Negotiations began last month on a new teachers’ contract at Riverside-Brookfield High School. The first negotiating session between the union that represents teachers and support staff, the Riverside Brookfield Teachers Association (RBEA), and the school board’s negotiating team took place on Feb. 16. Another negotiating session occurred on March 1.

The current three-year contract expires June 30.

According to a press release issued jointly Friday by the school board and the RBEA, both sides were pleased with the discussions at the first two negotiating sessions and a tentative agreement was reached on general language covering tuition reimbursement for teachers.

The press release also stated that both the school board and the RBEA were able to present their views on the contract and engage in what the press release called “productive dialogue.”

“I appreciate the conversation and problem solving that is taking place at the bargaining table,” said RBEA President Wendy Cassens in the press release. “Both sides are committed, willing to listen and work to find a contract solution that is fair for the students, the staff and the district’s stakeholders.”

The press release states that there are not as many issues to address in these talks as there were in the last round of contract talks in 2013.

It appears that bargaining on the key issues of wages and benefits has yet to begin in earnest.

The school board’s negotiating team consists of board members Matt Sinde and Garry Gryczan, District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and Attorney Lynn Himes of the law firm of Scariano, Himes & Petrarca, which represents the district in contract talks.

Sinde declined to comment when asked about the talks.

“We don’t talk about negotiations,” Sinde said.

The RBEA’s negotiating team consists of four RBHS teachers: Cassens, an English teacher and the English Department’s instructional coach (similar to department chair); history teacher John Fields; English teacher Thomas Fuller; and math and economics teacher Marty Sloan. 

The RBEA agreed to hold down pay increases in the contract negotiated in 2013. That contract called for teachers to receive no increase in their pay at all during the second year of the contract. 

In the first year of the contract, teachers received only the automatic pay increase for longevity, called a step increase, but no raise in base pay. For 2015-16, teachers received both step increases and a 1.275 percent increase in their base pay. 

Some school districts, such as Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 and Komarek School District 94 have eliminated step increases completely.

The RBEA has at times had a contentious relationship with the school board, with many teachers believing that the board and administration are more concerned about finances than about education.  

In December, Cassens told the school board that it should hire more teachers to combat increases in class size that were hurting education at RBHS.

Skinkis is preparing to ask the school board to increase the size of the faculty by three or four additional positions next year. This year, the teaching staff increased by nearly three full positions.

Cassens, who also led the RBEA during the last round of negotiations, was able to work well with the board during the 2013 contract talks. In 2013, when some parents worried about a strike and the teachers began the school year without a contract, a deal on a new contract was reached in December. 

At the time that agreement was approved Sinde, who was then board president, went out of his way to praise Cassens and the RBEA. 

This year board members are concerned with financial projections that show the district heading for an operating deficit as soon as next year, and the board will be looking to limit raises to control costs. Wages and benefits account for 72 percent of the RBHS’ operating expenses.