DANVILLE — The Danville school board has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Danville Education Association in an effort to force the association to come to the bargaining table.
Since the two sides exchanged proposals on April 13, the board has offered 19 potential meeting dates, representatives said at meeting with media on Friday. But, they said, the DEA has all but refused to meet, which they see as a possible tactic to get the board to change how it's negotiating a contract for teachers and teaching assistants and separate contract for secretaries and learning resource clerks.
As a result, teams negotiating the teacher/teaching assistant contract met only once in late May and did not address any contract issues. And teams negotiating the other contract haven't met at all.
"We've been disappointed and somewhat frustrated with not being able to make any progress," said Danville attorney Jerry Davis, the board's chief negotiator for the teacher/teaching assistant contract, who filed the complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board on Thursday. "Normally by this time, we would have made substantial progress but we've been faced with delay."
"We feel it's time" to move forward, Superintendent Mark Denman said, pointing out the start of the new school year is only two weeks away.
"We have many serious and complex issues to discuss and we can't address them unless we sit down and negotiate," Denman continued, adding the district's financial challenges, including a decrease in revenue and yet another year of uncertainty in state and local funding, are bound to make that more difficult. Earlier, he announced that the district's proposed $66.1 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year is projected to have a $2.43 million shortfall.
However, DEA officials denied they are stalling talks and, instead, accused the board of doing that.
"That's what we've wanted to do all along — bargain," President Robin Twidwell said, adding the association has been willing to schedule sessions, but the board has refused to have its two teams meet on the same days. "We want to start having conversations on how we can get this contract settled, which is in the best interest of our students and staff."
The association represents about 630 employees. Its two contracts, which were settled in September 2010 following a three-day strike, expired on June 30.
Historically, the board and association each have had one negotiating team, and the two teams have bargained both contracts. But this year, the board decided it would have two teams that would bargain each contract separately — which has been a bone of contention with the union since they learned about it back in April.
In fact, the DEA filed its own unfair labor practice complaint with the state in June, accusing the board of negotiating in bad faith because it refused to provide a reason for the change.
"We want them to be open and transparent," Twidwell said.
On Friday, Davis said the reason is simply the same reason the state Education Labor Relations Board ruled more than 20 years ago when secretaries and learning-recourse clerks joined the DEA that the certified staff and non-certified staff should have separate contracts; the two groups' interests and work issues were significantly different.
"The (school) board has some very valid reasons for having separate teams and negotiating the contracts independently," Davis continued, adding this teachers' contract will address lengthening the school day from seven hours to eight, changes in evaluations, tenure and pension, among other things.
Those issues don't affect secretaries and learning-resource clerks, who already work eight-hour days, who aren't eligible to receive tenure and whose pensions are funded through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, said Business and Finance Director Heather McKiernan, the district's chief negotiator for that contract.
"They have a right to have their issues heard," she said.
Twidwell said the board has never explained those reasons to the DEA. She doesn't believe they're logical because "95 percent of the language is the same" in both agreements.
"Our impression is they're trying to break the union," Twidwell said.
Davis called that "an unfounded charge" as the two groups, while represented by one association, operate as two units and under two separate contracts. "There's nothing to split. It's been that way for 20 years."
McKiernan pointed out that it's the same for the custodians and food service workers, both of which are part of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, AFL-CIO. The board is currently negotiating with separate negotiating teams for new contracts for those groups, too.
Despite the frustration, both sides are hoping to come together and resolve the problem so that they can focus on the contract issues.
"We've always had a really cooperative relationship between the DEA and the district," said board President Bill Dobbles, a retired teacher, who has been involved in negotiations on both sides for more than 40 years. "I think it's time we get back to that cooperative spirit. Clearly, these are not going to be easy negotiations. But I believe we can come to some type of resolution that will be favorable to both sides."