Strike looming in Mendota Dist. 289


No negotiation sessions are planned

MENDOTA – There is still no agreement between Mendota Elementary School District 289 and the Mendota Education Association (MEA).

The two groups last met with a federal mediator on Oct. 1. Without a deal or any offers to meet again, a teachers' strike is looming.

One issue of debate continues to be the number of teachers used to formulate the cost of the proposals.

In a statement, MEA said, "We went into the meeting with the intentions of trying get both sides in agreement on what numbers we need to use going forth in our proposals. We currently have 76 teachers in the Association and the board is using 79 in order to falsely inflate the cost of their proposal. Our attempt to try to get the board to use the correct figures was unsuccessful and they insist to continue to use 79 teachers in determining the cost of their salary proposal."

Mendota Elementary board explained their reasoning, "The board has 79 positions available with 76 currently occupied. We are still seeking to fill three vacant teacher positions. These positions have remain actively posted and we are looking to hire those three teachers as soon as possible. Our budget has to acknowledge the cost of positions of 79 full time teachers."

Without an agreement on salary schedule, insurance, and a language item, MEA served the district the 10-day notice of an intent to strike with a strike date set for Oct. 16. "We are hopeful the mediator will be contacting us soon to bring us back to the table," MEA stated.

The school board agreed by stating that they are still willing to continue to meet to resolve the strike before the strike date.

If there is a strike on Oct. 16, parents will be made aware through the school messenger voicemail system and the TeacherEase email system. If parents have questions prior to any notification, contact the building principals, school superintendent Dr. School, or board president Sean Pappas.

The school board then released another statement on Oct. 4 that was met with a rebuttal from MEA.

Mendota Elementary School Board's statement:

The Mendota Elementary School Board has negotiated in good faith with the Teacher’s Union since the negotiations process began in March.  At the most recent negotiation meeting on October 1, the union left while the Board was still at the table ready to continue negotiations, and hopeful for resolution. The entire volunteer Board of Education remained at the district office late into the night, brainstorming and discussing the offer, while the union chose to leave. The Board provided the Federal Mediator and the Union with several future dates that we could meet to continue negotiations, but has not received any reply.

The Board is disappointed, and at this time has no evidence that the Union is willing to continue to negotiate. The Board’s last official communication from the Union indicates they intend to strike.

The Board’s offer provided to the Union on October 1, 2019 is the Board’s final offer. We believe the offer is fair; it provides the largest contract expense ever offered to the Union. It is the Board’s responsibility to use taxpayer dollars responsibly, and offering a substantial raise for each of the next three years, along with an increase in the district’s retirement contribution, and a deluxe family insurance plan to our teachers, shows that we value them. We have offered all we responsibly can without generating additional debt to the district, at a time that we already are deficit spending.

It is our sincere hope the union does not choose to strike, knowing it will disrupt the education of our students, and create an undue burden to the families of Mendota.

The proposed contract offers teachers a combined 6.14% raise in year one, 4.96% in year 2 and 4.59% in year 3 and provides over $1 million dollars of new money allocated to the teacher’s salaries and benefits over the next three years. While we wish the district was in a position to offer the $2 million requested by the union, it’s something we are unable to do.  All of our teachers are dedicated and valued, which is why we have offered such a substantial raise to them, but we simply can’t offer more.

In preparation for a potential strike, the district has started work on contingency plans for our non-certified staff, finding alternate responsibilities to keep them employed.

The disruption that changing our school calendar brings to families and the costs the district incurs for staffing and transportation are substantial, thus any days that teachers choose to strike will not be made up. The makeup of school days would require school to be in session during scheduled breaks or at the conclusion of the scheduled school year, which is both costly and disruptive.

The district has already incurred a large legal expense through this negotiation process, along with the allocation of additional administrative time focused on a potential resolution. It is our hope that the Union will reconsider a strike, knowing the negative impact it will have on our students, district and citizens. 

The final offer presented by the Board to the Union remains open to them, and if accepted, could avoid the strike.

Mendota Education Association's response:

The MEA has reviewed the latest press release from the Mendota Elementary School Board and find that the factual errors and intentional omissions are at best disingenuous and at worst, intended to inflame these proceedings to the point where resolution is unlikely.  While it has become common practice for the Board to be misleading and self-serving in their PR publications, this latest message is so grossly inaccurate that we find we must respond.

FACT: The mediation session on Tuesday evening concluded a few minutes after its scheduled ending time.  No one walked away from the table while the session was in progress.  The union was not presented with future mediation dates, nor did we offer any as it was necessary for us to meet with our membership to determine our course of action and the Board was made aware of that.

FACT: Our IEA UniServ Director received an email from the FMCS mediator, not from the Board, last evening (Thursday) offering prospective mediation dates.  We have notified the mediator of our availability to meet on October 10th and to begin at 8 a.m. and bargain into the evening.  Will the Board give this meeting the same priority?  We have repeatedly and consistently offered to negotiate from early morning until evening.  The Board has repeatedly and consistently rejected our offer.

FACT: Our IEA representative handed Board member Sean Pappas the required Intent to Strike form at the conclusion of the mediation session.  The law requires the Association to serve upon the District the Intent to Strike form within ten calendar days of a potential strike.  We are following the law.

Can the district say the same about filling classroom teaching positions with substitutes who may not be certified teachers, all while failing to advertise these positions?

FACT: In contract negotiations, the words ‘final offer’ carry legal ramifications.  According to the BOE press release, on October 1, 2019, the Board provided the Union with its “final offer.”  If the law is followed, the Association must now accept that offer in its entirety or strike.  It is confusing to us that the Board publicized that it has presented its “final offer” when they did not instruct the mediator to pass that message with the offer.  Does this mean the Board is negotiating in the press?  If so, let us respond in kind by saying, WE REJECT YOUR OFFER.

Also, if the Board sent its “final offer” with full understanding of the weight of those words, why are they also falsely stating they presented the Association with future mediation dates?  If it is the “final offer,” why would they also send future negotiations dates?  These are not legally compatible so we are left wondering about the status of negotiations at this time.

FACT: As in other press releases, the BOE has not published its FULL offer.  Since they routinely fail to include in the communications that they want an increase in insurance premium contributions each year of the contract (so the teachers “break even in negotiations” according to one Board member), and a diminishment of the salary schedule structure (resulting in a loss in lifetime earnings), we can only assume the Board has dropped both of those proposals.  On behalf of the Association, WE ACCEPT YOUR DROP OF THOSE PROPOSALS.

It is also noted that continuing with their decision to bargain in the press, Sean Pappas stated in the News Tribune article dated October 3, 2019, that “the Board is ‘still willing to offer’ to pay 85% of the costs of insuring teacher’s family members.” We have never received that offer.  On behalf of the Association, WE ACCEPT YOUR OFFER.

FACT: Deficit spending does not mean the District is in deficit or in debt.  Deficit spending means you have done a poor job of creating your budget and allocating money.  If the district was in deficit, they would not have received the highest rating known as Financial Recognition (score of 3.55) from the state of Illinois last year.  And for clarification, not WANTING to pay your teachers what they deserve is not the same thing as not being able to.

FACT: Since negotiations began in February 2019, the Board has struggled to understand and discuss its own finances.  In a June 12th, 2019 negotiations session, members of our team asked the Board team (or those who posed as the Board team that night) standard questions about district finances.  Not one member of their team was able to answer a single question and the response each time was, “I don’t know.”  Within minutes of the negotiations session ending, members of the Association team received an email from Sean Pappas stating, “The Board and Board president are NOT responsible for knowing the exact dates and dollar amounts of every general state aid, federal funding, and other sources of money.”  We contend this is exactly the problem and the reason negotiations have been so frustrating. Board members do not see this as a duty of their position, so we must ask, if the Board does not understand and take responsibility for the finances, who does?

Our offer does not cost over 2 million dollars.  It never has.  Our offer costs out at less than 1.4 million dollars.  Members of our team have repeatedly attempted to demonstrate to the Board team the falsehood of their position that our offer is 2 million dollars but there seems to be an unwillingness, or inability, to understand the math.  Compounding this problem is the fact that all financial questions are met with the response, “We have to ask Justine” (district bookkeeper).

The Board can afford our offer.  It would be self-destructive for the Association to negotiate an offer the BOE could not afford.  We understand that it is in the best interest of our students, community, and our continued employment, for the district to remain solvent.  For the Board to assert otherwise is preposterous.  We are losing great teachers as they voluntarily leave for better paying jobs within 50 miles of our district. The dedicated teachers who chose to stay deserve a fair and competitive compensation package.  And the Board has the ability to make this happen.

FACT: The district states in its press release, “thus any days that teachers chose to strike will not be made up.”  In bargaining, these are called Dock Days and they are a mandatory subject of bargaining. Neither side has the autonomy to unilaterally decide whether or not strike days are made up.  Again, the Association has not received any proposal from the Board regarding this issue until it was published. Since this is another attempt to bargain through the press, on behalf of the Association, WE REJECT YOUR OFFER.

It is unwise and destructive to bargain in the press and we are dismayed and concerned by this Board tactic.  As the Association believes it is necessary to protect our members and the process, we are pursuing legal action by filing an Unfair Labor Practice with the Illinois Labor Relations Board for Bad Faith Bargaining against the district.  There are rules that govern bargaining and until those rules are followed by the Board of Education, this process is stalled.  The Association is willing to continue to bargain, but with the Board exclaiming it has issued its “final offer,” we are unable to proceed until that statement has been publicly withdrawn.

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