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District 304, teachers union reach tentative three-year agreement

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 11:44 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Geneva School District 304 board President Mark Grosso addresses teachers and community members during a special meeting last week regarding the possibility of a teachers strike as D-304 Superintendent Kent Mutchler looks on.

GENEVA – The announcement early Monday that Geneva School District 304 teacher contract talks finally had come to a tentative three-year agreement brought the breathless, almost-on-strike drama to an end.

The tentative agreement followed a third marathon negotiating session with a federal mediator in a week. The two sides met for more than eight hours Tuesday, 10 hours Thursday and eight-and-a-half hours Sunday night into Monday.

“I think the board is pleased to have a tentative agreement in place,” school district attorney Sarah Miller said.

“This is a long process. It started in February. We are pleased students were able to stay in school and that we reached a tentative agreement we think is fiscally responsible and good for students and taxpayers of Geneva.”

The previous three-year contract had expired Aug. 15, prompting teachers to pack school board meetings and urge the school board to come to a settlement.

At issue was the district’s insistence on a hard freeze on salaries in the first year; teachers recently accepted that, but the two sides then had difficulty coming to agreement on other issues.

Miller said she expected teachers will be presented with the terms of the tentative agreement today, then vote on it Wednesday after having 24 hours to review it. Then the school board would vote to accept the ratified agreement either at its next meeting or at a special meeting, if one is scheduled.

The three-year contract will not be made public until the school board votes on it after the teachers formally ratify it, which is part of the confidentiality agreement between school officials and the Geneva Education Association, Miller said.

Miller said school board members received a couple hundred of emails from the public and listened to the public’s comments at various meetings.

“They absolutely took all of that feedback and comments into consideration,” Miller said.

Teachers union President Carol Young, board President Mark Grosso and Superintendent Kent Mutchler all did not return voice mail messages seeking comment.

On Saturday, the teachers union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the district, alleging the school board sent a threat directly to teachers in an illegal attempt to coerce or intimidate them from their plans to engage in a lawful strike.

The charge was sent to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, the state agency responsible for enforcing educational labor relation laws and regulations in Illinois, according to a statement from the teachers union.

A spokesman was not available Monday because it was observed as Veterans Day, a federal holiday.

The dispute arose Wednesday when teachers received letters from the school board claiming staff members would be responsible for their full health and dental insurance premiums for every day during a work stoppage, among other items, Young said in a statement.

The letter represented an attempt to coerce and intimidate teachers into not exercising their lawful rights, according to the statement.

Miller said typically when a teachers union makes a complaint like that, the charges are dismissed after a contract is approved.

“It is our understanding it will be,” Miller said.

In the meantime, Monday’s school attendance – with teachers in classrooms instead of on the picket lines – was met with smiles.

Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said while many students probably were looking forward to sleeping in Monday, he felt most people were relieved.

“We’re thrilled to be here,” Rogers said. “There’s a little more energy here. It would have been difficult for everyone.”

Michael Chahino, whose son and daughter are freshmen in high school, said his family had plans for Monday in case school was not in session.

He said his wife, who works part time, would have stayed home with their children.

Chahino said he was glad school was back in session. He said he was against the impending strike.

“We definitely were against it ... because with the status quo of the economy, we looked at the union as greedy,” he said.

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