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Unit 4 District, Union Release Contract Proposals

Champaign School Board President Laurie Bonnett and School Board Member Kerris Lee speak at a press conference on Sept. 26, 2013 at the Mellon Administrative Center.

Champaign School Board President Laurie Bonnett and School Board Member Kerris Lee speak at a press conference on Sept. 26, 2013 at the Mellon Administrative Center. (Sean Powers)

 As the union representing teachers in the Champaign School District prepares for a possible strike, the union and the district released details on Thursday about proposed increases to already scheduled raises.

The two sides met for seven hours on Wednesday, but did not reach an agreement on several major sticking points.

The Champaign Federation of Teachers is asking for a one-year contract that includes a 3.65 percent raise for teachers. According to the school district, that would bring the overall scheduled raise up to 5.35 percent for one year.

“We’re not seeing that our salary schedule is providing cost of living adjustments that we feel teachers deserve, and we do not see that the district is making teachers a financial priority,” said Union President Cathy Mannen during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

“The board has a strong belief and respect for its teachers, and compensates them fairly for their work,” said School Board President Laurie Bonnett during a separate news conference a few hours later.

In its proposal for a three-year contract, the district’s offer includes a 1.3 percent annual raise that would go on top of the 1.7 percent step increase, bringing the scheduled raise to 3 percent a year.

School Board Member Kerris Lee said that is fair, given that the district already covers pension and insurance benefits for its teachers, and continues to face financial challenges.

“The board has been advised to consider another round of budget cuts in the amount of one million dollars for the 2014 and 2015 school year,” Lee said. “The cost of step raise alone for all members of CFT would entirely eliminate the surplus in the district’s education fund.”

Lee explained that lagging state support, questions surrounding pension reform, loss in revenue due to the federal sequestration, outcomes of the Affordable Care Act, and unexpected growth in enrollment are all factors that may lead to financial challenges for the Champaign School District.

During the contract negotiations, which have gone on since last May, the teachers union has maintained that it would not be asking for anything it did not believe the Champaign School District could not afford.

“The district is in good financial shape right now as evidenced by the present budget presentation at the school board meeting,” Mannen said. “We know there is $12 million surplus in both the working cash funds and in the education fund, so we know the district has the funds to meet the request that the teachers have made.”

In other areas of its contract proposal, the union wants the district to stop pulling grade school teachers out of the classroom for more than 20 minutes to handle non-teaching duties, like monitoring students during lunchtime or recess.

“We have some buildings where a reasonable amount of (non-teaching supervising) time probably is around 20, 25 minutes, 30 minutes,” Mannen explained. “But we do have some buildings where we do have teachers who have non-teaching supervision for upwards of an hour across the school day.”

Bonnet said that proposal would compromise student safety.

“The board is committed to maintaining a safe and secure school environment, and CFT’s proposal would jeopardize our ability to do so,” she stated.

One of the other issues the union has brought up is the need to allow teachers to forward a complaint about a poor teacher performance evaluation to a Joint Committee formed by the Illinois legislature. The committee is made up of teacher and administrative representatives, who review performance evaluations.

“We want to give teachers a voice, really make sure they have a voice to advocate for themselves,” Mannen explained.

“State law simply does not provide for this,” Bonnet said in response to the union’s request to forward written objections to the Joint Committee.

Both sides have submitted their latest offers with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The IELRB will post those on its Web site in about a week. After those offers are posted for 14 days, the union can legally strike.

The union and the district meet again with a federal mediator on Oct. 7. A strike could happen as early as Oct. 18.

Categories: Economics, Education