Danville schools, teachers' union settle contract

DANVILLE — The Danville school district and its largest bargaining unit have reached a tentative agreement about 14 months after officially launching contract negotiations.

"I'm thrilled to have it done," said Robin Twidwell, the Danville Education Association's president, who made the announcement via email on Wednesday afternoon.

"It's been a very long, time-consuming process, but both sides feel they have reached a meaningful agreement," Superintendent Mark Denman added. "Neither side got everything it wanted. But it represents a good compromise."

The association represents about 600 teachers, teaching assistants, secretaries and learning resource clerks. Members have been working under their old two-year contract, which expired on June 30.

Association members are scheduled to vote on the proposal June 27. Upon ratification, the Danville school board will call a special meeting to vote on it.

The board's original proposal called for a salary freeze, an employee contribution to health insurance and an extended school day. However, Twidwell and Denman declined to release details until the proposal is approved by both sides.

The tentative agreement comes after a third marathon negotiation session on June 14. Key members of both bargaining teams — without the federal mediator, who helped broker earlier talks — met for about 11 hours on that day, and Twidwell said the association's entire bargaining team reviewed the final proposal Tuesday night.

This has been the board and DEA's lengthiest contract negotiation, largely due to a dispute over how the contracts would be bargained. At the time, the association had two contracts — one for teachers and teaching assistants, and the other for secretaries and learning resource clerks — which had been the practice since a ruling by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board in the late 1980s.

The two sides exchanged proposals in mid-April 2012. However, the DEA said it was taken aback when the board announced it would have two separate teams bargain the two contracts separately — a change from how it always had been done in the past.

According to board members, the two contracts were needed because there were two different sets of employees with different needs.

However, the DEA saw the bargaining change as a move to the break the union and filed a complaint with the labor relations board, accusing the board of bargaining in bad faith. Then the board filed its own complaint, accusing the DEA of refusing to meet because it didn't like the change.

Last August, the association filed a petition with labor relations board to merge the units, and the labor relations board ruled in the association's favor in February. The school board initially filed an objection against the petition, then agreed to accept the labor relation board's decision.

In April, association members voted overwhelmingly to merge and operate under one contract.

After the merger was approved, the two sides began making progress. Both sides reported making significant progress at two weekend marathon sessions held earlier this month.

In the past few weeks, the two teams came together and worked very hard on the agreement, board President Bill Dobbles said. "We hope to continue this cooperative relationship between the staff and the board."

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