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Community High School District 155 Board candidates talk teachers contract, finances

Board candidates discuss teachers contract, more

Moderator Gilda Kara explains the rules to Community High School District 155 Board candidates Scott C. Coffey (from left), Adam Guss, Jacob Justen, Meghan Tillson and Tom Vaclavek at the start of a forum Feb. 7 at McHenry County College.
Moderator Gilda Kara explains the rules to Community High School District 155 Board candidates Scott C. Coffey (from left), Adam Guss, Jacob Justen, Meghan Tillson and Tom Vaclavek at the start of a forum Feb. 7 at McHenry County College.

The men and women hoping for a seat on the Community High School District 155 Board have differing views on the new teachers contract.

Incumbents Adam Guss and Amy Blazier said the contract is fair and educators deserve it.

“I think it’s a fair and reasonable contract for both the board and the association that falls well within the range of other collectively bargained agreements in the area,” said Guss, who serves as the board’s president.

Blazier expressed similar sentiments.

“I think it’s a fair contract. These teachers work hard; we have amazing teachers,” she said. “I want to see this through because they are doing such an amazing job. I think they deserve what we’re doing. I think it’s fair.”

Last month, the board approved a three-year teachers contract that includes an increase in pay and benefits for district employees.

“When compounded, this contract represents a 12 percent total increase over three years to the salary and benefits for teachers,” according to a news release from the district handed out after the vote.

Candidate Scott Coffey, who is president of the Cary School District 26 Board, said the contract should have been released to the media and public before it was approved. Coffey said he could not comment in detail about the contract because he had not read it.

“It’s difficult to comment on the details of the contract when none of the details have been made available,” Coffey said. “The public didn’t know what was in the District 155 labor contract until they were getting ready to vote on the contract itself.”

The district released the contract Friday, after the Northwest Herald submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for a copy.

Candidate Meghan Tillson had similar concerns. She said she believes teachers should be fairly compensated for their work; however, she doesn’t want board members with families who work in the district voting on teachers contracts.

“The majority of the board has direct family members working for the district,” she said. “They’re the ones making the decisions, and I think it should be an impartial board.”

Candidate Tom Vaclavek said it’s “important that we not play Monday morning quarterback on the decisions made by the board and the union.”

“From the research that I have done, it appears that the contract is in line with what other school boards in the area have done,” he said.

Candidate Jacob Justen could not be reached for comment.

All candidates who were interviewed pledged to put students first and keep the district competitive.

Guss and Blazier said a healthy community has a strong school system. Although they’re pleased with their efforts, they said more work is needed.

“As a parent of a current student, it is important to me that she continue to receive the excellent education and opportunities provided to her so far,” Guss said. “As a community member, it is important to me that all of our schools remain open, opportunities for our students remain plentiful, and this district continues to build and improve upon our relationships with the communities we serve.”

Blazier said she enjoys serving on the board despite the hard work.

“It’s been a very fulfilling job,” she said. “I’ve had the honor to be on the strategic planning committee this year and to see the wonderful direction that our district is going in. I’m very pleased.”

Last month, the board approved a five-year strategic plan. The plan has five main goals: student success, student well-being, workforce excellence, collaborative partnerships and resource stewardship.

Coffey said he believes the board should rein in district administration and spending and be far more transparent.

“I see a lot of the same problems in 155 that existed in District 26 during the decade of the 2000s that led us to severe financial difficulties. I want to make sure that that never materializes,” he said. “The board members of District 155 [are] not in charge of running the district. ... Up until sometime earlier this year, the board members didn’t even run their own committees.”

He said the district should post and host committee meetings on a regular basis and “set up a front calendar for every single board meeting and every single committee meeting for the coming year.”

Tillson said she’s deeply concerned about the district’s finances, saying students could be negatively affected by them in the coming years.

“My kids, they’re in elementary school right now, and when I started going to the high school board meetings and committee meetings, I started seeing things that had me concerned. I just want to ensure that the quality of the education at the high schools right now will still be there when my kids are old enough to go to [high] school,” she said.

Vaclavek said if he’s elected, he would serve as an independent voice on the board.

“I believe that good education and great schools are the foundation that makes this community special,” he said. “If elected, I vow to be a strong, independent voice of the community [who is] willing to ask tough questions but also making sure that our schools continue to remain some of the best in the state of Illinois.”

During a candidates forum earlier this month, Justen said he believes the district is facing challenges “trying to balance the needs and wants of the community with being fiscally responsible.”

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