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Strike still looming: Little progress in Mendota negotiations

Mendota school board members discuss the 2020 school budget and other issues during a board meeting on Wednesday.
Mendota school board members discuss the 2020 school budget and other issues during a board meeting on Wednesday.

MENDOTA — An Oct. 16 intent-to-strike date remains in place, as the Mendota grade school teachers and board did not reach a contract agreement in a meeting with a federal mediator Thursday night.

“We feel there’s little headway; little progress made,” said Rachel Sabin, seventh-grade math teacher and Mendota Education Association co-president.

“We made a little progress to come towards the middle a little bit; it’s not any great movement,” said Sean Pappas, school board president. “We’re hopeful for a resolution. We hope that the teachers will realize that the great benefit in health insurance that the board pays for is a great value.”

Neither Pappas nor teachers’ union co-presidents Sabin and Brandon Scheppers saw any progress made on a disagreement over how much the district should contribute to the Teachers Retirement System payments and family-member health insurance.

Teachers and school boards only put in 9% of what goes into the Teachers Retirement System. Illinois teachers do not pay in to Social Security, so the TRS serves as one of their main sources of retirement income.

The board has been paying 2% into TRS and the teachers have been paying 7%. The board offered to pay in 3% but the board wants the district to pay 6%.

Pappas and the board contend that the teachers should either contribute more to the insurance premiums or more to TRS. He said earlier this week that three area districts that pay the full 9% into TRS and 100% or insurance premiums for the teachers themselves provide nothing whatsoever toward insurance for teachers’ family members.

Scheppers, a seventh-grade social studies teacher, issued a formal statement after Thursday’s negotiations, which took place under the watch of a federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

That union statement reads as follows: “MEA Elementary Teachers started the evening by sending an offer over to the board that reduced our salary proposal. The board’s response was to propose a $5 (per-step) increase in years 2 and 3 per teacher.

“The board attempted to bargain regressively on an item regarding planning time for middle school teachers by adding restrictive language to an already TA’d item. By the end of the evening, the language issue was resolved.”

The teachers did not accept the board’s offer that increased its previous proposal for the increases in the salary schedule — a schedule by which teachers gain salary through years of experience and advances in training and education.

How was the offer of $5 more in the salary schedule received?

“We didn’t get a response. They didn’t want to go past 8:30 p.m., so…” Pappas said Friday morning.

Said Sabin: “I will say that that was their last offer of the night and that’s how we left it. … No, we were not accepting five dollars.”

The board offered salary raises of 4%, 4% and 4.5% each year of a three-year contract, but while the MEA wants a continuation of the 4.5% increases per step in the salary schedule, the board proposed a 3.99% increase per step. Plus, the $5 offer Thursday.

“They raised their offer $5 from their previous offer at negotiations? Five dollars, I guess it depends on how you want to look at it. Is it a gain? Yes it is a gain. But no, it does not get us anywhere,” Scheppers said.

Pappas said the board is offering attractive salaries. “The average teacher in year one will receive a $2,991 raise and year two they will receive an average raise of $2,197 and in year three they will receive a raise of $2,261,” Pappas said.

Both the teachers and board president said at this time, it appears the earliest the mediator and the Illinois Education Association’s Uniserv director can meet is Oct. 1. Both sides already had that mediation date on the schedule.

“We would hopefully like to meet more than that … I asked the mediator if he wanted to schedule any more meetings, and he said, no, not at this time,” Pappas said.

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