McHENRY – As the threat of a strike hangs over District 156 teacher contract negotiations, parents, teachers, students and taxpayers filed into the Tuesday school board meeting to weigh in.
The School District 156 Board received the teachers union’s offer at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, said school board Secretary Pro Tem Gary Kinshofer, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of the board president. The board planned on discussing the offer during its closed session that evening and making a counteroffer Wednesday.
For the most part, the nine speakers were divided along whether they were teachers, students or parents, or if their connection to the district primarily came down to their tax bill, which some of them said had climbed to difficult levels.
Teachers should get used to “a new normal,” said Bill Preston, a McHenry resident and District 156 graduate who said he co-owns a specialty construction business in Barrington that has had to lay off 150 people since the economic downturn.
“Like it or not, things are not the same,” he said, adding that private sector employees are being asked to contribute more to their health care, too.
Paying teachers competitive wages ensures that District 156 doesn’t lose veteran teachers and create “stepping-stone schools,” said Brian Weidner, the union’s spokesman and the only District 156 teacher to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.
His concern was echoed by parents and students who enumerated the ways District 156 teachers go above and beyond.
“It shocks me how amazing and selfless they can be,” Junior Katelynn McManus said.
Of the three high school districts in McHenry County, District 155 has the highest average teacher salary at $94,866, a number that is skewed because, unlike in other districts, it includes the salaries of department chairmen.
Marengo Community High School District 154 has an average teacher salary of $69,174, and McHenry Community High School District 156 has an average salary of $72,196.
Because negotiations typically take place behind closed doors, information about the negotiations has been minimal since November when the two sides reached an impasse, a point in negotiations where the two sides are required to make public their last offers.
That frustrated at least two of the speakers, one of whom pointed to District 155, which posted more information about its negotiation process on its website than District 156 has.
The last information District 156 posted was on Dec. 27, nearly two weeks after the teachers union filed an intent to strike with the state, a procedural move that started the clock on when they could actually strike.