The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 22, 2013

Sides meet for contract talks


DANVILLE — Danville School District 118’s negotiating teams and the Danville Education Association met with a federal mediator for the first time Tuesday to try to jump start contract negotiations.

However, after waiting nearly six hours, DEA President Robin Twidwell said the district’s negotiating team failed to produce a counterproposal to what the DEA had offered Dec. 4 for its teachers and teaching assistants.

Superintendent Mark Denman acknowledged contract talks were “slow going” and there are “significant differences” in what the two sides are seeking.

“We met for a long time today,” he said. “We talked, but it’s slow going. We don’t have an agreement yet.

“We had a meaningful conversation in the afternoon,” he added.

The two sides sat down at the bargaining table again around 3 p.m. Tuesday, as scheduled, to begin negotiating the contract for the district’s secretaries and learning resource clerks, which had not been previously discussed.

“We talked less formally, and we signed off on the no-change items,” Twidwell said of the secretaries’ and learning resource clerks’ contract. “We also gave them a counterproposal for the secretaries and learning resource clerks.”

The two sides will next meet with the federal mediator Thursday.

“We were told we’re going to be given two counterproposals (from the district) on Thursday,” Twidwell said.

Both sides started Tuesday’s bargaining session at 9 a.m. with the same federal mediator as the 2010 contract talks that resulted in a nearly weeklong teachers’ strike at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

“We made our introductions and summarized what has happened for the mediator,” Twidwell said.

Then Twidwell said she, DEA Vice President Heath Blumenstock and Illinois Education Association UniServ Director Sean Burns waited in the board room at the Jackson Building for nearly six hours while the district’s negotiating team tried to work out a counterproposal.

“We’ve been sitting here all day waiting for a counterproposal,” she said Tuesday shortly before 3 p.m.

“We exchanged proposals back in May, and the next step is to give counterproposals,” Twidwell explained.

“On Dec. 4, our team spent an hour, hour-and-a-half going through the board’s proposal and gave them a list of what we could agree on,” she said. “That was our counterproposal.”

However, Twidwell said the DEA’s counterproposal didn’t pass muster with attorney Jerry Davis, one of the district’s two chief negotiators.

“Jerry Davis didn’t view it as a complete counterproposal because we didn’t include salary in our counterproposal,” she said.

Twidwell said she added the DEA’s salary requirements to the counterproposal, but by Tuesday afternoon part of the district’s negotiating team — Davis, business director Heather McKiernan and associate superintendent Dianna Kirk — told the DEA they could not counter the union’s counterproposal with an offer.

Denman said money is definitely a concern of the district.

“Times are tough. We are faced with unstable state funding, declining EAV (property values) and the state has made cuts in state aid,” he said. “These are all variables in the equation during negotiations.”

At a Dec. 18 meeting, the DEA told its membership that the district’s proposal — which includes employee contributions toward insurance coverage, plus a longer work day and 15 extra work days per school year while freezing salaries at the 2011-2012 level — is unacceptable.