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Updated. On May 24, the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union at School District 65) advised the RoundTable that while DEC hopes it will reach an amicable collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, DEC’s leadership has been authorized to take steps necessary for a potential strike. DEC issued the following statement:

“The D65 School Board has made unexpected announcements about program reductions and other changes for the next school year. These changes naturally impact the education of Evanston/Skokie children and the workloads of our teachers. Tuesday, May 22, was the last DEC membership meeting of the year and we have no tentative agreement. Therefore, the DEC leadership was authorized, by a unanimous vote, to take the steps necessary for a potential strike. It is our greatest hope that we will reach an amicable agreement with the School Board that serves the best interests of teaching and learning.”

Katie Bailey, president of the District 65 School Board, provided the RoundTable with the following response to DEC’s statement:

“In spite of DEC’s recent vote to authorize the steps necessary to strike, the Board remains committed to reach an agreement that is fair and that allows us to maintain high quality educational programs and services for our students. We are willing to negotiate throughout the summer to achieve this result.   As a Board member and as a parent, I am disappointed in the vote at a time when the negotiation process is far from over.    

“As much as the Board values our teachers, both the Board and DEC need to recognize that in these tough economic times the Board must make difficult decisions in order to be fiscally responsible and to devote its finite resources in a manner that maximizes student instruction for the long term. This Board is committed to work to improve the educational opportunities for our students while we work to ensure the long term financial health of our district.

“We thank the teachers for their commitment to our students and the community for its support.’

Last fall, District 65 projected that it would have an operating deficit of $3.3 million for the 2012-13 school year and that the deficit would grow to $8.7 million by 2015-16.

In an attempt to address the projected deficits, District 65 administrators have proposed a number of deficit reducing strategies under which the District is projected to operate at surpluses of $1.4 million in 2012-13, $1.7 million in 2013-14, and $676,000 in 2014-15, and then deficits of $2 million and $3.2 million in the subsequent years.  The strategies are reported in an article, “D65 Proposes New Cuts for 2012-13 Budget, Many Major Policy Changes Included in Budget Discussions.” (See link below.)

The projections are still based on many assumptions, one of which is the rate of teacher salary increases.

On Dec. 5, the Citizens Ad Hoc Budget Committee presented its report to the District 65 School Board, laying out potential ways to address the District’s projected operating deficits and to plan for the long-term financial stability of the District. One key suggestion was that the Board should consider ways to structurally reduce the rate of salary growth. Some potential ways identified in the report include setting salary expenses for the coming year based on projected revenues, limiting overall salary growth to revenue growth or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower, or tying raises to the CPI. With some exceptions, property taxes for operating revenues are limited to the increase in the CPI or 5%, whichever is less.

Changes in salary structure, of course, need to be negotiated with the DEC.  Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, which expires in August 2012, are currently underway.

On May 21, approximately 150 teachers gathered in the lobby outside the School Board’s meeting room to greet Board members and administrators as they entered the room. Jean Luft, president of DEC, told the RoundTable the teachers had gathered as a sign of support for DEC’s leadership in the ongoing contract negotiations and in support of fine arts teachers, physical education teachers and middle school teachers, all of whom are being asked to increase the number of class periods they teach.

At the May 21 Board meeting, several teachers objected to the proposed increases in workloads of fine arts teachers, physical education teachers and middle school teachers. Several teachers also raised concerns about the teacher evaluation system being negotiated.

Under the proposed deficit reduction strategies, fine arts teachers will be asked to teach 1,400 minutes a week, rather than 1,200 as is the case now. This will bring them more in line with the 1,490 minutes per week for regular classroom teachers, said Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz. Middle School teachers will be asked to teach seven, rather than six-and-one half periods of a ten period day.

Ms. Luft told Board members at the May 21 meeting, “We need reasonable workloads, adequate planning time, clear and accurate communications, and a positive work environment with a stable and consistent evaluation system.”

School Board President Katie Bailey responded, “Large deficits and the cuts they demand can destabilize a school district. Our budget management strategies are designed to have a multi-year impact. This long-term view allows us to project balanced budgets over the next three years.

“By working with the budget management strategies, we are avoiding the massive layoffs that some districts have faced. We successfully limited the number of reductions in force. We issued 11 notices and nearly all of those employees have been rehired during the natural turnover of employees leaving for a variety of reasons. We achieved these results despite the difficult economic times.”

“There’s not an increase in class sizes” due to these strategies, said Superintendent Hardy Murphy. “To date, we’ve pretty much place everyone who had a job last year, this year.”

Dr. Murphy added, “We’re trying to look to the future so we don’t find ourselves backed up against the wall and be faced with decisions that are not only unacceptable, but that would be devastating decisions and have a devastating impact on our School District.”