10/18/07

Illinois' militant teachers unions

Teachers in two of the Illinois' largest school districts have rejected new contracts, while a labor dispute in northern McHenry County will continue for at least another day as a bargaining session ended Tuesday without a deal in the 1,600-pupil district.

In Elgin-based School District U-46, teachers failed to ratify a contract that would have increased their pay by about 6 percent this school year, a vote that may have reflected concerns about money as well as respect, a union official said.

Teachers were upset that Supt. Connie Neale negotiated a compensation package worth more than $400,000 that included a $60,000 raise earlier this year, said Tim Davis, Elgin Teachers Association president.

"The board set up the false expectation that this district had money to burn," Davis said. "I'm certain there were 'no' votes that were cast simply because of the irresponsible actions of our Board of Education."

Meanwhile, in Palatine-based Township High School District 211, teachers rejected a one-year contract offer that called for a 2.5 percent pay raise for about 1,141 educators, social workers and support staff. And in the Richmond-based Nippersink School District 2 in McHenry County, union representatives and school officials met Tuesday night but again failed to reach a new contract. About 140 teachers and staff have been off the job since Friday in a dispute over contributions to their pension and health-care plans.

One of the few bright spots in northwest suburban teacher negotiations was in Des Plaines, where the Community Consolidated School District 62 Board of Education approved a three-year contract that will provide annual 3 percent raises to the base salaries of 401 teachers and staff.

In School District 46, more than 90 percent of the district's teachers cast ballots Monday with 1,183 voting against the contract and 1,025 voting for it.

Some teachers said they voted 'no' because Neale moved to Missouri during the summer and went on sick leave in September.

"I think the bargaining teams worked hard," said Ken Kaczynski, school board president. "I thought the tentative agreement was a fair deal and addressed some concerns."

Mary Sotiroff, an Elgin High School math teacher, said she voted for the agreement but added that many of her colleagues felt the pay increase was "horrendous" compared with what Neale received.

"They don't understand the inequity of what Neale got versus the teachers," she said. "She is getting the cream of the crop and she's not even here anymore."

The proposed contract would have provided a base salary increase of 3.8 percent this year, along with an average 1.9 percent increase tied to seniority and qualifications. It also increased what the district would pay toward teacher pensions, officials said.

The average teacher salary in the district is $62,452, according to the 2007 Illinois State Report Card. The Elgin-based district, the state's second largest, covers 11 communities and serves 41,087 students.

All five of the district's high schools have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires that at least 55 percent of students meet or exceed academic standards.

Oakhill Elementary and three middle schools -- Kimball, Larsen, and Canton -- also failed, according to state data.

Davis argued the district takes a narrow approach to improving schools, rather than a collaborative one.

"There's the currency of dollars that you can bargain at the table, but there's also the currency of treating people as professionals and trusting them and respecting the work that they do," Davis said. "We are woefully lacking in that particular currency."

Teachers, he said, also were concerned that the contract didn't address large class sizes and proposed an unacceptable new teacher evaluation plan.

The union will survey members at a 4:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday at Elgin Community College with plans to return to the bargaining table, Davis said.

If talks fail to generate an agreement, the union would look at mediation before considering strike options, he said.

In the District 211 dispute, teachers also rejected a proposed deal Monday. John Braglia, president of the teachers union, said members were "insulted" by an offer of a 2.5 percent raise, considering the union made concessions on health care under the current three-year contract now in its final year.

The district's offer also included an increase of up to 4.5 percent for about 73 percent of the staff who qualify based on years of experience and graduate course work.

Braglia said such a "step increase" has never been considered part of a pay raise for teachers in District 211.

The average teacher salary in the high school district is $85,766, according to state data. The district covers Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and part of Elk Grove Village.

In the McHenry County district, the school board has offered 3.5 percent salary raises in each of the next three years, but the sides cannot agree on pension and health-care benefits.

The district operates two elementary schools and one middle school. Most pupils are from Richmond and Spring Grove.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume with a federal mediator Wednesday night at Richmond Middle School.

(chicagotribune.com)

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