D-46, union come up empty

CRYSTAL LAKE – Nine and a half hours of teacher contract negotiations Thursday at Prairie Grove School District 46 were “productive,” one side said. But only minimally so, the other side said.

“Minimal progress was made” after negotiating with the school board’s team from 7:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., the Prairie Grove Teachers’ Association’s bargaining team said in an email.

By way of contrast, the school board summed up Thursday’s session as a “productive meeting.”

“We are encouraged by today’s progress, and we will keep you updated,” the district said in a post on its website.

Both parties agreed to continue talks and scheduled the next bargaining session for Sept. 17.

In the meantime, schools will continue to operate with teachers on the job, district administrators said.

Last week the union filed a 10-day “intent-to-strike” notice with the district. Union leaders, however, set no strike date and said they aim to do “everything we can to avoid a strike” and to “keep all options open to settle this contract.”

Teachers have been working under an expired contract since Aug. 26, 2011.

District 46, at 3225 Route 176 in Crystal Lake, serves about 1,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Students are two weeks into the 2012-13 school year.

Negotiations have been ongoing for 21 months.

In May, the teachers’ association declared an impasse. A month later the school board responded with its “last, best, and final offer” – a contract that goes back to the 2011-12 school year and runs through the 2014-15 year. It included a salary freeze for last year, and a 1.125 percent salary increase for the current school year.

Outstanding issues between the district and teachers union are salary, extra-duty stipends, health insurance and the district’s decision to eliminate post-retirement payments, including insurance reimbursements. There are also some “procedural concerns and language” that needs to the resolved, union leaders said.

Currently, according to the union, the proposals of the two sides reflect a financial difference of “less than $20,000.” “To keep this in perspective, keep in mind that the district has an $11.6 million budget,” it said on its website, www.sites.google.com/site/pgta46/

Union officials said they are not seeking raises and benefits that go beyond what the district can afford and that will allow the district to set aside a reserve to maintain a solid financial rating.

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