CHAMPAIGN — Both the union that represents Champaign teachers and the Champaign school district released their most current proposals for a new contract Thursday.
The district and the Champaign Federation of Teachers have been unable to settle on salary increases and several other issues, and were not able to reach a deal on a contract at a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday.
The two parties released their proposals as they continue through a process with the state that could lead to a teacher strike. However, they have another bargaining session scheduled for Oct. 7.
Union President Cathy Mannen said the union is focused on reaching a settlement without a strike.
"I'm optimistic every single time" the parties negotiate, she said.
School board President Laurie Bonnett gave a statement Thursday, saying "the board has a strong belief in and respect for its teachers and compensates them fairly for their work."
"This is demonstrated by the district's generous existing compensation and benefits package ... as well as its continued effort to offer raises at a time when others are cutting back," she said.
Neither Bonnett nor board member Kerris Lee answered questions from the media following the reading of their statements Thursday afternoon at the Mellon Administrative Building in Champaign.
You can see a PDF of the union's proposal here.
A PDF of the district's proposal is here.
There's no way to directly compare the salaries in the two proposals as they were released Thursday.
The union said it is proposing a one-year contract with a 3.65 percent increase to its salary schedule and said the district is proposing a 1.3 percent raise to its salary schedule in a three-year contract.
However, the district said when that 1.3 percent is added to the average 1.7 percent step increase in the teachers' existing contract, it's offering an average 3 percent raise each year for three years.
A step increase is an raise a teacher receives for working more years or having earned more education.
The district considers the union's proposal to be a 5.35 percent average raise for teachers, Bonnett said in her statement.
Mannen said that combines teachers' step increases with the union's proposed increase to the salary schedule as a whole.
"The union believes that step increases in the salary schedule are ... intended to be recognition of longevity (and) added skill that comes along with years of experience," Mannen said.
The issue of salary increases is just one item the sides can't agree on.
The union is asking the district to limit the amount of time elementary teachers spend supervising students but not teaching (such as before or after school or during lunch) to 20 minutes a day.
The union said it believes staff schedules in elementary schools can be rearranged without cost to the district.
However, the district rejected that proposal, saying such a thing wouldn't be practical and "would require a complete overhaul of the daily schedule at the elementary buildings, which would not benefit students or staff."
The district said it believes two extra aides would have to be hired at each school, calculating the cost at about $1.8 million.
"The board is committed to maintaining a safe and secure school environment and the CFT's proposal would jeopardize its ability to do so," Bonnett said in her statement.
Another issue has to do with teacher evaluations.
A recent law has changed how evaluations are conducted, and they can now be tied to reduction in force, which is when school districts dismiss employees because of economic uncertainty or when a grant isn't renewed.
The union is also asking the district to allow teachers who feel they haven't been fairly evaluated to be able send a letter with objections to a joint committee of teachers and administrators that deals with evaluations.
The district rejected this proposal, saying the committee isn't given any other role than to address matters of evaluation.
"State law simply doesn't provide for this," Bonnett said.
The two sides also disagree on the wording of contract language regarding how complaints against teachers are handled when teachers are put on paid administrative leave.
The two sides differ on whether parents should be involved before administrators investigate, according to the district's proposal.
The union wants the building's principal to write a letter of support for a teacher returning from such leave, but the district isn't "prepared to require" such a thing.
Lee read a statement from the board about how negotiations have gone so far, and how the district has "cut millions of dollars in staffing, programming and operation costs from its annual budget," and the cost of the union's step increases alone will eliminate an expected $630,000 surplus the district is expecting this year in the fund from which it pays teacher salaries.
On Monday, the board approved its budget knowing the district hasn't settled contracts with its teachers and the union that represents its support personnel.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said Thursday that while the district may not have a surplus in that fund this year, it would still have cash reserves.
At this point, the district's budget shows the it expects to end the year with about $12 million in that fund and about $12.2 million in its working-cash fund.
The district is still facing financial uncertainties because of possible pension reform, losses in state aid, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, federal sequestration and increased enrollment in Champaign, Lee said in his statement.
However, Mannen said teachers have made sacrifices in previous contracts because of the district's financial hardship. Local revenue is increasing, she said, and the union thinks the district is in good financial shape and should show its teachers it values them.
Teachers don't want to see the value of their contracts decrease, she said, and the union wants to make sure the district can continue to attract and keep quality teachers.
"The biggest factor of student success is the teacher," Mannen said. "As we've been working through this part round of negotiations, we've been very mindful of, how do we continue to attract and retain quality teachers and a what does our contract need to do that."
Steps remain before a teacher's strike could happen
The Champaign school district and the Champaign Federation of Teachers are now a week into an almost-month-long process that could lead to a teacher strike.
On Thursday, the district and the union that represents about 850 of its teachers both released their most current contract proposals that they'll send to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
The board will post those proposals on its website in one week. The union could call a strike two weeks after that — as long as it also has an intent-to-strike notice filed for at least 10 days. The soonest a strike could begin is Oct. 18.
The two sides have scheduled an Oct. 7 negotiating session with a federal mediator. They have been negotiating since May, and with a federal mediator since August.