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District 300 teachers go on strike

CARPENTERSVILLE – District 300 and its teachers union vehemently disagreed on whether lower class sizes or higher compensation derailed a last-ditch bargaining session Monday that led to the first district labor strike since 1972. Regardless, the union’s decision cancels all classes and other school-sponsored activities during the strike.

District board member Joe Stevens said the district offered to hire 60 new teachers that met the union’s long-sought demand for lower and manageable class sizes at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

But the union, LEAD 300, scoffed at it, asking for higher salary increases in exchange for it, Stevens said.

Overall, he said the district’s latest three-year proposal is projected to cost $15.5 million and grant LEAD’s 1,300 members 8 percent in total salary increases.

“I think this strike was totally avoidable,” Stevens said. “I think they are playing a public relations game that says it’s all about class sizes. We met their class sizes. It’s all about money.”

LEAD 300 declared the strike early Monday evening after negotiating with the district board for nearly eight hours. Union President Kolleen Hanetho said she was “disappointed” in Stevens’ characterization of the meeting.

She said the district rejected the union’s final offer to cap class sizes at 24 students from kindergarten through second grade; 25 students from third through fifth grade; and 29 and 30 students at the middle and high school levels.

Her team then countered with a proposal that included higher elementary class caps at 26 and 27 students, and also higher compensation numbers.

The district, she said, agreed to the modified caps but balked at the compensation demand.

The counteroffer consequently was quashed.

“They are trying to turn it and make it about salary because they know it can get the public to turn against us,” Hanetho said. “We are fighting for the children. I don’t know why they aren’t.”

The Monday meeting capped a whirlwind of negotiating activity during the past few days. On Saturday, the two sides bargained over the phone and agreed on a lot of language issues, Stevens said.

On Sunday, union leaders took the district’s latest proposal to their members, who resoundingly rejected it by 95 percent, according to the union.

The proposal included a 3 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent increase to salaries in each of the next three years. The salary demand was unchanged Monday.

Hanetho said the union is willing to accept the district’s salary increase offer, in exchange for lower class sizes, or accept slightly higher salaries for slightly higher classroom caps.

Stevens said that even lower class sizes or higher salaries would put the district in “financial jeopardy.”

The district’s proposal Monday already will cause deficit-spending the next three years, amid erratic state funding and looming pension reform that would shift pension costs on to local districts, he said.

Hanetho said the district can afford to dip into its $55 million reserve fund to pay for a tentative deal.

As of Monday night, the union was trying to arrange another all-day bargaining session for today through the federal mediator that has been presiding over negotiations that began nearly a year ago.

Stevens told the Northwest Herald that he hasn’t heard anything about another bargaining session.

“We are willing to sit down and talk, if there is something to talk about,” Stevens said. “But right now, we don’t know what that is.”

One thing is clear. Teachers from Jacobs High School to Hampshire Elementary are expected to walk the picket line Tuesday morning outside the district’s 26 schools, clenching signs and calling for better working conditions.

“We hope they can come back tomorrow and come to a resolution, so we can keep this to a one-day strike,” Hanetho said. “This is something we feel we have to do to get the district to focus on the education of our children.”

Three attendance centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during a strike. The centers are for kindergartners through sixth-graders whose parents are unable to supervise them during daytime hours.

The centers will be at Carpentersville, Dundee and Hampshire middle schools.

OUTBOX:

District 300’s latest offer as of Monday, according to the district:

Proposed 3 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent salary increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015.*

*The district’s automatic 2 percent “step” increase for classroom experience is included.

Proposed adding 60 new teachers to lower class sizes

The maximum number of students per class (K-2) will be 27 students in 2013-2014 and 26 students beginning in 2014-2015.

The maximum number of students per class (3-5) will be 30 students in 2013-2014 and 29 students beginning in 2014-2015.

Cap the number of middle school students per class, excluding PE and music, at 32 students in 2013-2014 and 31 students beginning in 2014-2015. (Currently there are no caps for middle school class sizes.)

Cap the number of high school students per class, excluding PE and music, at 32 students in 2013-2014 and 31 students beginning in 2014-2015. (Currently there are no caps for high school class sizes.)

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