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D-300 deal nixed days before teachers could strike

CARPENTERSVILLE – District 300 and its teachers nearly reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday, but the potential deal fell through after the district balked at a union demand to lower elementary school class sizes further.

The momentary breakthrough in negotiations came after the union, LEAD 300, agreed to a modified compensation proposal made by the district earlier this week that includes additional salary increases and concessions on other benefits, representatives from both sides said Friday.

In exchange for the proposal, the union wanted the district to lower elementary class sizes by “two or three students” from the original offer that capped classes at 28 students from kindergarten through second grade and 31 students from third through fifth grades, LEAD 300 President Kolleen Hanetho said.

“If they were open to that, we would have had a contract last night,” Hanetho said. “If we are going to take their salary proposal to pay for lower class sizes, we want them low enough to where they are acceptable.”

The changes include teacher raises of 3 percent this year, 2 percent in 2014 and 3 percent in 2015. The automatic 2 percent “step” increases, given to teachers who accrue classroom experience, are included in the proposal.

Union leaders have said the salary increases don’t go far enough to compensate teachers who have to manage large class sizes that hinder student learning in a district with 20,000-plus enrollment.

School board member Joe Stevens said the modified proposal would already cause deficit spending for the next two years and force the district to rely on its reserves, meant to help manage district cash flow, during a time of erratic state funding.

The district’s changes also commit 10 additional middle school teachers to help lower class sizes for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, who have been known to sit through classes with 38 other students.

That would commit the district to hiring 48 new teachers to lower classes in elementary, middle and high school levels, Stevens said. If the board met the union’s newest demand, the district would be on a path of fiscal instability, he said.

“We have reiterated the damaging effects of a strike and how we don’t want a strike,” Stevens said. “Holding a gun to our head doesn’t change the fiscal picture.”

Teachers could picket Tuesday, although an official date for a strike has not been set. The union’s 1,300 members are meeting Sunday to review the most recent proposals and discuss future bargaining options.

Both sides have supported lowering class sizes, but how to pay for it continues to derail any tentative deal. The two sides will meet again on Monday for an all-day bargaining session to try to reach a deal before Tuesday.

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