Is your school district keeping new teachers' contract secret?
Four suburban school boards are following the same path as Palatine Elementary District 15, approving teachers' contracts before they are final and then failing to make the documents public.
The four agreements are still inaccessible to taxpayers, even though one was approved late last year.
"The contract is not available yet," said Vickie Walter, a spokeswoman at Buffalo Grove-based Aptakisic-Tripp Elementary District 102. "It's in its final draft."
That's despite a news release issued after the December 2015 school board vote announcing "a collaborative effort" by the board and union had resulted in a "unified commitment to providing our students with a program of academic excellence" culminating in a new three-year contract that also gave teachers "average salary increases of 4.12 percent."
District 15 did something similar when it approved an unprecedented 10-year teachers' contract in mid-April but released the contract only last week after denying open records requests for it. Illinois open records laws state that any document approved by an elected board, particularly authorizing expense of tax dollars, should be accessible to the public.
"It seems to me a very dangerous way to do business," Don Craven, general counsel of the Illinois Press Association, said of school boards that vote on a contract before it's final. There's no way to know whether the final contract reflects what the board approved, he said.
"What's troublesome about this is there's not assurance we're dealing with the same language," Craven said. "It's a long way between having the ingredients and actually making soup."
The Daily Herald filed a Freedom of Information Act request for District 15's contract and has filed an appeal of the district's denial with the Illinois attorney general's public access counselor.
New teachers' contracts approved by school boards in Ingleside's Gavin Elementary District 37, Mundelein High School District 120 and Lake Forest's Rondout Elementary District 72 are also not yet available to taxpayers.
"We will post over the summer before the current one expires in August," District 37 Superintendent John Ahlmeyer said.
In District 15, board members said they didn't even have a copy of the full 75-page contract when they approved the new 10-year deal. Instead, they said they were briefed by the negotiating team and given a three-page summary before voting.
In contrast, the St. Charles Unit District 303 school board votes on a contract only after negotiators for the board and the teachers agree on all language and provisions, said Mark Moore, executive director of human resources.
"Once (the contract) was approved, we posted it," he said.
District 303 and Crystal Lake High School District 155 have new teachers' contracts and both are available for inspection on their respective websites.
Many suburban school districts are negotiating with teachers this year.
Four suburban school districts -- Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41, Roselle Elementary District 12, West Aurora Unit District 129 and West Chicago Community High School District 94 -- extended current teachers' contracts for another year or two.
Sixteen other suburban school districts have teachers' contracts that expire before the start of the new school year. School officials said they would release contracts after both sides voted but did not specify a timeline for releasing the final documents. Fox Lake Elementary District 114 officials did not respond to requests for information regarding contract negotiations with the teachers union.
A District 303 spokesman said the district is happy with the negotiated contract and had nothing to hide.
"We take a lot of pride in the work our administration, our board and the education association has done, and that's what the community expects," said Jim Blaney, a District 303 spokesman. "And I think all society expects a certain level of transparency."
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