Champaign teachers request federal mediator for contract talks with district

Champaign teachers request federal mediator for contract talks with district

CHAMPAIGN — Unproductive negotiations between the Champaign Federation of Teachers and the Unit 4 school district have resulted in a request for federal intervention.

A five-and-a-half-hour meeting Friday between the teachers union, the Champaign school board and other district officials ended with the union requesting a federal mediator to step in, President Jen White said Tuesday.

In an emailed statement, Unit 4 spokeswoman Emily Schmit said the board agreed to the federal mediator and called discussions between the two groups "productive." She added that "only a few items remain unresolved at this point."

In addition to a general sense of stalled progress, White said the teachers' union has been concerned with various sticking points between it and the district.

"Some of that is based upon the fact that when the (North Champaign Academy) charter-school application process happened, as a union, we were listening to those concerns, and we know there are things to address in this district," she said. "As we developed our proposal, we kept those in mind."

Among them: White said the union would like to see class-size limitations put into place — at least for kindergartners, if not first- and second-grade classes as well. Currently, she said, the district doesn't have such restrictions.

White said the union also wanted to change some language in the contract regarding home visits from teachers. Additionally, it took issue with the district wanting to add two days to the school calendar that were for teachers only, White said, and called it a "top-down approach" from the district.

"If we're going to add days, one of them should be with students," White said, adding that the district's contract with teachers expired June 30.

In the district's statement, Schmit indicated the conflict was largely financial: Where White said the district didn't send the union a full financial proposal until Aug. 16, Unit 4 said what it did send was rejected twice by the union.

Schmit said board members had negotiated a compensation package for teachers that navigated a recent law that caps end-of-career raises to no more than 3 percent, and that what the union requested put the district in danger of paying "penalty" payments to the state.

Schmit added that a federal lawsuit filed against the Urbana school district by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created "added complications" for the district's negotiations with the union.

"Unfortunately, we are bit further away on compensation than we hoped," she wrote.