Central District 104, teachers union to make offers public within next seven days

News-DemocratFebruary 20, 2014 

The teachers and staff at Central District 104 took their dispute with the school board public Monday, Feb. 10 by picketing in front of Central Elementary School on Hartman Lane and urging passing motorists to honk in their support. They said they would like to see more movement from the board toward settling on a new contract to replace one that expired last August.

MARK RAEBER/O'FALLON PROGRESS

Central School District 104 and its teachers union will both submit their most recent offers to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board within the next seven days as required by law when the two sides are unable to reach an agreement. This last step toward a strike was initiated by the school board Thursday.

"Considering the misinformation provided to the public and media over the past weeks, the board views this statutory process as an opportunity to resolve any misunderstandings concerning the parties respective offers, while fully apprising district residents of the status of contract negotiations," school board members said in a joint news release. "The board looks forward to continuing good-faith collective negotiations with the teachers and support staff."

Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Kenzo Shibata said the union is "disappointed" the board chose to initiate the last process required before a strike could occur.

"The teachers have bargained in good faith for proposals that are fair and do not require a new property tax structure," he said. "We are disappointed that the board would insinuate otherwise. We will comply with the law and prepare a copy of our latest contract proposal, which is fair and affordable."

A federal mediation session between the union and members of the school board was held Wednesday night. Prior to the meeting, teachers and staff members picketed just as they did before the school board meeting on Feb. 10.

District 104 Superintendent John Bute said negotiations are "ongoing" and the next mediation sessions are scheduled for March 12 and 13.

"The board will continue to negotiate a fair contract," he said. "We hope to get it done as soon as possible."

The school board is offering a three-year contract with a wage increase, according to Bute. He said the contract language is being revised to include support staff members, who joined the union last year.

"A majority of the items still on the table are related to language," Bute said.

Negotiations for a new contract began in July, and the teachers have been working without a contract since August.

"Contract negotiation is not an easy process. It is adversarial in its nature. It's complicated. It's filled with emotions and political wrangling," Bute said. "In the end, we will come up with an agreement that both parties hopefully will be able to live with."

The teachers filed an intent to strike notice with educational labor relations board and St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty earlier this month. The reasons they listed were working conditions, wages and benefits, according to Sarfaty.

In order for a strike to occur, the teachers and district must first declare they are at impasse, and they must file with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board the final, best offers each side has put forth. Those offers must then be displayed for public viewing on the board's website -- http://www2.illinois.gov/elrb -- for 15 days before a strike.

The news release from the board said its goal remains to reach an agreement, "within the current property tax structure, so that the board does not need to seek additional revenue through a referendum."

The new contract would impact 44 teachers and 26 support staff members. The support staff voted to join the teacher union last school year.

The district encompasses two schools -- Central Elementary and Joseph Arthur Middle School -- and serves about 585 students.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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