Updated 12/13/2011 3:10 p.m.

Teachers and other staff members at Riverside-Brookfield High School have authorized their union’s negotiating team to enter into negotiations with the District 208 school board about modifying their current contract, opening the way to possible concessions that could help the cash-strapped district cope with a deteriorating financial condition.

The negotiations could lead to teachers and other staff forgoing all or part of raises that the district is obligated to pay under the current contract. However, neither the union nor the district is obligated to modify the current contract.

Union members voted on Dec. 8 after a couple of meetings between three members of the District 208 school board and the Riverside Brookfield Education Association’s (RBEA) executive board. The vote came one day after the Landmark published a story raising the possibility that the three members of the school board who had been holding private meetings with the RBEA executive board may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by meeting together without public notice.

By formally entering into negotiations with each other, further negotiating meetings are not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

The school board was slated to formally vote to enter into negotiations with the RBEA about the current contract at its meeting on Dec. 13, after the Landmark’s press time. The vote was expected to be a formality.

The RBEA is currently in the middle of the fourth year of a five-year contract with District 208. The current contract expires on June 20, 2013 and calls for base raises, not including automatic seniority based step increases, of between 2 and 3 percent for the 2012-13 school year. With step increases, which most but not all teachers receive, pay for most teachers would increase by about 6 percent next year under the current contract.

District 208 school board President Matt Sinde welcomed the willingness of the RBEA to discuss modifying the current contract.

“We, as a board, look forward to discussing with the RBEA how we can resolve the fiscal crisis in front of us and be able to deliver quality education to our students,” Sinde said.

District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis also hailed the RBEA’s vote.

“The district has some significant financial issues that need to be addressed,” Skinkis said in an email. “I commend the RBEA for their willingness to try and be part of the solution in addressing the district’s current financial situation.”

RBEA president Dave Monti, a science teacher at RB, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Landmark.

Monti has refused to talk to the Landmark this school year, and on Oct. 27 complained in an email that the Landmark was biased in its coverage of RBHS.

“I have no comment for you or the Landmark at this time,” Monti wrote when first asked via email about the RBEA’s meetings with members of the school board. “Once you begin to do some positive reporting about the school I will entertain your questions.”

Monti did talk to the Clarion, the school’s student newspaper, and referred to an offer made last year by the RBEA to freeze base pay for two years if RB’s tax referendum was approved by voters.

“As with last year’s offer, the RBEA leadership felt it was necessary to try and be part of the solution in terms of the district’s current financial situation,” Monti was quoted as saying by the Clarion. “As everyone knows, a large group of intelligent and dedicated people with varied experiences and backgrounds can come up with many possible situations to a problem. The entire membership overwhelmingly supported the leadership’s idea to open discussions about next year’s salary schedule and the future.”

Monti also apparently told the Clarion that it was up to the school board to make the first proposal to modify the current contract.

“Initial plans and ideas should come from the board’s negotiations team, as they are ones that set the budget within which the district must fiscally operate,” the Clarion quoted Monti as saying. “When the discussions begin and they share their ideas with us, hopefully a course of action that is mutually beneficial and acceptable to both the district and the RBEA will be reached.”