UPDATED 9:45 p.m. Monday
CHAMPAIGN — Members of the union that represents teachers in the Champaign school district clearly spelled out their hopes with an informational picket Monday evening.
"What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? Now," went a call-and-answer chant of teachers marching around a section of parking lot at the Mellon Administrative Center.
Some teachers carried signs, some as simple as "Fair contract," some more involved such as "Teacher working conditions = student learning conditions."
Their chant was loud enough to be heard in the school board chambers as the board convened for a 5:30 p.m. executive session before the open meeting at 6 p.m.
Champaign Federation of Teachers President Cathy Mannen said the picket was a communication tool, to convey the teachers' desire to settle a fair contract.
Their current contract, which was a one-year extension of the previous three-year contract, expired June 30.
The sides called in a federal mediator for an August bargaining session and one scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"The teachers are collectively coming together to communicate with the board of education," Mannen said. "We want a contract that is fair, a contract that reflects the way we work with the kids." She estimated more than 250 participated in the picket. The union represents more than 800 teachers, she said.
"Outstanding issues at this time continue to be salary, scheduling of teacher collaboration time, pension payments and other contract language," Mannen said.
"Last year, we proposed a rollover and a freeze to the salary schedule, due to the economic times," Mannen said in a release. "Now, the board is asking us to accept a second year of below-inflation-level increases and changes in contract language that will negatively impact teachers' working conditions at a time when demands on teachers continue to increase. We think the board can do better."
Also Monday, the union released a timeline of bargaining sessions with the school district:
— Bargaining began April 4, when the school board asked the union to present a one-year proposal because of the uncertain economy.
— The union complied and "presented a very brief proposal at the second bargaining session" on April 17.
— The board responded April 25, "with what the federation found to be a rather lengthy proposal."
— Bargaining teams met again May 21 and June 25, "when the administration requested we attempt mediation."
— The board's first mediation session was Aug. 14.
Mannen said every bargaining session has resulted in progress.
"There's no reason to believe that we won't" make progress in the Wednesday bargaining session with the federal mediator.
"We're a positive group," she said. "It's really just about communication."
School board President Sue Grey said the district and union are still negotiating, and reiterated Mannen's statement that every session has resulted in progress.
"I am very confident that we will come to resolution on this," Grey said, adding that both groups have a mutual respect. "Everyone is working hard to get this resolved."
Mannen said the teachers' strike in the Chicago Public Schools doesn't have much to do with the Champaign union's picket, other than that both involve teachers, who have "taken some hits recently."
"Chicago's issues are different than our issues," Mannen said.