Dist. 15 board: We didn't see the full 10-year contract before approving it

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board members say they never saw the new 10-year teachers' contract before unanimously approving it April 13.

Instead, board members said, they were briefed in closed session by administrators and given a three-page summary of its terms in advance of their vote. At 10 years in length, the contract is unprecedented in the suburbs and in most of the nation.

In open session, the board spent about four minutes discussing the pact before ratifying it.

The teachers union had approved the terms two days earlier.

"It is customary in this district and, as I understand it, most school districts that the board receives a summary of the contract for our consideration," Board President Peggy Babcock said in an email.

With no plans to revote on the 75-page contract that was released Thursday - more than six weeks after the board voted - the general counsel of the Illinois Press Association believes the contract's validity could be called into question.

"We don't know that these two sides voted on the same thing," said IPA counsel Don Craven. "Neither had a final version in front of them."

The Daily Herald filed a Freedom of Information request for the approved contract, but the district denied the request, stating the version approved by the board was a draft. An April 25 appeal to the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor is still being considered.

When asked for a copy of the approved contract by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, District 15 attorney Jessica Riddick stated "the final written document had not yet been completed."

Instead, the district directed inquiries about the contract's contents to the same three-page summary on its website.

It is unknown what teachers saw before voting to ratify the contract on April 11. Union representatives did not return phone calls.

Board member Zubair Khan said he met with administrators on his own to examine salary schedules. He is unsure if his colleagues did the same.

There are at least 27 other suburban school districts with teacher contracts expiring this year that are in various stages of negotiation. The majority of the negotiations are ongoing, but a few districts have ratified new contracts.

When asked for copies of those contracts, some districts have turned them over. Others have refused, using the same reason as District 15.

Craven said it's important for the state's Public Access Counselor to make a determination on the legality of withholding an approved contract in order to prevent the practice in the future.

But District 15 officials contend they never withheld the contract, since they never had one until earlier this week.

"What we had before us for the April vote was the three-page summary of contract highlights that was shared with you, other reporters, and our full community," Babcock wrote in an email.

District 15 board member Jessica Morrison, herself an attorney, confirmed there was only a summary of the contract's details in front of her when she voted.

She said the final version contained no surprises.

"We did not have the full contract (when we voted)," Morrison said. "We had all the major components in verbal form. When it was finalized it was as expected."

Despite the unprecedented length of the contract and average annual raises of 3.4 percent over its duration, district officials contend personnel costs will rise on average less than 1 percent each year because of a retirement incentive that is expected to push out a quarter of the district's educators by 2026.

The incentive package grants the district's higher-paid, longer-serving teachers a 26.2 percent raise over four years, in exchange for agreeing to retire.

District officials believe younger teachers will be attracted to replace the retiring educators because of the current contract's length and guaranteed raises.

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  Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board members said they never saw the full contract before voting to approve it nearly two months ago. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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