Last week, the president of the teachers union at Riverside-Brookfield High School delivered a strong response to a comment made by District 208 Board of Education Vice-President John Keen at a school board meeting earlier in September.

On Sept. 11, as the school board prepared to vote on the high school’s budget for the current year, Keen said, clearly referring to the union, that all stakeholders but one had made sacrifices in this year’s budget. Keen contended that if that group had made sacrifices, the 2012-2103 budget could have been balanced. The budget the school board unanimously approved on Sept. 11 projects an operating deficit of $278,000.

Doug Schultz, chairman of the math department at RB and this year’s president of the Riverside Brookfield Education Association (RBEA), the union that represents teachers and other staff members at RB, said Keen’s comments about the union were wrong and misleading.

“The board’s view that the RBEA was not a willing stakeholder in the district’s financial well-being is incorrect,” said Schultz making a visitor comment at the start of the Sept. 25 committee-of-the-whole meeting. “The RBEA has been more than willing to help this district in many ways, most recently during the 2011 contract renegotiation talks. In December of 2011, the RBEA membership voted 95 to 5 to open negotiations and discuss possible concessions to the current RBEA collective bargaining agreement.”

Schultz said the RBEA proposed a restructuring of the contract that would have saved the district about $1.76 million. The union initially estimated that their offer, which Schultz said included a wage freeze, would have saved the district $1.26 million. But Schultz said at a March 15, 2012 meeting with board representatives and the board’s financial advisor, it was determined that the offer would result in savings of an additional $500,000.

The school board’s representatives in the talks spurned the RBEA’s offer, Schultz said.

“That proposal was denied by the board’s representatives without caucus, discussion or the advice of legal counsel,” Schultz said. “Rather than consider the proposal, the board decided to terminate discussions with the RBEA. We are saddened that the board feels the RBEA was an unwilling stakeholder. We are deeply saddened that the board of education would publicly misrepresent the RBEA’s willingness to help the district’s finances during these difficult times. The teachers are more than willing stakeholders at Riverside Brookfield High School, as evident by our prior offers. We hope that this board would value the teachers at RB and respect the factual efforts that the RBEA has made to help the entire community.”

School board member Laura Hruska said she did not agree with Keen’s comment at the Sept. 11 meeting.

“No I don’t agree with those comments, nor would I believe those comments are the sentiments of the board,” Hruska said.

Hruska said she felt Keen’s comment was out of character, noting that Keen has always had great respect for individual RB teachers.

“The comment was so out of the ordinary,” Hruska said. “He has never articulated contempt for the staff. I just think it’s too bad John Keen’s comment came out kind of all by itself there, and it’s too bad both sides just can’t sit down and have a conversation.”

The RBEA’s current five-year contract with the school board expires on June 30, 2013. Negotiations on a new contract have yet to begin.

“I hope we can get beyond the personalities,” Hruska said. We’ve got to be able to talk to each other like human beings.”