BOURBONNAIS — Seven months into negotiations, the Bourbonnais Education Association and Bourbonnais Elementary District 53 School Board are starting the mediation process to attempt to reach an agreement.
The previous three-year teachers contract expired in August. A new contract was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
BEA President Lauren Lundmark said the union of approximately 170 members is pushing for fair salary increases, maintaining current insurance benefits, and ensuring common plan time in teachers’ schedules.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Lundmark said teachers are frustrated after seven months of negotiations without reaching agreement on those key elements.
“While teachers are working hard to put students first and give them the best education possible, we ask that the board work as hard as we have to ensure that their teachers are supported with comparable wages, consistent health benefits and plan time,” she said.
John Hall, head of the school board’s negotiating team, said he hopes mediation will speed along the negotiation process.
He said typically, a mediator will set three or four meeting dates per week until an agreement is reached. However, the mediation process takes a while to get started.
Until the agreed upon mediator can start setting up meetings, the parties are at a standstill, Hall said.
“Hopefully, when we get to that point, it will move faster,” he said. “Now it’s a sit and wait.”
Hall added that the COVID-19 shutdown stalled in-person negotiation meetings back in March and April. The parties started meeting via Zoom and did not have an in-person meeting again until around June, he said.
“It has kind of put a damper on things,” Hall said. “Meeting via Zoom is hard, let alone trying to actually negotiate and give proposals back and forth. So it’s just been a slow process because of this nonsense.”
In a typical negotiation year, meetings begin in February or March and an agreement is reached by May or June, Hall said.
Lundmark said that over the past six years, salary increases have been fixed dollar amounts, so a first-year teacher would receive the same amount as a 10- or 30-year teacher.
Under this system, the raise percentages have been “all over the place,” she said. For some teachers, their year-to-year increase was as low as 2 percent.
“We’re just not on par with our neighboring districts who were getting 3 or 4 or more percent raises every year,” she said.
The union is also asking to maintain current insurance benefits in the new contract, she said.
Additionally, the union is asking for common plan time to be fixed into all teachers’ schedules.
Common plan time is time set aside in the day teachers use to collaborate on common assessments, plans and lessons.
While upper grade teachers have this time built into their daily schedules, the elementary teachers have it about once a week, and it’s not contractually guaranteed, Lundmark said.
“We’re looking to put that in place for all of our teachers to benefit from,” she said. “Ultimately, we know that’s what’s best for our students, when teachers have time to put their heads together and plan together.”