Carbondale school leaders speak out ahead of possible teacher strike

The earliest date educators could walk is Fri., Oct. 4.

Tentative agreement reached in Carbondale staff contract

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Schools throughout Heartland may started the 2019-2020 school, but some teachers and school staff are still in the middle of contract negotiations with their school boards.

With just nine days left until teachers can walk, the teachers union and the school board both say they want to reach an agreement.

CEA’s next mediation session with the Carbondale School District 95 Board of Education is scheduled for October 3 at 4:30 p.m.

Carbondale School Board President John Major said the District is offering the teaches to meet in the days leading up October 3, so both sides don’t feel pressured.

“If at all possible to avoid a strike because of our kids, do anything we can to avoid that strike. We would like to meet on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday so we’re not on a deadline to something about it,” Major said.

President of CEA Melissa Norman said, “Going on a strike is the last thing we want to do. We want to be in the classrooms with our students, we want to be in environment where learning occurs. we are willing to do what it takes to ensure the safety of our students.”

In the meantime, the superintendent said they are making a contingency plan and will share it with parents if teachers do end up on the picket line.

The Carbondale Board of Education and the Carbondale Educational Support Professionals Association reached a tentative agreement on a contract.

According to the school district on Friday, September 13, the agreement will not be official until the CESPA membership votes on it, and that agreement is then approved by the CES #95 Board of Education.

The two parties reached the agreement around 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12, on their 15th bargaining session.

CESPA released a statement on Friday.

“We are pleased that we’ve reached a tentative agreement with the board of education. We are hopeful the entire CESPA membership will feel the same way and vote to ratify the agreement as soon as possible.”
Tricia Lueker, Carbondale Education Support Professional association president

According to Board of Education President John Major, the tentative agreement precludes either side from discussing specifics about the agreement.

A date for the vote has not been set yet, but according to IEA-NEA, it would likely be next week.

If approved, this would be the first-ever contract for this union, whose members voted to unionize in 2018.

The union represents 111 of the district’s secretarial staff, classroom aides, cooks, maintenance workers, couriers, Birth to Three educators, behavior specialists and paraprofessionals.

Carbondale teacher negotiations continue

Following a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Carbondale Elementary School #95 Board of Education responded to the union’s contract concerns.

The Carbondale Education Association is represented by 136 teachers, social works and other licensed professionals.

After months of negotiations, the two sides had yet to reach an agreement.

Board President John Major maintained it is the interest of the board to govern accountable to the greater community while keeping the needs of the students foremost.

Major, a former teacher himself, said the district prides itself on its teaching force and compensates teachers competitively for that, citing that teachers earn on average $64,000, a figure slightly lower than the state average.

According to Major, the Board and the CEA bargaining team are tangled in disagreements over several areas including:

  • The CEA wants and annual 10 percent raise over three years, which could burden taxpayers with $2.1 million in additional spending. The union has since come down to 7 percent for two years and 6.5 for the third year. (However, according to Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board website, their last contract asked for four percent)
  • In a statement, the CEA argues the Board has the funding to meet the requested salary increase without raising taxes. However, the Board says this reserve fund is part of a working cash fund to protect untenured faculty form job insecurity, and to protect the school district from borrowing funds at an increased rate to cover monthly expenses. The Board says, the request in salary increase would lead to an increase in property taxes, despite what the CEA bargaining team says.
  • According to the Board, suggested contractual language would not require teachers to supervise students on the playground, in spite of the CEA bargaining team’s claim that student safety is a key issue.
  • The CEA team’s lack of bargaining ‘in good faith’ with the Board of Education and its minimizing of the work undertaken this past school year.

The board proposed a three percent increase in salary for the 2019-20 school year and a four percent increase for the next two years.

On the other hand, the Carbondale Education Association announced it was taking the initial step toward a strike.

CEA publicly posted each team’s last offer with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. Once IELRB posted the last best offers on its website, the union could choose to go on strike in 14 days.

The CEA said this comes after a lack of progress during negotiations.

“The last thing we want to do is go on strike, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to put our students first,” CEA President Melissa Norman said. “We want to be in our classrooms with our students, not out on the picket line. We have been negotiating with the board for months, and it appears they are not interested in reaching a fair agreement as soon as possible. We continually offer to meet them half way during negotiations, but the board repeatedly takes steps backward instead of forward. The board has the money to meet our requests without raising taxes. But instead of coming to a fair agreement, their tactics at the table are drawing out negotiations and costing the district money.”

“What we want out of this is to come out with a fair contract that addresses student safety and school safety and that’s where we are right now,” President of CEA Melissa Norman continued.

According to CEA, the association requested to begin bargaining for a fair contract in March, but the board did not meet with them until June.

CEA’s current contract expired on Aug. 11.

“We are fighting for our students’ safety. For the fifth time, we are asking the board to add language that will protect our students, educators and school staff members,” Norman said. “The time to act is now. There have already been multiple violent incidents in our schools since the start of the new year.”

Major said he is hopeful the future talks result in a contract that both sides find acceptable. He said the Board is willing to meet as soon as next week to settle a contract for the teachers.

“The community is entitled to expect that fair compensation for its teachers does not result in an irresponsible and unsustainable budget for the District,” Major said.

Despite the lack of progress, both parties say they are hopeful.

“I hope that we can both talk somewhere in the middle and reach an agreement. I’m optimist that things will be alright. we don’t want our children out of school," Major said.

“We want to come an agreement with the board of education, so teachers can focus on what’s important. the students," Norman said.

Murphysboro, Ill. contract negotiations

The Murphysboro Education Association submitted the organization’s last contract offer to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, September 11. They can choose whether or not to go on strike in 14 days.

Once the IELRB posts the last offer from MEA and the Murphysboro Community Unit School District 186 Board of Education on the IELRB website, Muphysboro teachers could choose to go on strike.

"The last thing we want to do is go on strike, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to put our students first,” MEA lead negotiator Catlin Langellier said. “We have made financial concessions in the past in order to put our students first. The district is now standing on financially solid ground, and we’re asking them to make good on their promise to make us whole again.”

MEA includes 152 teachers, counselors, nurses and social workers. Their contract expired on Aug. 12. MEA is waiting on confirmation from the BOE to schedule their next mediation session. The next school board meeting is September 24. The district 186 serves 2,047 students.

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