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Carbondale school district, teachers union hopeful for quick end to contract stalemate

CARBONDALE (WSIL) — Teachers for Carbondale elementary students could go on strike soon.

The union met with the Carbondale Elementary School District 95 school board Monday but could not reach a contract agreement.

"A strike is the last thing that we want to do," Carbondale Education Association president Melissa Norman said.

The union initiated contract talks in March but no offers were formally made until June.

Norman said the school board was not prepared when the union made its first offer and has drawn out contract talks since then.

"Our goal all along has been to work with the (Carbondale Elementary School District #95) Board of Education to come up with a contract that was fair and addressed student safety but we still have not gotten to that point," Norman said.

The union posted its final offer to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on September 4, allowing teachers to strike as early as next week.

Norman said the final offer was made August 26, but school board president John Major said the board didn’t receive it until after it was posted to the IELRB website. 

He said he’s ready to get back to the bargaining table.

"We’ve always been ready," Major said. "And we told them that."

A couple issues are holding up talks so far, the first one dealing with money.

The Carbondale Elementary School District #95 uses a table for teacher salaries Norman said is largely based on the number of years a teacher has worked, plus the level of education the specific teacher has earned.

The years worked, or steps, is important when it comes to the differing offers because after a certain point, teachers stop receiving yearly raises.

For a teacher with a bachelors degree, the increases would stop after 10 years and that teacher wouldn’t see another raise until his or her 20th year of service under both proposals.

Both proposals would raise teacher salaries inside the step schedule three percent each year, but that’s the only similarity.

The union’s most recent offer would raise everyone’s salaries by four percent each of the first two years, and then 3.5 percent in the third year. The overall cost of the union’s proposal would be $1,775,427 according to documents posted on the IELRB website.

"We’ve done the math. We know that the district can afford that without going to the taxpayers and having to raise taxes," Norman said.

Major said the union’s proposal would hurt the school’s reserve fund, which helps the district stay away from financial maneuvers like temporarily laying off teachers each year to stay afloat.

"We’re not going to deplete that so that years from now, the district’s in bad shape," Major said.

The school board’s offer includes a three-percent raise for teachers in the step schedule each year and an additional one percent raise for every teacher. Major said it would cost $609,745.

Another issue is student discipline. The union wants more administrative support when it comes to disciplinary issues with students. 

"We need the teachers to be able to have consistent access to these supports to meet the needs of our students," Norman said.

Major said the proposal is problematic because it involves removing students from the classroom if they disrupt the class for more than ten minutes.

"We don’t agree with that and studies have shown that it doesn’t work for the (student) population that we have," Major said.

The union made other requests but Major said the discussion when the two sides met Monday never moved beyond the discipline issue.

"When we went into sidebar Monday night, we talked about one thing and never got onto anything else," Major said. "That’s it."

Both Norman and Major said they’re hopeful for another meeting with a federal mediator soon, but nothing has been scheduled yet.

Major said he hopes a meeting will take place sometime early next week.

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News 3 Staff

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