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Members of the Bloomington Education Association, in red, fill the District 87 community room Thursday as they wait for the start of a teacher contract negotiating session with a federal mediator. The two sides did not sit down together at the start of the session as union members expected, but a deal was reached late Thursday night.

BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington District 87 and its teachers union reached a tentative, three-year contract late Thursday night that is expected to be ratified next month.

The Bloomington Education Association, which has been working without a contract since July, and the district reached the agreement with the help of a federal mediator after about eight hours of talks that ended about 11:30 p.m.

The details of the agreement will not be released until it is ratified. The BEA has yet to schedule a vote, and Superintendent Barry Reilly said the school board is likely to take up the matter at its Feb. 11 meeting, although a special meeting could be called earlier. 

"It's kind of a pragmatic settlement," BEA President Rich Baldwin said. "We're in difficult economic times, and we came up with an agreement we can live with.

"No winners, no losers. We simply got a deal done," he added.

Reilly said he was "satisfied" with the outcome. "I'm happy we've reached an agreement," he said.

The two sides turned to a federal mediator after they could not reach an agreement in talks that began in April 2014. Pay remained the primary sticking point throughout the negotiations.

“We’re stuck on one issue, which is compensation. Compensation usually comes last because other issues will have budgetary implications,” said Baldwin before Thursday's negotiating session began. “We came in with a proposal in December that was in that range, but we couldn't get an agreement out of that. ... We brought in a third party because we didn’t see any other way to move forward."

The starting teacher's salary at District 87 was $37,750 under the 2013-14 schedule posted to the district's website. With years of service and additional education, a teacher would move up the scale, which topped out that year at $95,311.

Reilly said last fall the district has cut personnel to the bone in its last two years of deficit reductions but still faces looming budget issues because of poor state financial support.

Thursday's negotiations began with an initial exchange of information at 3:30 p.m. and were largely conducted with the two sides meeting separately with the mediator as a go-between.

"We've been exchanging proposals, just not in the same room," Baldwin said Thursday night.

He said he had expected both negotiating teams to sit down together for at least an initial meeting with the mediator at 4 p.m., but that didn't happen.

Regardless of how talks took place, both sides said they were committed to reaching a contract to replace the one that expired in July.

"We're working hard to get an agreement," Reilly said Thursday night. While declining to go into specifics about the talks, he did reject the union's contention that the administration was unprepared and delayed the start of Thursday's session.

Leading up to the scheduled 4 p.m. start, about 200 teachers, family members and supporters gathered in the district offices' community room to show their support for the union.

Chants of "B-E-A!" rang out as a red-clad crowd started to funnel in before 3:30 p.m. They remained enthusiastic as the time for an expected meeting between the two sides came and went.

"I have students who don't get their homework done and scramble to finish. That's what your administration is doing right now," Baldwin, who teaches at Bloomington High School, told the crowd shortly after 4 p.m. "Not much we can do about their lack of preparedness."

Reilly took exception to that interpretation later Thursday night. "That simply is not true," he said, noting both sides began exchanging facts and figures at 3:30 p.m.


Normal and McLean County Reporter

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