Archived Story

Mediation next for Niles teachers

Published 5:44pm Tuesday, November 22, 2011

After 11 months of negotiations, the Niles District Education Association and the school board are seeking the aid of a third-party mediator.

Supt. Richard Weigel said negotiations have reached the point where mediation is needed to help both sides see eye-to-eye on a new collective bargaining agreement. The Niles teachers’ union and school board needed mediation to resolve the last contract negotiations, according to Katherine Elsner, teachers’ union president.

Weigel is optimistic mediation will help.

“We are living in very difficult economic times,” Weigel said. “We want to be good stewards of the public’s money and, at the same time, reward all of our employees for their hard work and dedication to helping the children of this community get a quality education.”

Elsner would not talk specifically about what is stalling negotiations, but said there are still several issues to work through.

“What has made this more difficult, or time consuming, is that the school board has proposed an entire new contract package. There are a lot of sections of language changes to go through,” she said.

The role of a third-party mediator, which is assigned by the state, is to objectively assist both parties in coming to an agreement on outstanding issues. The mediator can make suggestions, but those suggestions do not have to be followed. The first mediation session is scheduled for Nov. 30. Mediation will continue as long as it has to, according to Elsner.

“Once you hit mediation, things tend to move more quickly, and we hope that will be the case,” Elsner said. “Usually when you get to mediation, you are down to one or two things. We certainly have more than a couple things to work out.”

Negotiations come as school officials are painting a bleak financial future for the district. During a school board meeting in October, Weigel said, if things stay the same, the district would have a negative fund balance of $3.4 million in 2012-13 and a negative fund balance of $8.7 million in 2013-14.

At that time, Weigel revealed a proposal that asked teachers to accept an 8 percent cut in base salary and caps on insurance cost.

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