The District 112 teachers' union declared an impasse in its contract negotiations with the school board last week, a decision that could lead to a teachers' strike by the middle of next month.
The teachers' current contract expired Aug. 21. Since then, the North Shore Education Association (NSEA) — the teachers' union — has been meeting with the district's school board to negotiate a new contract. Even with the assistance of a federal mediator, the talks have not gone far.
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"We went in with about half a million dollars a year in health insurance concessions," NSEA president Pamela Kramer said. "Even with that they still want to freeze our salaries."
Kramer said much of the union's frustration comes from the way the new contract cuts rewards to teachers for pursuing higher accreditation. Previously, the district gave teachers a 1.5 percent raise for 18 hours of graduate credits, according to Kramer. In the new contract, that raise has been replaced by a $250 stipend.
The stipend, combined with a salary freeze that would prevent raises except for cost of living increases, means it would take teachers 20 years to make back the thousands of dollars teachers spend from their own pockets on higher learning, according to Kramer.
"What that would do in this district is teachers would come, work in this district for a year or two and then leave to a district that pays better," Kramer said. An English and dual language teacher, Kramer has taught in Highland Park for 12 years. "You don't want teachers that come and hightail it to Lake Forest and Deerfield where they get better pay."
Kramer believes the district's reluctance to be more generous with its teachers stems from its unnecessarily gloomy outlook on its own financial state.
"The money is there … it just depends on how you look at the future," Kramer said. "Do you look at it as doom and gloom? The economy is getting better."
District 112 Community Relations Specialist Andi Rosen told Patch the district has a very clear idea of what its finances will look like and wants to make sure expenditures don't exceed revenue.
"We can project very accurately what the revenue will be like," Rosen said. She added that the teachers' union used Kramer's argument three years ago, and as a result the district gave out salary increases to teachers that ended up going "well above the revenues," $2.65 million from its 2013 budget earlier this year.
"It's not in the best interests of the teachers if the board is in a position where further cuts have to be made," Rosen said. "At some point it starts to affect class sizes."
Rosen declined to elaborate on Kramer's concerns, but said that the district's new proposed contract would be published online on Sept. 21. In the meantime, Rosen acknowledged that negotiations still had a long way to go.
"The board and the union came to the table hoping to talk to each other and reach a settlement," Rosen said, "but they are quite far apart."
The declaration of impasse came last Friday, days after the teachers voted to authorize the negotiations team to strike if bargaining sessions continued to be unproductive. The union and the board have until Sept. 21 to submit their most recent contract proposals to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, and then another seven days to post those proposals on the agency's website. The earliest the strike could legally begin is Oct. 12.
But that won't stop teachers from rallying before then. Kramer said that teachers will rally outside of the District 112 School Board meeting on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the District Administrative Officed, 1936 Green Bay Road.
District 112 teachers have also taken to the Internet to reach out to the community about its concerns. They have set up a Facebook page and are blogging about the negotiations on the union's website.
"It's a new school board," Kramer said. "I think they'll be surprised to find out that the community values its teachers."
The next mediation session between the board and the union will be held on Oct. 4.