Hawthorn District 73 teachers reject contract offer
A new contract with teachers and other employees remains on a substantial to-do list for the school board in Vernon Hills-based Hawthorn Elementary District 73.
Members of the Hawthorn Education Association last week voted against a district contract offer, sending the matter back to the bargaining table. The union has about 500 members, including teachers, educational support personnel and custodians.
"It was pretty close. It was not blown out of the water," said Eileen Duhig-Larson, union vice president and lead negotiator. The current three-year contract ends June 30.
According to the district, a tentative agreement was reached with union leaders after "numerous productive bargaining sessions." Details were not released pending union ratification.
In a statement Monday, school officials said they were disappointed.
"The district is ready and willing to return to the table to resolve the issues leading to the failed ratification of the fully bargained contract in an effort to avoid impasse," the statement said.
Duhig-Larson said talks did not break down and union leaders have good rapport with the school board.
"We'll negotiate through the summer," she said. "Right now, we're trying to gather information on what (union members) are looking for."
The district's financial condition is a concern for both sides, as the school board hones the amount it expects to ask of voters in a November referendum on expansion and renovation of its school buildings because of crowded conditions.
"Honestly, the district is really facing some serious financial hardship, so there is not as much money," Duhig-Larson said.
"We all have the same goal, and that's kids. We will find a way to make this work."
Voters in April 2017 rejected paying $42 million to upgrade six school buildings. Then, as now, an 18-classroom kindergarten building was part of the master plan. Last year, the district said it would pay for the $12 million center with reserves.
But now, some or all of the cost will be sought from voters. The low construction bid is $2.7 million higher than the estimate, and while potential reductions have been identified, reserves have been eroding, the district says.
After several community input sessions, the school board studied six options and decided to include the kindergarten building when the case is made to voters. How much of its reserve funds the district would spend on that facility is to be determined.
Uncertainty surrounding various aspects of the kindergarten building has rankled Mayor Roger Byrne, who peppered school officials last week with questions when they attended a village board meeting seeking a two-year extension of permits for mobile classrooms at Hawthorn South Elementary.
He said "everybody in town" thought the district would use reserves to build the kindergarten facility as an addition to the Vernon Hills Park District's Sullivan Center.
Trustee Cindy Hebda said she would support the mobile classrooms with the expectation District 73 is committed to building the kindergarten facility onto the Sullivan Center.
"Your community of people now feel that nothing is happening, that everything has gone by the wayside and you're starting all over again," she said.
"Please, please, you've got to communicate with these people, because everybody is really confused."