Strike authorized, but not imminent in D300
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org October 15, 2012 9:26PM
Students file their way through the hallway during the first day of classes at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. August 13, 2012 | Sun-Times Media~File Photo
Both Community Unit School District 300 and its teachers union, Local Educators Association of District 300, have pointed to class sizes as a major sticking point in negotiations. Both would like to lower those numbers, they have said, but district officials have pointed to its precarious financial situation.
A quick glance at average class sizes in the Carpentersville-area district shows they are higher than those in its much-larger next-door neighbor Elgin School District U46 and the state averages.
Here are some averages for each.
First grader: 23.8
Third grade: 23.4
Sixth grade: 27.8
Eighth grade: 26.5
High school: 23.1
First grade: 24.6
Third grade: 25.1
Sixth grade: 27
Eight grade: 24.7
High school: 19
First grade: 21.6
Third grade: 22.3
Sixth grade: 22
Eighth grade: 21.3
High school: 19.2
Source: 2011 Illinois Interactive Report Card data.
Updated: November 17, 2012 6:11AM
CARPENTERSVILLE — If the clock started ticking down today, the teachers in Community Unit School District 300 still likely would be “about a month out” from striking, according to Mike Williamson, public relations chairperson for the Local Educators Association of District 300.
That comes after the nearly 1,300 members of LEAD overwhelmingly voted Sunday afternoon to authorize their leaders to strike, according to the union. And it comes just before the union is set to return to negotiations with the district Tuesday night.
And, District 300 school board member and spokesperson Joe Stevens said, that means “as long as we’re making progress, nothing changes.”
“I understand taking your strike vote is something that seems to be very popular with the teachers unions all around the area, so we are not alarmed by it, and it’s certainly within their right to do that,” Stevens said.
The vote makes teachers in the Carpentersville-area school district the latest to take similar action following the strike last month that spanned seven school days by teachers in Chicago. Teachers in Evergreen Park and Crystal Lake recently ended strikes, while teachers in Geneva declared an impasse Friday and those in Highland Park planned to walk out Tuesday.
And it follows shifts in tone over the past few weeks from both LEAD President Kolleen Hanetho and District 300 Board of Education President Anne Miller.
Hanetho said earlier this month, “If it comes to that (striking), it comes to that.”
Meantime, Miller issued a statement at last week’s school board meeting that raised the spectre of cutting staff and programs, as well as closing schools.
That statement was at least part of the reason the union decided to put the authorization to a vote this weekend, Williamson said.
“I think we were all pretty frustrated by Mrs. Miller’s statement last Wednesday because I think we felt it was threatening in a way that was unnecessary,” he said.
Of course, the chairperson admitted, “We understand a strike would be a pretty heavy threat on our part.”
The school board’s statement signaled to LEAD “a sort of drawing lines in the sand and digging in of heels,” Williamson said. That’s why it voted Sunday to authorize union leadership to make that decision to strike if no more movement can be made in negotiations and it becomes necessary, he said.
But, he said, “Neither side has said ‘impasse’ yet, and really that needs to happen before a strike can go on. We’re still planning to meet with the board Tuesday. We’re still intending to meet with the board Tuesday.”
The union only can declare an impasse in negotiations after the two sides have been in mediation for 15 days, according to Diane Petersen, UniServ director for the Illinois Education Association. Peterson directs region 25, which includes LEAD and the support staff union at Elgin Community College.
That’s one of the requirements of Senate Bill 7, signed into law by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn last summer, Petersen said.
Once that impasse has been declared, that bill gives both the union and school district seven days to submit their last, best deals to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. IELRB then has another seven days to post that information online, according to the UniServ director.
That information must be online and available to the public for a full 14 days before teachers can walk out, another one of the bill’s requirements, she said.
The union still also must file its 10-day intent to strike notice with the IELRB, although it can do that simultaneously, Petersen said.
District 300 and LEAD have been in mediation since late July, much longer than 15 days, and in negotiations since November. But Williamson said “impasse” is not a word “we banter around,” and striking is not something anybody wants to do.
“Everybody understands if there is a strike people have to scramble for childcare,” he said. “The idea is not to leave people in a lurch, where the next day you have to find something. That would be horrifying. You try to make allowances so people know what’s coming.”
An update posted Monday evening to the district website hinted at “contingency strike plans that cause disruption not only to the educational process, but to the lives of District 300 families and community members.” It also said district officials would keep the community updated as negotiations continue on the site, d300.org http://d300.org .
But Stevens said, “As far as we’re concerned, we’re remaining optimistic and we’re continuing to negotiate.”
And while the union has been adamant its class sizes need to come down (see accompanying fact box) and it already has made its fair share of concessions, including $3.6 million in its last one-year contract agreement just this past year, Williamson said it agrees on one thing with the school board president’s recent statement.
“That’s the one thing we and the board actually, truly agree on: We all want to come to a fair and equitable agreement,” he said.