Geneva teachers declare impasse

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 7:14 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – The Geneva Education Association declared an impasse Friday in contract talks with Geneva School District 304 officials, meaning the earliest date a strike could occur is Nov. 9.

An impasse means teachers concluded nothing can be gained by further negotiations. Both sides will post their last best offers publicly by Friday on the websites of the district and the union. The offers would be on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board website by Oct. 26.

Should teachers decide to strike, the earliest would be 14 days after the posting of the last best offers and a 10-day strike notice.

Each side has a different view of events leading to the impasse.

Superintendent Kent Mutchler said school officials were not expecting a notice of impasse, at least not before the next bargaining session, scheduled for Oct. 23. He said the district was notified by the Illinois Education Association, not by the local bargaining unit.

“I emphasize to you that we have – the board has – worked cooperatively and collaboratively with the GEA to resolve this,” Mutchler said. “This is a surprise to the board.”

Union President Carol Young said the membership felt close to impasse after the last mediation session Oct. 5 did not go well. The district and the union have been in contract talks since February and working with a federal mediator since July.

“They were not willing to move anymore unless we accepted a hard freeze,” Young said. “We felt like they were telling us, ‘That’s it.’ ”

Young said the offer of a hard freeze was directed at one year of a contract. Young said the number of years in a new contract has not been determined.

Mutchler said the board still will meet with the teachers union Oct. 23, probably still with a mediator.

“We are going to work as hard as we can to get this resolved in a reasonable way,” Mutchler said. “We are certainly hoping that [a strike] does not happen. ... We have talked about different options.”

“We will hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Mutchler said. “Our intent is to get this taken care of. This is Geneva, and we have a tradition and history of working through these things together.”

Young said the teachers union is also willing to continue bargaining.

“The GEA is more than willing to go to the table with them,” Young said. “That is exactly what we want to do, if, in fact, they are willing to negotiate.”

Geneva has 430 teachers. According to Illinois State Board of Education records dating to 1975, the district never has had a teachers strike. If they do walk out, it would be the fifth school district in Illinois to do so. Teachers have gone on strike in Chicago, Lake Forest, Evergreen Park and Prairie Grove. Chicago and Lake Forest settled, according to the ISBE.

Even if Geneva teachers give a 10-day strike notice, it does not mean the teachers will necessarily walk out, Young said.

The membership has not taken an official strike vote. But at a union meeting Wednesday, a survey of members was taken, Young said. She said she would not share the results.

“We wanted to get an indication of where our members stood,” Young said. “We would hate to do this [strike] because we do not want to interrupt kids’ education at all, but we feel we are being forced into it.”

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