Strikes don't add much heat to school board races

Posted3/10/2013 12:56 AM

Suburban school districts have seen an unusual number of teacher's strikes in recent months.

Yet, those strikes -- and the disagreements that led to them -- have not been a major force in campaigns leading up to the April 9 school board election.


One reason is that candidates had to file to run in the school board elections by Dec. 26. That was before some of the suburban strikes occurred, although disagreements over contracts were already brewing in most cases.

But even in Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, which had a one-day strike Dec. 4, the April 9 school board race is uncontested with three candidates running for three seats.

One incumbent -- Karen Roeckner -- is not running for another term, with Kathleen Burley of Algonquin joining the board in her place.

LEAD 300 union president Kolleen Hanetho was surprised that there was no rush to run for election after the district's first strike in 40 years, which ended after teachers and school officials agreed on a three-year deal that called for increased salaries and lowered class sizes.

However, she noted, serving on the board is "a big responsibility with no compensation other than the intrinsic knowledge that you're giving back to your community."

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Burley, a 15-year parent volunteer in the district, said she had planned long before the strike to run for a board seat.

"It really had no bearing on me running," she said.

Burley said she and many parents she spoke to were "almost expecting" the strike. "Especially since so many other districts are striking. I think a lot of parents are understanding of the situation as a whole and more blaming the state than anything else."

In West Chicago District 33, six candidates -- four of them incumbents -- are vying for four spots.

The District 33 school board approved a three-year contract with its teachers union Feb. 20, officially ending 16 months of often bitter contract talks that included a three-day strike.

The new pact, retroactive to Sept. 1, includes compromises on salaries and health benefits and creates committees to address two other issues not mentioned in the contract.


Grayslake District 46 will see higher turnover on its board of education, with three incumbents bowing out and five candidates vying for their seats. Karen Weinert, Michael Carbone and President Ray Millington are not seeking re-election.

However, the strike is just one of several controversies in a district with a school board divided into two factions. One group, Carbone, Shannon Smigielski and Kip Evans, raised many questions about the superintendent's performance and apparent political involvement in the 2011 school board election. The threesome generally didn't get along with the majority foursome of Millington, Susan Facklam, Weinert and Keith Surroz.

However, after a three-day strike that concluded Jan. 22, board members became more cordial toward each other in public. Teachers and school officials agreed to a two-year deal that included a hard salary freeze for teachers in the first year.

"We had a couple of town-hall meetings during the process of negotiation," Millington said. "We tried to present a balanced view, show the facts that were there, so that people understood what we had to try and accomplish."

To future candidates, he advise, "Show us what you can do. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize."

After four years on the board, he welcomes the idea of retiring.

"I've got better things to do with my volunteerism than be a piñata," he said.


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