BELOIT- West Branch teachers will be at school today under an imposed contract, but hope remains for further negotiations, according to Mike Helm, president of the West Branch Education Association (WBEA).
After failed negotiations between the WBEA and the school board for a new collective bargaining agreement, the board imposed its final offer on the union over the weekend so that classes could begin. Teachers will "work to rule," which means only the hours required by the contract, according to Superintendent Dr. Scott Weingart. He said they will be at the school a specific period of time prior to and after regular school hours only. Supplemental positions, such as athletic coaches, will not be affected, he said.
According to Helm, the WBEA will meet in the next couple days to discuss how to proceed, but stressed that the teachers wish to continue negotiations.
"The hope is we can go back to the negotiating table," he said. "We want what is best for the kids and for the teachers in the district, especially the young teachers."
Helm noted that possible action by the WBEA includes working under the terms of the contract without ever approving it and issuing a strike notice. An unfair labor practice suit is unlikely due to the relatively short length of the contract, 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 on Saturday that the two sides are now considered to be at an impasse, with no realistic possibility that continued discussions will be fruitful.
According to Weingart, the board's proposal from last week asks teachers to pay 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.
Helm explained that the teachers feel they have conceded more than their share already, with concessions in excess of $700,000 over the next two years.
"We want to do the best we can to negotiate a fair contract," he said. "I believe in my heart that we can work something out. Both sides are doing a good job of keeping it on the up and up and staying professional."
A special meeting to approve a resolution to officially impose the contract will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the high school Library.
Kevin Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org