District 155 board declines binding arbitration offer from teachers union

CRYSTAL LAKE – The Community High School District 155 Board of Education unanimously declined a binding arbitration offer from the teachers union Thursday, setting in motion the first formal steps toward a strike.

After more than six months of negotiations, union leaders and board members were unable to come to an agreement with the help of a federal mediator on a new contract. Teachers have been working without a contract since July 1.

Last week, the union offered binding arbitration – requiring both the union and district to honor a contract drafted by an independent party – but board members said it would not be in the best interest of the district and the community.

Board member Dave Secrest, speaking on behalf of the body, said the community elected board members and turning over contract negotiation duties to a third party would be skirting responsibilities.

"It's not a job that should be turned over to some third party outsider that doesn't have a vested interest in this district," Secrest said after the board took its vote after a 10-minute closed session on the subject. "We will have a solution to this negotiation. At the end of the day, we need to all be together in this."

With the offer rejected, the union and district will submit their impasse offers to the Illinois Educational Relations Board. The impasse offers, which are the last offers the union and board made to each other, should be available for public viewing next week.

The union voted to authorize a strike if necessary on Nov. 3 with 99.4 percent of the 440 members in favor, but Craig Kingston, vice president of the union, said no strike is imminent.

Kingston said the union was prepared for the board's rejection, but it was upsetting a neutral party could not be brought in to settle differences.

"It seems like the board would prefer to have the teachers in a position where we either have to accept some cuts or go on strike," Kingston said. "We figured it was our responsibility to do all we could and exhaust all options to avoid that strike. That said, we're still going to be meeting, talking and working."

Regardless of the details of the final contract, it will have a significant effect on the district's budget that has already been approved.

For every 1 percent potential increase in teachers' salaries and benefits, the district must spend about $500,000, according to T. Ferrier, assistant superintendent of finance.

The board next meets on Tuesday at Crystal Lake Central High School where teachers are expected to have an informational picket. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.