Education

August 5, 2014

Highland negotiations approach dire status; teachers could strike at end of month

Teachers in nearly a dozen school districts in the metro-east are negotiating contracts as the school year approaches, and in at least one -- Highland -- they have filed a notice of intent to strike.

Negotiations between Highland District 5 and the Highland Education Association have been contentious, with both sides stating they remain far apart on a deal.

"To this point the process has been very difficult; their demands have been very high," said Superintendent Mike Sutton, who also is negotiating with custodians and educational support staff this summer.

After six meetings, the union requested a federal mediator, who has met with them twice. Another session is scheduled for Aug. 20.

Last week, the union filed a notice of intent to strike with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.

"We have quite a few issues to resolve, but I'm very hopeful we will come to a resolution before any work stoppage takes place," said union president ShiAnne Shively.

The two sides remain far apart on contract language, as well as salary and benefits. "There is language being proposed around the bullying, intimidation and harassment" of teachers by administrators, she said.

At a recent school board meeting, Shively spoke about the following incidents: administrators yelled into employees' faces; an administrator stuck fingers in her ears and said, "I'm not listening," when staff tried to speak to her; administrators allegedly lied to teachers about personnel issues; staff forced to come in when they took a sick day or criticized for scheduling a surgical procedure; and teachers scolded for having a cake and gift during a lunch break for a co-worker about to get married or have a baby.

"Currently we have no contract language to prevent teachers from being bullied by their administrators," Shively told the school board. "This lack of protection fosters a feeling of fear and helplessness. ... Employees report they do not go to their administrators due to fear of repercussions. This does not create a productive working environment."

Sutton said he considered the concerns about bullying to be separate issues. "The complaints are not part of the negotiations, but the union has proposed some language related to it," he said.

In addition to those issues, Shively said the district is proposing to reduce its contribution to health insurance by more than $3,000 a year.

The 174 teachers report to work on Aug. 12, with students arriving on Aug. 13. The contract does not expire until Aug. 31, so that is the earliest date a work stoppage could take place.

Other metro-east school districts also are negotiating with teachers.

In Madison County:

* Collinsville Unit 10 is negotiating with all four unions as the district has been on one-year contracts for several years due to uncertainty about state funding.

While they are negotiating with teachers, teaching assistants, custodians and secretarial/administrative employees, Superintendent Bob Green said they hope to finish negotiating with teachers and then proceed to the others.

"I think it's going fairly well," Green said. "We've worked through the language, and now we're talking money. No outrageous demands have been made on either side."

Union president Stacey Lowenstein said they have "gotten to a point where there is a really good relationship" between the union and the administration.

"We discuss things we agree on and things we don't see eye-to-eye on," she said. "We have a minor issue we're working on. Once that is resolved, we'll likely vote on the contract in September."

Although the contract expires Aug. 11, the first day of school, Lowenstein said, "We're really close." She predicted it would be resolved by the next school board meeting on Aug. 18, and the union will vote on Sept. 4.

* Granite City District 9 has had three formal negotiating sessions with its teachers, in what Superintendent Jim Greenwald describes as "very positive" talks. Greenwald said they have not finalized the three main areas of salaries, family insurance and length of school day.

"Both sides realize these are the main topics that need to be negotiated," Greenwald said. "I'm confident things will work out."

Representatives of the Granite City Federation of Teachers could not be reached for comment.

In St. Clair County:

* Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative is in contract negotiations with both unions -- certified staff members and non-certified para professionals, Executive Director Jeff Daugherty said.

He said negotiations have been going on for a couple of months. The current contract expired at the end of last school year, and there is no contract in place for this school year.

Without a current contract, the school year could still begin as scheduled and staff would work under the previous contract.

* Dupo District 196 Superintendent Stephen Smith said he hopes a new contract with the teachers' union is reached soon. The current contract expires Aug. 14.

"I'm positive we will get this done in pretty short order," he said. "Negotiations are going well."

Representatives of the union and the district began negotiations in the spring, according to Smith. He said they worked on the language portion of the contract first and now are discussing the financial aspect.

The new contract would impact 75 teachers.

* Grant District 110 is negotiating a contract with the union, which includes teachers and non-certified staff members, according to Superintendent Matt Stines. Salaries are the main issue. They are in the middle of a three-year contract which calls for salary negotiations every year, he explained.

"It's going well, and I suspect we will have a deal soon," he said.

* High Mount District 116 is negotiating a new contract with its teachers, Superintendent Mark Halwachs said.

With the assistance of a federal mediator, he said a tentative agreement was reached at a meeting Monday night. Halwachs declined to comment on the reasons why a mediator was needed.

The teachers' current contract expired June 30. The new contract would impact 30 teachers.

* Marissa District 40 Superintendent Kevin Cogdill said a new one-year contract is being negotiated for the district's 47 teachers. The current contract expires Sept. 1.

"Both the board and the teachers realize the common good for the district," he said. "It's great to work with two sides that realize the difficult economic times. We have to come to an agreement that is suitable for everybody."

* Mascoutah District 19 Superintendent Craig Fiegel said the school board and the teachers' union just finished negotiating a new one-year contract. The teachers' union voted to approve the new contract Monday, he said. The school board is slated to have a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Friday to vote on the contract.

The new contract will impact approximately 250 teachers. The current contract expired June 30.

* Millstadt School District 160 Superintendent Jon Green said the district is negotiating new salaries for its 51 staff members as part of an existing three-year contract, which expires in August 2015.

"We should be getting close to being complete," he said.

* Whiteside School District 115 Superintendent Peggy Burke said the school board negotiated a new three-year contract with the teachers, but it won't be official until the board votes on Aug. 21.

New contracts reached

Several school districts in St. Clair and Madison counties already have approved new contracts with teachers or other staff members, or both:

* Belle Valley District 119 Superintendent Lou Obernuefemann said the school board approved a new three-year contract with its custodians. The contract, which runs July 1 through June 30, 2017, includes a salary increase of $1,000 per year, he said.

* O'Fallon District 90 approved new one-year contracts for faculty and staff members last month. Members of the O'Fallon Classroom Federation of Teachers Local 628 will receive on average a 3.5 percent increase in pay under the new contract that will impact 192 certified teachers. Members of the O'Fallon Support Personnel Federation will be eligible for 2.5 percent raises under the new contract that will affect nearly 215 support staff members.

* Edwardsville District 7 union negotiations concluded and a contract was approved in March. The two-year contract included a 2 percent salary increase in step movements and kept class sizes the same.

* Wolf Branch District 113 school board approved a new three-year contract with teachers last month. Superintendent Scott Harres said the contract includes a 2 percent per year increase for teachers, but a freeze on step increases.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com and reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Additional information contributed by O'Fallon Progress reporter Mark Raeber.

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