A federal mediator will step in this month to oversee bargaining sessions between the District 65 school board and its teachers’ union after negotiations for a new contract broke down earlier this summer.
Several sessions between the mediator, the teacher’s union and district administrators have been scheduled for August, according to a press release from Jean Luft, president of the District 65 Educator’s Council (DEC), the union.
“Even though the DEC membership has already given the initial authorization for a strike, it is our greatest hope to reach an agreement that continues the tradition of high quality instruction in District 65,” Luft said.
Teachers are in the midst of negotiating a new contract that would begin with the 2012-13 school year—but according to Luft, discussion has “stalled around a series of proposed changes for the next school year.”
Specifically, union members have the district’s plan to trim the budget by eliminating some elementary fine arts teachers, increasing class sections for other fine arts teachers and dividing those teachers among schools, according to Luft.
“DEC believes these changes will have a significantly negative effect on the quality of education in District 65 and impair the district’s ability to recruit and retain excellent teachers,” Luft said in the release.
As part of its plan to balance the 2012-13 budget, the district has proposed to reduce its fine arts and physical education staff by six positions. Four of those cuts would be made through staff retiring or leaving the district, while art teachers at and elementary schools were notified that their jobs were on the line.
“This is something we have considered in the past, but it was easier to accomplish this year because of who was retiring or who was leaving,” explained District 65 spokesperson Pat Markham. “We are doing the best we can to support our teachers, to support our students and to be fiscally responsible.”
The district is already sharing some art and music teachers among schools, but proposed cuts would mean that every art teacher travels to a different school at least once a week. Each art teacher would have seven 40-minute classes per day, instead of six, meaning students would have the same amount of time with teachers, but teachers would have shorter planning periods. While six schools already have shared arts teachers, , , and have had full-time art and music staff up to this point.
Markham said she could not comment on the specific issues under discussion due to the confidential nature of bargaining sessions. However, she said that the district had proposed the scheduling and staffing changes based on the terms of the four-year contract that expires on the first day of school this fall.
“Management assumes that certain terms will roll over,” she said. “We used the terms from the existing contract to move forward.
The union has been negotiating with the administration since March, and representatives have been able to agree on some parts of a contract. But in June, both parties agreed it was necessary to bring in a federal mediator. There are five such meetings scheduled in August, according to Markham; if the school board and the union can’t come to an agreement after those meetings, either party may request arbitration from the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
"The Board of Education is willing to negotiate with DEC and is committed to work with DEC during August to provide a fair contract that is both fiscally responsible and delivers a high quality education for all our students," board president Katie Bailey said on Monday.
In , Bailey said the proposed cuts were necessary to stave off major financial troubles in the future.
“Our process began last spring, when we saw a large deficit looming,” Bailey said. “Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district.”
Staffing reductions and scheduling changes will continue to be up for discussion until the budget is voted on in August, according to Bailey.
“We are avoiding the massive layoffs that some districts have faced,” she said. “We believe our approach is better than having larger class sizes and fewer classroom teachers.”