It might be summer vacation, but negotiators are still working hard to try and hammer out a new contract for teachers and other staff at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
A five-year contract between the teachers and the school board expired on June 30, but negotiations are continuing throughout the summer. The first day of school is only five weeks away with classes scheduled to start Aug. 14.
It doesn’t appear that an agreement is imminent.
“We do have negotiations throughout the summer and information will be disseminated when both parties agree to do so,” said English teacher Wendy Cassens, who is serving as the president of the Riverside Brookfield Education Association (RBEA) this year.
Cassens declined to comment when asked how the negotiations are going. She also declined to say if teachers would report to work next month when school starts if no contract is agreed to by then.
“I won’t be able to answer that question,” Cassens said.
District 208 school board President Matt Sinde was equally tight-lipped when asked about the negotiations.
“The board and the teachers union are meeting in the negotiation process, and we will work to get a fair and balanced contract,” Sinde said. “We have met numerous times already, and we have numerous more meetings to go. We are meeting and we’re meeting as frequently as we can.”
Sinde said that the last negotiating session was held in late June. Sinde and school board member Garry Gryczan are representing the school board in the negotiations with the help of the an outside attorney.
District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis estimated that the two sides have met four or five times since negotiations began in March and that four or five more negotiating sessions are scheduled this summer.
Skinkis said that it is not uncommon for teachers to start a school year without a contract and to continue to work under the terms of the old contract while a new deal is being negotiated.
Most teacher strikes begin after the school year has started. Teachers often have more leverage if they threaten to walk out or walk out after the school year has begun rather than at the beginning of the year.
The negotiations for a new contract were expected to be difficult this year as the school board has made no bones about trying to control costs and alter the current contract.
The five-year contract that expired June 30 gave most teachers cumulative annual raises of around 5.5 percent when raises in base pay and automatic step increases that most teachers receive were combined.
Relations between teachers and the school board have been strained over the last few years as many teachers have felt that the current school board is more focused on finances than on education and has ignored teacher input about curricular decisions.
The rift between the teachers and the school board has left many parents concerned and many expect a strike.