DANVILLE — When representatives of the Danville school district and its largest employee union return to the bargaining table, they won't be alone.
School board members on Wednesday decided to make a written request for a federal mediator to help them settle new contracts with the Danville Education Association.
"Mediation can only help us work together to work out a solution," board President Bill Dobbles said Wednesday night before the board went into a closed-session meeting to discuss negotiations, among other things. "It's time to take some serious action to get things settled."
DEA officials reacted with disappointment.
"This is not the collaborative relationship that we have desperately tried to build with the board," DEA President Robin Twidwell said.
She questioned whether the board can make the request at this time. By contract, either side can request a mediator if a settlement isn't reached within 60 days after bargaining begins.
Superintendent Mark Denman said that happened on May 29, when teams negotiating one of the DEA's two contracts met, albeit briefly. But Twidwell argued the two sides disagreed on the bargaining process and left without discussing the contract, and that true bargaining didn't begin until Nov. 28.
The two sides reported making progress, but talks broke down at the next session on Dec. 4, causing district negotiators to consider mediation. The DEA wanted to settle language items, but the district wanted to address key issues such as salary, retirement incentives and expanding the school day because talks have dragged on for so long.
"If they had been willing to do interest-based bargaining, which we proposed in late spring, that would be fine," Twidwell said. "However, they insisted on traditional bargaining, and with that, you typically discuss language items first and save the larger issues to the end."
Twidwell added she's skeptical that mediation would help until some board members are willing to compromise.