BY CAROL ROEHM
The Danville District 118 school board agreed earlier this month to seek the assistance of a federal mediator to jump start stalled negotiations with the Danville Education Association.
The tenuous state of the contract negotiations, the renovations at North Ridge Middle School and the addition of the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy were some of the top news stories for District 118 in 2012.
With half of the school year over, very little progress has been made on new contracts for District 118’s teachers and teaching assistants as well as its secretaries and learning resource clerks.
The district’s collective bargaining rules allow either party — the district or the Danville Education Association — to call for the assistance of a mediator and it is considered a joint request for mediation.
Before reaching the point of requesting a mediator step in, both sides met once in November and then again the beginning of December.
Representatives for the DEA and District 118 met Dec. 4 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.
The DEA, however, wanted to focus on the language of the education reform legislation — because President Robin Twidwell believed the two sides could agree and sign off on that language — and tackle the issues of insurance and salary last.
Superintendent Mark Denman has noted that eight months have passed since the two sides exchanged proposals and that “never in the history of the district” has the district and the teachers’ union gone halfway through the school year without having met several times to try to forge a new contract.
School Board President Bill Dobbles has said the two sides have some “major, tough issues” to work through but claimed the DEA was interested in only tackling “small issues.”
Insurance, salaries, retirement incentives, layoff procedures and the possibility of a longer school day are all on the bargaining table — and all of which deal with money, making contract talks that much more difficult.
“We live in very difficult financial times,” Denman said. “The economy is not strong, and the state is doing worse.
“The district’s budget relies on just under 50 percent in state funding, and the state has owed us $2 million for months if not years,” he said.
“We also have a declining tax base,” Denman said. “Our EAV (equalized assessed valuation) has gone down, which is a loss of more than $700,000 for the school district.
“We have to be cautious,” he added. “We have to try to provide the best benefit package we can, but our financial outlook has had a heavy impact on our proposal.”
Twidwell said the district’s proposal to increase teachers’ contractual hours by 25 percent, while asking for contributions toward insurance — which she said amounts to a 25 percent decrease in pay — and freezing salaries at the current rate is unacceptable.
“I’m very disappointed the school board didn’t learn from the strike,” Twidwell said, referring to the nearly week long teachers’ strike in September 2010.
“To make the district strong, we have to collaborate,” she said. “You have to be willing to communicate to get there.
“The board refuses to acknowledge that,” Twidwell added. “We’re constantly fighting and that’s not doing what we’re supposed to do, and that’s serving the children.”
Denman said he is hopeful that a mediator will help bring the two sides to the bargaining table.
“There has been a lack of progress, and a mediator can only help,” he said. “There has to be some give and take.”
Denman said paperwork to request a mediator has been sent to the mediation office, but he doesn’t expect a mediator to be available until mid- to late January.
At the end of November, 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 to begin negotiations on a new contract for secretaries and learning resource clerks was postponed.
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 held 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.
North Ridge renovations
When students returned to North Ridge Middle School in the fall, they noticed major changes right away starting at the front doors.
The doors at the main entrance to the school were moved so the entrance now lines up with the main office.
The $13.7 million renovation project at North Ridge included a new roof, additional classrooms and an elevator in the new two-story glass atrium area between the gymnasium and the new cafetorium.
All the classrooms have been equipped with high-efficiency lighting and have been freshly painted, including dark red trim on the walls.
The majority of the windows and doors have been replaced, and all the old lockers have been removed and replaced with new dark red lockers. The school’s new air conditioning system also was up and running this fall.
In addition, the project entailed installing windows in the gymnasium as well as paving and installing curbs, drainage and a fence along Legion Drive, which North Ridge shares with the American Legion.
North Ridge’s 12,300-square-foot cafetorium is scheduled to be done over winter break.
“Staff is training on the new kitchen equipment now, and the first meal will be served Jan. 3 in the new cafetorium,” Buildings and Grounds Director Ron Henton said.
An open house to showcase the cafetorium has been set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7.
Henton said two classrooms will be created in a commons area after the first of the year.
“Overall, everything went well,” he said of the renovation project.
Most of the contractors in the North Ridge project were the same as the South View project the year before, so “we didn’t have a learning curve,” he said.
“The weather also was instrumental in getting the project done quickly,” Henton added.
“We’re pleased with all the work and for the cooperation of the teachers and staff,” he said. “It will extend the life of the schools for many, many years.”
After holding classes in the basement of the Jackson Building and at the Laura Lee Fellowship House, District 118’s alternative education program finally got a new home and a new name this year.
The 21,000-square-foot former Holy Family School at 502 E. Main St. became the new home of the alternative education program this fall.
“The alternative program had been housed in numerous locations over the years, so when the opportunity came about due to the merger of Holy Family and Schlarman, the price we paid for the building we received was a win-win situation for both the church and the school,” Denman said.
Principal Tracy Cherry has said the academy is “a positive learning environment” and something “the students take pride in.”
The facility has been named the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, followed by the action words Keep Dreaming, Believing and Achieving, using the same first letters as the name of the school.
Maj. Kenneth D. Bailey was Danville High School’s greatest war hero and the only DHS graduate to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Photos of Bailey and Bailey’s Congressional Medal of Honor citation have been framed and hang in the front entrance of the academy.
Denman said it was only fitting that the academy’s staff decided to name the facility after Bailey.
“He is one of Danville’s heroes and is a positive role model for the students,” he said.
At the end of July, Silver Brothers of Hoopeston razed the west end of the building where the former St. Patrick’s School, circa 1898, was located.
McDowell Builders of Sidell, the same general contractor in charge of the renovations at South View and North Ridge middle schools, was hired to complete renovation work at the academy.
The renovation work entailed converting two classrooms into four, converting one shower room into a refocus room and the other shower room into a classroom, reducing the height of the chimney and putting a limestone cap on it and installing an exterior finish insulated system on the west wall of the school after the St. Patrick’s building was demolished.
In addition, two of the five or six classrooms were divided into smaller classrooms. The building also was wired for computers and a phone system.