Strike enters ninth day of talks

By Dan Jacobson and M. Robert Berg

The DeKalb teachers’ strike enters its ninth day today, and while negotiations continue, both sides are still far apart on salaries and other issues.

According to both sides, the Board of Education and the DeKalb Classroom Teacher’s Association (DCTA), salary is the main sticking point.

Jack Barshinger, assistant superintendent for DeKalb Public Schools kindergarten through sixth grade, said the current teachers’ salaries are 24.3 percent higher in DeKalb than in any other city in DeKalb County.

“We have also recently just been released from the State of Illinois Board of Education’s list of districts with financial difficulty,” Barshinger said.

Although the exact salary proposals were not released, Charles McCormick, DeKalb Public Schools associate superintendent for business, said the teachers’ proposal is larger than what the board is considering.

“On just salary, the DCTA and the board are about $450,000 apart,” said Jim Womack, co-president of the DCTA. “We have proposed increases over three years that would bring us to our goal of being at the state average.”

The school board and the DCTA also differ on other items, including the length of the school day, health insurance, student learning and dock days.

Currently, the school day for kindergarten through sixth grade is 375 minutes, while the day is 390 minutes for grades seven and eight.

The DCTA’s position is to keep the school day the same length, while the board would like to increase the school day to 405 minutes for grades kindergarten though eighth.

“We looked at 22 area school districts, and 375 minutes for K through six was the shortest,” McCormick said. Both sides agree on the current length of the high school day of 420 minutes.

However, this is not a big problem to the DCTA, Womack said. “Our position is that we are willing to consider the longer day if the board is willing to consider our position on salaries,” he said.

Health insurance is another sticking point. “The board is offering to pick up the increase in the cost of individual insurance coverage,” McCormick said. “The DCTA is asking for the board to pick up the increase in independent coverage and part of the dependent coverage.”

Womack said the numbers in this area are soft. “No one really knows yet what the insurance figure will be at until October,” he said. “No one can accurately project the health insurance cost.”

Womack also said only one-third of the teachers have the dependent coverage in question.

Part of the negotiations also deal with student learning. “This is dealt with in a side letter to the contract,” McCormick said.

“The DCTA wants special conditions for working with students with disabilities, while the board doesn’t want language specific to a particular group (in the contract), but language that will improve the learning for all students,” McCormick said.

However, Womack said there originally had been an agreement in this area, but the board refused to honor it. “The third day of the strike, the board withdrew all power from their negotiating team representatives, so they could not tentatively agree to anything without the board’s approval,” Womack said. “This makes it difficult for us to conduct negotiations because it slows down the process.”

Dock days for this year because of the strike evoke different positions from both sides. “This deals with how many days the teachers will not be paid for this school year,” McCormick said. “The DCTA wants no dock days, while the board wants three days not paid for. Basically they want to be paid for being on strike.”

Womack said the board’s first proposal was to dock the teachers for all eight days they had been on strike, but the last proposal called for only three. “This is still subject to negotiation,” he said.

Negotiations between the two sides are continuing. “McCormick and I have talked today (Tuesday),” Womack said. “The federal mediator has cleared his schedule for us and is available any time.” The mediator serves as a liaison between both sides and will stay on in this duty until a settlement is reached.