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Article updated: 11/7/2012 8:49 PM

District 300 board submits final offer to teachers union

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Just days after the Community Unit District 300 teachers union declared an impasse in contract negotiations, the school board forwarded its final offer and associated costs to union leaders.

The board of education released an overview of its final offer Wednesday, which can be found on the district's website. Union leaders were planning to discuss the offer at a union bargaining team meeting Wednesday.

LEAD 300, the union representing about 1,300 teachers, nurses, social workers and therapists, on Monday moved a step closer to striking when the bargaining team said it had reached an impasse in the negotiations. While union leaders said they remained committed to continuing negotiations, they said the declaration was needed to start the calendar on a possible strike. Based on a timetable of actions that must be completed before a strike can take place, the earliest teachers could walk out is Dec 3.

A mediation session between the two sides scheduled for Wednesday was canceled.

Before teachers can go on strike, final offers and cost summaries must be exchanged and submitted to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. Board spokesman Joe Stevens said the district had forwarded a copy to the union and was awaiting a response. Documents had not yet been submitted to the labor relations board, he said.

"We believe we were making good progress to address the union's top priorities including class size and working conditions," Stevens said. "Now that the union has declared impasse, we are waiting to receive their final proposal to resume future negotiations."

But union spokesman Mike Williamson said the union filed a "paper impasse" to start the calendar.

"We're not talking about a classic impasse," Williamson said. "Things weren't moving the way we thought things needed to be moving. We don't want to strike, but if it is the only recourse we have we can now do that."

Issues addressed in the board's final offer include teacher salaries, elementary class sizes, high school schedules and teacher working conditions, Stevens said.

"It could be very disruptive if teachers go on strike," Stevens said. "We hope the union recognizes this as a great package and accepts it."

The board's final offer includes step increases based on the length of time a teacher has been employed in the district, as well as a percentage increase to base pay in the first and third years of the contract, Stevens said. In the 2012-2013 school year, the first year of the proposed contract, teachers would receive a 2.75-percent salary increase. That increase includes an average step increase of 2 percent. Teachers in the second year would get a 2-percent step increase and in the final year, a 2-percent increase plus a half-percent base salary increase. The salary increases would cost the district about $7 million, Stevens said.

But Williams said it was disingenuous of the district to call the increases base salary raises because step increases are paid on top of the base salary.

"Their way of putting this forward is to suggest step is something that is given to us," Williamson said. "But step is already in place. The reason we negotiated salary is because we need to stay competitive with other districts."

In addition, the board said it would spend $2.4 million to reduce class size. The $2.4 million would fund an additional 27 teachers and reduce the number of students in 85 classrooms.

Stevens said the district would save money through the elimination of overload pay, which is paid to teachers for each child above a certain number. In the past two school years, the district has paid almost $2 million in overload pay, the district has said. The proposed contract also would phase out the end-of-career salary increases to which teachers are now entitled. Those late career bumps will go from 6 percent in the third year from retirement to 3 percent in each of the final two years. After the 2014-2015 school year, the district will eliminate the practice. Stevens said that is needed because of the potential shift of pension costs to local school districts.

While union leaders agree smaller classes are a priority, the number of teachers the district has suggested is more than the union says it will need to bring class sizes down. Williamson said the union estimates 20 teachers, at most, would bring class sizes down to the same level.

"The 27 teachers don't solve the problem. Why would we spend that kind of money when we don't need to?" Williamson said. "I don't understand why they are proposing that when the number is not accurate. When the goal is to reduce class sizes, it amazes me that they calculate 10 more teachers than we come to."

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