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More contract talks today in Dixon

'Both sides motivated to reach a settlement' in school strike

DIXON – There will be no snow day for negotiators in the Dixon contract talks.

Talks Monday between the district's board and teachers last about 7 hours, ending at 1:30 a.m. today. They are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today, as the strike by Dixon teachers enters its fourth school day.

Salary, health insurance and retirement benefits still were on the bargaining table Monday.

Teachers planned to respond to the school board's counteroffer Monday. They have been working without a contract since August.

Both sides said progress was made Monday. Sandi Sodergren-Baar, union president, said "both sides appear to be motivated to reach a settlement."

Sodergren-Baar said before Monday's talks that the union's latest offer would show movement in financials.

In its last proposal, the union asked for a 3.75 percent salary increase on top of step increases given to some teachers based on experience and education, meaning some teachers would receive a 5 percent to 6 percent raise under the proposal.

Sunday, the School Board offered an average of a 1.7 percent salary increase over a 3-year contract. The board also asked teachers to pay up to 20 percent in health insurance premiums.

Teachers have offered to increase their insurance contributions, said Dolph Ricks, union negotiator, although specifics on amount and terms have not been reached.

"Insurance-wise, there still needs to be discussion before we can make a firm counterproposal," Sodergren-Baar said.

Over the weekend, both sides reached conceptual agreement on many issues, including length of the teacher work day and work year, evaluations, discipline, dress code and tuition reimbursement.

Sodergren-Baar said these "language items" must be cleaned up Monday before the union can present its response to the board's latest offer.

The board is offering teachers a 1.5 percent raise in year one, without salary step movement given to some teachers based on experience and education.

In year two, the board is offering teachers a soft freeze, meaning only those who qualify for salary steps based on education and experience will get a raise between 1 and 2 percent.

In the final year, the board is offering teachers another 1.5 percent raise without salary step movement.

The board said these raises are comparable to last year's cost of living.

For health insurance premiums, the board is asking teachers with single coverage to pay a 15 percent share, and teachers with family coverage to pay a 20 percent share.

Teachers' spouses may not qualify for coverage if they have their own insurance provided by their employer.

The board anticipates salary increases will cost about $153,000 per year, Superintendent Michael Juenger said.

"It is the board's goal to redistribute those costs through health insurance," said its attorney, Stan Eisenhammer of Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick, Kohn, LLP.

The board also wants to do away with the 6 percent salary increases given to retiring teachers in their final 4 years. In the board's offer, teachers who qualified for the perk this year would receive it, as would those who have already qualified, but starting next year, the perk would be eliminated.

Since a teacher's pension is calculated based on income in their final 4 years, Eisenhammer said these perks were used to artificially enhance their pension.

Teachers were not the only ones using these perks; Juenger also has this in his contract.

The district pays a little more than 10 percent of a teacher's pension already, which is included in the teacher's salary.

Eisenhammer said the state may ask districts to pick up 8 percent more in teachers' pensions, going up a half of a percent each year.

"That is why we are proposing to eliminate this," he said, noting the district has projected a $1.6 million deficit with $4.2 million on reserve in its education fund.

Sodergren-Baar said retirement benefits remain on the table. She expects teachers will lose the state's early retirement option at the end of June, which could limit their retirement options.

The union's last salary proposal would cost the district about $522,000 per year, not including the 6 percent retirement increases.

As for the union's concerns about special education and class sizes, the board proposed to establish procedures for teachers to raise their concerns and make recommendations to the administration.

Sodergren-Baar said special education still is up for discussion.

Juenger said an alert, similar to the school's regular alert for snow days, will be given to parents if child care services, or classes at the Whiteside Career Center, are closed due to weather. Forecasters were calling for heavy snowfall Monday night into today.

What's next?

Teachers will host a question-and-answer session for the public at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Dixon Elks Club, 1279 Franklin Grove Road.

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