DANVILLE — The Danville school board and the district's teachers union haven't begun bargaining a new contract yet.
However, the Danville Education Association already has filed a complaint against the board accusing it of bargaining in bad faith — an accusation that board members deny.
"We're not off to a good start," said union President Robin Twidwell, who was hoping to report by now that the two sides had held some productive sessions and were optimistic about reaching a settlement before the start of school.
The complaint was filed with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. The matter will go before an arbitrator, who will listen to both sides and recommend how to resolve the issue.
During contract talks, board and association teams actually negotiate two separate contracts for union members, of which there are 633 this year. One is for teachers and teaching assistants, and the other is for secretaries and learning-resource clerks.
The current two-year contracts, which were settled in September 2010 following a three-day teachers' strike, are set to expire on June 30.
Historically, the board and association each have had one negotiating team for both contracts. But this year, the board decided it would have two teams, to bargain each contract separately.
The board has the right to do that, Twidwell acknowledged. She said the complaint stems from the board's reluctance to explain why it's doing that.
"We have asked them why repeatedly, but we've never been given a straight answer. We've only been told, 'That's the way the board wants it,'" she said, adding the union wants to have an open dialogue with the board on all issues this time around.
She argued that the majority of issues in each contract are the same. "It will be considerably more time consuming to bargain them separately because of the redundancy and the sheer volume of language," she said.
Twidwell said her team also asked the board to schedule talks for both contracts on the same days. "Their response was to give us a set of dates for the teachers contract and a completely different set of dates for the secretaries and (clerks') contract," she said, adding union officials can think of one reason the board is "playing this game."
"We've always considered ourselves as one unit. To us, it seems like it's a way to break the union," she said, adding it won't be divided.
Board President Bill Dobbles and Superintendent Mark Denman don't see it that way.
"The school board is bargaining in good faith," said Denman, who isn't on either of the board's negotiating teams. "I think the board is just saying, 'There's two contracts.' They see different issues for each contract."
Dobbles said the board decided to bargain the contracts separately, just as it bargains a contract with custodians and another with food service employees separately. He added the two teams provided two sets of dates because Associate Superintendent Dianna Kirk, Human Resources Director Kathy Houpt and Business Director Heather McKiernan serve on both of the board's teams.
"We've told the DEA that's not a hard-and-fast rule," he said.
Dobbles said he looks forward to resolving the matter. He doesn't see it as setting a bad tone for the rest of the process.
"It doesn't necessarily mean it will be smooth or not smooth," he said. "Eventually we will reach a resolution, and hopefully it will be smooth and amicable, and we'll have a fair contract for both sides."