The last meeting scheduled before Thursday, when the teachers union has said it would initiate a strike if there is still no agreement, is set for Tuesday.
Officials from both the Bourbonnais School Board and Bourbonnais Education Association maintain reaching an agreement to avoid a possible strike is paramount, especially during a year when so much class time already has been lost because of the pandemic.
“All we want is our kids back in school full time and not to have a strike,” said John Hall, head of the school board’s negotiating team. “Personally, the fact that our kids have already missed out on a full year of school as far as full time, the thought that we could miss more time is as disheartening as it can get.”
Any school days missed because of a strike would be made up during the summer, school officials said.
“We’re working to compromise,” BEA President Lauren Lundmark said. “We’re working to get to an agreement so the strike doesn’t have to happen. We don’t want it to happen, and at this point, our members are willing to compromise.”
Lundmark said she thought there were “productive conversations” during Thursday’s meeting.
“I really feel like we could be so close [to an agreement],” she said.
While the board verbally presented offers Thursday that would include percentage-based increases — a key feature the union has been pushing for — they still are not in agreement on an entire contract.
Lundmark said teachers want to maintain current retirement and insurance benefits as well. Those features have been included in recent board offers, but they have not been presented all together with the salary increases and structure teachers also want, she said.
“I feel like our conversations were good; we just didn’t reach the point where we had an agreement yet,” she said.
Union members originally pushed for a “traditional” step-and-lane salary structure as well, which lays out raises for teachers based on increased experience and education. The district has offered fixed dollar amount raises since 2014.
The union now is willing to concede on that feature, but it still is pushing for percentage-based increases, Lundmark said.
“We still have our same goals as a union,” she said. “We want a fair raise that is going to keep the gap between us and other districts from getting bigger, and we don’t want a cut in benefits, either to our current members or teachers that we don’t have yet. We want to continue to attract good, quality teachers to our district.”
Hall said the board verbally presented three different supposals (nonofficial offers) Thursday. Two of the offers included straight percentage-based increases, and one offer included a hybrid of percentage-based and fixed dollar increases.
One of the board’s verbal offers would have modeled the contract Bradley Elementary District 61 approved in April 2020, featuring 3.5 percent raises the first two years and a 4 percent raise the third year of the contract, as well as Bradley School District's current insurance and retirement benefits.
The thinking behind that offer was the union has maintained teachers want to be treated like their neighbors when it comes to salary and benefits, Hall said.
“We’ve tried to listen to everything that they’ve asked,” he said.
The most recent official offer from the BEA was a two-year contract with 4.25 percent increases proposed each year, but Hall said the board is not willing to accept a contract that would put them back at the bargaining table in only a year’s time.
He said the board would be willing to accept three- or five-year proposals.
The only other meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, but Hall said the board also would schedule one for Monday if the mediator and union representatives also can meet.
“The closer we get to that [strike] date, the more frantic it is to get a deal done,” he said. “After meeting Tuesday, that literally gives us one day [before the possible strike].”