Bourbonnais Elementary teachers picket

Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 teachers, staff and supporters picket along Route 45 on Jan. 26 to raise awareness about their struggle to reach a contract agreement with the school district. About 150 marchers walked in the snow from near Alan Shepard and Shabbona Elementary Schools down to John Casey Road, where the district office is located.

BOURBONNAIS — It’s back to the virtual bargaining table Thursday for the Bourbonnais Education Association and Bourbonnais Elementary School Board as efforts continue on both sides to reach an agreement and avoid a strike.

The main point of contention remains the proposed pay structure; the BEA is asking for percentage-based salary increases, while the school board is offering fixed-dollar amounts in raises and bonuses.

Last Wednesday, shortly after teachers rallied for “fair contract, fair pay” near the district administration building — with nearly 100 showing up in the cold to show their support — the school board presented a five-year contract to counter the BEA’s recent two-year proposal.

Teacher contracts in the district are typically three years in length.

The most recent offers

The board’s offer from Feb. 17 includes the following:

• Year 1: $1,300 salary increase + $1,500 bonus = $2,800 total;

• Year 2: $1,200 salary increase +$1,000 bonus = $2,200 total;

• Year 3: $1,300 salary increase for teachers with bachelor’s degree/$2,300 salary increase for teachers with master’s degree;

• Year 4: $1,650 salary increase;

• Year 5: $1,650 salary increase.

In a previous meeting, the BEA proposed a two-year contract with 4.25 percent raises for all teachers each year.

School board perspective

John Hall, vice president of the school board and head of its negotiating team, said the board does not want to accept a contract of less than three years.

Negotiations have been ongoing for almost a year, and a two-year contract would put them back at the bargaining table in only a year’s time, he said.

“We want to avoid a strike at all costs,” he said. “We don’t want to be back at the table next year potentially having the same issues.”

Hall said the board offered more money in salary increases in its recent five-year proposal than what the union had asked for in its recent two-year proposal.

“Because we were giving them more money than they were asking for, we thought we would try to get a five-year deal so we could actually put this behind us by the next time we have to negotiate,” he said.

Hall also noted the BEA’s efforts to gain public support by picketing and organizing last week’s rally, as well as the potential strike the union said would happen if there is no agreement by March 4.

“It’s going to take time for the district to heal, and we want a contract that gives the district and the community a chance to do that,” Hall said.

“It’s been since, I think, 1999 since people in Bourbonnais have seen their teachers threatening to strike or [picketing] on the street corner or standing on the back of pickup trucks trying to rally support,” he continued. “Nobody wins in this situation. The district doesn’t win. Teachers don’t win. The community doesn’t win. Children — what we’re all here for — lose out more than anyone.”

Union perspective

BEA President Lauren Lundmark said the union is pushing for percentage-based increases rather than fixed-dollar amounts so that teachers with more experience and education (who earn higher salaries) are rewarded for their efforts with higher raises.

She said the BEA initially proposed a five-year contract, then talks shifted to three-year contracts. The union recently proposed a two-year contract with the intention of coming back to the bargaining table sooner, she explained.

“[The BEA’s recent offer] would also bring us back to the table at the end of next year, after the two-year contract is over, so that we could re-evaluate the district’s finances and make sure they could still be fiscally responsible and maintain the structure that would be established,” she said.

“I don’t think anything is off the table as far as the length of the contract,” she clarified. “It all kind of depends on what we can agree on as far as the structure goes.”

Lundmark said the board has acknowledged a “disparity in pay” for teachers with master’s degrees by including a higher increase in the third year of its recent contract offer; however, she said it still does not do enough to reward teachers for having more experience or their longevity in the district.

“Our offer would cost the district less money, and it would put more money in the teachers’ pockets as far as salary,” Lundmark said. “We’re kind of at the point where, if it’s going to cost them less, than what’s wrong with our offer?”

Thursday is currently the only negotiating date scheduled before March 4, the date the union said it would initiate a strike if there is no agreement. Lundmark said she expects another meeting would be scheduled if Thursday’s meeting does not result in an agreement.

“We would love to get this done on Thursday,” she noted. “We would love to have an agreement and get this done and know that we are staying in the classroom. That’s ideal.”

BEA member feedback

During a regular school board meeting Tuesday evening, Lundmark reported that 97 percent of union members indicated they were unwilling to accept the board’s current five-year offer; meanwhile, 96 percent indicated they would agree to the BEA’s current two-year offer, even though it concedes on the “traditional” step-and-lane salary structure and class-size provisions the union originally asked for.

There are nearly 170 members in the union.

After the meeting, Hall said he was “not sure what else [the board] can do.”

“They even admitted we are giving them more money, but they are not willing to accept it,” he said.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.