9/28/07

Teachers union deal forces school layoffs, tax hike

Schools Superintendent Jana Bechtoldt said District 187 will have to lay off 40 to 50 people next year to keep its finances in order and property taxes may be increased because of the contract agreement reached Thursday.

But Cahokia (IL) Federation of Teachers President Brent Murphy said he thinks the talk of job cuts is a scare tactic. School administrators gave workers more than they thought they could afford because that's what the people said they wanted, Bechtoldt said.

To end the teachers strike, the district agreed to give employees a three-year contract with 3 percent raises each year. This does not include the step increase employees receive for education and experience. The school board is scheduled to ratify the agreement Monday. Employees approved it Thursday.

"Basically, if we don't make major cuts -- about $2 million worth -- we could end up $8-9 million in debt by the year 2012," Bechtoldt said. "There isn't much in the way of services or materials that is left to cut. So to eliminate $2 million, we're going to have to eliminate positions. We're going to try to make cuts across the board from teachers, secretaries and service workers to administrators."

Murphy disagrees.

"The money is there to pay for the raises we asked for as well as to continue to pay down the district's debt," Murphy said. "There can't be any job cuts. Their staff is already bare bones as it is."

Murphy said about $250,000 in additional revenue created when Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman agreed to take property out of a tax increment finance district and return the revenue the district produces to the schools plus $2.2 million in new state funding District 187 received this year will more than offset the raises.

But Bechtoldt said she thinks school leaders will still need to look for additional revenue to pay for the raises district residents demanded for teachers. And she said the people who made impassioned speeches at a Wednesday night public forum that led to a contract breakthrough in the early morning hours Thursday should expect the possibility that their property tax bills could rise because of the new contract.

"This is what they wanted," Bechtoldt said. "Their main concern was for the children, and I applaud them for that. But we have to also think about the future and making sure that the district isn't bankrupted."

Bechtoldt said school leaders are anxious to meet with Bergman to get the tax deal he promised the district done as soon as possible.

Bechtoldt said all the legal paperwork to take land out of the tax increment finance district must be done by Dec. 1 if the school district is to get the extra revenue in 2008 to pay for the new contract.

Under the union's expired contract, a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree earned $36,102. The average salary is about $58,000 while the highest paid teacher at the school district earned $64,471 for the 2006-07 school year.

(bnd.com)

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