Danville school district, union set bargaining dates

DANVILLE — Contract talks between the Danville school district and its largest employee union may move forward now that negotiators for both sides have agreed on bargaining dates.

The district and Danville Education Association will proceed with negotiating two separate contracts — one for teachers and teaching assistants and another for secretaries and learning resource clerks — even though the association is still waiting on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to rule on its petition to merge the two groups and allow them to operate under one contract.

"We really wanted resolution on that before we started bargaining," DEA President Robin Twidwell said.

A hearing on the petition was originally set for Sept. 10, but later pushed back to Nov. 19 and 20.

Meantime, the teams bargaining over the teacher-teaching assistant contract will meet at 4:15 p.m. Nov. 28, and again at 4:15 p.m. Dec. 4.

The teams bargaining over the secretary-learning resource contract will meet at 4:15 p.m. Nov. 29 and at 7:15 p.m. Dec. 4.

The bargaining sessions were discussed and agreed upon on late Thursday afternoon by Twidwell; Heath Blumenstock, the association's chief negotiator; Danville attorney Jerry Davis, the district's chief negotiator for the teacher-teaching assistant contract; and Heather McKiernan, the district's business and finance director and chief negotiator for the secretary-learning resource clerk contract.

"We're very pleased that meeting dates have been set, and we look forward to commencing our negotiations," said Superintendent Mark Denman, who is not directly involved in the talks.

The association represents about 650 employees. Members have been working under their old two-year contracts since they expired on June 30.

The two sides exchanged proposals for new agreements in April. However, talks have been stalled because the two sides haven't been able to agree on bargaining session dates.

In June, the DEA filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the district, accusing it of negotiating in bad faith for refusing to provide a reason for changing the way it has bargained the two contracts after more than two decades.

In the past, the school board and association each have had one negotiating team, and the two teams have bargained both contracts together. But this year, the board decided to have two negotiating teams to bargain each contract separately — a move aimed at dividing the DEA, according to association representatives.

In August, the district filed its own unfair labor practice complaint against the DEA for refusing to come to the table.

That month, the association filed its petition to merge the two units, saying they already view themselves as one. Shortly afterward, the district filed an objection, arguing there's a different "community of interest," meaning work issues and other things, between the two units and, therefore, they should operate under two separate contracts.

If the state labor relations board rules in the DEA's favor and association members approve the merger after negotiations on the separate contracts begin, Twidwell said, "there would be an expectation that any contractual items that we tentatively agreed on would be honored."

Twidell said she hopes that Thursday's breakthrough is a sign that negotiating teams will begin bargaining in good faith and make progress.

"Our staff absolutely deserves everyone's best effort to get this settled," she said, adding she believes staff is working harder than ever this year. "They come to work and put the kids first. This is all without a (new) contract. I never hear any complaints from them."

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