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D300 teachers express optimism ahead of union meeting

District 300 teachers enter Dundee-Crown High School Sunday afternodiscuss contract talks. Monday teachers decided strike. | Michael R. Schmidt~For Sun-Times

District 300 teachers enter Dundee-Crown High School Sunday afternoon to discuss contract talks. Monday, the teachers decided to strike. | Michael R. Schmidt~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 4, 2013 6:13AM

CARPENTERSVILLE — As teachers streamed into Dundee-Crown High School late Sunday afternoon for an all-members meeting of Local Education Association of District 300, several more left the building with stacks of white signs, lettered in black in both Spanish and English.

“On strike for a fair contract.”

“Teachers on strike.”

And Patrick O’Brien, a teacher at Hampshire High School, said he was “guardedly optimistic” there wouldn’t be occasion for teachers to use those sign.

“That’s a good way to put it,” agreed Melissa Goedecke, a teacher at Hampshire Middle School.

That meeting came just two days before teachers in Community Unit School District 300 could walk out. And it came after the District 300 Board of Education had asked the union bargaining team to take the board’s latest offer to its members, according to LEAD spokesman Mike Williamson.

During that meeting, Williamson said, “Our group pretty resoundingly said, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’”

LEAD President Kolleen Hanetho said before the meeting she hadn’t planned to “sugarcoat” anything, just to present the pros and cons of the board’s offer to the more than 1,100 teachers in the union.

“I’m just going to give them the facts and let them tell me what they want the bargaining team to do,” Hanetho said. “It’s their contract. They are going to tell us what they want us to do.”

But, she said, if she had thought those teachers would agree to everything in the offer, she would have brought it to them for a vote Sunday as a tentative agreement.

The union president agreed with statements school board spokesman Joe Stevens made earlier in the week saying the two sides are in agreement on major financial issues. But, she said, “If we’re going to be asked to pay for the smaller class sizes, we need to do better than 28 or 31.”

The board’s last offer, summarized on its website, includes hiring about 44 new teachers, including 10 in middle school and 10 in high school. That would bring class sizes down to an average 28 in kindergarten to second grade and 31 at all other grade levels, it said.

But teachers on their way into the meeting Sunday said an average class size of 31 could mean one class with 26 students and another as high as 35.

Goedecke already teaches a Spanish class with 38 seventh-graders, and, she said, “It’s not fair to the kids.”

“If I gain any weight, I won’t be able to fit through the rows,” she joked.

The LEAD bargaining team also shared information Sunday with teachers about “what may or may not happen on Tuesday,” the first day union members could walk out, Williamson said.

And it will take the feedback it got from teachers to the school board team at 8 a.m. Monday, when the two plan to spend the entire day in negotiations to hopefully come to an agreement before teachers could walk out.

“We’ll go back in Monday, and I would like to avert a strike, but we’re really at the point what were fighting for is the appropriate academic environment for these kids,” Hanetho said.

“‘We’re going to not go quietly into the night,’ to borrow a phrase from (Superintendent Michael) Bregy.”

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