DIXON – In about a week, both the Dixon school district and the Dixon Educational Support Personnel Association will file their final contract offers with the state.
Those offers will be released to the public 7 days after the State of Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board receives them both, said John Brosnan, special counsel to the state agency.
The negotiations between the school district and DESPA, the union that represents teacher aides and assistants, reached an impasse Wednesday night after nearly 18 months of negotiations.
Dixon teacher aides and assistants have been working without a contract since June 2012.
After Wednesday night’s meeting, DESPA President Mindy Donoho didn’t say what the union’s next move would be.
She only said it would be discussed during a meeting Thursday.
However, one option the union has is to strike. With the two sides at an impasse, the school district also may lock out union workers, Brosnan said.
But the school district does not intend to lock out workers, Superintendent Michael Juenger said. The dispute simply involves how much the school district can afford to pay, he said, and he still holds the workers in high regard.
If the union decides to strike, something Donoho didn’t mention after Wednesday’s meeting, it will have to wait until 10 days after the final offers have been made public, Brosnan said.
The union would have to send its notice of intent to strike to the state’s Educational Labor Relations Board, the school district, and the regional superintendent’s office, Brosnan said. Both sides can continue to negotiate through the entire process, he added.
The two sides have already been negotiating with a federal mediator, and an additional mediator with more experience or different perspective could be brought in, Brosnan explained.
“They’ve put more steps in so that parties can work things out,” he said. “Once they go on strike, it’s always harder to put the genie back in the bottle. Sometimes there can be hurt feelings.”
Making the offers public puts pressure on the two sides, which, Brosnan said, can get “into their own worlds” during the negotiations.
“That’s supposed to help move things along. … I don’t think that anybody really wants to go out on strike,” he said. “It’s one of their last ditch, ‘We’re out of things to do’ [options]. In general, I think that’s how people approach it.”
The two sides reached a tentative agreement in August, but DESPA members refused to ratify it. The level of insurance coverage was the final issue to be resolved, Donoho said Wednesday.
Wednesday night, the school district countered a DESPA proposal from November, but the school district declared an impasse about 7:30 p.m. after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, Donoho and Juenger said.
After the meeting, Donoho said the union didn’t plan to make another counteroffer.
In March, the Dixon Education Association went on strike, which canceled 9 days of classes before a settlement was reached. The teachers had been working without a contract since August 2012.