D300 warning about finances seen as ‘threat’ by head of teachers union
By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com October 10, 2012 11:06PM
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:21AM
ALGONQUIN — The president of the Community Unit School District 300 Board issued a warning this week about potential financial problems for the district as it continues to negotiate with its teachers over a new contract.
The head of the teachers union quickly responded, calling the statement a “threat” to union members.
It was “not too long ago” that District 300 was $28 million in debt, board President Anne Miller said in five-minute prepared statement at the end of Wednesday night’s board meeting.
“We were able to emerge from that debt and live within our means. However due to ongoing funding cuts, student growth and delayed payments, we once again found ourselves in a precarious financial position,” Miller said.
And it’s just as important that the district and its teachers union agree to a contract that maintains its financial health as it is one that maintains a quality program, Miller said. Without both, she said, “our system will fail.”
But Local Educators Association of District 300 President Kolleen Hanetho said Thursday that “clearly was a threat to my members and to our community.”
“Our interpretation of that is, ‘Give us what we want, or we will lay off teachers, cut programs or close schools,’ ” Hanetho said.
The school board’s statement follows a shift in tone from the LEAD president, who said earlier this month, “If it comes to that (striking), it comes to that.”
The Carpentersville-area school district and LEAD now have been in negotiations for nearly a year, since November 2011. The two sides have been negotiating through a mediator since filing for that mediation in late July.
Hanetho has pointed to class sizes as a sticking point in those negotiations. And, she has said, the teachers union already has made $3.6 million in concessions on salary, benefits and insurance in its last one-year contract reached in spring 2011.
Miller acknowledged the concessions union members have made with the district and the difficult cuts and changes to programs the school board has made over the past few years. That has kept the district from cutting more staff and programs, even “possibly closing schools,” she said.
And the board president called class sizes “a major concern we all share.”
The district has looked at how many classes are at “unacceptable” numbers and whether classrooms are available where they are needed or if boundary changes might be appropriate, she said. It’s looked at restricting high school electives and other resources that might be available to the district.
It still hopes to reach a contract with its teachers union, Miller said. And she said she hopes that it can avoid cutting staff and programs or closing schools.
“I think the last time I heard those three things together, it was coming out of the mouth of Rahm Emanuel,” said Hanetho, referring to the Chicago mayor’s faceoff with the Chicago Teachers Union that led to a teachers strike last month in city schools.
Striking is not something LEAD wants to do, she said, but she does plan to share information with union members Sunday afternoon and seek their input on “where we go from here.”
Miller said Wednesday the board shares that desire to reach an agreement, but, “We are still weathering these difficult economic times.”
And whatever District 300 does, she said, “We need to look for long-term fixes that do not lead to long-term debt.”