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Strike looms at MGS

Mendota teachers, school board are far apart on issues; Mediator on way

MENDOTA — For Mendota residents, this may sound familiar:

Mendota elementary teachers who’ve filed an intent-to-strike promise to show up in force at a school board meeting tonight, as well as before a scheduled session with a federal mediator Thursday.

Some creative negotiating through the fall of 2013 into January 2014 resulted in a three-year contract just hours before Mendota Elementary School teachers were set to go on strike that time, but Mendota schools have not always avoided strikes.

Mendota Grade School teachers went out on a six-day strike in 2001 and a two-week-long strike in 2005, and Mendota High School teachers went on strike in 2006.

When the 2005 strike was settled, Mendota Grade School teachers’ union members received a one-time bonus that brought the base salary to $26,568, according to NewsTribune archives.

They also were allowed to keep a 5-by-5 salary schedule with annual increases in pay as well as increases for advancing their education in 2005.

In January 2014, teachers had been paying a fixed dollar amount for their health insurance while the district wanted them to change to paying a percentage of the premium.

After teachers received a 4.7 salary increase in the 2014 contract that avoided a strike, administrators and noncertified staff members received a matching 4.7-percent increase from the school board in February 2014. The ensuing Mendota Grade School District 289 contract passed more quietly than the previous ones.

What the Mendota grade school board said this month:

We, the Board of Education for Mendota Elementary School District 289 wish to share with you some facts regarding our negotiations.

As of our last negotiation, the Board made significant offers to the Mendota Education Association (MEA) in an effort to settle a new contract.

We have been bargaining in good faith, and put forth a more than fair financial offer to the MEA. The board is trying to be fiscally responsible while offering fair compensation to our great teachers.

The MEA has requested a total compensation increase of 10.54% in year 1, 7.05% in year 2 and 6.84% in year 3. These increases are their lowest requests to date and total $2,226,333 in additional compensation over the three year contract.

The Board proposal includes a 5.66% raise in year 1, 4.32% in year 2 and 4.41% in year 3. These increases are a combined $1,247,262 in additional compensation for salary over the course of the next 3 years.

Our current salary package for teachers costs taxpayers $4,025,804 this past fiscal year. The Board also paid additional medical benefits of $1,068,524.

The MEA only pays $179,412 per year for their health insurance, which is 14.38% of the total cost for benefits.

We have also offered several new language items in the contract to help attract and retain teaching staff and provide additional benefits.

There are still several other language items that have not been agreed upon.

We have no official notification of a strike (as of Sept 6), negotiations are ongoing with the union and we are hopeful for a resolution.

— Mendota Elementary Schools

Community Consolidated School District 289

BOARD OF EDUCATION

Sean Pappas, Board President

Tim Pohl, Board Vice President

Administrative Office: 1806 Guiles Ave., Mendota, IL 61342 – Phone: 815.539.7631

What the Mendota teachers union said this week:

Mendota Education Association (MEA) Elementary Teachers want to respond to the 289 Board of Education’s Press Release, dated September 6, 2019. We feel that the board is grossly misleading the community by stating that the MEA has asked for a 10.54% increase in compensation in year 1, 7.05% in year 2 and 6.84% in year 3.

MEA has asked for a fair salary increase, making us comparable to schools in the surrounding communities. MEA has asked for the following increases to the base of our salary schedule: 4% in year 1, 4.5% in year 2 and 4.5% in year 3. Based on a teacher salary schedule, this percent will offer an increase to all teachers, as opposed to the Board of Education’s proposal to substantially increase only a first year teacher’s salary.

With the Board’s current proposal, teachers with more experience and education will actually earn less than what they earned in the last contract. MEA has also requested board contribution to TRS. (TRS is the Teacher Retirement System, which is in lieu of Social Security). When surveying surrounding schools, most have 100% of TRS paid by their board in addition to salary. The total TRS contribution for teachers is 9% of their salary.

Currently, the 289 board pays 2% of a teacher’s TRS but teachers at Mendota Elementary are responsible for paying the remaining 7% off the top of their salary. Mendota Administrators have 100% of their TRS paid by the 289 Board of Education, as well as 100% of the premium for single coverage insurance.

The board is also required by law to increase the minimum starting salary to $40,000 by the 2023-2024 school year.

With our current starting salary and board-paid TRS, the board must legally raise these amounts by over $8,200 to be in compliance with the law. Over the past 10 years, the Mendota Elementary Teachers have taken a 2% increase to the base salary for 4 years, a 1% increase to the base salary for 4 years, or a pay freeze for 2 years. By taking these small salary increases and efficiently managing our insurance costs, we have enabled the board to accrue a working cash fund of over $3,000,000 at last year’s end.

We also want to add that our bargaining unit has analyzed the district’s financial statements and would like to emphasize that what we are asking for is completely within the means of the district and would not require any additional funds from the community.

Our main goal when we began these negotiations was to bargain a contract that helps the district attract and retain quality educators. There have been major issues with teacher turnover in recent years within the district. Since 2012, there have been 82 new teachers hired, including 28 new teachers over the last two years. Our students deserve the best educators, not the cheapest.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935, csterrett@newstrib.com and ntlocal@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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