Area school districts, unions still talking contracts

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DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — It’s not just school that’s well underway for area teachers across East Central Illinois.
For some education unions in the area, collective bargaining is, too — and has been for months.
Unions in Decatur, Springfield and Farmer City are all still negotiating with school district officials for new contracts. All are working without contracts.

DECATUR — The Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants is weighing a possible strike after summer-long negotiations with school district officials haven’t yet resulted in a contract.

The Federation is fighting for increased compensation for its members, as well as issues centered on health insurance rates and contact hours for teachers with students, according to documents posted on the district’s website.

Federation president Pam Busboom declined to comment.

School board president Beth Nolan said via a statement from the district that officials are “hopeful progress will be made.”

“The district respects our employees and values our teaching assistants for the work they do for students,” the statement read. “We want to do what’s right for these valued employees.”

The next session for the DFTA and district — in the presence of a federal mediator — is scheduled for October 15.

FARMER CITY — A strike in Farmer City could come as soon October 21.
Negotiations have “stall(ed)” in the Blue Ridge school district, Federation president Don Anton said late Tuesday in a statement.

The Federation — made up of 110 district staff, including custodians, aides, nurses and teachers — is fighting for competitive compensation aimed at preventing turnover in the district.

Anton has said previously that low compensation for early-career teachers causes them to leave Blue Ridge for other districts: starting salaries for such teachers are in the low $30,000s.

“We hope the Board understands that we want to reach an agreement but the current terms they have offered will not solve the problems created by years and years of contracts that lagged behind those of other area schools,” Anton said in a statement. “Turnover is bad for our kids. …a stable workforce enables students to feel a stronger connection to their school. These relationships are critical for their academic as well as social and emotional success.”

The next bargaining session between the two groups is scheduled for October 9.

Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.

The Blue Ridge union represents 110 school workers, including custodians, nurses, teachers, aides and counselors, among others.

SPRINGFIELD — Four months of negotiations between the Springfield Education Association and school district officials have come and gone without producing a new contract.
Both are preparing for their first talks in the presence of a federal mediator; SEA president Aaron Graves said Wednesday that a session date is still being finalized.

“The main part is we’re getting tons of support rolling in from the community,” he said. “We have people reaching out to ask how they can support the teachers. Other unions in other organizations, too — we haven’t used any of those cards yet and we hope that we don’t have to.”

Sticking points between the union and district include class size reduction efforts, “pay equity for paraprofessionals, more psychologists, nurses and social workers, and salary and benefit improvements,” according to the union.

“It’s so interconnected,” Graves said. “You can never disconnect those things.”

Graves added that a “large portion of our teachers have second jobs” and that “it’s criminal what we pay teacher’s aides and attendants (who aren’t part of our union).”

Aides in Springfield can expect to make around $19-20,000 a year, Graves said.

“I think the district really wants to do what is right by their people,” Graves said. “The rhetoric I hear is that they’re very supportive of teachers. What the bargaining team doesn’t see is the financial support to go with that rhetoric. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”

School board president Max Zimmer did not immediately comment on the negotiations.

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