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updated: 3/29/2011 5:14 PM

District 300, union begin contract talks

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Negotiations between the Community Unit District 300 school board and LEAD 300, the union representing more than 1,200 teachers in the district, began this week with both sides setting ground rules.

School board leaders and union officials met for the first time on Monday to discuss the labor agreement that is set to expire June 30. Both parties will meet again on Monday, April 4, with subsequent meetings scheduled for April 18 and 19.

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School board President Joe Stevens said the talks are in the very preliminary stages but that the district is optimistic about reaching a timely agreement.

"I can't predict how long it will take but we are hopeful," Stevens said Tuesday.

LEAD 300 President Kolleen Hanetho said the district presented its proposal for cost-savings, including details of the $5.2 million in wage, benefit and insurance concessions the district has discussed.

Both sides will review the district's finances at the April 4 meeting, which Hanetho says will ensure that all parties are up to speed on what needs to be accomplished.

The 363 layoffs the district approved last week are contingent upon the outcome of the negotiations. Although more than half of those teachers are expected to be recalled, the district could avoid all layoffs if the wage concessions are met.

"We are not willing to sacrifice the education of District 300 students for the sake of balancing a budget," Hanetho said. "We need to find a way to balance the budget without decimating the students' education."

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