D97 teacher talks will get intense?#34;on purpose

? Board hopes to have a contract by the end of a 3-day negotiating session in March.

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Negotiations on a new teachers' contract at Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will take on a new condensed format this spring, squeezed between the board's busy January schedule and early April elections.

The board has worked intensely during the first weeks of the new year (and will continue to work) to find a new superintendent, with current Supt. John C. Fagan's retirement coming mid-summer.

"All hands have been on deck for that one," said Board President Ade Onayemi.

The board and teachers have agreed to bargain a new agreement before the April 5 election, when 2-3 new members will join the board.

Typically negotiations are conducted on Wednesday evenings in executive session before board meetings, with approximately 10 sessions lasting an hour or two and a final session that goes until an agreement is reached, Onayemi said.

But this year, the board and teachers will participate in two days of training on the "interest-based bargaining" approach that will be used to reach an agreement in late February, then enter into three full-day sessions in March to hammer out a new deal.

The district's incoming superintendent will not take part in the negotiations, Onayemi said.

Onayemi hopes to sign a three- to five-year deal if possible, saying the board is not looking to pen a shorter agreement that would involve the new superintendent and new board members the following year.

Among the possible issues for discussion: Teachers have raised objections with the board about the School Leadership Team's "critical issues" process at Brooks Middle School, and the board has expressed the desire to duplicate the process at other schools in the district.

Asked whether codification of the process might be a topic during negotiations, Onayemi said it was "possible," and that it "might be in [teachers'] best interest" to discuss what they feel is working or not working with the process.

Onayemi pointed out that the spread of School Leadership Teams to every school in the district came as a result of teacher contract negotiations.

Teacher union President Jim Gates declined to comment on negotiations.

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

The District 97 Board of Education has identified three finalists to replace outgoing Supt. John C. Fagan.

All of the finalists are from Illinois schools, but none is from within the district, said Board President Ade Onayemi.

Interviews of finalists by the board and a select panel of school and community members took place Monday and Tuesday, and the third candidate will be interviewed tomorrow.

In the following two weeks, the board will make site visits to superintendent candidates' schools, conduct background checks and select a new superintendent.

The selection will be announced at the board's regular meeting on Jan. 26.

The board's search firm gave the board five semifinalists, which the board interviewed and winnowed to three in a 12-hour session last Saturday.
?#34;Drew Carter

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