Update: Contract Negotiations Produce Little Progress
Both sides remain hopeful as future mediation sessions are planned.
Updated Dec. 16: Little progress was made with a federal mediator Wednesday in the ongoing negotiations between the Deerfield Education Association teachers union and Deerfield Public Schools District 109 according to union President Dennis Jensen.
“We are disappointed about last night but continue to hope we can make progress at the next session,” Jensen said. “We just hoped we could have made more progress toward an agreement than occurred last night.”
Both sides met for four hours and return to the negotiating table Jan. 12. Other sessions are already scheduled Jan. 31 and Feb. 8. School Board President Ellen London also remains hopeful.
“We’re still meeting,” London said. “We hope to continue to make progress and come to an agreement as soon as we can.”
The teachers are currently working on an expired contract.
Earlier: Parents Voice Teacher Support to 109 Board
Teacher support and frustration with a lack of information from officials dominated both the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 board meeting Monday at Shepard Middle School and the demonstration outside before the gathering began.
A standing room only crowd of more than 175 packed into the Shepard library as the board listened for more than an hour to 20 parents voice solid support for the Deerfield Education Association (DEA) teachers' union in its ongoing contract negotiations with the district.
The teachers have been working on an expired contract. The next session with a federal mediator is Wednesday.
While the teachers have made many of their demands public, Board President Ellen London has continually been unwilling to discuss the ongoing negotiations publically.
“We need to try to avoid answering when we’re trying to settle a contract,” London said after the public comments were finished. She was also criticized for giving the limited information she did after being pressed. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
200 Demonstrate Outside
Before the meeting more than 200 teachers and parents demonstrated outside the school with signs showing their backing of the educators.
Much of the public comment focused on a perceived reduction of resources for special needs students. Parents wanted to know why resource centers were being eliminated. They were also unhappy mainstream classroom teachers with special needs children had inadequate support.
“My son would be lost except for this amazing group of teachers helping him,” parent Caroline Schwartz said. She was disturbed by the elimination of resource centers for special needs students. “We will come to every meeting until you put the resource centers back.”
Eva Hollister was another parent who insisted her child was suffering because of the elimination of resource rooms for special needs students. She blamed the addition of Spanish to the curriculum as the reason.
“My kid doesn’t need to know Spanish," Hollister said. “She needs to know how to comprehend the English language. The resource rooms need to be brought back. Do not take it out of the negotiation.”
A number of parents wanted to know why resources for special education students were part of the teacher’s contract negotiations. Others demanded an answer about the elimination of the resource rooms.
“It’s complicated,” Superintendent Renee Goier said. “Part of it is state mandated. It is so complicated in the area of special ed.”
London tried to give a further explanation. When she was directly asked by several parents why it was part of the contract negotiations, she gave an answer. “It’s a little bit of everything,” she said referring to the negotiations. “Part of it is (state mandated).”
Though the board maintained its position of not discussing details of the contract negotiations in public, DEA President Dennis Jensen was given the opportunity to answer the question about special education from the point of view of the union.
“We can negotiate class size and working conditions for the special education teachers,” Jensen said. “We hope this will trickle down to benefit the students in the district.”
Others like Danielle Maldonado had a simple message for the board when it comes to the economic issues involved. “Commit a little more of the pie for the teachers and less for the administration,” she said.
Deerfield Cited as Unique for Special Education
At least five parents who spoke supporting the teachers and increased special education services claimed they moved to Deerfield because of its reputation for helping students who need extra resources.
“I have a daughter with autism and that is the reason we moved here,” Karen Rappaport said. “My daughter is a true success story because of what the teachers do. My children can do things I never dreamed they could do.”
Before the meeting, the DEA organized a demonstration of parents and teachers to make their point to board members and others attending the meeting. Several of them were willing to pay additional taxes if necessary to secure a fair contract for the teachers.
“Absolutely,” parent Jody Shapira said about paying higher taxes. “This is about my children’s future.
London took a more pragmatic view of what might happen if the board scheduled a referendum to increase taxes to support a new teacher contract. “Seventy percent of the people who live in Deerfield do not have children in the schools,” she said.