Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy in Forest Park. File photo

The head of the Proviso Teachers Union said no agreement has been reached between the union and Proviso High School District 209, pouring cold water on a claim by superintendent James Henderson at a recent board meeting that the two sides were meeting next month “in hopes to ratify or solidify their contract.”

Maggie Riley, a teacher at Proviso West High School and the union’s president for the last six years, said the union is “awaiting a counter from the district” ahead of the next set of scheduled meetings between the two sides.

“The union has not scheduled a ratification meeting for [Jan. 12] as stated by the superintendent … because we do not have a tentative agreement at this time,” Riley wrote in a statement to the Review. “The union will schedule a ratification meeting when there is a complete, signed tentative agreement between the parties.”

The union and the school district have been bargaining with the aid of a mediator since late July but will go into the new year without a contract in place. Last school year, teachers worked without a contract until Dec. 8, when an agreement was reached that included a 3.4% raise for teachers, retroactive to the start of the 2020-21 school year.

That agreement expired on June 30 at the end of the academic year, Riley said, and negotiations for a new deal began with a request to bargain on March 10, 2021. The two sides have been meeting virtually since that time, with Riley recounting 11 meeting dates so far this year. The two sides have not met since Nov. 17, Riley said.

At the Dec. 14 school board meeting at Proviso West, Henderson briefly addressed the union negotiations in a set of remarks, claiming that teachers he had spoken with at a recent community engagement event “want us to move forward and wrap this thing up.”

The negotiations are taking place at a complicated time for the district and particularly the board, which has held a series of contentious meetings this school year and has seen two board members hold their own listening sessions to address concerns that the public, including many teachers, felt were not being given serious consideration by the board at large.

Complaints lodged at recent board meetings have included concerns over the level of security and frequency of fighting within the buildings, issues with inadequate staffing, particularly in information technology and counseling departments, and general complaints about a lack of responsiveness from the board.

Earlier this year, board President Rodney Alexander abruptly halted the practice of livestreaming board meetings, saying at the time that he did so in response to the union.

“We knew the crowd was coming. We knew that the teachers union was putting together these theatrics or whatever,” Alexander told the Review on Oct. 13. Riley, for her part, said the union remains undeterred.

“We’re going to continue, the teachers, to do what’s best for our students and fight for our students,” Riley said. “We will continue to go to board meetings and speak out about what is going on in these buildings so the public is made aware. We will continue to do that and hopefully the board and the superintendent will start not only hearing us but taking action.”

The union and district are next scheduled to meet for mediation sessions on Jan. 12 and 19.