Financial challenges remain in Dist. 33 post-strike
The teachers strike is over, a tentative contract has been reached and classes have resumed, but financial challenges in West Chicago District 33 remain, officials said Thursday night.
The evening after students and teachers returned to class, more than 60 parents gathered at a special board meeting for an update on the agreement and how the district will move forward with its teachers back on the job.
School board Secretary Dave Barclay said coming to agreement required the union and the board to work through economic issues such as salaries, health insurance and retirement benefits.
"It took a long time to work through them, but we're glad we finally did," Barclay said. "Now we can look forward and get back to our mission of teaching our children."
The deal they struck does not completely erase what originally was projected as a $3 million deficit in next year's budget, but it allows the district to plan changes in staffing, maintenance, supplies or programs with knowledge of how much it must spend on teacher compensation. The board and district staff will form next year's budget over the next two months.
Teachers made what Barclay called "major concessions" in agreeing to freeze salaries the first year of the contract, which began Sept. 1, 2012. The school board agreed to delay health insurance changes until this September.
"That will allow us to keep some programs that we probably otherwise wouldn't have been able to keep," Barclay said. "I think our teachers deserve a round of applause as well for stepping up and helping us close the contract."
Mary Catherine Kosmach, chief union negotiator, agreed her team made major concessions.
"Was it always positive?" she said about negotiations. "No. Did we get through it? Yes."
Parents began Thursday's round of questions by asking when the three days missed while the district's 284 teachers were walking picket lines will be made up. Some, like parent Julie Braun of Winfield, called for consideration of options other than extending the school year three days later into June to avoid hot weather.
Interim Superintendent Kathy Wolfe said the board at its next meeting Feb. 21 will review the remainder of this year's calendar to find a time to make up the days.
Braun also asked why it took a strike to come to an agreement after more than 16 months of negotiations.
"Why did it have to get to this point?" Braun said. "We were going to have to find a middle ground -- why did it take this long?"
Barclay said negotiating a contract is an imperfect process, and at some points, both sides felt stuck. Kosmach said she wished a contract could have been reached without a strike, but the union did what members felt was necessary.
District staffers and board members heard from some parents unhappy with the phone call most received about 2 a.m. Thursday notifying them school would be back in session that day.
"There was some concern about the lateness," Wolfe said. "We noticed a little less attendance today."
Barclay said once a tentative agreement was reached, the work stoppage was over, so school had to be held the following day. Instead of calling about 5 or 6 a.m. when parents already may have called off work or made child care arrangements, Barclay said board members decided to provide as much advance notice of Thursday's schedule as possible, despite the hour.
Members of the teachers union got their first look at the tentative agreement about 3:15 p.m. Thursday. Kosmach said union members indicated the contract was "fair and just."
The union plans to vote at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday to ratify the contract, and the board would place the agreement on its Feb. 21 agenda for approval.
"The board feels the tentative agreement is responsible and sustainable," board President Chris Scheck said.
Because of the board's support of the agreement, Barclay said the group does not need to convene earlier to approve it, calling approval "almost a formality."
Once the contract receives official approval, it will be posted on the district's website.
Strike: Parents were called at 2 a.m. with news of strike's end