Unit 4 and CFT's 8th round of negotiations breaks down, despite mediator

Unit 4 and CFT's 8th round of negotiations breaks down, despite mediator

CHAMPAIGN — Inside the Mellon Administrative Center,Unit 4 officials and a federal mediator prepared for the latest round of negotiations.

Outside Monday afternoon, members of the Champaign Federation of Teachers circled together, rallying in support of their union's efforts to negotiate with the district that same night.

Some teachers pumped their fists in the air. Some held signs that read "Fair Contract" or "Proud to Be CFT."

"We're all really here to support each other," teacher Amber Owens said. "I think it's hard because it's a day off, but (the crowd) says a lot about how much we support each other."

Union Second Vice President Michelle Anderson told The News-Gazette that negotiations broke down at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

She said the two sides stopped negotiating for the night.

Anderson said that union members will hold a strike authorization vote at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Monday's meeting between Unit 4 and CFT representatives marked the eighth get-together in recent months and the first with a federal mediator.

Per a CFT request, both the union and Unit 4 agreed to federal mediation after negotiations stalled completely in late August.

Unit 4 has described the unresolved issues between it and CFT as largely financial in nature and noted that the CFT rejected at least two proposals the district offered up earlier this summer.

What CFT President Jen White has described as "sticking points" — class sizes and teachers' expanded workloads — were echoed among those gathered Monday.

Kindergarten teacher Wendy Maxon carried a sign that told readers "30" is the speed limit for Prospect Avenue, not the number of students she should have in her classroom.

It hasn't reached that number yet, she said, "but if we don't stop it? We've got to cut it off somewhere."

Garden Hills ESL teacher Leslie Till parked her Oh Honey Pie food truck in the lot nearby, swapping her teaching role out for her small-business-owner role.

"I just thought maybe some people might be on the fence about coming or not but maybe if they know there was pie here, they'd come," she said. "As long as people want pie, I'll be here."

Till described Garden Hills classes as large enough to merit an aide in every room, although she didn't have exact numbers.

She also described a sense of exhaustion that came from extra professional development requirements.

"We're not about salary, obviously, but there's just so much extra stuff that I feel like is coming down from above that's being put on our shoulders," she said. "... I think that maybe we know what's best for us and our students and sometimes I feel like people higher up don't understand that, and it just gets so exhausting to continuously modify or continuously go to these professional developments."