Crowd urges District 211 board, teachers to avoid strike
Though only three of 26 speakers at Thursday's Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 school board meeting were strongly critical of the teachers union's position and contract negotiation tactics, a few more called on both sides equally to make avoiding a strike during final exams next week their top priority.
"Your bargaining position would be no worse if you waited those three days," Schaumburg parent Ted Gross told union members.
A large crowd stood in the cafeteria of Conant High School in Hoffman Estates even after about 500 chairs were filled. The difference in applause after speakers on both sides of the debate reflected a large percentage of union members and their supporters, including current and former students.
John Braglia, president of Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211, criticized the board for an email to the community Wednesday that he called disrespectful to teachers, and he called on board members to empower the superintendent to reach an agreement with him.
"For the record, all of you should be ashamed of yourselves," Braglia told the board. "Every single one of you."
Braglia has said Tuesday is the earliest a strike could start, just a day before semester finals.
Several speakers who were not union members included parents, students and at least one resident without children who supported the teachers and argued that their contract request was affordable.
District 211 board President Mucia Burke closed the nearly 90 minutes of public comment with a statement from the board. She said its members remained committed to supporting teachers as well as being good stewards of the community's resources. She added that 85 percent of the district's funding comes from property taxes but also noted the district recently eliminated interest payments by becoming debt-free.
"The salary increases in the board's proposal exceed the rate of inflation substantially, with most salaries rising by more than 20 percent after four years," Burke said. "If we were to adopt the latest proposal of the union, we would likely soon return to the draining cycle of debt."
Braglia described both sides' proposals as being $2 million apart, or $500,000 per year over a four-year contract.
He told the Daily Herald he hopes a strike can be averted by the union's willingess to consider a suggestion by a federal mediator regarding annual increases to base salaries, but he added that the board has not demonstrated equivalent interest.
In a statement, the board responded that it would respect the confidentiality intended for the mediator's proposal but that its own last offer derived from the mediation process and the input of the mediator.
While both sides already have informally agreed to a 2 percent increase to base salaries for the first year of a four-year contract, the mediator's suggestion is for the remaining three years to be based on the average between 1.9 percent and the rate of inflation if that rate is higher, Braglia said.
The rate of inflation would be the basis of the salary increases only if it were below 1.9 percent under the mediator's proposal, he added.
The union's previous request was for increases to base salares to be based on the rate of inflation during the last three years of the contract, whatever that will be.
The board's last offer was for those increases to be 75 percent of the rolling average of the rate of inflation of the previous 10 years for teachers still on the salary schedule, and 100 percent of that average for those off the schedule.
Until a new contract is approved, the district's 890 teachers, psychologists, social workers and counselors are working under the prior contract's terms -- including its established step increases -- district officials said.
Employees still on the salary schedule with less than 25 years' experience receive step increases as they gain another year of experience. These step increases differ depending on where a teacher is on the salary schedule but average 3.7 percent among all this year.
Under the terms of the last contract, a new teacher with no prior experience would have started the school year with a base salary of $52,795, according to district officials. The highest base salary currently is $128,648.
The district's median salary -- halfway between the lowest- and highest-paid teachers -- is $109,154.
Earning that median salary today represents the equivalent of a master's degree plus 30 additional hours of professional instruction, as well as 15 years' experience, District 211 spokesman Tom Petersen said.
District 211 is the second-largest high school district in the state, having 11,841 students last school year to Northwest Suburban High School District's 12,029, according to Illinois State Board of Education report card data.
The District 211 board has posted statements and information regarding the negotiations on the district's website at adc.d211.org. Local 1211 has posted information on its stance in the negotiations on its website at local1211.org.