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updated: 6/26/2013 11:36 PM

Dist. 15 narrowly OKs deal with transportation union

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15 narrowly approved a new two-year contract with its transportation union, putting an end -- for the time being -- to months of heated negotiations and threats to privatize busing.

After nearly two hours in executive session, the board at a special meeting Wednesday voted 4-3 in favor of the agreement.

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"There was some contention along the way," board President Peggy Babcock said. "These are people who were wounded and fighting for their jobs. But we reached the best contract that we could."

The deal, which is effective July 1, freezes pay so that employees receive no increase for salary or step for years of service. It also continues current health insurance eligibility requirements, with a cheaper HMO option expected to save some money.

The District 15 Transportation Union, which ratified the deal Tuesday, represents about 200 bus drivers, aides, mechanics and clerical staffers operating a fleet of 166 district-owned buses.

Union President Carin Ulrich declined to comment or say what percentage of the group voted for the agreement, instead deferring to a joint news release with the board.

" ... the parties agreed to revisions to both the agreement and to the current department practices designed to enhance safety for both students and employees to better control costs in other areas, to encourage regular attendance while honoring legitimate leaves of absence benefits, to increase accountability for all parties and to foster collaboration between the parties on issues of interest to both," the release stated.

The board voted along its usual division, with members Rich Bokor, James Ekeberg, Dave Seiffert joining Babcock in approving the contract and Scott Herr, Gerard Iannuzzelli and Manjula Sriram dissenting.

Iannuzzelli and Sriram said they disagreed with the length of the contract, saying the next round of negotiations will coincide with board elections. Herr had concerns that the deal didn't accomplish enough in the areas of safety, reliability, professionalism, efficiency and collaboration.

He said he's not convinced there's a commitment from the top to a culture of safety and that the administration didn't provide the board with an economic analysis of the contract or its expected impact on the district's financial forecast.

One key metric, Herr said, is cost per mile. He said he researched surrounding districts that have transportation both in-house and outsourced and found District 15's cost is about 30 percent higher.

But Babcock said the contract will have no impact on the financial forecast and that it introduces more accountability and safety measures. It also will require bus drivers to go through a more rigorous physical, one of the issues proponents of outsourcing often cited.

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