School Board, QF contract proposals posted on state website

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 3, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 3, 2017 11:32 pm

QUINCY -- Final contract offers from the Quincy School Board and Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel hint at a divide beyond dollars and cents.

The contracts -- posted Friday afternoon on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board website, -- repeat some information already known about the proposals but shed new light on how a tentative contract was reached back in July and what remain as stumbling blocks.

"It's important that all the information is out there now," School Board President Sayeed Ali said. "Our hope is to just lay it out what we're dealing with."

The board proposed a three-year contract with average increases of 2.4 percent in 2017-18, 1.5 percent in 2018-19 and 1.7 percent in 2019-20, or a total cost of $2.289 million in salary and wages. QF sought a two-year contract with an increase of 2.4 percent in 2017-18 and 2 percent in 2018-19, or an estimated cost of $1.301 million in salary and wages.

The board also agreed to pay a projected 82.5 percent, or $7.983 million, of the total cost of health insurance premiums for union members in 2017-18, the first year of the tentative contract.

Both the union and the School District's health benefits committee -- made up of representatives from each union subgroup, the School Board and the district -- recommended modest increases in the cost of insurance in exchange for increased salary and wages.

"Considering what appeared to be a consensus and agreement by the union negotiating team as well as the health benefits committee regarding the proposed modest increase of cost-sharing obligations of union members, the Board was willing to stretch its financial position to maximize the increases in wages to Union members," the board's posting said.

That tentative agreement was voted down on three separate occasions by union members, in part over concerns about health insurance costs.

"The Board understands the concerns of the Union about the uncertainty of health insurance premiums, because like the majority of Americans, Board members have those same concerns," the posting said. "However, at no point will this board agree to act on something they know is financially irresponsible or negatively affects our district's long-term financial health."

Ali said the major roadblock has been compensation.

"There are certain facts about our district finance that we can't ignore. Those have been the roadblocks," he said. "We must have the ability to afford the amount of funds of which we commit."

In its posting, QF stressed that the issues are more than compensation, but what is best for students.

"Our negotiating team began these talks in late spring asking for limits on the number of students in each classroom and on caseloads, extended planning time and less paperwork, and meetings taking place outside of the work day," the QF posting said. "With these items in place, teachers would be able to provide more individual attention to each student, as well as have time to plan and execute quality instruction."

At the same time, QF said its members are asked to take on more responsibilities, but are not compensated, and the union sought a "fair wage" for hourly employees as a step toward attracting and retaining high-quality staff, providing high-quality professional development, and improving teaching and learning conditions.

"Our students deserve licensed staff and support staff that allow diverse learners to achieve their highest potentials," the QF posting said. "The board is not listening to the union on these issues, and that is why we still do not have a contract."

The board claims it has tried to listen and take direction from QF leadership.

After conversations with union leadership, the board cut about $1 million from the operating budget without reducing jobs by layoffs. To improve communication with the union, a new financial overwatch committee formed to review the budget -- which projects $850,000 deficit and a minimal cash on hand, likely prompting the district to be placed on the state's financial watch list.

Although no talks have been scheduled, Ali said the board remains more than willing to meet with the union.

"If the union has any ideas that could help us avoid educational disruption for our students, I'd be more than willing to sit down and work with them," he said.