The learning environment in Marg Molnar's classroom at Dundee Highlands Elementary School is cramped, she said at Monday's Community Unit District 300 board meeting.
Molnar teaches 31 students in a classroom that measures 25 by 30 feet. That's 31 desks, 31 coat hooks, a computer desk with two chairs, plus her own metal desk and chair.
"I invite you to see what it is like to teach in a classroom with 31 students and meet the needs and continue to provide the quality education all students deserve," Molnar said. She was one of hundreds of teachers, parents and students crowded into the board room with overflow crowds in the hallways and gymnasiums at Westfield Community School in Algonquin.
The large crowd was on hand to lend support to the teachers union, LEAD 300, which is in contentious contract negotiations with the school board. The teachers union last week declared an impasse, opening the door for teachers to strike early next month. The union said the impasse was needed to start the timeline based on state law pertaining to teachers strikes.
The school board on Wednesday submitted its final offer to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, which included salary increases. Issues addressed in the board's final offer include teacher salaries, elementary class sizes, high school schedules and teacher working conditions.
The crowd chanted "treat us fairly" and demanded the school board relocate the meeting to a larger venue. But the meeting stayed in the board room.
During about 90 minutes of public comments, teachers implored the board to hire more teachers, students asked the district to reduce class sizes, and parents pleaded with both sides to consider the effect on taxpayers.
Scott McGaughey, a teacher at Algonquin Lakes Elementary School, said while the state has dropped the ball on funding education, the district administration is also to blame.
"I have so much on my plate that I am not sure what has fallen off in recent years," McGaughey said.
For Lydia Markham, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Dundee Crown High School, the playing field is far from level, she said. Markham has an AP class of 43 students. She said if education was a 110-meter hurdle race, District 300 students would be jumping over 5-foot hurdles while their peers faced the regular 3-foot hurdles.
"None of our kids win, and we wonder why," Markham said. "There are roadblocks in place for our students who have to work so much harder than other kids in other districts."
The school board did not address public comments, but after the meeting board spokesman Joe Stevens said the district had successfully implemented the 2006 tax increase approved by referendum to reduce class sizes, which was guaranteed until 2011. At that time, Stevens said, the district did not vote on another measure.
"The district absolutely agrees class sizes are too large, and we have put forward a very significant proposal to lower class sizes at the elementary level. And we are looking at the potential for lowering class sizes at the middle and high school level," Stevens said. "But there's only so many dollars to go around. I don't disagree with all of the things that were said about class sizes. We're absolutely on the same page and I think our proposal answers that."