D-300 school board approves 3-year teachers contract

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CARPENTERSVILLE – The new, three-year teachers contract at District 300 will cost $13 million total, nearly half of which will go toward more than 60 additional teachers to lower class sizes.

The district will use about $4 million in reserves to cover the deficit the new contract creates, board members said Thursday in a news conference with union leaders. Teachers ratified the contract Wednesday and the school board approved it, 5-1, in a special session Thursday.

The deal lowers class sizes to between 27 and 32 students from kindergarten through the 12th grade in 26 schools in southeast McHenry and northeast Kane counties. It calls for hiring 63 teachers to lower classes and includes an 8 percent total salary increase for existing teachers.

Both sides said they made significant strides in the stickiest bargaining issue – class sizes – by compromising in other areas, such as salaries and retirement incentives.

“This contract is in the best interest of students,” said board member Joe Stevens, a lead district negotiator. “I’m a little embarrassed as a board member that it was the teachers union, who had to bring [class sizes] to our attention. ... They were appropriate in doing that.”

The bruising and sometimes bitter yearlong negotiations led to a one-day teacher strike earlier this month.

Currently, elementary class sizes in the district average between 33 and 37 students.

The new contract caps those class sizes at 27 and 30 students next year, and at 26 and 28 students in 2015. It also creates five new committees, including a panel of administrators and union members, to monitor class sizes in future years.

Of the $13 million in district costs, roughly $5.5 million will go toward new teacher salaries.

“That’s the cost of lowering class sizes and improving the academic environment for our children,” said LEAD 300 President Kolleen Hanetho.

The other $7.5 million in costs mostly will go toward salary increases for existing teachers, district Chief Financial Officer Susan Harkin said.

Before the board endorsed the contract, member Karen Roeckner, the lone “no” vote, argued that the contract places an undue burden on district taxpayers. She cited how her own property tax bills have doubled to $8,000 from 10 years ago.

“I don’t think we can continue to tax our homeowners the way where are continuing to tax them,” Roeckner said. “We have to find a different way to help them.”

Stevens later defended the district, arguing that the district’s property tax rate is one of the lowest in the area. He said taxpayers will not pay more to strictly cover the new teacher contract.

But it does cause deficit spending for the next three years that will force the district to use $4 million in reserves. Throughout the negotiations, Stevens and other members expressed the desire to avoid deficit spending.

On Thursday, he said the district officials will use $3.5 million from the Sears economic development agreement to replenish the reserves. The district should start receiving that money in 2015.

Last year, Gov. Pat Quinn and state legislators extended the terms of an expiring 20-year economic development agreement with Hoffman Estates-based Sears that cut off property tax dollars to the district.

The agreement gave Sears, which was threatening to leave the state, roughly $225 million in tax incentives to keep its headquarters in Illinois.

“These are the same legislators who told us [the agreement] wouldn’t be renewed, but we have assurance from all the legislators that what is in place will not change,” Stevens said.

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