Is Illinois Next in Collective Bargaining Battle?

   By Andrew Thomason (Illinois Statehouse News) 4/10/2011 – Education reform in Illinois has gained serious momentum recently, but a day of meetings between all the major players on April 7 failed to produce a plan everyone could agree on.
   Changes to the firing and layoff processes and tenure have been ironed out, according to Illinois Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, who led the effort in the General Assembly. She said the sticking point now is collective bargaining, the ability for teachers' unions to negotiate items such as pay and benefits.
    “Collective bargaining by rights of union groups, that law hasn’t been touched since it was enacted (in 1983) and we’re really wanting them to do something that they haven’t had to do,” Lightford said. “You want to make sure that you work out as many details as possible and lead yourself into the tough areas that may take more focus and constructive dialog.”
    Plans floated in December would limit teachers’ ability to strike. Without the ability to strike at will, teachers would lose a lot of power at the negotiating table, unions say.
    For their part, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union have been pushing their own reform plan that revolves around performance-based evaluations of teachers and principals, but doesn’t change collective bargaining.
    Illinois Education Association Executive Director Audrey Soglin told Illinois Statehouse News earlier this week that her organization didn’t plan to offer any compromises or changes to a collective bargaining system it views as working the way it was designed to.
    Charles McBarron, director of communications for the Illinois Education Association, said Friday that discussions are ongoing.
    “I think Sen. Lightford has run a fine process. We’re going to respect the process and I’m sure there will be more discussion of this next week,” he said.
    The other major player in changes to education in Illinois is Stand for Children, an education reform group that gained recognition last year in Illinois when it poured money into elections around the state. It has been a loud voice in calling for revamping the state’s education system, especially teacher tenure and the power of teacher unions.
    Much like the unions, Stand for Children was tightlipped about the ongoing talks.
    “Negotiations concerning legislation to improve the quality of public education in Illinois are ongoing. We look forward to a positive outcome," Jessica Handy, Stand for Children's Illinois policy director, said.
     What has been a fairly ad hoc approach to education reform has become finely honed in recent weeks. Lightford emphasized that while collective bargaining changes are what’s causing some delay right now, the big picture involves more than just teachers.
    “This is about the whole administration, the management team, the school board members and the effects leading to the child’s education,” she said.
    Lightford said she hopes to have some plan ready to go before the Senate the week of April 12.
    Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News. Originally published 4/8/2011.