The lid came off what had been quiet negotiations between the District 181 Board of Education and the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers’ Association (HCHTA) Monday night.
District teachers donning blue t-shirts filled the gym at in Burr Ridge during a regular business meeting of the board two days before the current contract between the district and teachers is set to expire. They cheered in support of HCHTA President Justin Horne when he read from a prepared statement during public comment and stood with hands raised when Horne asked if they supported the union’s offer.
The district and union had previously been mum on points of contention between the two parties during what has been, according to Board President Michael Nelson, more than 40 hours of negotiation over 12 sessions. But the two sides acknowledged Monday they have not seen eye to eye on teacher salaries going forward.
Both the board and the HCHTA want no base salary increase for teachers in the first year of a new contract. The union, however, wants to keep in place step increases, which are raises teachers get based on their longevity in the district. The board’s proposed salary freeze would not give step increases in the first year. Nelson said the average step increase is 2.8 percent.
Offers from the two sides continue to diverge in year two of a potential contract. The union wants a 1.75 percent base salary increase, plus step increases; the board offered step increases in the second year but still no base salary increase.
In year three of a potential contract, the board has offered a base salary increase equal to 50 percent of the CPI increase in year three (not to exceed 2.25 percent), plus step increases. The union handout listed no proposed offer for a third year.
Horne said the district's fund balances would increase with the union's proposed plan. Nelson said that statement is premature because the district is not sure of what revenue it will get from the state and federal governments in future years.
The current contract between the district and teachers expires Wednesday. District 181 director of communications Rita DuChateau said the district plans to start the school year Thursday, as planned, with or without a new contract.
“It would not be the first time a contract was not settled by the first day of school,” DuChateau said.
Horne said the union is “extremely concerned and disappointed” that a deal has not been reached. He said the teachers' union and past school boards have been able to successfully work through collective bargaining disagreements privately. According to Horne, a “vocal minority” seems to have it in for the teachers and is the reason for the stalemate.
"We have never encountered a board that seems so entrenched in a position that would have a negative impact on our teachers, even when fund balances are increasing,” Horne said. “It apparently isn't even about money."
Nelson said after Monday’s meeting that the board is disappointed with the current impasse, as well.
“We truly value the teachers and the work they do with our students,” Nelson said. “We have an absolutely wonderful district and teachers are really the drivers of a solid education for our kids.”
He said the board supports a “market-based" compensation package that pays District 181 teachers competitively while also taking into consideration the troubled economy, which Nelson said likely isn't going to improve in the near future.
“We, in good conscience, can't keep jacking up taxes to increase pay in the district,” Nelson said.
Three of the four community members who spoke during public comment Monday echoed that sentiment and criticized the teachers for demanding raises.
Nelson was asked whether an agreement will come by Thursday.
“Ideally, yes,” he said. “But ultimately we’re going to get to the right agreement.”