Superintendent: Gap between District 156, union shrinking

McHENRY – School District 156 and its teachers union are "light years" from where they were 10 days ago, the district's superintendent said.

About 10 days ago was when the school board voted to declare an impasse in ongoing negotiations, starting a process that requires both sides to post their last offer and opening up the opportunity for the union to vote on striking.

Since then, the two sides had another mediator-attended negotiation session, Superintendent Mike Roberts said. Another one is scheduled for Friday.

Roberts is "real confident" that the district is not headed for a strike, adding that recent negotiations have "really closed the gap."

Greg Eiserman, co-president of the McHenry Community High School Teachers Association, did not return a call for comment Monday, but in a conversation Nov. 29, he said the union had not discussed a strike.

The last offers, which were posted Monday to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board website, showed the district and the union disagreed on salary increases, how much teachers pay for family health insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, summer school pay, stipends for teachers that travel between campuses, and early retirement incentives.

Many of the changes proposed by the board seek to tie increases to the rate of inflation and shift some health-insurance costs onto employees.

"There's no question that from a district standpoint uncertainty places a huge part in this," Roberts said. "No question, whether it is simply are our reimbursements from the state or where medical benefits are headed. Even if you're running a business today, you better be concerned about those two things. They're huge unknowns right now."

After taking what the union argues amounted to a pay cut during contract negotiations two years ago, it is looking for pay increases for its members while not incurring more costs in other areas.

"This contract was ratified overwhelmingly with the understanding that when the district could afford it, we would be given a contract that helps us move forward again," the union's final offer said. "We believe that time is now and will continue to negotiate for what is fair for all involved."

Negotiations began in June, once the newly elected school board took office and Roberts began to assume some of the superintendent duties. He officially took over as superintendent in July.

To read the full offers, go to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board's website at http://www2.illinois.gov/elrb.