Grayslake Elementary District 46 school board candidates are addressing how they would approach talks on a new contract for teachers, who went on strike over pay and benefits in January.
Political newcomers Jill Alfrejd, Robert Roop, Steven Strack, James Weidman and Paul Sprenger are vying for four open board seats in the April 9 election. Incumbents Ray Millington, Michael Carbone, Keith Surroz and Karen Weinert are not seeking re-election.
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Weidman, Strack, Roop and Alfrejd recently addressed issues in Daily Herald editorial board endorsement interviews and on candidate questionnaires. Sprenger didn't participate.
One issue involves negotiations for a new teachers contract that would start in the 2014-15 academic year. In January, instructors went on strike for three days over salary and benefits.
District 46 board members and the Lake County Federation of Teachers union reached a tentative deal for a contract covering the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school seasons. No base salary hikes, raises for longevity or extra money for teachers who receive additional job-related academic credentials will be provided in the first year, with varying pay hikes in 2013-14.
Given the negotiations for the tentative deal stretched nearly a year, Alfrejd said she'd want talks for the next deal to start this summer. She said it would be important to build trust with the union heading into the discussions.
"I think the general approach to start out with is mutual respect with the union and to start off from a place of consideration of what both sides have to do and what both sides are trying to achieve," said Alfrejd, the Grayslake Area Public Library District's public relations coordinator. "I think that would go a very long way to change the outcome of the next negotiations."
Strack, a business continuity manager, said he would want talks to begin as soon as possible. He said he would want to improve communication between the school board and community regarding contract discussions, because he found it lacking before the strike.
"Either way, if they're not going to be open negotiations, they (officials) can still provide information to people so that they understand what's going on," Strack said. "Perhaps the union and the board, if they're having closed sessions, could agree to submit a (joint) release after each session to let people know what's going on."
Weidman, a Grayslake Fire Protection District battalion chief, said he'd want to repair the board's relationship with the union with "frank, open discussions" about financial ramifications of the next contract. He said school officials should have all financial data related to salaries and revenue on the table at the start.
"We have to put some personalities aside and not get to the point where we're hardheaded and arguing and having just unproductive discussions about the future of the district," Weidman said. "It's a partnership. It's not one-sided."
Roop, a sales engineer, said both sides will need to moderate expectations. He said he understands if educators continue to seek raises based on job-related education or end-of-career hikes, which long have been part of contracts.
"Personally, I don't think things will be the same going forward for the next few years," Roop said. "And if we can figure out a way to sort of honor and respect the spirt of those expectations that have been present, while at the same time recognizing the school (financial) issues, then, hopefully, we can have more productive discussions and negotiations and come to a conclusion without a strike."
While Alfrejd, Roop, Weidman and Strack are supporting each other in the election, they said that doesn't mean they agree on all issues.