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Threat or no threat in D-300 talks?

CARPENTERSVILLE – District 300 and its teachers union are not close to a new contract, with union leaders denouncing a school board statement this week as a “threat.”

At Wednesday’s board meeting, President Anne Miller delivered an impromptu statement that reiterated the board’s concerns with district finances, uncertain state funding and the slow economy.

Miller alluded to cuts to programs and services, and possible school closings, if the district can’t negotiate a “fair and equitable” contract with its union, LEAD 300.

LEAD 300 President Kolleen Hanetho said Miller’s “threat” is meant to bully the union into unnecessary contract concessions.

She said the union’s 1,300 members have helped the district for the past three years through salary freezes and teacher cuts that have saved the district $6 million.

“It is my hope they will come back to the table and realize that we have been compromising and that maybe it’s their turn to compromise, as well,” Hanetho said. “We aren’t engaging in concession bargaining anymore. We are engaging in bargaining, which means compromising.”

Board member Joe Stevens, who has been an active negotiator, said, “There was no threat in there – at least I didn’t read it as a threat.”

The board has legitimate concerns about the district’s long-term financial health, after ending years of deficit spending in the mid-2000s that at one time saw $28 million in debt, Stevens said.

“At this point, I think both sides should play on the goodwill that’s been built up over the years. ... We are both on the same side,” he said.

The district has used concessions and additional money to add administrators since 2007, Hanetho said. The district’s annual reports show it added 36 administrators and subtracted 27 teachers from 2007 to 2012, while enrollment increased by 1,746 students.

The district’s budget for the year includes a $1 million surplus, but officials have said that could be wiped out by any increases to teacher salaries.

State payments continue to lag behind schedule, and the district’s main revenue source – property taxes – is limited by declining property values. Ongoing pension reform talks in Springfield also could saddle the district with more expenses, Stevens said.

Periodically, the district and union have engaged in public tit for tat since summer.

Both sides in August introduced a mediator to resolve contract differences and quickly clashed over class sizes.

Stevens said the board has since proposed hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes that average 35 students in some grades.

Hanetho said her members want a class size limit written into a new contract.

The sides are to meet again Tuesday. They met formally six times last month.

Neither could predict when a deal will be reached, and Hanetho said teachers haven’t ruled out the possibility of a strike.

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