10-year teacher deal looms over District 15 support staff strike
An unprecedented 10-year teachers deal in 2016 is hovering over contract negotiations for secretaries, classroom aides, nurses and other support employees who went on strike Monday in the same suburban school district.
Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board President Lisa Szczupaj contends the controversial, lengthy deal has been brought up as part of demands by the Educational Support Personnel Association union, which has been without a contract since July 1. She also said she considers the teachers contract to be "water under the bridge."
But Angie Drazkowski, president of the support employees' union and a classroom aide at Stuart R. Paddock School in Palatine, said she senses the teachers contract has become a problem for her side.
"We believe the 10-year teacher contract is what's behind the board's animosity toward (the union)," Drazkowski said, "and we think that's having a negative (effect) on negotiations."
On strike are 454 workers at one of the state's largest elementary districts, covering all or part of Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, South Barrington, Arlington Heights and Schaumburg.
Schools remain open for the district's roughly 12,800 students, in part because the teachers' contract disallows them from honoring the support employees' picket lines.
Negotiations overseen by a federal mediator are to resume Wednesday.
In April 2016, another District 15 school board approved the 10-year pact for teachers that includes average annual raises of 3.4 percent over its duration. District officials said personnel costs will rise less than 1 percent on average each year because a retirement incentive will push out a quarter of the educators by 2026.
Jennifer Elkins, a negotiator for the support workers' union and special-education classroom aide at Gray M. Sanborn Elementary School in Palatine, said the 10-year teacher deal should not be linked to the current labor dispute.
"Whatever happened with different bargaining teams, that's between them and the board," Elkins said Monday while standing with strikers at Winston Campus elementary and junior high schools in Palatine. "This is us, this is what we do, this is our contract."
Szczupaj countered that the teachers' deal led the support workers to initially ask for a 10-year contract, something the union denies.
"That 10-year contract has come up at the bargaining table," she said.
Szczupaj and four other new members on the seven-seat school board were swept into office earlier this year as part of the Engage D15 slate. The teachers contract and a need for increased transparency were among their top issues.
District 15 resident Len Green, who raised concerns about the teachers contract last year, said the support workers' strike "won't achieve anything positive" and that there only is so much money to go around. He believes the current school board won't be like other elected officials who gave "free rein" to unions in previous negotiations.
"This board is financially astute and resolute enough not to concede to demands that exacerbate a financial position. (District) 15 is not wealthy," Green said.
Superintendent Scott Thompson said school board negotiators had a counterproposal ready when 12 hours of overnight talks ended and the strike was called early Monday. A main sticking point is the union's unwillingness to let an employee retirement incentive end, which Thompson said was agreed upon in the previous contract.
"I think we are still separated by some dollar amounts, but I don't think it's huge," Thompson added.
Elkins said wages, sick leave and retirement incentives remain issues for the striking employees. Many of the workers her union represents hold jobs with pay typically starting at $11 an hour, Elkins said.
She disputes Thompson's position that the union agreed not to pursue the retirement incentive in a new contract.
No school board members were on District 15's bargaining team for the teachers contract in 2016. This time, two board members -- Frank Annerino and Szczupaj -- are involved in the contract talks with the support employees' union.