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Article updated: 1/20/2013 6:48 AM

Grayslake District 46 contract talks restart tonight

By Bob Susnjara

Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume tonight in an effort to end a strike by Grayslake Elementary District 46 teachers.

Board members and the Lake County Federation of Teachers union will meet again in the presence of a federal mediator. The most recent negotiating session went about five hours Thursday before the mediator ended it without a resolution.

If a deal is not reached by Tuesday, about 325 union members will be on picket lines at seven District 46 schools for the fourth day. Classes for nearly 4,000 students are not scheduled Monday in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so instructors won't be picketing.

Plans call for the school board to meet on its own about 5 p.m. today, with the mediated contract discussions following an hour later.

Negotiations between the district and the union began in February 2012. District 46's latest, publicly known offer is a two-year deal in which teachers would not receive base salary hikes or step increases for longevity.

Teachers would receive a $1,000 stipend paid to them in the 2013-14 school year if they have not submitted a retirement notice. The district also says the instructors' benefits would be maintained.

Union business agent Jim Pergander said negotiators for the teachers have been willing to accept the mediator's suggestion of a "middle ground" deal. However, board members countered they -- not the mediator -- must find the cash at a district where the budget deficit is projected to mushroom to $2.2 million for the 2013-14 academic year even if the staff doesn't receive raises.

Pergander said Saturday that he's skeptical about District 46's deficit projections.

"They do appear to be growing a little bit," he said.

District 46 teachers walked off their jobs last Wednesday over retirement incentives, salary and extra compensation for job-related advanced degrees. They have been without a contract since July 1.

Instructors initially sought 3 percent base salary hikes in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, but have dropped that demand. Union embers have objected to the district's effort to end 6 percent annual base salary raises over the final four years of employment for teachers who give their retirement notices.

District 46 teachers received total average annual raises "way above" 5 percent from the 1999-2000 academic season through 2007-08, chief school business official Anna Kasprzyk said during a recent town hall meeting. She said teachers received a total average pay hike of 4 percent in the 2011-12 academic year and have been beating the consumer price index or inflation rate.

School board members said in a statement while they understand the community wants the strike settled, they can't keep approving raises that are at least 2 percentage points above the CPI because shaky finances don't allow it.

"For the teachers and their many community supporters, it must seem the board of education is unwilling to give the staff adequate raises," says the board statement. "As with everyone, we hope that an economic turnaround will start to improve revenues to the district. Until that time, the board is committed to the long-term financial health of the district."

Pergander has questioned the board's December vote to reject a requested 4.5 percent increase in this year's tax levy. He said if money was tight, the officials would not have turned away $750,000 that likely would have been received if the tax levy hike had been approved.

Board members said they needed to reduce the tax hit on property owners. Officials said an owner of a typical $200,000 home can expect to pay $90 more to the district in 2013, rather than $400-plus if the higher levy had been approved by the board.

District 46 serves parts of Grayslake, Third Lake, Hainesville, Round Lake, Round Lake Park, Round Lake Beach and Lake Villa.

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