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updated: 10/15/2012 10:39 AM

District 300 teachers vote to strike, but it'd be a while

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Teachers in Community Unit District 300 voted Sunday to authorize a strike, but it looks as if it will be a while before an actual walkout could occur.

Union and district leaders are scheduled to meet with a mediator at the negotiating table this week, and a spokesman for the school board said that despite the strike authorization vote, they are making progress.

Kolleen Hanetho, president of the district's teachers union, LEAD 300, said 97 percent of those voting in the 1,300-member union were in favor of a strike during the vote Sunday at Dundee-Crown High School.

"My membership believes in this bargaining team," she said of the vote, adding that she hopes the administration will come back to the table and begin bargaining in earnest.

School board spokesman Joe Stevens said he would have been surprised if the strike vote didn't pass.

"I haven't known too many unions that got their membership together to call for a strike vote and then didn't actually have one and have it pass," he said.

Yet Stevens remains optimistic about the next bargaining session between the two sides Tuesday.

"We're still making progress," he said.

While the threat of a teachers' strike looms, it's unlikely to happen this month, if at all. Before a strike can occur, one or the other side has to declare an impasse. When that happens, each side has seven days to turn over to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board the final proposal and its cost.

The labor board then has seven days to post it on its website. After another 14 days, the administration could impose its final offer and, provided the union has given 10 days notice, the teachers could walk out.

One of the main issues being debated is class size. Hanetho said class sizes have not been addressed in a meaningful manner. Nor, she said, has class size been put into the contract. Class sizes can go above 30 and as high as 37.

Hanetho said the district has accumulated $4 million in the bank to create a three-month cushion. The district can take $750,000 from that fund to get class sizes below 30.

Stevens argued the savings are not excess cash but part of the district's operating fund that covers expenses, including salaries. Though a 2002 referendum pumped $35 million into the operating fund reserves to improve cash flow, Stevens said the district still needs to borrow millions of dollars in April to meet payroll. If the district dips too far into the cash reserves, it would violate the bond issuance agreement.

Stevens said there is a proposal on the table that would bring in new teachers next year and the year after.

"We thought it was a pretty substantial offer," he said.

But Hanetho disagreed and said this could increase class sizes.

"Their proposal is to add 20 teachers each of the next two years. But ... those teachers could be the result of the elimination of programs," she said.

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