District 155 teachers puzzled by talks

Wonder why contract negotiations have taken four months

CARY – Cary-Grove High School has always been home to Laura Jacobson.

She graduated from the school and has taught there the past 14 years, but for the first time in her life – as she marched up and down the sidewalk in front of the school – she felt a little unsure about what was happening in Community School District 155.

"This is unheard of," Jacobson said of the four-month period teachers in the district have gone without a contract. "This is still a fantastic place to work, but we're just not sure where the (school board) is coming from."

More than 100 teachers gathered at Cary-Grove High School on Tuesday ahead of the scheduled board meeting to form a picket line that promoted their plea for a new contract. The 440 members of the District 155 Education Association have been working without a contract since July 1.

The teachers received plenty of support at the board meeting where five parents and a recent district retiree asked board members to come to an agreement. Two parents lauded the work of the special education program while another asked why teachers had to educate the community's children and pay for it in financial sacrifices.

Board President Ted Wagner thanked the teachers and public speakers for coming out and said the board would continue to work for a resolution agreeable to all sides.

"We approach our role in this process very seriously ... and we balance our responsibilities to our students with our responsibilities to our taxpayers," Wagner said. "There is no questions we have absolute top pride in our teachers in this district."

The informational picket came after the union launched a website – www.d155teachers.org – on Friday that provides information on student success, a typical teacher’s day and financial comparisons with other districts.

In District 155, teachers receive an average salary of $94,866 – the second lowest in the list of seven other districts – and students averaged 22.9 on the ACT – the second highest in the list.

Arne Waltmire, who has taught at Crystal Lake South High School for 15 years, said the lack of progress in negotiations has been frustrating, especially after another report of no movement from a Monday night meeting between the union's negotiating committee and district officials. He said it is impossible to know whether the stalemate is from a poor economy, changes in administrative leadership or some other factor.

"This is the first time it has gone this long and has got to this point," Waltmire said of the picket line. "We're concerned, but we're still able to do our jobs without distraction."

Justin Hubly, president of the teachers association, said he is still optimistic a deal will get done.

"We're being fair and rational," he said. "If (the board) can be fair and rational, I see no problem in getting a deal done soon."

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