RANTOUL – A mediator has been called in to help Rantoul Township High School union members and administrators resolve stalled contract talks.
"The bargaining hasn't gone anywhere," said Gene Vanderport, area representative of the Illinois Education Association. "There's a considerable distance."
The union has called in a mediator to work with both sides Aug. 17, and the union's membership, which numbers about 63, met Monday night to talk about their next step.
David Requa, the district's superintendent, was out Monday and not available to comment on the progress of talks.
Vanderport said the union's in favor of continuing talks instead of waiting for the scheduled mediator because the beginning of school is so close. Teachers return to their schools Aug. 21, and students report to class Aug. 22, and that adds a lot of tension to bargaining sessions, Vanderport said.
Board President Mary Bolser said representatives of the administration aren't talking to the press until conflicts are resolved.
"We're still talking," Bolser said. But she said she doesn't know if the two sides will meet before the mediation session on the 17th.
Vanderport said there are a lot of changes and new dynamics in the district that factor into the contract talks.
"In this unit, about 23 of the faculty members are brand new," Vanderport said. "Turnover is very high, and that's one thing we want to address. Also the character of the unit has changed because demographics have changed dramatically, the poverty rate is very high and that's changed educational needs."
Michelle Strater, a spokeswoman for the union's crisis team, said the team called the Monday night meeting to get information about what's going on to new and returning teachers.
"We're very open to continuing to meet (before the mediator comes in)," said Strater, a Rantoul native who attended the high school. "We'd like to move on this."
She said teachers' expired 2003-06 contract was approved in spring 2003, before school was out.
"That's our goal from now on," Strater said. "It's nice not to have to worry about it when you're bringing in new people during the summer, and it says good things about the district."
She said talks about other issues went smoothly, but when it came to the big money issues – insurance and salaries – they stalled fast.
"Our goal is that we come up with a contract that's fair for both sides," Strater said.
She said she's also worried about retention. "The starting salary is excellent, but the incentive to continue isn't as favorable as other districts," Strater said. "Through retirements, we've lost a lot of people on the high end of the scale. I've been here 10 years, and I'm in the top 10 percent of years served."
The union has a recent history of resolving contract issues without strife. Teachers did strike in 1991 when talks stalled, but the strike lasted only three days and was resolved after a five-hour bargaining session the fourth day.
Vanderport said the high school district is the only Illinois Education Association bargaining unit in his area with unresolved contract issues.
"Everyone's either settled or so close to settling they're not worried about it," Vanderport said. "Settlements in the area are coming in at about 5 percent salary increases."
Neighboring Rantoul City Schools, a K-8 district, resolved contract talks in July. Vanderport said members have not yet ratified their contract so details of the settlement aren't yet available. The union will schedule a ratification meeting as soon as members return from vacation, he said.
"Hopefully, we get through this at the high school," Vanderport said.