CATLIN — School officials met with union representatives on Thursday for a sixth time to try to workout a contract for the district's teachers.
Although they did not arrive at a final resolution, representatives from both sides did report that progress had been made.
Representatives of the Catlin School Board and the Catlin Faculty Organization met for fours hours on Thursday night to try to settle a contract. Shortly after 10 p.m., Superintendent Gary Lewis said that progress had been made, but that he had no further comment at that time. Lezlie Holman, president of the Catlin Faculty Organization, also would not comment on the negotiations.
Holman said the next negotiation session had not been scheduled yet, but that it should be in the next week or so.
The most recent one-year contract between the Catlin School Board and the 44 members of the Catlin Faculty Organization expired on June 30.
The two sides have met six times since July to discuss a new contract. Thursday night's meeting was the second meeting that involved a federal mediator to help settle matters. The two sides have been trading proposals and counter-proposals regarding financial matters and language changes to the contract.
Last week, Lewis said that at the Oct. 22 negotiation session, the district offered a 1.75 percent salary increase for all the teachers for this year and for both of the next two years.
About 30 district teachers and their spouses and children, along with community members, attended an open house sponsored by the union in the Catlin High School cafeteria Thursday night.
Holman addressed the attendees, and said the union took an intent-to-strike vote on Oct. 29 simply to give members the option to strike. And Holman said that because the two sides are using a federal mediator to help the process, the union could not go on strike before Dec. 3.
"Going on strike is not what we want to do," Holman said. "What we want to do is to settle on a fair contract."
At the open house, Holman said that Catlin teachers were, on average, the lowest-paid among K-12 districts in Vermilion County. While the starting salaries for beginning teachers in the district are comparable to starting salaries at other nearby districts, the salaries for Catlin teachers do not keep up with the salaries of teachers at other districts as the teachers gain experience and get more education.
Holman said that a lot of Catlin teachers leave the district after four or five years to take higher-paying jobs in other districts.
"The current salary schedule impacts the teaching in the district," she said.
The union is also asking to change some of the language in the contract,including the creation of a new teacher-evaluation tool, upgrading the science lab and providing students with more access to the high school library.
"School officials are saying they can't give us what we want because property values are decreasing and the state is late in making some payments," Holman said. "But every Vermilion County school district is facing those same issues, and they can offer better pay to teachers, they keep their buildings in better condition, and they provide better materials, supplies and equipment."
Holman said that most of the teachers also live in the Catlin school district, and do not want to see local property taxes increase, either.
"We are tired of the Catlin School Board trying to balance its budget on our backs," Holman said.
At the Nov. 8 Catlin School Board meeting, Lewis said he expects the assessed valuation of property in the district to stay the same next year, or to increase by no more than 2 percent. That would generate up to an additional $84,000 in property taxes for the district, although Lewis estimated that the actual increase would be much lower.
Brad and Leslie Sacre were at the open house. They have one child enrolled at Catlin High, and their other child is a Catlin High graduate.
They said they support the teachers, and feel like they know the union's side of the negotiations better after the open house.
Leslie Sacre said she liked being able to talk with teachers one-on-one at the open house. Her husband said he hoped to see the school board take steps to keep the high-quality teachers in the district.
"There is some merit to keeping the teaching staff intact," Brad Sacre said.