she said that, in general, HEA is looking for a longer-term contract and that salary increases still are being negotiated.

The district has budgeted a 2 percent increase for teachers in 2013. McLaughlin would not say whether HEA had agreed to that figure.

“We needed some help to bring us closer together,” McLaughlin said. “We are going to let the press release speak for itself.”

District 158 Board President Michael Skala said he isn’t aware of any major issues prolonging negotiations. But because his wife is a district teacher, Skala typically recuses himself from negotiations.

“I was kind of surprised by this, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Skala said of mediation. “I think mediation can definitely help craft a deal. I think it’s something both sides feel is necessary.”

Board member Kevin Gentry said he wasn’t comfortable discussing issues that have prevented a deal with HEA. But the former board president said the mediation request is not cause for panic.

“I think the discussion has been very amicable so far,” Gentry said. “I’m confident we can get there. It’s just a matter of seeking outside, objective help to get us there.”

District 158 joins District 300 as the two area school districts that have requested outside help to resolve labor differences with teachers. District 300, its teachers union and a mediator are set to meet in early September.

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