Danville schools' lawyer disputes union's claim over talks

Danville schools' lawyer disputes union's claim over talks

DANVILLE — An attorney representing the Danville school district in contract negotiations is disputing a claim by the Danville Education Association that district negotiators refused to come to the bargaining table earlier this month.

"At no time did we ever refuse to meet," Jerry Davis, the district's chief negotiator for a contract for teachers and teaching assistants, said at Wednesday's school board meeting.

The district and DEA, which represents about 630 employees, are negotiating two contracts — one for teachers and teaching assistants, and one for secretaries and learning resource clerks. The current contracts, settled in September 2010 after a three-day strike, expired on June 30.

Since 1989, the district and association each have had one negotiating team, and the two teams have bargained both contracts. But this year, the district decided it would have two teams that would bargain each contract separately, which the DEA sees as an attempt to divide the union.

Since trading proposals in April, the two sides met once briefly, but haven't been able to agree on any other negotiation dates. Each has blamed the other side for stalling talks.

To support his statement, Davis shared emails between him and Heather McKiernan, the district's chief negotiator for the other contract, and Sean Burns, then the DEA's chief negotiator. In an email to Burns, the Illinois Education Association's Region 8 uniserv director, Davis wrote that his team was willing to bargain on Aug. 1 and Aug. 7. He then asked Burns to contact him to arrange the time and location.

In a separate email, McKiernan, the district's business and finance director, told Burns her team could bargain on Aug. 2, but wasn't available on Aug. 7. She asked Burns to send her other potential dates and added that the board had not ruled out holding negotiations for both contracts on the same day "if schedules permit."

Davis and McKiernan were responding to a DEA request to negotiate the teacher-teaching assistant contract on Aug. 1, the other contract on Aug. 2 and both contracts at separate times on Aug. 7.

However, Davis pointed out, Burns responded by saying the DEA had filed a petition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to merge the two units and due to other things that needed to occur, "will not be available to meet (that) week for the purpose of bargaining a new contract."

Davis comments and sharing of emails came in response to a comment DEA officials made at a news conference on Tuesday, which they called in an effort to set bargaining dates with board President Bill Dobbles. Dobbles declined to attend, saying that he was neither a chief negotiator nor spokesman and didn't have the authority to schedule dates on the negotiation teams' behalf.

DEA board members said they saw Dobbles' absence as an example of what they called the board's unwillingness to compromise on meetings dates. Association President Robin Twidwell said the DEA proposed the August negotiation dates in an earlier attempt to compromise, and the board's response was to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the state labor board.

Twidwell and Burns didn't attend Wednesday's board meeting. But later Twidwell said she believes Davis left out information about phone conversations during which the dates were discussed, but nothing was ever agreed upon, causing her and Burns to get frustrated and back off of the dates. Davis and Superintendent Mark Denman denied having any conversations about the dates except through email.

Burns said he tried to explain in his email that if the district didn't object to the merger and DEA members approved it, the two sides would need to bargain only one contract.

He conveyed "if they wished to get together to talk about contract language, that's fine. We would do that. But, we couldn't agree to anything formally until the merger went through," Burns said. "That's different than saying we won't bargain."

Davis also said the district requested to meet on Thursday to set dates, but the DEA never responded.

Twidwell acknowledged that but said she only recently learned of the request, which was sent to Burns who is no longer the association's chief negotiator. She announced on Tuesday that position was taken over by Heath Blumenstock.