School Board President Mark Hayes and representatives of the Illinois Federation of Teachers Macoupin County Local 528 disclosed Monday night that they will seek federal mediation to conclude negotiations on a new teachers’ contract. The union rejected the board’s initial offer last month alleging the offer did not meet expectations to meet cost of living increases and failed to recognize teachers’ efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. A second one-year proposal reportedly was rejected by the union membership last week.
The current four-year contract, approved in 2017, will expire at the end of August.
Union President Michelle Smith publicly confirmed Monday night that both parties had agreed to seek mediation, and Hayes read from a lengthy public statement from the board that he said was designed to address “a sudden surge of inaccurate information, partial information and misunderstanding.”
“When the union team said they would not accept our offer, the parties agreed to use a mediator to reach an agreement,” Hayes read. “Both sides have been contacted by the federal mediator, who scheduled mediation sessions with both sides, and we scheduled mediation dates. We assure you the board will continue to negotiate in good faith for a fair deal, and we look forward to reaching a new tentative agreement that both parties will ratify.”
Further, Hayes said the board continued to negotiate “in good faith” with the union after the union rejected the initial offer. The offer made last week, he said, would have provided “reasonable, realistic increases to all teachers in the district.”
“The board’s most recent offer would provide, on average, pay increases that are: 3.26 percent average salary increase to teachers who have a Bachelor of Arts degree; 3.42 percent average salary increases to teachers who have a Master of Arts degree; and 3.35 percent average increases to teachers who have a Master of Arts degrees, plus 16 hours of college credit hours,” Hayes reported. “The board offered those increases during our bargaining session last week but the union rejected it. Our proposal is open and it would be great if teachers, working with their union representatives, may yet be willing to ratify that offer.”
He said the board believed it had a sound agreement with the union last month and was somewhat surprised when the union membership rejected the offer.
“Representatives of the board team have been completely respectful and entirely positive in our dealings with the union team—so much so the two sides had reached a tentative agreement back in June,” he said. “We negotiated in good faith and we reached terms for a good one-year agreement. We all shook hands and left on friendly terms. In other words, we already bargained a mutual deal that both teams agreed upon but the union did not ratify it.” When that offer was rejected, he said the board returned to the table and “continued to keep bargaining with the union in genuine good faith” to hammer out the proposal that was rejected last week.
Hayes also asserted the board has negotiated with only the “district’s best interests in view.”
“We are all publicly elected members of the community and we serve for free as volunteers,” he said. “We do not have any money to gain in the negotiations. That means our only focus is on the long-term health and strength of the Gillespie school district for the benefit of our whole community. We have only one motivation in this matter: we are going to make decisions and reach agreements that are best for the entire district.”
The mediation sessions will take place behind closed doors. The only written record of the meetings will be the tentative contract offer that emerges from the mediation process. The mediation process apparently is non-binding and any agreement that results from the meeting will be subject to approval by both parties.
Negotiations for the current contract dragged on to Oct. 17, 2017, and was made retroactive to Sept. 1 when it was ratified by both sides.
About 50 district teachers, most of whom wore t-shirts identifying them as union members, attended Monday night’s meeting of the board.
The board voted unanimously voted to hire Madelyn Whittington as a first-year, non-tenured district speech and language pathologist, pending background checks and documentation of certification.
The board also voted to hire Katie Lievers and Pete Visintin as first-year, non-tenured BenGil Elementary teachers, pending background checks and documentation of certification. Board member Dennis Tiburzi, who voted against posting the vacancies last month, cast a “no” vote on both hires. Speaking with the BenGil Post after the meeting, Tiburzi said he had no issues with either individual but voted “no” to reflect his opposition to filling the vacancies.
NaRetta Forrester was hired unanimously as a first-year, non-tenured Gillespie Middle School counselor, pending background checks and documentation of certification.
Emily Barylske was hired unanimously as a first-year, non-tenured Gillespie Middle School paraprofessional (classroom aide), pending background checks and documentation of certification. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Darian Gill as Gillespie Middle School cheer coach.
The board accepted “with regret” the retirement of Maintenance Director Rob Graham and Administrative Assistant Denise Graham and posted vacancies for both positions. The couple’s retirement will be effective on April 1, 2022.
“Rob has been a valuable employee of our district for 22 years,” Hayes noted. Denise Graham is retiring after 10 years with the district.
In other personnel action, the board posted vacancies for a full-route bus driver, a substitute bus driver and a three-hour cafeteria worker.
SAFE RETURN TO IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION PLAN
Supt. Shane Owsley seemingly defused a potential protest on the part of several parents, some of whom arrived with signs to protest a possible mask mandate when in-person instruction resumes for the 2021-22 school year. Speaking on behalf of the parents, Amanda Yeager objected to the potential for requiring students to wear face masks as a safety measure against COVID-19 transmission. Masking, she said, interferes with “socialization” which would hamper learning.
Owsley, however, responded that his recommendation to the board was to follow CDC guidelines which “strongly recommend” that persons not fully vaccinated against COVID wear masks indoors but stops short of requiring them.
“So it will be up to the parents?” Yeager asked.
“Yes,” Owsley replied.
Later in the meeting, the board formally adopted the proposed Safe Return to In-Person Instruction Plan.
Owsley reiterated the district will follow CDC guidelines that currently suggests masking for unvaccinated individuals but basically leaves the decision to the discretion of parents.
“That’s where we stand at this moment, knowing it could literally change at any moment,” he said. “Our guidelines literally change from day-to-day.”
During her union report to the board, Union President Smith noted that teachers and union members had provided requested data to the administration and board.
Smith said the union hopes the information provided “will give the members a voice in our options at this time, protect the staff and students, as well as give students and parents the best choice for a safe return in a couple of weeks. We appreciate the board and administration in allowing the union to give input into these decisions and working conditions.”
In other action, the board:
- was thanked by the Coal Country Pageant for permission to use the school for the pageant and was introduced to the new royalty including Jr. Princess Lydia Lowry, Jr. Miss Coal Country Kennedi Isaacs, and Miss Coal Country Shelbee Geisler.
- approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Jerseyville School District to provide transportation for a district student who attends classes at the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville.
- approved a new fee waiver application form.
- approved a job description for full-time substitute teachers.