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D300, union still in negotiations: ‘No one wants to go on strike’

Updated: October 15, 2012 9:29AM

CARPENTERSVILLE — While this week’s strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers is getting the most publicity, CPS isn’t the only school district in the Chicago area at the bargaining table.

Community Unit School District 300 also remains in contract negotiations with its teachers union, Local Educators Association of District 300. And many of the issues that Chicago Teachers Union members and school district officials have vocalized as sticking points in their talks also have been expressed by LEAD and District 300

“Chicago Public Schools are unique. I don’t know that the two impact each other. But I do know we have similar issues to those being stated,” LEAD President Kolleen Hanetho said.

“Class sizes, lengthening the day without teacher input at all — those are both issues we are contending with.”

The Carpentersville-based school district and its teachers union were scheduled to meet Friday with a federal mediator. They also had met Tuesday night — the same night Lake Forest High School teachers walked out on contact negotiations with their district and decided to strike — and once before since filing for mediation in late July, Hanetho said.

That filing came weeks after its last one-year collective bargaining agreement, approved in spring 2011, had expired. Negotiations had started in November, and the terms of the last contract roll forward until a new agreement is signed.

Meantime, class size has emerged as the biggest issue for District 300 and LEAD. The teachers union has proposed lowering the number of students in classrooms. Currently, the district limits elementary school classrooms to 33 students in kindergarten, 35 in first and second grades, and 37 in third through fifth grades.

“Class sizes are like saying you’re for apple pie and motherhood,” school board spokesman Joe Stevens said. “There is no one who isn’t in favor of lower class sizes.”

The issue is the cost to reduce those numbers when the district’s finances are “no secret,” Stevens said.

Currently, its budget shows a $1 million surplus for next year with no wage increases, he said. Lowering class sizes by an average one student per class would cost $1 million to $1.4 million a year, the district has said. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of teacher pensions, which the state has discussed shifting to school districts, he said.

The teacher evaluations required by Illinois Senate Bill 7 — reportedly a main topic of negotiations in Chicago — also are an issue for “every district,” Hanetho said. Ironically, that bill also was supposed to make it harder for teachers to strike, she said.

The LEAD president sounded a note similar to the picket signs that many Chicago teachers have carried, when she said the biggest issue is “our working conditions — because our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

“Not that anyone wants to go on strike,” she said. “That’s a big piece of this. No one wants to go on strike. We all want to be in the classrooms.”

Stevens called the teacher strikes in Chicago and Lake Forest “a sad day” and said the possibility of a strike did not come up during talks this week between District 300 and its union.

“We’re still very optimistic and hopeful we can pull this off and resolve all the issues,” he said.

Hanetho agreed: “My hope is we can bargain this out and come to a resolution we can take back to our membership.”

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