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The Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers and D124 school board bargaining teams spent most of Wednesday’s nine-hour negotiation session quibbling over the introductory “what if” language in the union’s retirement package should changes be made to the state-run Teachers Retirement System.
The Illinois General Assembly is poised to vote during next month’s fall veto session on whether the state should put its agreed upon contribution to the state's teachers pension fund back on local school districts. TRS maintains the state's unfunded pension liability is $44 billion.
Teachers and paraprofessionals from the district’s five public grammar schools say that what they are asking in salary compensation, health insurance and pension benefits “won’t put a dent in the fund balance.”
The district has argued that it is maintaining a $16 million fund balance—three times more the cash fund than required by the state—in case Illinois school districts will be required to assume payments into the TRS.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said that issues over the “what if” language were not resolved until midnight last night. The Evergreen Park teachers union belongs to the IFT.
“We kept being told if we would work the language out it would get things moving,” Comerford said. “Finally after multiple discussions and further changes on the initial agreement we got it done at midnight.”
To further avoid possible long-term liability in the event that the teachers pension laws change, Comerford said the union bargaining team suggested a two-year contract to the school board instead of four years.
“If it’s only a two-year deal, then they only have to live with it less than a year-and-a-half if the laws change,” Comerford said. “Because the school board wants a long-term deal they want to lock in something now. It’s hard to write language for the unknown.”
The union submitted a 1.5-percent salary increase based on the Consumer Price Index for 2010, plus .6 percent added to teachers’ salary schedule per the STEP schedule.
Teachers put in for a 3.0-percent salary increase based on the 2011 CPI over his/her 2012-13 salary; and a 1-percent bonus not to be added to the salary in 2014-15.
The D124 school board countered with an offer that increased the floor on CPI in 2014-15 and 2015-16 from 1.5 percent to 1.percent.
The latest contract proposals are available on the Dist. 124 website.
Comerford said the union’s dispute with the school board was no longer economics. The biggest sticking point now is teacher makeup days for the strike.
The district has proposed which is now in its eighth day. The state requires that students attend school 176 days.
“The biggest sticking point now is makeup days,” Commerford said. “That’s becoming bigger than anything else. [The school board] is still holding to that position. If a child isn’t in the classroom with the regular teacher it’s not a day of education. Their priorities are all messed up if they’re punishing teachers and keeping kids out of the classroom.”
As reported by Patch earlier this week, the union announced a free student enrichment program being organized by striking teachers at Jacob's Well Community Church at a community forum.
The D124 school board issued a press release Wednesday afternoon anouncing that it did not sanction the enrichment program.
The school board also took IFT field director Dennen Pajeau to task for an interview that she gave to FOX-32 news. According to the release, Pajeau claimed that a school district memo was sent to union members informing them that striking employeers who volunteered at Jacob's Well would lose their health benefitis.
“The board assures the bargaining unit members and the Evergreen Park community that Ms. Pajeau’s statement is a gross misrepresentation of the district’s memo and that status of employee health insurance,” the district’s press release read.
D124 did state, however, that the district’s liability coverage would not extend to employees or students who became injured at Jacob’s Well during the enrichment program.
Employees’ health insurance coverage also would remain in effect during the strike.
“The board views blatant misrepresentations from the union leadership as purposely inflammatory and divisive. They only serve to make circumstances more difficult for us all,” the school district added.
Comerford said the negotiations were grueling. Much of the union team's time was spent snacking and pacing holes in the floor waiting for the federal mediator to deliver the school board's latest counteroffer, which is bargaining in another room.
"There's no sense of urgency," Comerford said. "With a little move here and a little move there, we'll never get this settled."