School Board: Union's 'Rigid Stance' Kept Parties Apart for Months; GEA Responds
Document says union leaders "postponed negotiations for the entire month of May and much of June," but GEA says many statements unclear or incorrect.
In the Geneva School Board's "final offer" submitted on Oct. 19 and posted Oct. 26, Board President Mark Grosso says in a cover letter to GEA President Carol Young the union failed to live up to a signed confidentiality agreement and dragged its heels for three months of the negoiating process.
The Geneva Education Association countered on its website that the GEA adhered to the confidentiality agreement until the start of mediation, as required, and that there were specific reasons for the delays, including that union negotiators were uncomfortable with the district's preferred format.
The GEA says many of the statements made in the board's final offer letter require clarification or outright correction.
The following is the full text of the letter from School Board President Mark Grosso to GEA President Carol Young, with the GEA's clarifications and corrections inserted.
Additional GEA clarifications and corrections were posted regarding the full text of the School Board's final offer. To see all of those, visit gea4students.org and compare to the School District 304 final offer draft on the district's negotiations webpage.
It is important to note that there have been several meetings between the two groups since Oct. 19, and the parties have come closer to agreement on some issues.
The GEA announced Friday (Oct. 26) its intent to strike, which could take place as soon as Nov. 9.
Dear Ms. Young:
Enclosed you will find the final offer submitted by the Geneva Board of Education pursuant to Section 12 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (“IELRA”). Pursuant to the IELRA, the parties must submit their final offers to each other, the mediator and the IELRB within seven days following the declaration of impasse, along with a cost summary of that offer. Please note that “final” is a term used within the context of the IELRA and it not does indicate the Board’s unwillingness to continue negotiations and reach an agreement. However, in the event that we are unable to reach an agreement by October 26, pursuant to the IERLA, both our offer and the GEA’s offer will be posted on the IELRB website.
At the commencement of negotiations, the Board and GEA agreed to keep negotiations confidential based on the belief that bargaining is most productive and effective when those conversations remain at the bargaining table. The Board has honored that commitment. To be quite honest, we do not feel that commitment has been reciprocated by the GEA. Specifically, numerous references have been made to the Board’s proposal of a hard freeze, both by you to the media and by teachers during public comment at Board meetings. The Board is also very concerned about the GEA’s overt effort to engage parents in the negotiations process even prior to declaring impasse. In order to resolve the outstanding issues, we feel that frank and open conversations between the parties are crucial, particularly in this coming week. We hope that you feel the same and will renew the GEA’s commitment to confidentiality of the negotiations process until offers are made public, if that becomes necessary.
GEA Clarification: The GEA adhered to the confidentiality agreement until the beginning of mediation. In negotiations, confidentiality agreements are no longer valid once mediation has been requested.
Before addressing our final offer, it may be beneficial to give a brief overview of the negotiations process from the Board’s perspective, as well as some background behind the offer.
This District has a long history of utilizing Interest Based Bargaining (“IBB”) in negotiations. IBB has been the preferred method of bargaining due to its emphasis on collaboration and joint resolution of issues, rather than traditional bargaining which is generally more adversarial, as it relies primarily on posturing and exchanging position statements. In standard IBB, the parties exchange their issues during the first few sessions. Language issues are typically addressed first and once agreement is reached on each language issue (through a process of identifying the concern and jointly developing a resolution to address that concern), the parties sign off on that agreement and proceed to the next issue until all language issues are complete. At that point, the parties typically turn their focus to economic issues.
(i) Now, as you know, in previous negotiations, the District has developed its own modified version of IBB in which sub-committees comprised of GEA and Board members were formed. (ii) Each sub- committee was assigned language and/or economic issues at the outset (although the more difficult economic issues such as salary and retirement were addressed last and by the entire group) and were charged with the task of reaching agreement on those issues and then presenting their joint resolution to the entire group for approval. This IBB format proved to be very effective and allowed the teachers and the Board to gain trust and momentum at the front-end of the negotiations process so that when the more difficult economic issues were addressed, there was a solid foundation to build upon. Over the past twenty years using Geneva’s modified IBB format, every contract has been negotiated and ratified before the first day of school.
(i) GEA Clarification: Use of sub-groups outside of compensation were only a part of the negotiation for the 2009-2012 contract. As was made clear in the pre-negotiation meetings, the GEA was uncomfortable continuing in this format due to the number of instances in which agreements were not honored.
(ii) GEA Correction: During previous negotiations a sub-group on compensation began working at the outset of negotiations and presented to the group early in the process before language issues were agreed upon. It is true that later in the process the group presented options, but both teams had an accurate financial picture the entire time they worked to consensus on language issues.
During these negotiations, however, at your insistence, there was limited use of sub-committees and instead increased use of the standard IBB process. While the use of the standard IBB process in and of itself is not an issue, during the first three months of negotiations, the GEA refused to agree and sign off on any language issues proposed by the Board and even some proposed by the GEA, stating instead that it would not agree to anything until compensation was finalized. Consequently, while 15 issues were originally presented by the parties when we began bargaining this year, and despite numerous hours invested by the seven Board members from February through April, only two issues have been signed off on, both of which were proposed by the GEA. Because of this rigid stance, no sense of trust or accomplishment was allowed to develop between the parties during those first few months. As you can imagine, this has caused a great deal of frustration for the Board.
GEA Correction: During the first three months, the GEA reached two tentative agreements with the Board on working conditions. The GEA also agreed to the use of limited sub-groups on contract language issues and special education issues. GEA worked in good faith on all issues. It should be noted that the School Board put off the discussion on fair share until compensation was settled.
(i) Nonetheless, since economic issues were of such great importance to the GEA, the Board reluctantly agreed to postpone negotiations for the entire month of May and much of June until your union finance representative from the IEA-NEA could attend on June 21. Then, on June 27 we met and you presented the GEA’s first formal salary proposal. I verbally provided the Board’s response, after which we agreed to take a 15 minute break. Upon return, you promptly handed us a letter requesting mediation.
(ii) Nearly a month went by before we were able to arrange the first mediation session, as you were on vacation for most of July.
(i) GEA Correction: A sub-group on compensation continued to meet throughout May.
(ii) GEA Correction: The June 21st date was the first date that could be mutually agreed upon by theBoard of Education, Geneva Education Association, the IEA-NEA finance representative and the district consultant from PMA.
In mediation, the parties identified six economic issues and numerous proposals have been traded on those issues. They are:
1) Salary Schedule 2) Tuition Reimbursement 3) Health Insurance 4) Retirement 5) Sick Leave 6) GEA Release Time
During mediation, we met once to try to resolve language issues, only to be informed once again that the GEA would not sign off on anything until economic issues are resolved. While we felt that we were getting closer to resolving those economic issues with the help of our federal mediator, the GEA filed impasse on October 12, at which point we commenced preparation of this offer.
GEA Correction: The GEA disagrees with the Board’s perception that we were getting closer therefore we declared impasse. Our declaration of impasse in no way means that we no longer wish to continue negotiating.
It goes without saying that these are unprecedented economic times. During the 2009/2010 school year, as it became increasingly clear that the economy was not showing signs of improving, the Board of Education held several forums with various stakeholders including teachers, other employees and community members to analyze ways to make budget cuts which would impact students only as a last resort. Deep spending cuts have been made over the past three years. To this end, every other employee group in this District has taken a salary freeze at some point over the course of the GEA’s most recent three year contract. Because of these measures, the District has not been forced to reduce, or lay off, teachers.
GEA Clarification: This statement is misleading. The non-unionized groups (everyone else) do not have a meaningful voice in their negotiation. Also, only 14 of 28 administrators have taken a hard freeze.
Teachers in neighboring districts, including St. Charles, have taken a hard salary freeze for an entire school year. Teachers in other districts, including Kaneland, agreed to re-open contracts to renegotiate salaries. This Board did not ask the GEA to reopen its contract and instead decided to honor its previous contract with the GEA which allowed for healthy salary increases over each of the previous three years. We do not think it is unreasonable to ask the District’s teachers to share the sacrifice that every other employee group has made in this District and accept a one year salary freeze.
GEA Clarification: The teachers in these districts had to take a hard freeze because their districts did not have sufficient funds in reserve. They were facing the prospect of cuts to programs and staff. This is not the case in Geneva.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the District has only just begun navigating the reforms that are necessary to ensure compliance with the Act and avoid taxes that may result, should the District be deemed to be offering “Cadillac” health insurance plans. Another potential drain on the District’s finances is the State’s current pension system. Due to the State’s underfunding of the pension system in conjunction with school districts across the State inflating teachers’ salaries in the years preceding retirement, the legislature with the support of the Governor has proposed shifting the cost of pensions to local school districts. This alone would be a significant added expense to the District in coming years. Compared to other districts, Geneva has been relatively conservative with pre-retirement salary increases. However, not only is our current retirement plan unsustainable, this Board has a philosophical issue with continuing to boost pre-retirement salaries in an effort to inflate teacher pensions. Our current retirement plan must be phased out over the course of this contract.
Another philosophical issue this Board has is with taxpayers subsidizing the GEA’s union activities. In light of all of the spending cuts that have been made, the Board cannot continue to justify paying the GEA President a full day’s salary for half a day’s work so that the other half of the day can be devoted to union activities. While that time may be necessary to complete union duties, the GEA membership, and not the taxpayers of this District, should be responsible for paying that portion of the GEA President’s salary. In that same vein, the Board feels union membership is an individual right and that each teacher should be able to choose whether they want a portion of their paycheck to fund union activities. For that reason, the Board is opposed to requiring teachers that have opted not to join the GEA/IEA-NEA to pay a “fair share” payment out of their paycheck as a condition of employment.
GEA Clarification: This statement implies that association activicties have no benefit to our district. The value of this release time for the GEA President is great given the limited opportunities for communication between staff and the administration. This release time manifests itself through the resolution of conflicts between the staff and the administration before they would result in grievances being filed. Avoidance of grievances is a positive both for the health of the staff/administrator relationship and for the reduced consultation with lawyers retained by the district.
Finally, given the economic uncertainty that faces us, maintaining the District’s reserves at a healthy level is absolutely essential. (i) To this end, Board Policy requires the District to maintain its reserves at a minimum of 30% of its average annual expenditures, which it has done. These reserves allow the District to pay its obligations between tax collections and when, as has recently been the case, the State decreases or is late in making its payments to the District. (ii) These reserves also enable the District to maintain an excellent bond rating which, in turn, gives the District flexibility to restructure its debt obligations (currently in excess of $300 million including principal and interest) to provide relief to taxpayers. (iii) If the District dips into its reserves to pay increased salaries this year, it will have to: 1) continue to dip into reserves year after year; 2) increase the tax levy; and/or 3) cut educational programming. The Board does not see any of these options as viable.
(i) GEA Clarification: While this is the board policy, it should also be noted that this is also above the state recommendation of 180 days of operating costs.
(ii) GEA Clarification: When referring to the minutes from the April 13th meeting, the debt was at $153 million.
(iii) Correction: The district does not need to dip into the reserves when it is operating with a $3.15 million surplus in the education fund.
Before turning to our specific proposal, I would also like to take the opportunity to briefly respond to some of the statements that have been made by various GEA members regarding negotiations.
• The Board’s inability to give teachers the raises that the union is proposing in no way indicates a lack of respect for our teachers. The Board has the utmost respect for the work our teachers do for our children and recognizes the role that teachers have played in the District’s receipt of various awards. The attached proposal is the best financial proposal that the Board can offer at this time.
• As a Board, we value the input of all stakeholders. The suggestion that our bargaining position has been unduly influenced by any special interest group is an insult to the seven Board members that took an oath to act in the best interests of the entire community.
• Geneva has never tried to be the highest paid District in the county. We have kept our compensation package competitive and feel that the current proposal remains competitive. We have never had a problem attracting and retaining quality teachers and do not expect to under the current proposal. We believe the reasons for this include a competitive compensation package, including tuition reimbursement and health care benefits; safe and well-maintained facilities; the Board’s commitment to low class sizes; technology upgrades the Board has provided at the urging of its teachers; the school-home partnership embraced by our families; and the support of public education by our community.
GEA Correction: See charts attached to this article.
On a final note, please be aware that following an extensive closed session discussion, the entire Board of Education voted unanimously in open session on October 17, 2012 to approve the contents of this letter and the enclosed offer. We feel that it is a fair offer and it is our sincere hope that the GEA will give it careful consideration.
President Geneva Board of Education
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