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LEAD, D300 reach tentative agreement

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:43AM

ALGONQUIN — The teachers union and school board in Community Unit School District 300 reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract late Tuesday night, ending the one-day strike in the sixth-largest school district in Illinois.

That announcement was posted to Local Education Association of District 300’s Facebook page at 9 p.m. after bargaining teams for both sides had been in closed-door discussions, and more than 20,000 students in the Carpentersville-based school district, in suspense whether they would return to class in the morning, for about six hours. It quickly was confirmed by a message posted on the District 300 website and sent to district families and staff by phone and email.

“We believe the agreement that was reached is fair to the teachers and responsible to the taxpayers of the community,” the district message said.

The two sides had restarted talks with a federal mediator at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Westfield Community School in Algonquin.

The tentative agreement comes after teachers started walking picket lines that morning, the first strike in 40 years in district. That strike shut students out of their classrooms at 26 schools, cancelled all after-school activities at the public schools and suspended district-provided transportation for parochial schools within the boundaries of the district.

That morning, Local Education Association of District 300 spokesman Mike Williamson had said the board had invited the teachers union to meet “if we had something to offer, but not until then.”

“We offered them a ton yesterday. It’s their turn,” Williamson said.

And on Monday night, school board spokesman Joe Stevens had said he hoped teachers would look at the package the board proposed that day “and say, ‘Gee, this really is not a bad deal. We did get what we wanted on our No. 1 issue.’ And I would hope they would call off the strike,”

That was before LEAD’s largest demonstration Tuesday, which included about 900 of the union’s more than 1,200 members, several dozen students who have organized as “We ARE 300” and community members. That demonstration started at 11 a.m. outside the District 300 Central Office at 300 Cleveland Ave. in Carpentersville and included union members from all the district’s east-side schools, the union spokesman said.

Stevens did not return calls for comment Tuesday by The Courier-News.

District 300 covers 118 square miles, including Algonquin, Carpentersville, East Dundee, Gilberts, Hampshire, Lake in the Hills, Pingree Grove, Sleepy Hollow and West Dundee. It also includes parts of Elgin, Huntley, Hoffman Estates, Barrington Hills, Cary and Fox River Grove.

The protests

Late Tuesday morning, picketers stretched from the district office building past Carpentersville Middle School and the deLacey Family Education Center to Parkview Elementary School, all along Cleveland Avenue.

They wore black T-shirts saying “We LEAD 300.” And they carried signs, some black lettered on white signs from the Illinois Education Association: “Teachers on strike” and “On Strike for a fair contract.”

Others carried homemade signs: “45 is a speed limit, not a class size.” “Stop the greed. Compromise.” “Support the classroom, not the office.” And from a student: “Respect my teachers. We do.”

Desiree Sulzmann, a senior at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, started her day just after 7 a.m. at Jacobs High School in Algonquin, joining protests later all over the district. She wore a T shirt puff-painted “We ARE 300” and carried a posterboard she’d made the night before: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

Desiree and several of her classmates in Dundee-Crown’s debate club have spoken out in support of their teachers at several school board meetings. That’s not because “our teachers brainwashed us,” she said.

“We’re here because word-for-word, we are 300.”

More than 50 teachers quietly paced Bunker Hill Drive between Jacobs and busy Randall Road at the start of what would have been the school day. Nearly 100 more from the school, by LEAD’s count, lined Randall Road at Bunker Hill Drive and nearby shopping centers.

Among them was teacher Lisa Dwyer, who said, “We want to get a fair contract. We want to be in the classrooms. I want to be right over there. I can see my classroom from here.”

Dwyer said she has 37 students this year in her calculus class. LEAD has said the district’s large class sizes have been the biggest issue in its negotiations with the school board, which started in earnest in January.

The issues

On Tuesday morning, Williamson had said, “Really, right now it’s class size and compensation.”

The two sides “got pretty close on salary” the day before, the LEAD spokesman said. The school board had proposed a 3 percent salary increase this school year, including step for time in the district; a 2 percent increase next year; and another 3 percent the year after that, according to the district.

But Williamson had said the union team wanted the school board to come down two to three students on the middle and high school class sizes it had proposed and three to four, on elementary school class sizes.

The day before, the school board had proposed capping classes in kindergarten through grade two at 27 students next school year and 26 the year after that, and in grades three to five at 30 next year and 29 after that, according to the district. It also had proposed capping middle and high school classes at 32 students next year at 31 the year after that.

That would have meant hiring about 60 teachers, up from the 44 the board had proposed in its last offer to the union, the district said. And it would have added up to more than $15 million over the district’s current spending levels over the life of the three-year contract, meaning the district would be deficit spending over those three years, according to District 300.

“No matter how much they say it’s all about class sizes, it’s really all about money,” Stevens said Monday.

Both sides declined to release details of the tentative agreement Tuesday night until LEAD has had the opportunity to share them first with its members. The district said it planned to release those specifics “within the next several days.”

Negotiations had broken down at about 4:30 p.m. Monday after day-long discussions between bargaining teams for the school board and LEAD. The district then notified families by both phone and email messages sent in English at 5:25 p.m. and in Spanish at 6:40 p.m., according to the district.

About 16 students had arrived at schools Tuesday morning, not realizing classes had been cancelled, the district said. And about 700 turned out to the emergency attendance centers at Dundee, Carpentersville and Hampshire middle schools it had set up for students in kindergarten to grade six who had nowhere else to go, it said.

Only Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, part of District 300, had class as normal Tuesday, the school confirmed.

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