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D300, teachers union to meet with mediator

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Don’t forget to set your alarm clocks! The first day of school in Community Unit School District 300 is on Monday.

Updated: September 11, 2012 6:16AM

CARPENTERSVILLE — The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has assigned Community Unit School District 300 and its teachers union a mediator in their ongoing contract negotiations, the school board announced Thursday.

All three now are working together to schedule a series of mediation sessions beginning as early as Sept. 6, according to a statement posted on the District 300 website.

“In the meantime, the board remains optimistic in its ability to collaborate with LEAD 300 so that the district can continue to live within its limited financial means and stay focused on students,” the district statement said.

Both the Carpentersville-based district and LEAD, the Local Educators Association of District 300, have pointed to class sizes as a sticking point in their negotiations, which began in November.

The school board has “in no way proposed any increase” to class sizes, according to the district statement. It has planned to maintain the same class size caps as in recent years in elementary school, as well as average class sizes in middle and high school, it said.

Those caps have limited elementary school classrooms to 33 students in kindergarten, 35 in first and second grades, and 37 in third through fifth grades, LEAD President Kolleen Hanetho said.

During negotiations, the teachers union has proposed lowering those class sizes.

“They’re out of line with surrounding districts. They’re out of line with what’s educationally appropriate,” Hanetho said. “That’s coming from me as an educator and a parent in District 300.”

District 300 and its union also have discussed the issue of “overload pay” for teachers, according to the district. The district must pay teachers overload — above and beyond their regular salary — when they have more students in their classrooms than the caps and averages defined in their contract, it said.

While the school board would like to lower class sizes, it also would like to reduce the expense of overload pay, according to the district statement.

The only way to do that, Hanetho said, would be to hire more teachers or to not pay teachers overload, something that could be negotiated.

“I would like to do that, too. I would much rather have more teachers and lower class sizes and no overload pay,” she said.

The district paid $1.28 million in overload to 340 teachers in the 2010-11 school year and $800,000 in 2011-12, it said. If it lowered class sizes by an average one student per class, that would cost the district $1 million to $1.4 million a year, it said.

“The D300 budget is already tight and will only grow tighter in the near future when the state reforms the amount of pension contributions that each district must contribute for its employees,” but that cost could be absorbed through contract negotiations, it said.

The school board says it needs more salary specifics from LEAD before it can analyze the affordability of union’s proposal. Hanetho said the union’s negotiating team had been prepared to present that information at the meeting at which the district’s team suggested mediation, although it’s likely the district was not aware of that at that time.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to sit down with the district and a mediator and come to a resolution so we can get back to what’s really important, and that is educating the students of District 300,” she said.

The district and its teachers union last agreed to a one-year collective bargaining contract in spring 2011. That contract expired July 1, although its terms roll forward until both parties agree to a new contract, officials have said.

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