BELOIT-The West Branch teachers union has rejected a two-year labor agreement and are now considered at an impasse with the school board, although classes will begin as scheduled Wednesday, according to Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart.
In a written statement released Saturday afternoon, Weingart said the West Branch Education Association, representing the teachers in the district, rejected the school board's "second and final" offer for a new two-year agreement last Tuesday. The board will present union its "last, best and final" offer on Monday, he said.
A collective bargaining agreement between the parties expired on July 1. Teams for the two groups have been in negotiations for the past eight months and called for assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in May. Weingart said the two sides are now considered to be at an impasse, with no realistic possibility that continued discussions at this time will be fruitful.
According to Weingart, the board had reached a tentative agreement with the union during a bargaining session in July, but the teachers rejected it on Aug. 20. The board then met on Aug 27 as the union's request, but no agreement was reached following a "lengthy" session.
"The board then provided its last, best and final offer which attempted to address a majority of association's concerns (and) the following day, the new offer was rejected by the teachers," Weingart said.
In the release, school board President Terry Criss expressed hope that an agreement can be reached.
"We are hopeful that the teachers will reconsider and accept our final offer for a new two year contract," he said. "We think that the offer from the board is fair, competitive and realistic under the current and projected economic conditions facing the district."
According to Weingart, the board's proposal from last week asks teachers to pay slightly more each month toward the cost of health insurance, but freezes the amount of employee contributions for the next two years. The offer also provides a modest pay increase for eligible employees in the second year as well as additional compensation for advanced education and a financial incentive for outstanding attendance. The forthcoming offer will be retroactive to July 1.
The board ratified a renegotiated contract with the classified employees union last summer which had the employees work last year under the same terms as the prior contract, but accept an absolute pay freeze, as well as pay more into health care premiums, this year. In June the board approved an agreement with all confidential employees and administrative staff under the same conditions.