QUINCY -- The Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel will vote Wednesday on a "final offer" from the Quincy School Board for a proposed new contract.
The union also plans to vote simultaneously on whether to file a notice of intent to strike.
The final offer was presented during a three-hour bargaining session Monday night with a federal mediator -- the first such meeting in more than a month.
QF Co-President Jen Drew said the board had sent the union a contract offer prior to the meeting by way of the mediator. The union, in turn, prepared a counter offer that was presented to the board Monday night. The board then came back with what was described as a "final offer."
The union's negotiating team did not tentatively accept the offer, "but we will take it to our membership to vote on," Drew said. "We're also going to be voting on an intent to strike at the same meeting."
If the union accepts the board's final offer, the intent to strike vote will become moot. But if the union rejects the contract offer, the intent to strike vote will come into play.
Filing an intent to strike notice with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board doesn't necessarily mean the QF will go on strike. It merely "starts the timeline for a strike," Drew said.
Because of all the public notices, posting requirements and waiting periods built into the filing process, at least 28 days must pass from the time a notice is filed until a strike can begin, Drew said.
"So that would give us the next month to work with the district to try to find a middle ground that we can all agree on," she said.
Drew said she is growing concerned about the situation.
"I think my feelings have kind of changed from being hopeful to definitely being concerned, disappointed and frustrated that we haven't been able to come to an agreement," she said. "I felt we were pretty close in July, and I don't feel that we've had very much movement since then."
QF and the School Board announced that a tentative agreement had been reached July 11 on a three-year deal, but the union membership rejected the proposal because of a proposed increase in employee health care costs that outpaced a proposed salary increase.
The proposal called for a 2.4 percent pay raise the first year, 1.5 percent the second year and 1.7 percent the third year.
However, the hike in health insurance premiums, which went into effect at the start of the school year, continues to be an issue.
"Our insurance increased pretty significantly," Drew said. "People are really feeling it in their paychecks."
She said some employees are paying hundreds of dollars more per month for family health coverage, and the proposed pay raise is not high enough to offset the increase.
Drew said no further meetings are scheduled with the federal mediator at this time.
"We're kind of at an impasse," she said.
School Board President Sayeed Ali issued a statement Tuesday morning regarding the contract situation, noting that the School Board is "obviously disappointed" that the union is looking into the possibility of a strike.
"Our employees are incredible and do an amazing job for this district and our children. We have genuinely tried to listen and take direction from their leadership," the statement said.
Ali said the district -- after speaking with union leadership -- took steps to cut costs in the Central Office through a reorganization plan presented by the superintendent. Other budgetary costs throughout the district were cut by about $1 million, he said.
"We also wanted to improve communication with our employees, with regard to our finances, so we created a financial over-watch committee. This was to ensure that union leadership would know exactly what numbers make up our budget and how many available dollars we are working with," he said.
Ali said the district finished the 2015-16 school year with a $1.3 million deficit and the 2016-17 year with a $600,000 deficit. The district is projecting an $850,000 deficit this year.