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Crowds turn out for D300 meeting after teacher union declares impasse

Lianne Tompkins PE teacher Golfview Elementary School Carpentersville shows off her homemade sign Monday night's District 300 board meeting showing

Lianne Tompkins, PE teacher at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville, shows off her homemade sign at Monday night's District 300 board meeting showing her feelings about class numbers. 11/12/12. | Emily McFarlan Miller~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:28AM



ALGONQUIN — Hundreds of people crowded the school board meeting site and nearby hallways Monday night to make their feelings known about the deadlocked teacher contract talks in Community Unit School District 300. .

Many were teachers wearing black T-shirts with white lettering: “We LEAD 300.” Some carried signs, one reading, “33 kids with scalpels in a H.S. anatomy class. Unacceptable.” Another read, “11 classes. No break. No prep.”

All had turned out after the teachers union let its membership know that meeting would be happening, according to Kolleen Hanetho, president of Local Educators Association of District 300.

That also came one week after LEAD declared an impasse in nearly a year of contract negotiations with the Carpentersville-based school district.

“I thank you for being here. Your support for us means so much,” Hanetho told the crowd in the hallway before the meeting started.

“You being here gives us the energy we need to do what we do.”

And school board spokesperson Joe Stevens said after the meeting, “I’m really glad the students are involved and are taking it seriously; but with all due respect, I don’t think they understand all the details.”

The union president said she was “disappointed” the district turned the crowd away from the professional development center at Westfield Community School, which maxes out at 130 people. And she was disappointed the district did not move its regular meeting to the much-larger gymnasium at Westfield, which officials had said they had been prepared to do at the last board meeting.

That meeting had been the first after LEAD members overwhelmingly voted to authorize its leadership to strike.

“This is a public meeting. My members have a right to be here,” Hanetho said.

The impasse declaration last week started the 28-day countdown to a possible teachers strike in the sixth-largest school district in Illinois.

District 300 has since posted a synopsis of its last offer to the union on its website. That includes modest pay increases and a reduction in elementary school class sizes. Those class sizes have been identified by both sides as a sticking point throughout negotiations.

Protests

District 300 Safety Officer Gary Chester initially estimated that crowd Monday at about 300 people, in addition to the 130 inside the professional development center. Chester later updated that estimate to about 400 after the meeting had ended.

Those people clapped and chanted, “Move the meeting!” over the audio feed of the meeting piped into the hallway as it started.

Among them was Lianne Tompkins, a physical education teacher at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville, carrying the “No prep” sign, scrawled with a sad face in black marker on a cardboard box. Tompkins has worked in the district for 15 years, and her contract hasn’t changed since 2006, she said.

She’s not making any more money, but she’s doing more — she has far more students in her classes, she said.

Meantime, she lost her home in Sleepy Hollow, she said. She has two children in college. And, she said, “I’m not the only one.”

Also among the crowd were many students, including 17-year-old senior Katy Schmelzer and sophomore 16-year-old Riley Bernardi, both of Algonquin, both members of the Government Club at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.

The club definitely is aware of the negotiations between the district and its teachers, and has been discussing the possibility of a strike on its Facebook page, they said. Some are against unions, they said. Others sympathize with their teachers, they said.

“I’m just trying to learn both sides of the story,” Bernardi said.

Public comments

The teachers, students and parents inside the meeting had filled two sign-up sheets to speak during the public comments part of the meeting: 10 filled the first sheet to speak for five minutes and another five filled the second to speak for two, District 300 Board of Education President Anne Miller announced.

Kathleen Burley of Algonquin, a parent of three students in the district who also had been outspoken during the district’s efforts to end the economic development around the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, asked the district and union to “remember the family and taxpayers of this community when you are negotiating.”

“Many of us have taken our own pay freezes and salary cuts. We’ve had to pay massive increases for our own health benefits. Many of us have lost our jobs or are underemployed,” Burley said. “We’re thankful for what we have, and we’d like to feel the teachers are as well.”

Mary McNicholas, 16, of West Dundee, a junior at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, asked them to remember the students as well. McNicholas, along with several other students who spoke during public comments, said she stood with her teachers.

“We are the group being educated, and we are 300,” McNicholas said.

Many of students’ comments were targeted at Stevens, who said afterward he didn’t take those personally.

The board spokesman said, “we absolutely agree class sizes are too large.” That’s something its proposal addresses at the elementary level, and it also is looking at middle and high school class sizes, although, he said, “there are only so many dollars to go around.”

District officials and LEAD planned to meet Tuesday night to make sure each side understands the other’s final offers, Stevens said.



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