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New D15 contract avoids increased class sizes, teacher layoffs

A new teaching contract at Community Consolidated School District 15 will avoid layoffs, increased classroom sizes, and cuts to program assistant benefits; but will lower pay for new teachers.

The School Board for the Palatine-based school district unanimously approved the new deal June 13 after two months of negotiations. The contract is one of the final steps in closing a projected $9.6 million budget gap. About $6 million in cuts were approved in March, but officials said they couldn’t, at this point, say how much money will be saved with the new four-year contract.

“We believe it will address the structural deficit, that it will be eliminated in the third or fourth year,” said School Board President Tim Millar, who added that any projections on savings would be premature as they are still crunching the numbers. “It is a very positive step for the community.”

With the new contract, 17 teachers who were notified of layoffs will be asked back and there will not be benefits reductions for program assistants. The district initially proposed an increase in class sizes, but Superintendent Scott Thompson said they will be no change between class sizes this year and next. There will be about 20 teachers retiring, but Thompson said the number of positions that will be filled depends on student population and keeping class sizes in line.

“We do feel that this contract provides for long-term financial stability for the district,” said teacher union president Lisa Nuss, who has been a part of the last four contract negotiations. “We really wanted to keep education as our top priority and we felt that we achieved that.”

The teachers approved the contract with a two-thirds majority, Nuss said. The four-year contract calls for a average raises of 1.08 percent, which will steadily rise each year to 2.22 percent in the final year. While current teachers will get a modest increase, new faculty will be hired at a lower pay scale. For example, a teacher hired this year who has a master’s degree and five years of experience will make $51,556. A current District 15 teacher with the same education and experience will be making $57,823.

Perhaps the most noticeable for parents will be a proposed early release or late start of 40 minutes one day a week for additional professional development programs and training for teachers, as well as collaboration with administrators. The school day will be extended for 10 minutes the other four days to make up for lost time. The program will not be implemented until 2013-14 school year so district officials can study similar initiatives in other districts.

Despite the board approval, the contract has not been finalized and many details have not been disclosed. Thompson said it will take a few months to work through the language and legal details before it can be released publicly.

The peaceful meeting, with both sides heaping praise of collaboration on the other, brought to close a debate that showed signs of contention. In January, district officials presented a plan with steep cuts to close a projected $9.6 million gap. After $6 million in cuts were approved in March, attention turned to the teacher contract and potential savings that could be gained.

Some residents called on the teachers to take concessions, while Nuss called the deficit projections an inaccurate “negotiating tactic” the board and administration ware using to scare the community and turn public opinion against the teachers. The administration defended the projections while shying away from engaging in what could have evolved into a contentious and public back-and-forth.

With the contract approved three months before the start of the school year, there was never a real threat of a strike. Board members and the union said they wanted to get a contract in place to prevent negotiations from dragging through the summer.

Nevertheless, board member Richard Bokor said, while they were ultimately able to reach a compromise, the negotiations were still difficult.

“There were numerous times in the course of the process, at least in our part, I can’t speak for the (union), where we almost broke talks off,” he said. “When you are working on Memorial Day weekend until 1 or 2 in the morning on your own time, their own time, and family is away; I think it is important for everyone to understand it’s a work in progress and no contract is 100 percent perfect. Look at the contract and don’t just nitpick the imperfections.”

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