The Geneva Community Unit School District (CUSD) 304 Board of Education (BOE) ratified a new three-year contract for its teachers starting with the 2023-24 school year at the regular board meeting on Monday, April 10. The school board and the teachers’ union, the Geneva Education Association (GEA), reached agreement through interest-based bargaining, as opposed to more traditional bargaining. The objective was to reach a fair and sustainable agreement that keeps in mind the best interests of the students, staff, school district, and community.
“I am excited both about the resulting contract but also the collaborative and cooperative way both sides engaged in negotiating this agreement,” said Geneva School Board President Mike McCormick.
Five years ago, the contract negotiation process was not as successful and resulted in a teachers’ strike. “I hope this process goes a long way toward healing the wounds of the past and setting our future on a good course that is sustainable for the community and rewarding for our terrific staff.”
The contract, now approved by both parties, reflects an increase in compensation over the three years of an estimated $3.9 million. District provided benefits projected over three years of the contract are estimated at $970,000. The total three-year contract package is estimated at $4.89 million.
In addition, the agreement updates language related to the retirement program, involuntary transfer process, and the teacher workday. It outlines several issues, including student services workload and class size, that will be worked on by district committees beginning with the upcoming school year. The entire contract will be available to view on the district’s website
“We are thankful that everyone involved in this process came into it with a spirit of collaboration and worked through the negotiation process in a productive manner,” said Geneva School District Superintendent Dr. Kent Mutchler.
The interest-based bargaining process resulted in the parties reaching agreement on all issues in just 8-10 3-hour sessions. The economic issues, involving the most difficult discussions, required just one six-hour session.
“We started the process by engaging with GEA representatives almost a year ago, and we brought in a facilitator when we officially began negotiations this past fall,” said Geneva School District Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Adam Law. “The facilitator kept all the parties in the room to the greatest extent possible. There was very little caucusing. Instead, we had genuinely productive discussions to find win-win solutions to issues.”
The parties brought in a facilitator from the Chicago office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) who led them through an interest-based bargaining program
and a process developed by the Chicago FMCS called the Affinity Method of Collaborative Bargaining
According to the FMCS website, the Affinity Method starts from a place of agreement and common ground. It uses a problem-solving approach and has a success rate greater than 98%. In the traditional process of collective bargaining, each side presents proposals or a list of issues to the other party in several rounds until an agreement is reached.
“The process is intentionally collaborative, and the Affinity portion builds on the principles of [interest-based bargaining] to avoid many of the negative outcomes that often come with positional bargaining,” said GEA President Jordan Zimberoff. “Overall, I think if both sides are willing to participate with open minds and honest, realistic solutions, the process is an excellent option to use."
First, the FMCS facilitator collaborated with the parties to find agreement on non-economic issues. Later, when it came time to discuss the economic issues, the facilitator trained the group on the Affinity Method in a 3-hour session. The training involved an introduction and understanding of the language used, the structure and overview of the process.
"GEA membership is overwhelmingly supportive of the [agreement],” said Zimberoff. “We thank the BOE for its efforts in reaching this deal."