Gee, what a surprise. D-211, the same district that just approved a huge tax increase is facing a strike threat. But then why not, they're only making an average of $82,447 for nine months work. How can they scrape by on such a pittance?
(Of course, teacher unions don't always wait for referendum passage. Sometimes they threaten strikes after defeats, just ask D-2).
Dist. 211 sets pact deadline
BY PATRICK CORCORAN
Although they didn't know it, High School District 211 teachers overwhelming voted down the administration's last, best offer Thursday.
During a special School Board meeting Monday, High School District 211 administrators stood firm and gave teachers something to think hard about -- a Dec. 2 deadline to approve the same three-year tentative agreement rejected last week.
In addressing the School Board, Superintendent Roger Thornton said the contract -- which significantly reins in personnel costs -- reflects a pledge made by the district to voters who supported its controversial tax increase referendum in April.
"I believe everyone, including teachers, made a commitment during the referendum as to how this money would be used. Voters told us, 'If we vote for this, you better keep your word,'" he said. "When you work with kids, you better be a person who keeps their word."
Taking the initiative away from the teachers' union in an unusual -- but orchestrated -- move, the School Board unanimously approved the tentative contract following Thornton's presentation.
Thornton said the district's governing body was simply exercising its right.
"Just as the union has the right to vote on the contract, so does the board. We are accountable to the public and they have been most patient with us," he said. "It's within the rights of the board to say, 'We believe strongly in this contract and we want it to go forward.' I wasn't sure of how this vote would turn out, but I was proud to see it decided unanimously."
Come Dec. 2, the offer on the table will be pulled, Thornton said.
The contract between the state's largest school district and its 1,000-plus member union, Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, includes salary hikes of about 2 percent and shifts significant financial burdens once shouldered by the district -- including retirement contribution and health insurance payments -- to teachers.
Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211 President John Braglia puts the annual cost of the benefit concessions at $13,000 to $19,000.
However, in light of today's economic climate, teachers are willing to accept those costs, Braglia said. He said growing class sizes, not salaries, are at the heart of the stalemate (see related story).
"We were really willing to push this through if it meant there were going to be gains for the kids, which is something the School Board promised to do during the referendum process," he said. "But the School Board is not interested in limiting class sizes."
Thornton doubts that issue caused the "no" vote.
"When something is repeated enough, it can become the truth," he said.
The tentative agreement keeps in place subject-specific class size restrictions approved in the 1998 teachers' contract.
So what's the next step? Braglia said the union will survey its members tomorrow and return to negotiations with the goal of finishing the contract before Thanksgiving. At this point, he isn't concerned that talks could break down and result in the first strike in the history of the district.
"My job is to keep communication open and I know we're close," Braglia said.
Thornton said both sides will continue to work in good faith, but there isn't much room for negotiating.
"Our team is obligated to consider their requests," he said. "But there's nothing new that we have to offer."
With an average salary of $82,447, District 211 teachers are the fifth highest paid in the Chicago area, behind districts in Highland Park, Northfield, Lyons Township and Winnetka.
The proposed contract can be viewed at the district's Web site, www.d211.org.