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District 304 teachers near impasse; talks yield little progress

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 6:52 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – Tension in contract talks between Geneva School District 304 officials and the teachers union has increased, and the union president says teachers are close to declaring impasse.

Teachers picketed Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Impasse in negotiations means the last best offers from each side becomes public. The two sides started contract talks in February and have been in mediation since July.

Teachers union President Carol Young said the membership has not taken a strike vote, but she said an impasse is likely.

“We’re not at impasse yet, but we’re getting close,” Young said. “They are drawing a hard line in the sand, pushing us into a corner. The negotiating session on Friday did not go well. We were there from 1 to 5:30 p.m. at the central office.”

That the teachers union is close to impasse came as a surprise to D-304 Superintendent Kent Mutchler.

“That is news to me,” Mutchler said. “I thought this was a process between the board and the GEA.”

Mutchler said he would not comment about the hard freeze offered to teachers being an issue in contract talks.

“I just think all of this is confidential; that is between the board and the GEA,” Mutchler said.

With regard to the informational picket, Mutchler said, “Teachers can do what they want.”

Young said compensation is the biggest sticking point. She said they were closer on language for working conditions. Though negotiations are confidential, Young said she would talk about the compensation issue because the information already was in the public.

“They are offering a hard freeze for the first year,” Young said. “With a hard freeze, there is no step or lane advancement. It’s not just cost of living, but not getting their step of experience. And that has a far-reaching effect for teachers. They can never get that step back. Over a career of 20 years, it can mean a loss of $20,000 for a teacher.”

Step and lane advancement is a system of pay increases that recognize a teacher’s increasing experience and additional education. Young acknowledged members of the public have experienced stagnant wages and pay cuts, but that should not affect teachers because the district can afford to give them raises.

“If the district did not have $30 million in reserves, if it meant cutting programs or cutting positions, we would take the freeze – no problem. It would not be an issue,” Young said. “The district does have money, and they are spending it on things. They are not wiling to spend it on people. We feel that is wrong and will hurt the district in long run.”

Young said teachers are trying to maintain the quality of the district and its ability to attract and keep good teachers, which it cannot do if the starting salary is less than what is offered in neighboring districts.

“The school district is one of the key components of maintaining property values,” Young said. “Plus, a third of the teachers live in Geneva, as well as other staff members who have taken freezes. Instead of having it [reserves] in a bank account, better to have in the hands of people living and shopping in the community and keeping businesses alive.”

Working conditions being addressed in contract talks as identified on the union’s website, www.gea4students.org, are collaboration of teachers and administrators; teacher planning time; guidelines for special education caseload limits; professional development; procedures for involuntary transfers; use of surveillance cameras in the high school; supervision guidelines; and progressive discipline.

Young said there is existing language on issues that are being discussed, except for surveillance cameras, which are being installed for the first time this year.

“Surveillance cameras should be filming the hallways and not filming teaching,” Young said. “Surveillance is for student safety and making sure school is secure. I don’t think teachers want to feel they are under the microscope and filmed every second of the day.”

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