D-158, teachers meet their needs

HUNTLEY – Both sides in a new District 158 teachers contract praised the three-year agreement, saying it properly compensates teachers while not overburdening the district's finances.

What may have been lost in the hoopla of both sides ratifying the deal this week is the time it took to reach an agreement. Teachers voted down a tentative deal in early September, authorized the union to call a strike in October, and inched toward a strike in November by officially declaring an impasse in negotiations.

Disagreement on compensation is why negotiations went two months beyond the rejection of the first tentative deal, officials from both sides said.

D-158 board member Tony Quagliano said the board originally pushed for less-defined, more flexible pay raises in years two and three of the contract, while the union wanted concrete figures throughout.

"It's a negotiation. You can't get everything you want," Quagliano said.

Quagliano, who chairs the board's Finance Committee, said he was present last week when the board and union met and reached an agreement. Vice President Don Drzal could not attend in person, he said.

The board's initial apprehension concerning pay stemmed from the state's shaky reputation on making payments to local school districts, he said.

But overdue payments have been delivered during the past two years and the district can rely on a healthy reserve fund if the state doesn't again skips payments, Quagliano said. The combination of those two factors is what allowed the district to approve the contract Tuesday night, a day after union members ratified it, he said.

Julie McLaughlin, co-president of the union, Huntley Education Association, said compensation became the only issue as negotiations moved into the fall. Aware of economic conditions, HEA simply wanted pay raises based on classroom experience, known as "steps," McLaughlin said.

Teachers achieved that and now are guaranteed raises for the next three years.

"We were asking for what's fair, and that's the step increase," McLaughlin said.

The pact allows all but the most-veteran teachers to receive 3.5 percent annual raises based on classroom experience and gives 2 percent annual raises to longtime teachers. The three-year contract will cost the district about $5.6 million.

"It's a fair contract," McLaughlin said. "We are happy we have a three-year contract."

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