DECATUR — Teaching assistants and Decatur School District officials are set to meet later this month for a session with a federal mediator, the first sign of forward progress in talks that have stalled over disagreements about healthcare costs.
The school district said Thursday that the meeting was set for Nov. 21. Jon Nadler, field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the union is excited to bargain.
"In order to get a contract, we have to sit down and bargain and this is the first step in doing that," he said. "We feel this is a positive step forward."
The teaching assistants went on strike Oct. 29 and returned to classes Nov. 1 after they said they learned their health insurance would no longer be covered by the district. Union members have staged a number of demonstrations, and a number of parents and supporters addressed the school board during its meeting Tuesday night.
Negotiations over the teaching assistants' contract started in April. District and union officials have met numerous times and have sought the help of a federal mediator.
The cost of health care remains the biggest sticking point. The union argues that the school district's proposal represents a massive increase over previous monthly premium rates. The district has responded by asserting the health care package is reasonable and includes the option of a high-deductible plan with lower premiums.
Teachers currently pay $900 annually for single employee coverage and $3,300 for family coverage. The money is paid over 18 pay periods, or the nine months of the year that teaching assistants work.
Under the district's proposal, costs for the lower-deductible plan would range from $1,471.56 for a single employee to $8,159.28 for family coverage in the final year of the contract, 2023. Under the higher-deductible plan, single employees' monthly premiums would be covered by the district. Those with family coverage would pay $3,864 annually.
The district would also offer coverage for an employee with spouse or employee with children. Those costs would range from $5,500 and $5,700 under the lower-deductible plan and $2,300 to $2,400 for those with the higher deductible.
Nadler previously said the high-deductible plan is "not feasible" for union members. The union said also that it was not given information about the higher-deductible plan during negotiations, a charge the district disputes.
The union has also filed two charges with the Illinois Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices by the district.
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READ THE PROPOSALS
Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants
Decatur Public Schools