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posted: 9/20/2012 5:30 AM

Suburban districts split on impact of CTU contract on local negotiations

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The Chicago Teachers Union strike lasted more than a week and drew national attention to the nation's third-largest school district. Union representatives and members of the Chicago Public Schools negotiating team brokered a deal that includes double-digit raises over three years for the average teacher, allows appeals for disputed teacher evaluations and lengthens the school day -- all issues local school districts have suggested as sticking points in their own negotiations.

But local school board members and union leaders are split on whether the agreement will have any influence over ongoing contract negotiations in their respective districts.

Kolleen Hanetho, president of LEAD 300, the teachers union in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, said all districts need to keep track of what is happening in other districts to remain competitive. District 300 and its union are negotiating a new contract to succeed the one-year agreement approved last year. A federal mediator has been brought in to assist in talks.

"Teachers are specifically certified for certain positions and the district is competing with other groups for those teachers," said Hanetho, who said the LEAD 300 membership approved a resolution supporting the Chicago teachers. "If you fall too far behind, you're not going to attract and retain the best teachers. You become a training ground for other districts and you don't want that. We have to keep in mind what happens in CPS and other districts so we know what worked in their district and what didn't so that we are not reinventing the wheel."

Hanetho said District 300 is facing similar issues as Chicago Public Schools, like reducing class sizes and clarifying the work schedule.

"The problem in CPS wasn't the lengthening of the school day, but there were no plans for what to do with that extra time or how to improve services. It was just an arbitrary number and there was no input from teachers."

But Joe Stevens, spokesman for the District 300 school board, said he has paid little attention to the recent upheaval in Chicago.

"They kind of operate under their own set of rules," Stevens said. "We don't see that there will be any kind of carry-over application for us out here."

Others, though, say the terms the agreement between the Chicago teachers and the union are not known, making it difficult for outsiders to determine how it will affect other districts.

"There are a lot of meaningful details that I have not seen," said Brian Battle, president of the Barrington Unit District 220 school board. "It's hard to react on something I have not seen."

Battle also declined to give details on his negotiations, which began during the 2011-2012 school year.

Meanwhile, Huntley Unit District 158 board member Donald Drzal said he has kept close tabs on the Chicago strike and the resulting tentative agreement reached late Tuesday. Drzal does not expect the decision in Chicago to trickle out into the suburbs and affect negotiations between the district and its 625 teachers.

The two sides are still ironing out details for a successor agreement to the one-year contract that expired June 30. The teachers union rejected a tentative deal earlier this month

"Our teachers are different, in a sense," Drzal said. "There's less of them. We're a much smaller district and we are probably a different animal. ... The needs and challenges of CPS are not the same as you see in other school districts."

Drzal said Huntley, which has fewer teachers than the number of school buildings in CPS, is more of a small town with different community values, lifestyles and expectations.

"They all go in to play whenever you meet and talk to teachers about contract terms or anything like that," Drzal said.

Huntley Education Association co-president Julie McLaughlin said the Chicago issue has not arisen during current negotiations and will not play a role in upcoming meetings.

"We're not comparing ourselves to that at all," McLaughlin said. "We haven't even talked about it."

The Chicago Teachers Union membership is expected to ratify the new contract in the coming weeks.'

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