District 156 union: Board abandons good faith negotiating

McHENRY – The latest contract proposal from the District 156 School Board has the teachers’ union upset.

The McHenry Community High School Teachers Association said the school board is not negotiating in good faith based on a proposal that was posted on the district website Friday.

The school board’s “final proposal” calls for a three-year deal instead of a two-year deal, which the last nine months of negotiations have been framed around. The proposal also attempts to move away from the traditional salary schedule approach for teacher compensation based on years of experience.

Under the salary proposal from the board, teachers for the 2013-14 school year would receive a 3.6 percent average step increase on the experience scale.

For the 2014-15 school year, teachers would receive half-a-step increase plus 75 percent of the increase in the consumer price index for a total average increase of 2.925 percent.

For the 2015-16 school year there would be no “vertical movement” for experience on the salary schedule and all teachers would receive a 2.925 percent increase.

As part of the offer, the district wants to eliminate two lanes on the salary schedule: master’s degree plus 15 hours of continuing education, and master’s degree plus 45 hours of continuing education. Teachers currently in those lanes would be grandfathered in, and other lanes of master’s degree plus 30 hours and master’s degree plus 60 hours would still exist for teachers to move in.

Teachers are traditionally paid based on years of experience and how much education they have.

Going to three-year contract from a two-year deal opens up other questions and issues, said Brian N. Weidner, spokesman for the union.

He said the union has done its research based on a two-year deal.

“Three years opens up new questions that we haven’t considered or investigated in the last nine months,” Weidner said.

Weidner said board members have stated frequently the uncertainty of the economy both locally and nationally, causing them to be conservative in their decision making and projections.

“This conversation has changed suddenly,” Weidner said.

Weidner also said the offer moves away from the traditional salary schedule structure for teacher compensation.

That “is something that concerns us,” Weidner said. “It’s really moving from the step-based system to one that is flat percentages.”

The union’s negotiating team plans to meet Sunday to go over the board’s proposal in further detail. Those discussions could potentially extend to a full membership meeting within the next seven days, Weidner said.

The union, which has been working without a contract since August, has voted to authorize its negotiating team to call for a strike.

Weidner said going on strike is not expected to be part of Sunday’s discussion, and that the union wants to avoid a work stoppage.

“Our desire is to be in the classroom teaching students,” Weidner said.

Weidner said the union is looking for a contract that attracts high-quality young teachers and is able to retain high-quality veteran teachers.

The school board wants to go to a three-year deal because negotiations have gone on so long that under a two-year deal, the union and board would be negotiating again in a year, said School Board President Steve Bellmore.

Bellmore refuted the claim the board was negotiating without good faith.

“We’ve bargained in good faith all along with numerous times we’ve waited for responses and have not received it,” Bellmore said.

Bellmore said if the district continued with the traditional steps and lanes as they exist, it would be more expensive for the district.

“We’re trying to move it over to CPI-based raises so we have a better idea of where our money is going,” Bellmore said. “I value the teachers wholeheartedly, but it boils down to what the district can afford financially.”

The proposal also has language for teachers who have reached the end of the steps in their lanes and no longer can receive step increases unless they obtain further education.

Under the proposal, teachers who receive longevity increases, their increases would be 5.2 percent for this school year, 2.25 percent for the second year of the deal, and 2.5 percent for the last year of the contract.

The board also proposed having employees contribute 25 percent toward family health insurance in 2013-14, 27.5 percent in 2014-15, and 30 percent for 2015-16. Teachers with individual coverage would pay 7.5 percent for health insurance for all three years of the proposed deal.

The district would limit tuition reimbursement for teachers to $225,000 over the life of the deal, with no more than $100,000 used in one year. All teachers would be eligible, but the superintendent would have to approve the courses.

Underlying the negotiations is disagreement over the financial health of the district.

During the last contract negotiations, the union agreed to a pay freeze for a year and a half, increased insurance contributions and cuts to coaching and club sponsor stipends to help offset a deficit.

Bellmore said he hopes the district and the union can come to an agreement soon.

“I’m optimistic,” Bellmore said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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