Public Hears 109 Board Stand on Talks
Board explains positions for first time. Union president clarifies union’s issues.
Public frustration erupted over the lack of public information provided about ongoing contract negotiations between Deerfield Public Schools District 109 and the Deerfield Education Association teachers’ union at Monday’s school board meeting.
Teachers have been working on an expired contract since before the school year began and started informational picketing in November. Both sides have been working through a federal mediator. The next session is Thursday followed by two more on Jan. 31 and Feb. 8.
The seeds for Monday’s emotional meeting attended by more than 400 people were planted earlier this week when Deerfield parent Susan Peterman sent an email expressing fears of a strike. “It’s not out of the question,” she said. “At some point they may reach an impasse.”
Union President Dennis Jensen indicated no movement toward a strike will be made before the Feb. 8 meeting. “Nothing is going to happen before those dates,” he said.
The board responded by making its first public comments about the negotiations at Monday’s meeting. Board President Ellen London read a prepared statement and board member Steven Schwartz, part of the negotiating team, explained some of the board’s position in the negotiations for the first time.
Statements Are Not Enough For Some
The board’s first public statements about the negotiations were not enough for some in the crowd. “Let us hear from the other side,” one person said. “There must be someone here who can speak (for the teachers).” London would not allow it.
Eric Hogberg, a Deerfield parent, made it clear he was not happy with either the board or the union. “I’m frustrated by the lack of information on both sides,” Hogberg said. “I’m being asked by both sides to express a position I know nothing about.”
With both the board’s comments and conversations with Jensen after the meeting, the positions of the two sides began to emerge. Schwartz talked about compensation including both salaries and benefits, special education and teacher evaluations.
Evaluations may prove to be the biggest sticking point. Teachers are currently graded on an old system which the board claims needs upgrading including the use of technology, according to Schwartz.
“If we want to change it it must be bargained,” Schwartz said. “A final evaluation instrument is being dealt with in the negotiation process. The procedure stays,” he added referring to procedural rights teachers currently possess.
When pressed by parents, Schwartz admitted the goal was to give the administration the final say over evaluations. Jensen made it clear that is not acceptable to the union.
Union Firm on Evaluation Issue
“We are very firm on it being kept,” Jensen said about maintaining teacher evaluations as a bargained right.
Schwartz made it clear the board’s negotiating team had strong feelings as well. “So are we,” he said responding to Jenson’s statement.
London emphasized she wants to see a fair contract for all sides. Schwartz talked about compensation and health care benefits. There appears more flexibility there but the board has its limits.
“We will not dip into reserves and we will not ask the taxpayers for more money (through a referendum),” Schwartz said. “Greater than CPI (consumer price index) we can’t do without dipping into reserves.” He also wants to make some alterations to the health care package to offset annual “double digit” cost increases.
Jensen said he has not been privy to the board’s finances to evaluate Schwartz’s position. Those records are public, according to District 109 Communications Director Cathy Kedjidian. He clearly sees room to move on the health care package.
Many of the parents who spoke were concerned about special education issues. The removal of resource rooms giving special needs students a period in the day for closer attention aroused great passion. “I came last month and I’ll keep coming every month until you restore the resource rooms,” one parent said.
Originally Schwartz said special education issues were not part of the negotiations. “It is not a contract issue,” he said. “It’s not in the contract now. Special education should not be part of it (the contract).”
Jensen said the resource rooms were part of the negotiations which was confirmed after the meeting by board member Nick Begley. Jensen said negotiating working conditions for teachers will also have an effect on special education services. “It will trickle down,” he said.
London told the crowd the board’s Committee of the Whole meeting Jan. 23 would include a presentation on special education. She also said there would be three parent meetings.