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Union wants more meetings

Teachers disappointed by lack of negotiations before strike date

DIXON – Teachers are frustrated that only one negotiation session is scheduled between now and the day before they may call a strike.

Dixon teachers have been working without a contract since August; they could call for a strike Feb. 26. The next negotiation session is Feb. 25. Four others are scheduled in March and April.

Both sides have released their latest contract offers. The Dixon Education Association is proposing more staff and 4 percent more than their previous year’s salary, while the Dixon School Board is asking teachers to take at least a 2-year pay freeze and pay more in health insurance.

Both offers were posted Tuesday at www2.illinois.gov/elrb/Pages/default.aspx on the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board website.

A negotiating schedule was discussed Feb. 4, a week after the union announced its intent to strike.

Sandi Sodergren-Baar, union president and a teacher at Dixon High School, said teachers understand they are not going to get everything they ask for and items will be compromised.

However, the union is frustrated with the lack of response on the board’s behalf, including what she says is a lack of urgency in crunch time.

“We’re at a critical point and trying to reach across the table, and the board told us ‘No,’ they couldn’t meet without their lawyers,” Baar said. “That’s their mindset to try to reach an agreement.”

Superintendent Michael Juenger said the board cannot be blamed solely for the scheduling, and said the school’s lawyer had a scheduled vacation.

“We’ve had 10 months to negotiate, and I don’t think you can point a finger at the board and say it’s dragging it’s feet, or can you blame the lawyer,” Juenger said. “The union could give the board an offer (today) for review and (the board) could make a counter at the (Wednesday school board) meeting, if they wanted.

“They also don’t have to call a strike (on Feb. 26).”

Board President Tom Balser did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Dolph Ricks, union negotiator and a teacher at Dixon High School, said the DEA made an initial offer asking for 5 percent new money on the previous year’s salary in November and decreased its offer to 4 percent, while the board did not change its response.

“We’re here, they’re over there and instead of coming to some sort of middle, they are saying come closer to our side,” Baar said.

Juenger said the board is waiting for a more reasonable offer to negotiate.

“There’s nothing to discuss there,” Juenger said. “From offer one to offer two, there hasn’t been any difference. When they have a desire to get serious, we’ll settle.”

Juenger maintains the district does not have the money to support teachers’ proposals. The school lost $700,000 in revenue this past year and he forecasts more cuts in the future to reach a balanced budget.

The union points to an $11.8 million surplus in the district’s operating accounts, which has remained flat since 2009 and grown from $8.9 million since 2007.

The union estimates its latest contract proposal would cost the district about $2 million a year over the 5-year contract. The board contends it would cost about $6.3 million.

To attend

The Dixon Education Association will hold three question-and-answer sessions, today, Tuesday and Feb. 21, all from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Books on First, 202 W. First St.

The Dixon School Board meetis at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Washington School, 703 E. Morgan St.

Go to www.dixonschools.org or call 815-284-7722 for an agenda or more information.

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