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D300 board approves teacher contract

Updated: January 22, 2013 6:28AM

ALGONQUIN — The Community Unit School District 300 Board of Education approved a three-year contract with its teachers Thursday, one day after the Local Education Association of District 300 put its stamp of approval on that agreement.

The school board and teachers union had reached that tentative agreement after a one-day teachers strike earlier this month.

“It was a long, arduous journey from where we began to where we ended up,” board President Anne Miller said. “We did a lot of hard work, had a lot of laughter, a lot of tears, a lot of emotion. We had a true negotiation.”

The contract will cost the district about $13 million total over the next three years, district officials said. Of that, $5.5 million will go to hire about 63 new teachers to lower class sizes across the state’s sixth-largest school district.

Class sizes will max out at 20 students in preschool, starting next school year; in kindergarten through grade two, at 27 students next year and 26 the year after that; and in grades three to five, at 30 students next year and 28 the year after that. It also will cap middle and high school classes at 32 students next year and 31 the year after.

The district’s high class sizes had been the biggest issue in the nearly year-long negotiations, and it’s where “the bulk of the money is going,” board spokesman Joe Stevens said.

“I’m a little embarrassed as a board member it was the teachers union that had to bring it to our attention and make an issue of it. They did that. I think they were appropriate in doing that,” Stevens said. “They still are not to the size we would like them to be.”

The contract also will raise average teacher salaries by 1 percent, plus “step” increases for education and time spent in the district, this school year; by step only next year; and again by 1 percent plus step in the 2014-15 school year. Step on average is about 2 percent, according to the district.

It will cut the pay bump teachers receive in their last four years before retirement from 6 percent to 3 percent starting next school year, then will eliminate that bump in 2015.

And it will create a number of committees on which teachers and administrators will work together.

That will cause the district to dip into its reserves — about $4 million total in years two and three of the contract, Stevens said. He said he did not think that would affect taxes, and it definitely would not mean a referendum.

But Stevens said it likely will mean redistricting or even, if the district gets construction money it is owed by the state, building a new elementary school.

The district’s reserves have been built up over the past year.

That buildup was based on unexpected surpluses and $3.6 million in concessions made by the teachers union in its last, one-year contract, LEAD President Kolleen Hanetho said.

The district still will maintain three months of cash on hand and working cash funds, Miller said. And in year three, it will receive more money than it has in past years from the economic development area around the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, bringing it back to a balanced budget, Stevens added.

Still, board member Karen Roeckner cast the lone vote against the contract, pointing to the way the property taxes she pays to the district have doubled in the past 10 years. Board member Steve Fiorentino was not present at the meeting, although he expressed his support for the contract in a letter.

LEAD announced it had ratified the contract at about 8 p.m. Wednesday after the 1,200 members of the teachers union had voted all day in their buildings on the tentative agreement.

The school board also approved compensation and benefits for the superintendent, administrators and non-union employees Thursday.

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