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McHenry teachers, District 156 Board reach tentative contract

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 9:08 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 1, 2014 12:17 a.m. CDT

McHENRY – The District 156 school board and teachers union agreed on a tentative contract late Thursday night, according to both sides.

The contract will be presented Monday to the full membership of the McHenry Community High School Teachers Association, and the school board also will take a look at the proposal at its Monday meeting.

If both sides approve the agreement, it will end a nine-month negotiating process that took the district to the brink of a strike – the closest the district has come to a strike in at least 12 to 15 years.

“We’ve reached a tentative agreement,” Superintendent Mike Roberts said in a message late Thursday night. “None of us will be making any comments until everything’s ratified, run by the Board of Education as a whole.”

Neither Roberts nor union spokesman Brian Weidner would discuss the details of the contract, but Weidner said he has spoken with a member of the union’s negotiating team who felt “very positive about the details in it” and is “very confident the association would be moving forward in accepting the contract.”

The impasse has largely centered on whether teachers should contribute more to the family insurance plans, both sides have said.

Teachers shouldn’t have to take a step backward in terms of contributions because the district’s finances are improving, Weidner has said.

This is a stance union officials say they feel particularly strong about because teachers gave significant concessions during the last round of negotiations when the district’s finances were much more precarious.

The school board, on the other hand, is trying to run the district as a business and the raises the teachers received in the past are “unsustainable,” board member Tim Byers, who heads the district’s negotiating team, has said.

Byers wasn’t available for comment Friday morning.

The district is offering 3.3 percent as a benchmark for salary increases for teachers as they move along in seniority – a number Byers said is higher than what most other area districts offer -– plus an increase to the base salary each year.

To balance out those raises, the district wants the union to agree to higher insurance contributions for family plans to even out the costs, Byers said.

The two sides also disagree on how healthy the district’s finances are.

The union has pointed out the district ran a surplus of about $500,000 each of the past two years, but the surplus this past year came from a delayed state payment unexpectedly coming through, something the district can count on to happen again, Byers said.

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