McHENRY – When the McHenry Community High School District 156 teachers strike first was announced, 16-year-old Maddy Rudd’s initial reaction was excitement.
For the McHenry High School East Campus junior, as with probably many students, an unplanned day or two off from school was hardly the worst turn of events. But as the days wore on after the first picket lines went up Oct. 1, anxiety began to set in as she realized an entire week of classes was passing her by.
“It’s because of AP stuff,” said Rudd, who’s in AP U.S. History. “The AP tests won’t get moved back, and we just weren’t learning. We do about three chapters a week, so we’ve probably missed about three, and that’s a lot.”
Fortunately, right after she described this lapse of educational time, Rudd on Tuesday walked across the street and into her high school for the first day back after the seven-school-day strike.
It officially ended after the McHenry Community High School Educators’ Association on Monday voted in favor of a contract proposal, the product of months of negotiations with the school board, including many hours over the past week and a half.
The three-year contract allows teachers to maintain their current salary schedule for two years – a major sticking point throughout negotiations – but it does not include a base salary increase, according to details posted on the district website.
Instead, teachers on the schedule will receive an average 3.6 percent step increase per year for two years, but the salary structure will expire at the end of year two.
The third year of the contract will grant teachers a dollar amount raise equal to a half-step – about 1.8 percent – and provides for a committee of union members, board members and an “independent resource” to “establish the new way the association will be paid.”
Throughout negotiations, union representatives repeatedly stressed the importance of the current schedule as a selling point for future employees, while school board members said it was not a financially sustainable means of compensation.
“We’ll be going into these pre-emptive negotiations to come up with an agreement between the school board and the union so it doesn’t end up being a point of contention during future negotiations,” union spokeswoman Heidie Dunn previously said.
Teachers who have graduated off the schedule will receive a 2.3 percent increase, a 2 percent increase and a 2.1 percent increase each year, respectively. All teachers also will receive a one-time bonus at the end of the current fiscal year – $700 for those making less than $50,000 and $625 for those making more than $50,001.
As for insurance, the board was successful in negotiating shared increase contributions.
The district will pay 3 percent the first two years, with the union paying the next 3 percent, and the two parties will split the cost of any increase over 6 percent.
For year one – the increase is 4.5 percent – that means the district is paying two-thirds of the cost, plus stipends between $7,000 and $15,500. In year three, the dynamic will switch with the union paying the first 3 percent and the district the next 3 percent.
Athletic and co-curricular stipends also will increase 5 percent the first two years and 3 percent the final year.
“I think it’s a fair contract,” said Gary Kinshofer, lead negotiator for the board. “It was a collaborative effort to get to this point.”
The board is expected to vote on the contract at its Monday meeting.
While the two sides worked to get the contract settled, students, such as 16-year-old Colt Rogers, a sophomore football player, were missing out.
“I just wanted to get back and play,” Rogers said Tuesday. “I wasn’t on either side of this. I was just sitting there waiting to get back and play.”
He said he wasn’t expecting the strike to go on more than a couple of days, so it was to his dismay that it stretched longer than a week as session after session failed to produce a deal.
Eventually, the McHenry football team was forced to forfeit two games, including its Oct. 9 homecoming game against Dundee-Crown High School, and the homecoming dance was pushed back a week. Many other events for golf, soccer, cross country, marching band and others were missed as well.
Superintendent Mike Roberts, who was traveling between schools Tuesday, said all seven days will be made up, ensuring the district’s funding won’t be affected. He added principals were gathering student input on how best to make up the time.
“We have a series of options, which we want to run by some of our student leaders,” Roberts said.
He said one option is to obtain waivers from the Illinois State Board of Education to hold class during certain holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Presidents Day. Students potentially could have class on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or make up days during planned teacher institute days, Roberts said.
There’s also the possibility of cutting into spring, winter or summer breaks, although he said the district will try to avoid that as much as possible.