New Geneva D-304 teachers contract expected with ‘no hiccups,’ board president says

GEA expected to ratify 3-year deal next week; school board on April 10, President Michael McCormick said.

Geneva District 304 building

GENEVA – The Geneva Education Association could ratify a new three-year contract this week, allowing the District 304 school board to approve the deal at its April 10 meeting, school board President Michael McCormick said.

A tentative new agreement between the district and teachers union already is in place, McCormick said. The current contract expires Aug. 14.

“We started talking since before the holidays and we had this long six-hour session and the federal mediator sat with us,” McCormick said. “It was a good opportunity. There were no caucuses. People got to vent about being angry. It was good for me to hear the teachers’ positions. … I think they understood the economic situation and without going to corners like we did before. We had to stay in the room together.”

Geneva Education Association President Jordan Zimberoff confirmed in an email that “the Board of Education and Geneva Education Association have come to a tentative agreement on a contract.”

“The GEA is planning to vote on the contract this coming week, and if approved by membership, send it to the board for their April 10 meeting,” Zimberoff’s email said. “GEA leadership thanks everyone involved in these negotiations for the amicable, positive and productive process that produced this TA.”

A new labor pact would mark a stark difference from five years ago when Geneva teachers went on strike.

McCormick said this time negotiators relied on a platform called interest-based bargaining through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent agency that assists in labor-management talks.

Early contract talks were about non-economic topics such as class size, McCormick said.

By the time they got to the end of the sixth hour Feb. 28, both sides had developed relationships with each other without each side digging in and they settled the economic portion of the contract, McCormick said.

By March 21, they got together again and GEA representatives and school officials agreed on the contract language in a tentative agreement, McCormick said, “and settled on that with no hiccups.”

“We needed a sustainable contract that the community could afford that was fair compensation,” McCormick said. “In the process, the ‘we’ and ‘them’ blurred away. … It was a good experience. … I came away with a whole new understanding of union members and I think we came away as friends with thumbs up and everybody hugging.”

McCormick said he expects the union will vote to ratify the new contract when teachers return from spring break.

McCormick, who did not seek reelection after 12 years on the board, said having this contract settled without picket lines and yelling “is the way it’s supposed to go.”

In 2018, teachers picketed before contract talk sessions and struck for five days – the first strike in the district’s history – before finally securing a five-year contract.

“What they vented about was the past. They felt disrespected in the last negotiations and I truly did not understand the animosity until I heard it in this session,” McCormick said.

School board members did not fare well during that time, he said.

“Somebody keyed my car and put dog poop on my door step. I’m not saying they did, but somebody did,” McCormick said. “And walking through those crowds to negotiate, it didn’t make us feel really good about a compromise with people yelling names at us.”