URBANA – Administrators today confirmed that a tentative agreement for teachers' contracts is in reach.
"About 1 a.m., all the elements fell into place," said Superintendent Gene Amberg today. "But we have some work to do today to make sure all items are in place. We have a tentative agreement on concepts, language and money, and we have to make sure they're all in line."
The agreement, which would result in a contract that lasts for a year, was reached after the union and administration teams met Tuesday for seven hours. That followed sessions Monday that lasted nine hours.
The Urbana Education Association must meet to vote on the agreement, and if it's approved, the board could vote on it as early as next Tuesday at its regular 7:30 p.m. meeting
Joyce Hudson, president of Urbana's board of education, said she left negotiations an hour early, but at the time, the offer called for a 3.5 percent across-the-board increase and a $30 monthly increase in contribution to teachers' insurance.
That will take the district's monthly insurance payment up to $195 per employee.
The tentative resolution also includes several letters of understanding, one of which is linked to insurance issues.
"We're going to be looking jointly at health insurance proposals, appointing a committee to make timely recommendations to the board," Amberg said. "The union wants more involvement in insurance proposals."
Another letter of understanding focuses on the district's salary schedule. The administration had wanted to increase pay significantly for teachers at the low and high ends of the schedule to make them competitive with those in Champaign, the district's biggest competitor for teachers.
But the proposal would have limited increases for teachers in the middle because they're already making salaries equivalent to those of their peers in Champaign, and the bargaining team rejected that idea.
"We weren't about to get a new restructured schedule in the contract, but a committee will discuss benefits of an alternative schedule for teachers and pursue a course of information about choices," Amberg said. "The board is very interested in a more equitable and fair schedule."
Discussions about support staff and training opportunities will also continue.
The two sides, who called in a federal mediator this summer when they couldn't resolve their issues, also talked about the district's expenditure reduction plan, agreeing to discontinue an employee assistance program that costs $17,000 and benefits few and a 25th paycheck that some teachers received in August. That move is expected to produce some administrative savings.
"We'll have to start the expenditure reduction plan again," Amberg said. "We've already cut $2 million, and we'll see what impact the new contract will have."
The board may be facing another $1 million in cuts, depending on how much new money the teachers' contract costs. Business Manager Carol Baker said the insurance costs alone will increase by more than $200,000.
The Urbana district employs more than 700 people, and about 550 of them are covered by the contract, which also covers some support personnel like teachers' aides.
Deb Tuttle, president of the union, said today she couldn't talk much about contract details or the union's schedule for a vote.
The union met last Friday at Urbana High School to take a vote to announce its intent to strike if progress wasn't made. Teachers are to return to their classrooms Aug. 21, and students start school Aug. 25.
Gene Vanderport, area Illinois Education Association representative, said negotiations starting Monday were "rough at best" but later, things began to move toward resolution.
"But the devil's in the details," Vanderport said Tuesday before negotiations resumed.
Vanderport said he believes joint talks about health benefits will help both teachers and the district.
"In other districts, we're bargaining with the (insurance) carriers," he said. "We sit at the tables with the insurance companies, we look at various plans and we send out a broker if we're not satisfied with what's offered. Then we meet with members to vote on what they want."
"In Urbana, it's all after the fact," Vanderport said. "We think we can help save the district money. If we can figure out ways to meet members' needs and cut costs, it's in everyone's best interest."
Vanderport was meeting with union personnel and was not available this morning.
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at email@example.com.