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How can school be operating without a contract?

Skinkis and Cassens discuss negotiations framework

Map by Lauren Grimaldi

Lauren Grimaldi, News Editor

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When doors opened for the first day of classes this year, the teachers and the school board had yet to agree upon a contract. A sentence such as this may make you picture the strikes you have seen on the news. However, in actuality the year began as normal, just without a contract in place.

“I believe the Latin legal term is status quo ante,” Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skinkis said. “Basically, the old contract stays in place until a new contract is completed.”

The contract the teachers are currently operating under expired on June 30 of last school year.

In fact, it is actually very standard for a school to open the year without a contract.

“[For example] when the CPS system went on strike [they had been operating without a contract].  We are far more collegial and respectful,” RBEA President Wendy Cassens said. “It is not a big deal that we started [the year] without a contract.”

“It’s not as controversial, at least for our district,” said Cassens.

“That’s why strikes you see on [the news] don’t start until around September or October,” Skinkis said. “Most school boards and teacher’s unions work in the summer and the early school year. As long as both sides are still trying to work things out, it can run well into the school year.”

Operating under the old contract, however, cannot be a placeholder forever.

“I don’t think it would be good practice to go more than a couple months into this year,” Skinkis said. “But as long as we’re making good progress and working out details, I think that process just runs its course until it’s done. “

To a typical person, negotiations seem like they could just be about money. However that is not the case.

“There are language discussions that occur,” said Cassens. “Those are things that we have to go back and forth on. [The contract] is a very big document. It is not just a sheet of paper. So, we have to go through each part.”

At a typical negotiation meeting, representatives of the school board along with their attorney meet with the RBEA President (Cassens) and the teachers’ own negotiating team and union lawyer. The lawyers on both sides are mainly there to guide discussion and tend to refrain from joining the discussion.

“Sometimes [someone on either side] will come with what they think is a good language or agreement and it’s good to have the attorneys present to be able to say if it contradicts the law,” Skinkis said.

Anyone from the previously mentioned parties may speak at these meetings and a typical negotiation session occurs about once a week and usually lasts around two to three hours.

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How can school be operating without a contract?