DANVILLE — Danville school board members could decide next week whether to bring in a mediator to help negotiate new contracts with the district's largest employee union.
"It's December, and we don't have anything settled yet," board President Bill Dobbles said, after talks between the district and the Danville Education Association broke down on Tuesday evening. "I don't think mediation would do anything but help us reach an agreement and reach it more quickly."
It's the latest setback in eight months of talks, during which the two sides pretty much only have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board and accused each other of delaying talks.
Last Wednesday, the two sides finally came together to bargain the contract for teachers and teaching assistants. At that session, DEA negotiators presented the intent behind their proposal, and board negotiators did likewise on Tuesday.
"It was a cordial meeting. We came out feeling positive about moving forward," DEA President Robin Twidwell said, adding the two sides tentatively agreed on several items including "no-change" items.
However, she said things broke down after the DEA presented a counterproposal on several language items, which the district team refused to address.
"They only wanted to discuss salaries and the financial conditions of the district. When we said we were aware of the financial conditions and we had hoped to sign off on some counterproposals, they were not interested in doing that. Their team left the room," she said, adding Dobbles and Danville attorney Jerry Davis, the board's chief negotiator for the teacher-teaching assistant contract, came back and said "they have no interest in pushing paper, meaning they only wanted to discuss salaries.
"The board team has been claiming that we're refusing to bargain. For this to happen ... it's an insult," Twidwell continued, adding the two sides discussed setting future meeting dates but did not.
Dobbles insisted that Davis announced he would take the DEA's counterproposal and provide a written response. He added district negotiators wanted to first focus on financial items.
"They wanted to go through step by step with each item like whether or not we'll give hard copies of board minutes or electronic copies," Dobbles said. "That might be all right if we were in May. We're in December. It's really important to discuss the important issues like finances, the ones that are really going to make a difference in reaching a settlement."
Dobbles added district negotiators wanted to meet again in December, but the DEA team didn't want to meet over Christmas break.
Dobbles said Davis suggested the idea of bringing in a mediator and will take it to the board at its Dec. 12 meeting.
Superintendent Mark Denman said he supports the idea. "It seems like there's been difficulty discussing the main issues that are affecting negotiations," said Denman, who is not negotiating the teacher-teaching assistant contract or a separate one for secretaries and learning resource clerks. "The midpoint of the school year is approaching, and we have a lot of issues to address, and the only way to do that is to come to the table. Maybe a mediator will help us bridge the differences and look for common interests and find a way to reach an agreement."
Denman recalled that contracts were ratified as late in the school year as Valentine's Day back in the late 1980s. "But we had many sessions and a lot more discussion about the proposals from both sides by then," he said.
The DEA represents about 650 employees, whose contracts expired on June 30.