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updated: 3/31/2011 7:05 PM

District 207 school board hopefuls discuss teacher layoffs

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  • Joann Braam

      Joann Braam

  • Marijo Bustos

      Marijo Bustos

  • Sean O'Brien Sullivan

      Sean O'Brien Sullivan

  • Donna Pellar-Ryden

      Donna Pellar-Ryden

 
 

At least one of the five candidates running for Maine Township High School District 207 school board doesn't agree with the current board's decision to layoff 130 employees, including 75 teachers, a year ago.

The candidates vying for three, four-year seats on Tuesday include incumbents Sean O. Sullivan, Donna Pellar-Ryden and Joann Braam. Also running are former board member Marijo Bustos and newcomer Eric Poders.

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The layoffs were part of $15 million in cuts made in March 2010 to plug a projected $19 million deficit in 2010-11 budget. The proposed cuts drew hundreds of students, parents, teachers and community members to a public hearing in January 2010, and prompted a student protest outside Maine South High School.

Poders, who spoke out against the cuts, said he was asked by students, teachers and parents to run for school board.

"The reason why that protest happened at Maine South was because of those younger teachers," the Morton Grove resident said. "A lot of those younger teachers have moved on. They said, 'You know what, I am not dealing with the politics; I'm not dealing with the class sizes.' Are your costs rising so much, that you really have to get rid of the teachers to fix the swimming pool at Maine East?"

The other four candidates agreed the layoffs were tough, but were the right thing to do for the district's future.

"Last year was very hard," said Bustos, who lost a re-election bid in 2009. "They were the right decisions."

Braam said she was disappointed the teacher's union didn't agree to reopen contract negotiations to save some teachers' jobs. The Maine Teacher's Association's roughly 600 members twice rejected the district's requests for salary concessions.

The union would have had to agree to forego a 3.2 percent salary increase for the 2010-11 academic year, while still receiving step pay increases based on experience and a 3.5 percent wage increase in the 2011-12 school year. The move could have saved about 40 to 45 of the 75 teaching jobs that were eliminated.

"It's a very difficult decision for each of those teachers," Braam said. "It's really hard to judge whether they did the right thing or wrong thing."

Pellar-Ryden said teachers initially didn't understand the gravity of the situation.

"I think they were naive," she said. "It took a year for them to realize that what we were saying was probably true."

The teachers who remain are working through the impact of the layoffs.

"We have remarkable teachers," Pellar-Ryden said. "It's been very stressful for them, as well as for us. They need to know we are supportive of them."

Negotiations on the next teacher's contract will begin in the 2011-2012 school year.

Bustos said she was the lone board vote against the last teacher's contract that promised what she believes were overly-generous raises. She said she would support reasonable pay increases based on the reality of the district's finances.

"Next year will be a little bit kinder," Pellar-Ryden said. "I think in a year we'll have a better idea how the economy is doing."

Sullivan, the current board president, said he would support a shorter teacher's contract rather than the typical five years.

"While this isn't a good time to negotiate ... my personal ideal is generally three years for a teacher's contract," Sullivan said.

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