BY CAROL ROEHM
Negotiations for a new contract for Danville School District 118’s teachers and teaching assistants apparently have stalled and a mediator most likely will be called in to assist.
Representatives for the Danville Education Association and District 118 met Tuesday for a few hours, but talks ended after the district’s negotiating team suggested that salary and other major issues be discussed before language in the contract.
“We really wanted to focus on the language of the education reform legislation,” DEA President Robin Twidwell said.
“We heard the intent behind their proposal and next was supposed to be the counter-proposal phase, but they came back (after a break) and said they wanted to talk about salary.
“Salary is usually the last thing we discuss. We usually discuss insurance before salary,” she said, adding that the DEA explained the intent behind its proposal at a meeting last week.
When Twidwell and DEA vice president Heath Blumenstock told the district’s negotiating team they “wanted to work on language first to get it out of the way,” she said attorney Jerry Davis, one of District 118’s chief negotiators, said he planned to recommend to the school board at its Dec. 12 meeting that the district hire a mediator.
Twidwell said the district’s negotiating team left the room and never returned to discuss the DEA’s counter proposals or to set future meeting dates after the DEA declined the district’s offer to meet during the winter holiday break.
In an e-mail to the media sent Tuesday night, Twidwell said the district’s negotiating team “walked out of bargaining.”
Superintendent Mark Denman refuted that description, saying, “The conversation ended. I don’t think our team would characterize it as walking out.”
Denman also said no future meeting dates had been set because “the DEA indicated they wouldn’t be able to meet the rest of the month,” and that the district’s negotiating team wanted to start talking about salary because “our financial situation has a heavy impact” on it.
“Eight months have passed since we exchanged proposals,” he said. “We’ve never in the history of the district gone halfway through the school year without a number of (contract negotiation) meetings,” he said. “Maybe we need to go to an impartial mediator.”
School board president Bill Dobbles said the DEA’s counter proposal contained “small issues” and the district’s negotiating team, of which he is a part, wanted to discuss the “major, tough issues.”
“Look, it’s December. We need to look at the major issues otherwise we’ll never get anything done passing paper back and forth,” he said.
“We’ve got to look at insurance, salaries, retirement incentives, layoff procedures and the possibility of a longer school day,” he said.
Dobbles said the district’s team suggested hiring a mediator to help keep the negotiations going.
“Why not have a mediator to help keep us going?” he said, adding that he didn’t view Tuesday’s meeting as a “failure.”
“We have some really, really tough issues to work through,” he said.
“In talking with them (Twidwell and Blumenstock), we wouldn’t have another meeting date until mid-January. That’s half the (school) year over and we haven’t had any progress,” Dobbles said.
“A mediator can really help, but it takes 30 days to get a mediator,” he added. “If the DEA wants to meet before that, we can do that. We’re not opposed to meeting again before we have a mediator.”
Last week, the two sides met for the first time since May 29 to begin negotiations on a new contract for teachers and teaching assistants, however, a meeting that was scheduled for Nov. 28 to begin negotiations on a new contract for secretaries and learning resource clerks was postponed.
Twidwell said the DEA is still waiting for a ruling from the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on the union’s Aug. 1 request to merge the bargaining units for the teachers and teaching assistants and for secretaries and learning resource clerks to become one unit.
The labor board conducted a hearing on the issue Nov. 19 and 20 in Chicago.
The ruling would help clear up a bone of contention between the DEA and District 118. That is, neither side can agree on how to negotiate the contracts. The DEA wants to negotiate the contracts concurrently as it has in the past, whereas the school board’s wish is to have two separate negotiating teams negotiate the two contracts separately.
Denman has said the school district’s attorney told him the earliest a ruling might be made is in January.