District 211 teachers plan picket to bolster bid for new contract

The teachers union of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 plans to picket and hold a town-hall meeting next week to try to solicit community support for the approval of a new contract.

John Braglia, president of Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, said no strike is planned though the union would have the legal right to one as early as Dec. 13.

"We've been at this for over a year now," Braglia said of the negotiations with the district aimed at producing a contract that would be retroactive to July 1.

The District 211 board, in a written statement, said negotiations have been conducted in good faith and with the well-being of all affected parties in mind.

"The board of education values the contributions of our teachers and all staff members toward the education and development of our students," the statement reads. "The board's primary responsibility is to ensure that the district sustains its educational quality for students. To accomplish this, the board has offered the union a generous proposal regarding salary compensation, health insurance, and retirement benefits that fits within the district's long-term financial plan to operate debt-free while also delivering quality educational programming."

The union is planning an informational picket next Monday through Wednesday outside the district's administration building at 1750 S. Roselle Road in Palatine. This will be followed by a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Palatine High School, 1111 N. Rohlwing Road in Palatine.

"We're going to go to the community," Braglia said. "Hopefully, the community will support us."

He added no action is being planned at any of the schools and union members are being instructed not to discuss the matter with students even if directly asked about it.

The picketing comes after 16 negotiation sessions. Braglia described the school board's negotiating team as "consistently and arbitrarily" changing the parameters and focus of the discussions throughout those meetings.

He said that early on in the negotiations both sides focused on the total cost of a potential four-year contract. There initially was an $11 million gap between the figures sought by the two sides but the union agreed to concessions that brought the difference down to $2 million - or $500,000 per year - before talks stalled, Braglia said.

He added that most of what the union is asking for at this point are specific line items in the contract, but that cost-of-living raises are being treated as a priority.

Under the previous contract, the annual increases to base salaries were 0 percent, 0.2 percent, 0.25 percent and 0.4 percent over the four years.

Teachers also receive raises as they move up a step on the salary scale each year.

Teachers are being paid based on the last year of the previous contract - including these automatic step increases - until a new contract potentially enables retroactive raises.

"These automatic salary 'step' increases go as high as 5 percent," the school board's statement reads. "The district also continues to provide health, dental and life insurance, and to make pension contributions."

In a written statement of his own Monday, Braglia particularly criticized the district's spending on unspecified building improvements rather than on people and programs.

"The membership unanimously and emphatically voted to accept the union's proposal, without board approval, as a result of recent board decisions leading to excessive and unnecessary capital expenditures and frivolous spending practices that do not seem to reflect the district's long-established commitment to its students or its staff," the statement reads.

The union applied for the right to strike a couple weeks ago but will not receive that right until Dec. 13, Braglia said.

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