In what could foreshadow a long and contentious contract negotiation, the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 teachers union is publicly urging the school board to stop "pitting the community against the teachers" and hold off on program and staff cuts.
The Classroom Teachers' Council this past week ran three advertisements in the Daily Herald accusing the district of overstating its financial problems, while emphasizing the union's commitment to deliver quality education within a fiscally responsible budget.
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The union's message comes on the eve of Wednesday's board meeting, when officials are expected to approve more than $6 million in budget cuts that will most notably increase class size and decrease staff.
The CTC's first ad states that District 15 has a long history of "grossly inaccurate projections." In one of three examples, the union said the district originally projected a $1.2 million budget shortfall in 2010 only to end up with a $6.8 million surplus.
The second ad features a chart showing the district's education fund balance has grown $17 million since 2005, despite board claims that teacher salary and benefits are causing a budget crisis.
In the final ad, the CTC states the board rejected teachers' offer of $5.2 million in concessions when it voluntarily reopened the contract in May 2011. The ad asks the board to "stop claiming the teachers are bankrupting the district" and "come prepared to negotiate a respectful and fair contract."
Board member Scott Herr, who sits on the District 15 finance committee and writes a blog about the district, said the ads omit important information.
While it's correct that the education fund balance has increased, he said it reflects a shift in money between funds, and that the union neglects the bigger picture. If no cuts are made, he said, the overall fund balance is projected to shrink from about $50 million now to less than $4 million in 2016.
Herr also said that the recent "inaccurate projections" are due largely to unexpected one-time windfalls such as federal stimulus money.
The CTC, he added, violated an agreement to keep last year's contract negotiations private. Neither party at the time would elaborate beyond a joint statement, which acknowledged "genuine and meaningful proposals."
"It's not productive to talk about why prior negotiations didn't come to a successful conclusion," Herr said. "I was hopeful we could start fresh, but they've chosen to start an ad campaign."
He said the CTC's $5.2 million in concessions over four years is insufficient considering a $37.7 million deficit was projected over the same period.
CTC President Lisa Nuss is slated to speak at Wednesday's meeting before the board votes on the proposed budget cuts. Officials don't recall that happening since 2006. Nuss didn't respond to requests for comment.
The board meeting starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sundling Junior High, 1100 N. Smith St., Palatine.