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District 300 students  return to school

Students head their classes Wednesday Dundee-Crown High School Carpentersville following Tuesday's D300 teachers strike.
December 5  2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times

Students head to their classes Wednesday at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville following Tuesday's D300 teachers strike. December 5, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 7, 2013 7:13AM

CARPENTERSVILLE — More than 20,000 students were back in school Wednesday morning in Community Unit School District 300 after teachers in the sixth-largest school district in Illinois ended their one-day strike Tuesday night.

At the same time, members of the bargaining teams for both the District 300 Board of Education and Local Education Association of District 300 still were hammering out the details of the tentative agreement that had called off picketing the night before, according to LEAD spokesman Mike Williamson.

“We needed to get the kids back into school, and so we made a tentative agreement on the words that were in discussion,” Williamson said. “We had the big issues we needed to resolve before we could resolve the strike.”

Both LEAD and the school board confirmed Tuesday night that they had reached a tentative agreement on a three-year teachers contract and that neither side would comment on the details of that proposed contract until after LEAD has had the opportunity to share them with its members.

In a phone message notifying District 300 families and staff of the end of the strike sent just before 9:30 p.m. by the district, school board spokesman Joe Stevens added those details would not come until after the agreement has been voted on by both the teachers union and school board, “no sooner than Dec. 18.”

Williamson had said Tuesday morning that the stalemate between the two sides came down to “class size and compensation.”

And on Wednesday he said LEAD and the school board had come to “an agreement on the big issues” during negotiations the night before -- enough to call off the strike. He drew a distinction between an agreement on those issues and a finished tentative agreement that could be shared with and voted on by members of the teachers union.

The two sides had talked about meeting again Friday to finish that, the board spokesman said, although he said he was unsure if that meeting still would happen or if they would have a something finished by the end of the week. And that’s “nothing negative” -- that language just needs to be precisely worded, he said.

After their announcement Tuesday night, Williamson said both bargaining teams continued to work on the language of those issues for another three hours, into the early hours of the morning. And they were “pretty amiable,” he said. He even got a hug from board president Anne Miller, he added.

That comes after talk from the union about “bullying” by administrators and a fractured relationship between the school board and teachers since the board had voted last year to lay off 363 teachers. That vote had come as the board considered changing middle and high school schedules to slash its budget in case it couldn’t reach concessions then with the union.

Most of those teachers were hired back after LEAD accepted $3.5 million in concessions in a one-year contract that ended June 30.

“That kind of discussion is what both sides want to encourage in the future,” Williamson said.

What’s left for LEAD and the school board to write into a contract together is “stuff we don’t feel like is going to be a problem,” according to the union spokesman. That includes the high school day, he said, something both sides publicly have agreed to change from eight to nine periods.

Stevens declined to comment Wednesday on the agreement and its timeline.

“All I’m going to say is we have a tentative agreement, and we have no further comment until the contract is ratified by LEAD and approved by the board,” he said.

‘Huge relief’

It certainly was “a huge relief” to return to school for the LEAD bargaining team, Williamson said Wednesday morning.

The decision to end the strike had come at about 9 p.m. Tuesday after six hours of negotiations between bargaining teams for the teachers union and school board and a full day of demonstrations around the 118-square mile district. It was the first strike in District 300 since 1972, although the teachers union had authorized another in the 1980s.

The district includes 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 biggest demonstration Tuesday brought about 900 of the union’s more than 1,200 members, several students and other community members to the District 300 Central Office in Carpentersville for several hours. They paced between the district office and several schools along Cleveland Avenue, carrying signs and chanting, “Smaller classes, fairer contract,” the teachers wearing now familiar black-and-white “We LEAD 300” T shirts.

In his phone message that night, Stevens said, “Both LEAD and the board deeply appreciate the amount of public input we have received on these incredibly important issues.”

“Your support for our efforts and for the learning environment was impressive. It is clear that we all share a mutual concern for our students’ success.”

‘Everybody unified’

On Wednesday, administrators lined the entryway of Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville to welcome back those students and their teachers as they trickled in from the darkened parking lot at about 7 a.m. Reactions from students were predictably mixed.

“I’m a little upset, but I’m happy, too. I wanted to sleep in, but it’s not bad,” admitted senior Ivette Ortiz, 18, of Carpentersville.

Judging by the Facebook status updates from classmates she’d read, Ortiz said, she wasn’t the only one not-so-secretly hoping the strike might continue a second day. But, she said, she didn’t want to be out of class for more than five days like the strike earlier this school year in Chicago Public Schools.

Tyler Jones, 17, of West Dundee, read those statuses, too, he said. And he had a trunk full of new signs in his car that he and several classmates who had organized in support of teachers as “We ARE 300” had made the night before after spending the day on the picket lines.

But, Jones said, those students upset by the end of the strike “don’t see the full purpose of it.”

“You could have asked anyone there yesterday. Nobody wanted to be walking the picket line. They’d rather be teaching and learning,” he said.

As much as Williamson said he didn’t want to call something like the strike positive, that was what was positive about it: “having everybody unified around something.”

“We’re such a big district — we go from preschool all the way to high school — it’s hard for everybody to be together on something,” he said.

It also was a wake-up call to many of the groups involved about “issues that affect all of us” and something that will make the teachers, the district and the community stronger, according to the union spokesman.

And Jones said it was “a cherry on top of my high school career” and “the ultimate form of student activism.”

“I really learned, though it may not be the most positive decision, there are times you have to take a drastic approach to get your resolve,” he said.

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